Monday, June 20, 2011

Fr. John Basil Lee Jellicoe, Part 1

Today, we'll take a look at a short thread we've been following, trying to get some closure on the preface to the 1933 book Meredith and Co. by George Mills. There are a few other loose ends to pursue besides this, and I think my work here at Who Is George Mills? will be just about complete.

As we know, the preface referred to two men, as having been helpful and encouraging during his production of the manuscript for the text: Mr A. Bishop, the "Head Master of Magdalen College School, Brackley," and Mr. H.E. Howell, an "old friend."

H. E. Howell remains unidentified, a mysterious man of some influence on George Mills, but unknown to us today.

Last time we found out that Bishop was Arthur Henry Burdick Bishop, not only once Head Master of Magdalen in Brackley, but longtime, successful Head at Warwick School. Many thanks to Mr. G. N. Frykman, archivist at Warwick for his wealth of information on Bishop and the school of his era (1936-1962), as well as for his effort to get someone at Magdalen College School to contact me.

Magdalen College School, or should I say schools, has an interesting history. There are apparently three: Oxford, Brackley, and Lincolnshire, although it appears the name of the last is the Skegness Grammar School. That name, interestingly, was taken in 1933 upon its relocation from Wainfleet.

The Oxford school, originally located in Magdalen College, since has moved across the Magdalen Bridge and expanded.

The institution of our interest here, though, is Brackley, and according to Wikipedia, the college still owns the site in South Horthamptonshire, and has a presence on the governing board.

This historical presence ties the school to the famed Magdalen College, Oxford, and it is there that our investigation leads us. First let's look at an historical figure with close ties to Magdalen College as well.

During the 1920s, a fiery reformer named Fr. Basil Jellicoe [right] took the stage. Born on 5 February 1899 in Chailey, Sussex. Jellicoe is noted in a 1917 Chailey parish magazine as having been "Univ OTC, Oxford." Subsequent issues note that Jellicoe served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during 1918 and is described as an 'assistant paymaster,' a designation that ended in July 1919, when Jellicoe was presumably disembarked from his service after the end of hostilities in the First World War.

The 2004 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says this about Jellicoe:

Jellicoe, (John) Basil Lee (1899-1935), housing reformer and Church of England clergyman, was born on 5 February 1899 at Chailey, Sussex, the elder son of Thomas Harry Lee Jellicoe, rector of Chailey, and his wife, Bethia Theodora, youngest daughter of Sir John Boyd, of Maxpoffle, Roxburgh, lord provost of Edinburgh from 1888 to 1891. His father was a cousin of J. R. Jellicoe, first Earl Jellicoe.

A few months before the end of the First World War he left Oxford to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served for a short time in the Mediterranean.

On the website Chailey 1914-1918, Paul Nixon gives his opinion regarding that entry:

This rather spare and stuffy review does not appear to do justice to the man. In the 1920s he campaigned successfully to replace the Somers Town slums in Camden, north London with decent housing and was a colossus in the neighbourhood as well as a firm favourite with the residents. He founded what later became the St Pancras Housing and Humanist Association and helped set up similar groups throughout England. He worked tirelessly for the benefit of poorer communities and must have been sorely missed when he died at the young age of 36.

Father Luke Miller, President of the Haileybury Society, wrote this of Jellicoe:

Just after the First World War Jellicoe had come down from Magdalene Oxford, been ordained and appointed as the Magdalene College Missioner, responsible for a Christian Mission to the area round S. Pancras station in London supported and funded by members of his college. It was an area of slums: dark alleys, stinking tenements, jumbles of dwellings with no sanitation, no light and providing hardly any shelter.

Seeing the terrible housing conditions Father Jellicoe insisted that the spiritual duty of the church for the souls of her children must extend to a physical duty to their wellbeing and specifically to their housing.

Jellicoe cajoled the owners; raised the funds; demanded support; lobbied politicians; worked to change opinion, employed the press – Gaumont films made a news reel that was sent round the country and the world – and generally made himself a nuisance to anyone and everyone to get things done. It was fabulously successful. Things were done and the whole area was transformed.

His work spread beyond to confines of his own parish. He was called on to develop his new concept of Housing Associations in the Isle of Dogs in London and in other cities in the nation. His idea spread round the world, and he is the father of social housing.

Father Jellicoe was not a social reformer. He was a Gospel preacher. Once he described the beginning of the work with the housing. “We wanted money for these building schemes” he said, “So whom do you suppose we went to? Well we went first to a poor paralyzed woman who hadn’t a penny, who couldn’t use anything but her lips, but who knew how to pray. That was the beginning of everything.”

It was costly what he did. It was costly to others who had to give up their preconceptions and their prejudices and be carried along by him in his enthusiasm for the gospel. But it was also costly for him. Twice he had breakdowns under the pressure of the work. He drew strength from his daily offering of the Body and Blood of Jesus at the altar in his church; he organized a prayer guild to sustain the mission in prayer, and he drew on the power of the scriptures in his spiritual warfare. But it cost him nonetheless.

Someone who knew him well wrote of him, “I can see him now, pacing round and round the room, a soul on fire within a rather faded cassock, his eyes ablaze with what I can only call a fury of faith for the fighting of ancient wrongs, his heart aglow with affection for all sorts and conditions of men and with visions for their greater good. I wondered how long it would take for so keen a flame to burn out.”

Basil Jellicoe died, burnt out and exhausted, aged just 36.

At a Service of Thanksgiving celebrating the renewal of St. Martin-in-the-Fields 0n 28 April 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned Jellicoe: "In the days when St Martin's was gloriously beginning to reinvent itself in the second and third decades of the last century, a very great Anglo-Catholic priest, Father Basil Jellicoe, at that time the incumbent at St Paul's Convent Garden, was challenged by some of his more narrow-minded High Church friends about why he would come to celebrate and preach in a parish church like this where the blessed sacrament was not reserved. Father Jellicoe said he had no problem at all in coming to preach in a church part of which was reserved for the service of Christ in the form of his poor."

I will not pretend to have any real knowledge of the High Church, Low Church, Anglo-Catholicism, or of the relationship between the Anglican Church and Roman Catholicism.

Although we have not established fully a relationship between Jellicoe and George Mills, regular readers will find a few items already begin jump out from the above. More coincidences involving George Mills? His life seems at times to have been not much more than a series of interesting coincidences!

While it is no more a coincidence that Mills and Jellicoe served in WWI than it would be for any of the other countless men and women who served, it is interesting to note that both Mills and Jellicoe served in the pay corps during the conflict.

Interestingly, despite being a pay corps wash-out as a fatigue man in the Great War, Mills righted the ship of his military career by later himself becoming a member of the reserve of officers [how, exactly, is unknown] and serving as a lieutenant paymaster during the Second World War.

After the First World War, we know Mills attended Oxford, the location of Magdalen College, where Jellicoe received undeniable financial help via the "Magdalen College Mission," as we can see from the image at right.

In addition, Revd Barton R. V. Mills, an Anglican cleric converted to Roman Catholicism and the father of George Mills, is noted for having "founded the Association for Improving the Status of the Unbeneficed Clergy, and was [honourable] secretary of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children" during his life, as described in his obituary in the Times of London. These charitable works occupied the time of the senior Mills from the 1920s through his passing in 1932.

In fact, as early as 1884, when Barton Mills was beginning his career as a cleric, he was found "sitting on the Battersea Committee as an active member, according to a 15 December [1884] report by The Council of the Society for Organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity," and during the First World War, he had served as an "Acting Chaplain to the Forces."

The Rev. Mills had spent his life doing good works, and in a time when the young Jellicoe—a man with so much passion and vision—couldn't have helped but capture the notice and perhaps fancy of the elder cleric, George's father.

Lastly, we also know that much of George's life was concerned with religion. His father obviously had strong but ambivalent feelings about the exact nature of his own spirituality, converting to Roman Catholicism during the period in his life in which he also began serving as a vicar in the Anglican Church, and Barton later an assistant chaplain in the Chapel Royal at the Savoy.

The tribute paid by the Archbishop of Canterbury above to Fr. Jellicoe seems to apply to the Rev. Mills as well: "[He would have] had no problem at all in coming to preach in [any] church part of which was reserved for the service of Christ in the form of his poor."

Despite current skepticism by the Savoy itself, it's clear that the Rev. Mills had converted to Roman Catholicism (as did many of the men he saw as role models of his youth, like Rev. R. S. Hawker, who converted on his deathbed). By 1956, we find George Mills teaching at Ladycross School [left], a Catholic preparatory school in Seaford, Sussex, and having his own memorial service held at Catholic Church of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles in Budleigh Salterton in 1972.

Jellicoe saw a blurred line between an exact daily practice of Christianity and its more important function of providing a necessary service to humankind. He was a charitable reformer in the same city at the same time George's own father was. Both Mills and Jellicoe had ties to Oxford in the 1920s. And just before that time, Jellicoe, like Mills, recently had served under the Colours in the pay corps, of all things!

These still could be coincidences, but we'll try to tie them together even a bit more tightly (and weave in Bishop and Howell) next time—stay tuned!

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