Page 10, 13th January 1984

13th January 1984
Page 10
Page 10, 13th January 1984 — Ransome - to - the - rescue

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Ransome - to - the - rescue


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WHEN I was elected to the Garrick Club in 1951 I was assured that I would encounter marvellous conversation and meet a host of fascinating and famous people.

On discovering, however. that I was, at that date. the club's youngest member, I found myself at a disadvantage. How could I butt into the "marvellous conversations" of these "fascinating and famous people" who, of course. all seemed to me very old at the time without appearing either impertinent or an idiot?

Among the members who kindly came to my rescue was Arthur Ransome. He assured me that comparatively few of the members were all that "famous" and that by no means all were fascinating. But he himself certainly was.

I have been happily reminded of some of the anecdotes he told me by an excellent biography of the great man written by Hugh Brogan. It will be published on January 18 to commemorate the centenary of Ransome's birth.

He was nearly seventy when I first met him, but still vigorously pursuing such outdoor activities as sailing and fishing which had long been among his passions.

When I asked for his advice about where to go for a holiday in England he naturally recommended the Lake District. This was the dream world of his own childhood from which world emerged eventually

the magic 'of Swallows and Amazons.

Ransome became a great friend of Malcolm Muggeridge in the twenties and enthralled him with his first-hand accounts of life in Russia during the revolution. It was Arthur who recommended the youthful Muggeridge for a job on the Manchester Guardian.

Malcolm, distinctly agnostic and "irreverent" in his young days has, as everyone knows, become in recent years a religious figure of veritably mystical significance.

Arthur Ransome tended to reverse this process. Before giving up all formal attention to religion, he was wont, in his youth, to visit churches of different denominations every week.

Catholicism, however, never seems to have attracted him. He first settled down on his own in literary London, in about 1906. during a period when. W B Yeats was later to write. "nobody joined the Catholic Church; or if they did I have forgotten."

Conversion piece

YEATS was probably right in the general sense that there was a distinct lull in "conversions" during the first decade or so of this century.

The great wave of "going over to Rome" after the Oxford movement had long since subsided. though during the "aesthetic" period which followed, Catholicism held attractions for many. The last, perhaps, was Oscar Wilde who joined the Church just before his death.

It was not until the Great War and afterwards that another. if smaller. wave loomed on the horizon. Ronnie Knox became a Catholic in 1917, and G K Chesterton in 1922. Such names as Dawson, Greene and Waugh were added later still.

Ironically, however, during the very period singled out by Yeats, there was one conversion to Catholicism which was positively sensational.

For in 1906, Princess Ena of Battenberg, became engaged to "His Most Catholic Majesty," King Alfonso of Spain. Ena's mother was Princess Beatrice. youngest daughter of Queen Victoria. A condition of her marriage to the King of Spain was reception into the Catholic Church.

It turned out to be a traumatic process for the inexperienced and uncertain seventeen year old princess. Her uncle, Edward VII, gave his consent provided the princess went through the necessary motions "quietly abroad," rather as if it were an illicit operation, In the event, Bishop Robert Brindle of Nottingham journeyed to Versailles to give the princess a short course of instruction.

She was received soon afterwards in Spain in an elaborate ceremony at which many Spanish notabilities, but none of her own family, were present In those days it was necessary, on conversion, to abjure and ask pardon for one's past heretical beliefs and affirm one's conviction that salvation lay only through membership of the one. true, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church.

Ena. though tough in many ways, often broke down later in life under the tragedies that befell her. She believed that some of these were traceable to a "curse" put on her by the English Protestant friends because she had abandoned the faith of her upbringing for the sake, apparently, of becoming a Queen.

Anglican to Catholic

TWO WEEKS AGO I cited Cricklade in Wiltshire as the first place in England where an Anglican parish church had been transferred into Catholic hands. I went on to say that two other former Anglican churches, though not parish ones, had undergone a similar change. The first was St Etheldreda's Ely Place, London.

Unfortunately sub-editorial requirements at the "stone" required omission of my second example which was a particularly interesting one.

The story involved provides a unique and edifying example of ecumenical generosity on the part of the Church of England and therefore makes an appropriate item on the eve of Church Unity week.

In the year 1966, the church of St Leonard's in Malton, North Yorkshire, stood empty. It had been a chapel-of-ease to the parish church of St Michael's and the Anglican authorities, faced with the rising cost of maintaining a church badly in need of restoration and repair, reluctantly decided to discontinue services at St Leonard's.

A notice on a blackboard was placed in the porch of . the church. It read as follows: "This church is no longer in use, but please pray that it may have a future worthy of its great past."

Its history had indeed been illustrious and interesting, dating as it did from the twelfth century. It was built originally by the Gilbertines, the only religious order of purely English origin, which took its name from its founder (born in 1083) St Gilbert of Sempringham.

St Leonard's was established as a chapel-of-ease to the Gilbertine priory of St Mary at Malton. The priory survived until 1539 when, during the dissolution of monasteries, it finally surrendered to the Royal Commissioners. It was the last Gilbertine house to do so.

But St Leonard's continued to serve the Church of England for more than another four centuries until, that is, 1966 as mentioned above. Early in that year the man who had just become Bishop of Leeds, Bishop Gordon Wheeler, had a meeting with the Archdeacons of York and Cleveland. Their purpose was to see if a way could be found to allow the Catholic community of Malton to worship at St Leonard's.

The result was the magnificent and unprecedented gesture whereby after the necessary Order in Council had been obtained St Leonard's was transferred into Catholic hands as a completely free gift.

The existing, but insufficiently large, Catholic church bore the name of St Mary in memory of the ancient Gilbertine Priory. When the "new" (800 year old!) Catholic church came into use, in 1972, it bore the combined names of St Leonard and St Mary.

Extensive restoration had meanwhile been undertaken after an appeal had inevitably but successfully been launched. The church, dominating the town, is now flourishing, Fr Austin O'Neill having taken over as parish priest. The parish priest at the time of the transfer was Fr Michael Boyd.

St Leonard's has a stately tower which contains the town clock and a fine peal of 18th century bells. It retains its Norman arcades between nave and aisle, chancel and chapel, and has a pure Norman font with Jacobean cover. Be sure and pay a visit if you are ever in the attractive town of Malton.

IN CHARTERHOUSE Chronicle, issue of December 30, we gave an incorrect telephone number for the London-based adoption agency, Parents for Children. The correct number is 01-485 7526/ 7548.

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