Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller

Chapter VII - The Durnford Era - Part A

Despite the influx of even more modern conveniences (electricity, the radio, the motor car), life in the next 30-plus years would be like a roller coaster ride. Slow climbs and exhilarating highs would be followed by crashing lows, as the effects of the first world war, the roaring 1920s, the depression of the 1930s, and another world war, would rock the world scene.

Byron, of course, would experience its share of upheaval. Yet through it all, the people of St. Anne’s were provided with a human anchor. The Rev. Villiers Montague Durnford, a faithful and devoted pastor, shepherded the congregation through these turbulent times.

When Durnford took the parishes at Byron and Hyde Park in 1911, the world was still in a “slow climb” period. Originally assigned as an interim clergyman, presumably for a few months, Durnford wound up staying as rector for 31 years – until 1942.

He was 44 years old and already “seasoned,” when he arrived at St. Anne’s. A merchant for a few years before training for the priesthood, he was ordained deacon in 1895 and priest in 1896 by Bishop Baldwin, then spent 15 years serving in other parishes. Durnford and his wife, Isabella, had two sons and two daughters.

The Rectory at Hyde Park
Like the Rhodes family, the Durnfords took up residence at Hyde Park. Soon plans were underway to build a rectory there, on property donated by Vaughan Morris. The land was located adjacent to Church of the Hosannas property.

Reverend Villiers Mantague Durnford

The commitment of the two churches (Byron and Hyde Park) to provide a rectory for the new minister, must have been a factor in determining that Durnford’s stay would be long term rather than “interim.” In any case, he settled in.

Byron offered to contribute $600 towards the cost of the rectory; Hyde Park agreed to raise $1,200. In a written statement signed by V. M. Durnford on December 14, 1911, the executive committee of Church of the Hosannas promised to repay St. Anne’s its $600, in the event that the parishes became separated and were no longer served by the same incumbent. (When the separation took place some 40 years later, the money was returned to St. Anne’s, as agreed.)

A substantial brick house was built for the allotted $1,800. Durnford himself did much of the construction, which was typical of him throughout his ministry. Not only was he prepared to tackle hands-on labour when he deemed it necessary, but he was also loathe to take advantage of his parishioners’ money – to the point, later in his ministry, of financial self-sacrifice.

St. Anne’s raised its share of the rectory cost by canvassing members for subscriptions. A small loan was needed to make up the total.

In terms of its general accounts, however, the parish was, as the rector put it, in “a very prosperous condition.” (from vestry minutes, April 9, 1912) Fiscal reports show a surplus of funds at the end of each year from 1911 right up to 1919. Byron readily increased its share of the rector’s annual stipend from $225 to $300 in 1912, then to $350 in 1917, and up to $400 in 1918. In the same period, wages for the sexton, whose job included tending the fires and sweeping the church, were raised from $15 to $20 a year.

A Mighty Wind
About a year into Durnford’s incumbency, St. Anne’s saw what is probably the most spectacular event in its history. Durnford recorded the occurrence in his diary, and contributed his notes to Grace Bainard for The Story of St. Anne’s (1853-1953). The description is worth repeating here as Durnford wrote it:
"Having been requested to recall some of the outstanding incidents in the history of St. Anne’s Church, Byron, I might mention the wind storm of Good Friday, 1912, which lifted the roof completely off St. Anne's Church and dropped it at the front of the church shed. After the Good Friday service Mr. Frank Kains and myself remained talking about church matters in front of the shed after which Mr. Kains left for his home and I decided to go and call on Miss Maud Meriam who was dangerously ill. On my way to the Meriam home a terrific wind sprang up and for some minutes my horse was unable to pull the buggy and endeavoured to turn around. After my visit to the Meriam home, the wind having subsided, I started for Hyde Park. When passing the Church I observed that the roof of same had been ripped off and was lying on the very spot where Mr. Kains and myself had been standing after coming out from the church service. I called at the Ormond home and informed them of what had happened. Mrs. [Alice] Ormond immediately started to phone the members of the congregation, telling them of what had occurred. The following night there was a heavy fall of snow which spoiled the plastered ceiling.

“The Easter Day service was held in one of the rooms of the school, while the rest of our Sunday services until the repairs were made were held in the Methodist Church, having received a most cordial invitation from the officers of that church. A meeting was called and arrangements were made to start replacing the roof, which was done by the men of the congregation, and I was asked to draw a plan for a wood ceiling which I furnished Mr. Kernohan, who supplied the material, and the work of placing same was done by Mr. Cyrus Wells and his brother Lawyer. The work of staining the wood of the ceiling was done by myself, the Wells Bros. having provided the scaffold which was moved as needed from place to place.”

The congregation and rector responded to the incident with characteristic practicality. They rolled up their sleeves and proceeded to repair the damage. If there was a moment when Durnford’s relationship was cemented with St. Anne’s, it would have been when parishioners saw him up on the scaffold, staining the ceiling. Yet, besides assisting with repair work, he also made sure that worship services continued on schedule.

Added Duties
Durnford’s parochial duties were increased late in 1912, when Bishop David Williams added Trinity Church, Lambeth, to his charge. (Once again, Byron and Hyde Park were linked with Lambeth in a three-point parish.)

Later, Durnford took on further ministerial work. For some years, he was also chaplain to patients at Beck Sanatorium. The sanatorium (now site of Child and Parent Resource Institute) was opened in 1910 to house persons with tuberculosis.

Synod reports document some of Durnford’s work at the sanatorium. In 1936 alone, he made 122 trips to the institution, visited 1,017 patients, and administered Holy Communion to 107. He received a grant of $100 a year from the diocese for his chaplaincy work and was praised by Synod for his “most excellent work among the patients at the sanatorium.” (from the 1954 synod journal)
Meanwhile he fulfilled all his priestly responsibilities in the three parishes. His reputation as a tireless pastor was well-earned.

It is not surprising that, when the horse and buggy gave way to the automobile, Durnford was among the first in the area to acquire motorized transportation. With all his on-the-job travel, he needed it. His “machine,” however, did not always work properly. This meant that parishioners took a great interest in the car on a Sunday morning, especially when something went wrong. An audience often gathered outside the church after the service, to watch the rector’s precarious take-off. (from a published article by Grace Bainard)

Parish Activities
In his early years at St. Anne’s, Durnford organized, strengthened and expanded parish activities. He organized an Anglican Young People’s Association (A.Y.P.A.) in about 1912, supported the formation of a women’s guild in 1922, and established a cemetery board in 1925.

At the same time, the W.A. maintained its work for missions, adding a Junior Auxiliary (J.A.) in 1917 and a Girls Auxiliary (G.A.) in 1925. The choir thrived under the faithful leadership of Alice Ormond who was church organist from 1903 to 1933. And the Sunday School grew.

Sunday School
Durnford assumed the role of Sunday School superintendent throughout his incumbency. While numbers of pupils had been small in previous years (just six children in 1906), attendance increased to about 25 by the late 1920s. Lessons were held in the church nave, and started one hour before the regular Sunday 11 a.m. service.

Marjorie (Foyston) Soper, who attended the Sunday School during the 1920s and early 1930s, remembered the church as being cold and dark. In winter, the children who squeezed into the long front pew kept most of their outdoor clothing on, to stay warm, she said. The heating system – a wood-burning box stove at the back – sent precious little heat to the front. The heat was supposed to travel through the overhead stove pipe that ran the length of the building to the chancel. But it didn’t, to any appreciable extent. Meanwhile, the youngsters meeting at the back of the church sweltered near the stove. A similar variation in temperature prevailed when the adults came to church afterwards.

Another inconvenience of the era was the outdoor privy – a drafty structure located at the back of the church property – which some parishioners avoided using, if at all possible.

Still the children came, week after week, for their religious education… because it was expected, because it was their way of life, because they were part of the small St. Anne’s community.
As for the lessons, “there were no Sunday School books or materials except for a calendar-type book which hung on an easel and was turned weekly to the appropriate lesson,” said Marjorie. “Of course we also had a Bible and a Prayer Book.” (from “Serendipity,” memories of St. Anne’s seniors, 2003)

In Marjorie’s time, three classes – junior girls, senior girls, and a boys’ class – were conducted simultaneously in the church. Each class had its own teacher.

When Durnford started St. Anne’s A.Y.P.A. in 1912, he could not have anticipated that a world war would interrupt the group’s existence. The organization was set up to provide recreational, cultural and spiritual activities for the youth of the parish. Meetings were held in members’ homes.

But as Orlo Miller wrote in his book London 200 An Illustrated History (1992): “World War One abruptly ended the blissful age of innocence so familiar to the entire country.”

After war was declared in 1914, local young people began signing up to join the armed forces. Before long, some of them were headed for the battlefields of Europe. The A.Y.P.A. in Byron disbanded when Cuthbert McEwen, one of the group’s presidents, enlisted for the war. These were trying times.

Many women of the parish did their part for the war effort by sewing and knitting for the Red Cross.

Although the war ended in 1918, it was 1923 before the A.Y.P.A. was revived at St. Anne’s. The group then continued to function until the outbreak of the second world war in 1939.
Between the wars, the youth of the parish were active in area A.Y.P.A. competitions, held card parties and breakfast cookouts, participated in church services and gave dramatic presentations. In 1932, they performed “Good Morning Bill” in Byron and neighbouring villages. For many participants, this was the highlight of their experience with St. Anne’s A.Y.P.A.

St. Anne’s Guild
The women’s guild that operated at the church in the 1890s, apparently stopped functioning by the end of the nineteenth century. Subsequently, parochial work and fundraising had become somewhat haphazard, depending on new (or same-old) volunteers, every time a job needed doing.

But in 1922, the congregation was in high spirits. The church had just been electrified and members were ready to spread their wings in new ways.

The women of the parish were eager to meet the needs of the church in a more planned and organized fashion. Hence, with Durnford’s blessing, they met on an early summer afternoon in 1922, and formed St. Anne’s Guild. Isabella Durnford was named honorary president, with other officers being Alice Ormond, president, Matilda Hart, secretary, and Minnie Grove, treasurer.

Putting their heads together and hands to work at monthly meetings, guild members soon devised ways to raise money. They sold home baking, preserves, crafts and articles of sewing, hosted afternoon teas and social evenings. Profits were used for improvements to church property and occasionally for general church expenses.

One year, Ms. Durnford invited the guild to hold its June meeting at the rectory in Hyde Park, where the women served refreshments and offered home made goods for sale. This turned out to be the inauguration of the “June Tea,” an annual parish event for decades to come.

From the beginning, the guild also took on the duties of arranging flowers on the altar for special occasions (later, every Sunday), delivering food or flowers to the sick and bereaved, welcoming new babies with gifts, assisting with Sunday School picnics and Christmas programs.

Similar work is carried on in 2019 by the Anglican Church Women (A.C.W.).

The Cemetery Board
Care of the cemetery was sporadic through the early period of Durnford’s incumbency. The church wardens would call a “bee” when maintenance was needed, and no charge was made for burials.

But the congregation was in a mood to run its affairs more efficiently. When Durnford called a parish meeting in June, 1925, to consider the upkeep of the cemetery, many concerned parishioners turned out. A six-person Cemetery Board was established, three members being appointed by the rector and three being elected. Durnford named the two church wardens (Alfred Kains and Thomas Sulston) plus Wesley Meriam to the board; the congregation elected Mabel Wickerson, Leslie Griffeth and Elsie Frank.

A breakthrough decision was made at the first meeting, namely, that “a fee of ten dollars be charged for the privilege of breaking ground for a burial.” (from board minutes).

Furthermore, a committee was named to canvass for funds for cemetery maintenance. Canvassers received a “hearty vote of thanks” at a follow-up meeting a month later, when they reported collecting $147.75 for the cause. The same July evening, Mabel Wickerson became secretary-treasurer of the board, a position she held continuously and conscientiously until 1954.

The first custodian of the cemetery was Fred Kains who started work in the spring of 1926 for 40 cents an hour, and continued tending the grounds until 1933. He was followed by a Mr. Woollard.

There is nothing in cemetery board minutes to indicate that Kains and Woollard, as custodians, were expected to dig graves. However, William Handley, their successor in 1942, was responsible for digging the graves as well as maintaining the cemetery grounds. His starting wage was a meager 25 cents an hour, which was raised the next year, on Handley’s request, to 40 cents.

The cemetery board executed a number of improvements in the early years. They had earth hauled in to fill in the cemetery’s low spots, obtained proper drainage, started an endowment fund, and drew up a plan to ensure that the names and grave locations were correct. Seemly functioning of cemetery business was well-launched in Durnford’s time.

A Family Calling
Durnford’s ministry at St. Anne’s was a family affair. Several of his family members played an active part in parish life.

His wife, Isabella, for example, besides being honorary president of the guild, was also a Sunday School teacher, a choir member, and belonged to the Women’s Auxiliary.
When she died on August 2, 1931, the entire congregation mourned her loss.

Grace Bainard remembered the day of Ms. Durnford’s death this way: “One sad Sunday morning, our rector V.M. Durnford came as usual and conducted the service but instead of the sermon he said, ‘My dear wife died this morning at five o’clock.’ Quite a shock and some tears shed.”

With sympathy, prayers and support from the parish, Durnford carried on.

The Durnfords’ daughters, Mary (Tuckey) and Louise (later Clark), continued their active involvement at St. Anne’s. After the loss of her husband Arnold, Mary and her daughter, Mary Lou, resided in the rectory with Durnford.

Mary Tuckey made some significant contributions to the parish. Even though a Junior Auxiliary (for girls ages 6 to 10) had been started in 1917, it had only lasted for three years. In 1925, Mary revived the J.A. and also started a Girls Auxiliary for teenagers (ages 11 to 18). She ran both groups with assistance from other parishioners. Like the W.A., with whom they were affiliated, the girls’ branches supported missions. Later a Little Helpers group for tots under the age of seven was added. Mary, along with Muriel Foyston, led this group as well.

Mary was also a dedicated Sunday School teacher and her daughter, Mary Lou, attended Sunday School and J.A. at St. Anne’s.


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