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Personal reminiscence of Revd Gerald Knight.
By Clive Byerley, now of Melbourne, Australia

Archdeacon Parr lived in some style in the vicarage and had a chauffeur to drive his stately car. He wore gaiters and a frock coat like a character from ‘Barchester Towers’. He can be seen standing, looking on in the photograph of the planting of the Coronation Oak in my previous reminiscence. He used to descend on us at the little church school to hear us recite the catechism which Arthur Twigger had us drilled in for days beforehand.

"What did your God-fathers and God-mothers then do for you?
They did promise and vow three things in my name.
First that I should renounce the Devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and the sinful lusts of the flesh."

Rather a lot for an eight year old boy to give up - before he had any chance of finding out what they were! Perhaps that was why we recited it with our fingers crossed?

Mr Twigger used to stand like an avenging angel behind the vicar’s back willing us to get the words right and threatening dire consequences for too many mistakes. I think Archdeacon Parr retired in about 1955 and was followed by a man who was to change the lives of so many of us in the village for the better – the Revd Gerald Knight ALCD.

This short, rosy faced, rather tubby man was an extraordinary addition to the community. He was accompanied by his wife, a saintly woman with a grey bun, like a vicar’s wife from a novel, but in addition a wicked sense of humour. They had two children, Tim and Elizabeth (known as Buff), both of whom inherited their parent’s special qualities.

I well remember bumping in to Gerald Knight one Thursday evening in 1957 when making my way home to tea down Wasperton Lane. Like an angler intent on reeling me in he called me over and enquired my name and age; finding the answer satisfactory, he asked me if I would like to sing in the church choir that he was currently reorganising. Not knowing how to politely refuse such an eminent person – and impressed by his forceful personality - I found myself volunteering, and adding that I would bring some friends along whom I thought might be recruited. Most of these pals stayed a month or two for the sixpence a service we were paid, but I remained for years, spell-bound.

Remembrance Day saw us poppied and surpliced outside the War Memorial. Harvest Festival revealed a huge loaf propped up against the altar, shaped like a sheaf of wheat - including a little mouse hiding in the stems. Ploughs adorned the nave, and jars of jam glistened amongst the chrysanthemums and Michaelmas daisies. Farmers, who never came at any other time, appeared in the nave in their best suits, self-consciously losing their way in the unfamiliar prayer book. I used to wonder, rather self-righteously, if this was some kind of Divine insurance policy against future storm and pestilence.

Mother’s Day brought bunches of violets and primroses to take home. Easter required an anthem (often ‘Stainer’s Crucifixion’) to be learned and performed. Christmas midnight service, never called Midnight Mass because of the vicar’s evangelical Low Church beliefs, was always magical with holly in all the window sills, carols sung lustily, and a crib set up by the organ pipes.

Christmas Pageant Christmas Pageant; click for larger photo (33k)

Those were the days of the village Christmas pageant! I was in one, in 1959 I think.

I played King Herod’s servant, who interviewed in dumb-show the three wise men, and brought their enquiries back to Mr Carpenter who played the king. Jim Worrall in a tiny brown beret carried the big ostrich feather fan whilst Trevor Tilling, Charlie Hammond and “Skip” Reader were part of the Roman guard.

Several rather wooden and disapproving ‘ladies of the court’ seemed to me then a long way off from the incense, cymbals, Nubians and dance of the seven veils that I rather hoped would make an appearance.

Those were the days of O.P.Q. – Other People’s Questions - a monthly house meeting gave us the chance to hear a speaker and discuss issues of the day. A lovely couple, the Harley-Smiths, used to loan their stunning house in High Street for some of these meetings; a young boy like me got a chance to talk on equal terms with grown ups about ‘The Bomb’ or to see the slide show of our ‘linked missionary’ from Upper Volta, or some other obscure foreign part, showing the effects of river blindness or some other ghastly curse we were gratefully safe from.

Mr Knight let us use the tithe barn (now long converted into a bijou residence) next to his house in Church Lane for a youth club – Seekers, I think it was called. The place was never finished in all the years I went there. An uncarpeted concrete floor proved impossible to dance on and the half-finished coffee bar, from which no coffee of any kind was ever served, sat in a corner for a decade like a reproach. I well remember one evening taking a huge pile of Elvis Presley 78s and with considerable skill, one by one, frisbeeing them across the road, over the wall and far into the grave yard! The only thing to do with such things, I thought then and still do!

Gerald Knight took me under his wing. He loaned me books, encouraged me to study, and let me use his dining room to write my essays in. He patiently answered my many questions, and then cajoled me into teaching Sunday school.

I well remember his stories of his hair-raising (maybe that was why he was bald?) experiences in Kenya during the Mau-Mau Crisis; how Elizabeth and Tim used to sleep with a tin of pepper beside their beds in case of attempted murder by the insurgents! It was Gerald Knight who preached before Princess Elizabeth during her trip to Africa a day before the terrible news arrived that King George the Sixth had died and that she was now Queen.

He had a great dome of a head that caught the slanting light on summer Sunday evenings as he preached his second sermon of the day. At these moments he acquired a halo that I thought well deserved. I learned so much from those weekly dissertations and I can still quote parts of the most memorable ones. More importantly I learned the value of what he used to call “going on going on “In other words doing one’s duty without fuss and without constantly seeking praise. This is what he practised as well as preached Sunday by Sunday, at Matins and Evensong, Gerald Knight led his flock in the age-old rituals and time-worn language of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…”

Year after year the oft repeated words etched themselves into the consciousness as so many evensongs drew to and end and I wandered home across the allotments crunching ice underfoot and looking out for shooting stars.

To me he was a mentor and role model for years to come. I visit his grave in gratitude whenever I return to Barford. May he rest in peace.

Clive Byerley

To contact Clive, to e-mail.

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