John Homer Killick: Curate of New St George’s, Stalybridge 1870-1871
In his history of the Parish of St George, Stalybridge, Paul Denby writes: “The Leeson brothers had clearly made a significant contribution to the life of the two churches of St George and also to the community; they would be a hard act to follow. Frederick Leeson was succeeded in 1871 by Henry John Hutchinson…..” (1). It is true that the incumbent who followed Leeson was Henry Hutchinson, but in between, the church was in the care of John Homer Killick, who was appointed as curate in charge in June 1870 when “At the urgent request of the few who had remained faithful to the church, and others who felt interested therein, a deputation waited upon the Reverend Mr. Killick earnestly soliciting his consent to undertake the charge of the parish, which, after mature consideration, and from a strong desire to render his entire aid in restoring the church to its former condition, he agreed to do” (2).
At a congregational tea party held in Stalybridge Town Hall in September, where Killick introduced himself to the town, he spoke of New St George’s having “been for many years lying under a dense and dark cloud”(3). The Reporter later gave more details: “Some time ago it appears that the church became much neglected, and through a want of confidence in the then pastor, the church became all but deserted by the congregation, and the building, for want of proper attention was rapidly falling into decay. Certain painful inquiries were instituted, which it is not necessary for us now to enter into, and they resulted in the removal of the officiating clergyman for a period of eighteen months.” (4) and a member if the congregation described his own experiences: “Often have I been at St. George's Church when there has not been a dozen adults at service” (5).
Like many Victorian clergymen, John Homer Killick was the son of a cleric – his father having had parishes in Salisbury and the Midlands. John held a degree from the University of London and was a Licentiate in Theology of University College, Durham. He was ordained Deacon in the Parish Church of Heaton Mersey in 1868, and Priest in Manchester Cathedral in 1869, where, among the other ordinands was Dr James M Cranswick, who would later become vicar of St Paul’s, Stalybridge, and a friend to Killick during his time in Stalybridge.(6)
He was appointed curate to St Paul’s Church, Burnley, and while there gained a reputation as a preacher, as well as being popular with the people of the parish. At a ceremony to mark his leaving the church, it was said: “Mr. Killick was for more than two years the curate of this church, and by his efficiency in the pulpit, and his activity in the parish endeared himself to his people.” (7)
Once appointed to New St George’s, John began to tackle the problems he had inherited:
“At that time the congregation was lamentably small --Indeed it could scarcely be said that a congregation existed--the building was in a state of dilapidation, and quite unfit for divine worship.“
Mr Killick, with an energy not checked by the multitude of discouragements he had to encounter, with no positive congregation, without pecuniary support, and at the sacrifice of other and immediate prospects, apparently more advantageous, undertook the labour, anxiety, and responsibility of attempting to carry out the wishes of the requisitionists (i.e. those who had asked him to come to the church). In a short time the church began to assume a very different aspect. The congregation gradually increased, and by great efforts, mainly attributable to Mr. Killick, funds were raised, for the thorough restoration of the building, the improvement of the seat accommodation, the heating of the church; and a number of other matters essentially necessary for the proper conduct of the service of the church.
“Without going much into details we would refer to the covering throughout with matting; the painting of the doors, the washing and colouring of the walls, the putting in of a warming apparatus (which alone cost £90); the purchase of a lectern, the re-binding of the books, the rebaizing of the doors; the repairs of the roof; and, in short, the thorough restoration of the whole building- internal and external- so much so that the church can scarcely be recognised when compared with its condition twelve months since. For these purposes about £200 have been raised, and at the present time larger funds are promised to effect further necessary improvements about the execution of which your petitioners are exceedingly anxious. Mr. Killick has recently been actively engaged in soliciting the means necessary for the erection of schools, and he has so far succeeded, both in the district and amongst his personal friends in various parts of the country, that we feel assured, in the course of a few months, he will be able to effect the desired object. (New St George’s had been talking about building a school for years before Killick came, but following his fund raising efforts and the momentum he created, the school opened within two years of his leaving). Mr. Killick has proved himself to be both an efficient minister in the church, and an indefatigable worker in the parish. He is highly esteemed and beloved throughout the whole district. His conciliatory manner, his thorough, sincere, and earnest devotion to his work, and, above all, his unimpeachable conduct as a Christian, and faithful servant of his Divine Master, have endeared him to the hearts of all the parishioners….”(8)
According to a later report: “In the fourteen months of his curacy, he had been able to collect and spend between £200 and £300 on the building and the congregation had risen from 14 to 20 to over 250.” (9) and, in addition, he had established a school in Spring Street.
In May 1871 Frederick Charles Leeson, the absent incumbent, died in London, and almost immediately rumours began to circulate about who would be his successor - as the Reporter noted: “It is rumoured that another reverend gentleman, unknown to the parishioners, had received a part promise of the appointment” (10). So alarmed did the congregation become, that they called a public meeting of “the parishioners of the parish commonly known as New St. George's, whether pewholders, seatholders, members of the congregation or not; also all persons otherwise connected with or interested in the said church of St. George's, the Hague, to be held on Monday next, May 8th, 1871” - to petition the Rector of Ashton who was the patron of the living. Initially, the meeting was to take place in the Spring Street school, but this proved to be too small and it was transferred to the Town Hall.
The unanimous feeling of the meeting was: "They did not want a man to come here simply to reside, but a man to work. They wanted a young man of stability, who was not afraid to exert himself from night to day, and one who could associate with his parishioners from the highest to the lowest, and in Mr Killick they had that man. (Cheers.) There was but one common feeling in the parish and district - in fact in the whole town - and that was that Mr. Killick should be favoured with the appointment ". (11) A Memorial setting out Killick’s claims was drawn up, to which were attached 3000 signatures and this was then presented to the Rector of Ashton.
The Rector of Ashton at this time was Thomas (Thompson) Eager, M.A. who had only recently taken up the post, having been incumbent at Audenshaw (12). Soon the Reporter noted: “The Rector of Ashton had surrendered the right to nominate to the living at St George's to the Earl of Stamford – (later the Reporter claimed that Eager did not feel comfortable with the position he found himself in) - and there were rumours that pressure was being mounted on behalf of another clergyman, this despite the work Killick had done in restoring a "wrecked" church and increasing its congregation” and it went on: “"We trust, however, that the Earl of Stamford will not consent to sacrifice the wishes of a whole congregation to satisfy the claims of others, who have only private friendship for their excuse in becoming candidates for the appointment”(13).
The patience of St George’s congregation began to grow thin, judging by letters appearing the local press, but at last an appointment was announced. The new vicar of St George’s was to be the Rev. Henry John Hutchinson, the vicar of Brompton with Snainton, York. The Reporter was not pleased:
“Will our readers credit the fact that the prayer [i.e. the wishes of the congregation] has been set at nought? But it is so. The worshippers at New St. George's Church are not to have a voice in the election of a person as their spiritual adviser. The Earl of Stamford's agent has intimated his intention to appoint a gentleman to the living who resided in Stalybridge twenty years ago and who is therefore, comparatively speaking, forgotten by the present generation of church-going people. We allude to the Rev. John Hutchinson, formerly curate of Old St. George's Church, Cockerhill, …… We hear of expressions of regret upon all sides at the treatment Mr. Killick has received…….. Mr. Hutchinson may be one of the best of men, and of his abilities we have not one word to say ; but his appointment, in opposition to those who should compose his flock, will, we fear, make his duties, for some length of time at least, not so smooth and comfortable as he could desire" (14).
John Hutchinson was a nephew of the late Rev. John Hutchinson, formerly the Rector of Ashton-under-Lyne, and afterwards incumbent of St., Peter's, Ashton, he was for some years curate of Hurst before going to Brompton in 1861. At the time of his marriage in 1854, where both of the Leeson brothers officiated, he was described as Curate of St George’s Chapel (15).
Although there were rumours that Hutchinson had been asked to keep Killick on as a curate, these were denied. However, “deputations waited upon the Rev. Mr. Hutchinson at the request of the congregation, to inform that gentleman of the very strong feeling existing in favour of the Rev. Mr. Killick so that he might not accept the living in entire ignorance of such feeling.” (16)
John Killick left New St George’s to take up a post as curate at Bolton Parish Church. In December, the following appeared in the Reporter:
“Testimonial to the Rev. J.H. KlLLlCK B.A. A MEETING will be held in S. Paul's Schoolroom, Stayley (kindly lent for the purpose), on Saturday, December 23rd, at seven p.m., to PRESENT to the Rev. Mr. KILLICK a TESTIMONIAL, subscribed for by his friends, and a POCKET COMMUNION SERVICE from the teachers and scholars of S. George's (the Hague), in recognition of his devoted and efficient services as pastor of the church and parish during fourteen months.”
The meeting was well attended, including many who were not members of New St George’s but who had admired the work John Killick had done. After the presentation, Killick refused to take credit for the improvements to New St George’s which had taken place while he was curate. Rather, he pointed to the work of numerous members of his congregation: “They worked for the love of work, he used no control over those who went the proper road to improve the church, consequently that was no credit to him. The improvements outside the church were not to be placed to his credit--they belonged to the people who were associated with him.”(17). On a more sober note, he commented on the damage done to the Church of England by the patronage system and the inequalities in income for clergy working in the new parishes in the industrial areas compared with those working in the ancient parishes of England.
After leaving New St George’s, Killick went as curate to Bolton Parish Church and later was curate at Preston Parish Church. He had only recently taken up the post at Preston when he accepted the post of chaplain to the Bishop of Calcutta, based at Jeypore. Together with his wife, he set sail on the steamer Europa, but when they were only four days sail out from Bombay, tragedy stuck when John Killick succumbed to sunstroke and died on 13 June 1875. He was only 34 years old (18).
John Hutchinson, his successor remained at New St. George’s until 1884 when he resigned having been in bad health and having been advised to seek a warmer climate (19). He died at Brighton on 23 Nov 1909.
It is possible that Leeson’s health was one factor in the decision to remove him from New St George’s - (although an incident in 1852 when he sacked the organist and choir in a dispute over singing the responses in the Communion service suggests Leeson liked to have his own way (20)) - and that Killick’s appointment was always meant to be a short-term measure until a permanent solution could be found. As Hutchinson was an experienced clergyman with connections to the area through marriage and his previous posts, as well as being known to the political establishment through his relationship to the former Rector of Ashton and Vicar of St Peter’s, Ashton, he may have already been identified as the long term solution for New St George’s.
The Reporter, having documented Killick’s time in Stalybridge in some details, was clear in its opinion of the appointment: “As we have observed on previous occasions, those constant interferences with the liberties of church congregations will cause a spirit of inquiry to spring up as to whether such a system of church patronage is to be exercised for the future, and we are convinced that such proceedings will help forward the efforts of those parties who are determined either to disestablish the Church of England or to revolutionise the various anomalies which exist in connection with it.” (21). In fact, an auxiliary branch of the Liberation Society (or Society for the Liberation of Religion from State Patronage and Control) was active in Ashton at a time when the Society was promoting bills for the disestablishment of the Church of England in Parliament.
A few years ago there was a fashion for counterfactual history, asking, “what might have been” had history taken a different course. Killick’s story tempts us to ask the same. He was a popular, energetic and effective minister. What might have been the story of New St George’s had he been made incumbent instead of Hutchinson?
1 Denby, Paul. Two into one will go. Stalybridge, St George’s Church. 1990. p69
2 Ashton Reporter, 13/05/1871
3 Ashton Reporter, 10/07/1970
4 Ashton Reporter, 13/05/1871
5 Ashton Reporter, 17/06/1871
6 Ecclesiastical Gazette, 13/04/1869, p.268
7 Burnley Advertiser, 30/07/1870
8 Ashton Reporter, 13/05/1871
9 Ashton Reporter, 30/12/1871
10 Ashton Reporter, 13/05/1871
11 Ashton Reporter, 13/05/1871
12 His arrival at Ashton was greeted with a poem:
“On the appointment of the Rev. T. Eager to the Rectory of Ashton-under-Lyne.”
O Ashton, thy God visits thee;
A fav’ring Providence now to see:
A pastor comes who will preside
Within his cure,
The author, Thomas Freeman, the incumbent of Mellor, explained: “The previous incumbent of the valuable rectory of this important town had for a number of years been non-resident. Mr Eager (who received the appointment in the autumn of 1870) had long been known as an active and popular clergyman in the locality”. (Freeman, Spare minutes of a country parson: a volume of miscellaneous poetry on a great variety of subjects. Heywood, Manchester. .)
13 Ashton Reporter, 27/05/1871
14 Ashton Reporter, 01/07/1871
15 Yorkshire Gazette, 18/08/1854
16 Ashton Reporter, 08/07/1871
17 Ashton Reporter, 30/12/1871
18 Burnley Advertiser, Saturday 24/07/1875
19 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 25/07/1884
20 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 18/09/1852
21 Ashton Reporter, 10/07/1871
Acknowledgement: Included by kind permission of Mr George Maddock