Was Hugh Marmaduke the best of them all?

Our previous articles have covered the lives of two distinguished and memorable vicars of Long Marston; William Caldwell Masters (1871 – 1885) and Eric John Anthony (1931-1962).

Against normal Church practice, we introduced an element of competition by asking the question, who made the greater contribution? Was it Masters’ ability to create new buildings or Anthony’s broader and longer contribution to village life?

This final article introduces a third contender who followed Reverend Masters in 1885 and served as Vicar of Long Marston for a record 42 years until his retirement in 1927. This long and faithful servant was Hugh Marmaduke Rowdon who moved from being a ‘Minor Canon’ in Lichfield Cathedral to take over at Long Marston during Whitsuntide 1885. In fact he had a strong connection with Long Marston before taking over, having married a Miss Loxley whose family owned Loxley Farm and were generous subscribers to Church Funds.

A mixed legacy

The first few years of his tenure raise some questions about the contribution made by his predecessor William Masters. Rowdon was delighted to move into the grand vicarage – one of a number of building projects that Masters delivered – but was less pleased with another building legacy left by his predecessor. The new Long Marston Church was still not ready for services and a significant amount of debt remained; Margaret Vincent writes of ‘Interest mounting month by month at Butcher’s Bank in Tring’. It was not until 1888 that a grand fete at the Vicarage, attended by 700 people, celebrated the final repayment of debt and the beginning of services in the new church. Rowdon showed considerable skill in fundraising to pay off the debt, no doubt helped by the connections to the Loxley family through his wife.

Serenity and a new challenge

When compared with the tenures of Masters and Anthony, Rowdon’s early time in office was much less dramatic; a typical comment in Vincent’s book is that ‘things went on serenely for a decade’ after his initial actions above. There was however an unexpected challenge for Hugh Marmaduke just after the start of the new century and one wonders again whether he might have had some negative thoughts about the legacy of his predecessor. In 1901 cracks began to appear in the new Long Marston Church as the clay beneath proved to be an unreliable foundation. A surveyors report blamed the construction methods, in particular the lack of adequate tie beams. The surveyor reported that the walls and windows showed ‘cracks that a cat could get through’. The report was sent to the Reverend Masters but there is no record of a response.

The Church had to be closed and the Parish Room, donated by Lord Rothschild around this time, became a temporary home for Church services. The Reverend Rowdon launched a fund raising campaign for the £1500 that was required to put things right, including a ‘Grand Garden Party’ at Pendley. The church was re-opened in April 1908 and it was even better than before; a large porch and vestry were added to the West End of the Church (see below drawing of the Church at that time).

New responsibilities

Soon after, in 1909, Reverend Rowdon took on extra responsibilities that created mixed feelings in the local community; he was appointed to take over the Parish of Puttenham following the resignation of their vicar, while retaining his Long Marston responsibilities. According to Margaret Vincent’s history of Puttenham, this was ‘to the dismay of many Puttenham parishioners’ who feared that they would be neglected. Their concerns were probably confirmed when the Rectory and adjoining land were sold by the Church, though the buyer, Henry Turner, was to prove a valuable long term benefactor to the village. A further blow was the reduction of services with Matins and Holy Communion reduced to only once a month.

More challenges

Rowdon might have questioned whether he had God on his side when the first problem he had to face at Puttenham was cracking in the nave walls and arches of Puttenham church. His solution was a temporary one – shoring up the walls with heavy timbers, see picture below – and the damage was not fully remedied until after Rowdon had retired in 1933. Puttenham residents might have contrasted this with his urgent and successful action to repair Long Marston church.

The Church authorities must have had confidence in the Reverend Rowdon because in 1913 they asked him also to take responsibility for St Cross church in Wilstone. One of his first challenges was to find that this Church – opened by the Reverend Masters 35 years earlier – had never been consecrated, perhaps another example of his predecessor’s tendency to leave things unfinished. Rowdon arranged the consecration service in 1913 and, faced with the challenge of running three parishes, enlisted the help of a number of curates and lay readers to provide support.

Tragedy in Wartime

One of these curates was the Rowdons’ son – also Hugh Marmaduke – and tragedy struck the family when he died in 1918 during the flu epidemic. This was after Rowdon had provided comfort to the relatives of the ten Long Marston men who had died during the First World War. There was another tragedy during that period; a serious fire at his wife’s family property Loxley Farm caused the death of the tenant’s child.

After the war there were no further dramas and another period of quiet effective management of his three parishes took place, with no noticeable incident until Rowdon’s retirement in 1928. He was appointed priest-vicar emeritus of Lichfield Cathedral and went to live in Lichfield where he died in 1932. Though a superficial evaluation of his career might place him behind Reverends Masters and Anthony in terms of dynamism and charisma, there is much to be said for the longevity, consistency and quiet achievement of Hugh Marmaduke Rowdon.

The three articles we have produced about Long Marston clergymen, draw heavily on the work of the late Margaret Vincent, local historian and long term resident and benefactor of both Long Marston and Puttenham. Margaret’s books do not produce photographs of any of the three and we have been unable to find these from other sources. If any reader has photos of Reverends Masters, Anthony and/or Rowdon, we would be grateful to see and post them on our website.

Update: We have 2 photos, one of Hugh Marmaduke Rowdon and also his son, Hugh Marmaduke Stuart Rowdon. These were kindly supplied to us by Christine Rutter and these photos have been held at St.Mary’s church for years.


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