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Canon Harry Drew, Vicar of Buckley"


Buckley Society Magazine Issue Two, July 1971


HARRY DREW Vicar of Buckley, 1897-1904


IN 1897 BUCKLEY was a scattered place, neither town nor village. Its roads and lanes, many of which came to a dead end, straggled over the top of 'the Mountain', the five-hundred feet high hill that rose from the estuary of the river Dee, and open to all the winds that blew. Its people, numbering about 6,600, were mainly of the labouring class, working in the brickworks, potteries and collieries and on the farms. Its houses too were scattered and were built to the whim and fancy of the owner, seldom bearing any relationship as to aspect or alignment with neighbouring properties.


The people however were much more conformist in outlook, being conservative in opinion and suspicious of change:


As it was in the beginning so it must ever be;

Time never stays until it stops with me.


They were in Wales but not of Wales. They were satisfied with 'what was' and cared little for 'what's to come'. Of those who professed allegiance to any religious denomination half were nonconformists, though the majority regarded the parish church with affection and respect, due no doubt to the fact that they had received what education they had had in the National schools.


This then was the place and these the people to whom came one who was to have a profound and lasting influence on both the religious and social life of the district. The Rev. Harry Drew, MA., was inducted vicar of Buckley in succession to the Rev. William Dampier, B.A., on the 30th of April, 1897. The same year saw the institution of the Buckley Urban District, the first election of fifteen members of the council being held in November. These two events, each in its own way, were to revitalize the neighbourhood and rouse its people to a sense of duty and responsibility.


HARRY DREW was born in the small village of Kenton, near Exeter, in 1856. The second son of John Drew, land agent to Lord Devon, and reared in a country home, he grew up into a typical country boy, strong, fond of games and the open air. During the years spent in Buckley Harry Drew showed and put into practice a keen insight into the details of landed property, the condition and adaptability of buildings and a knowledge of plants and gardening, all of which he must have unconsciously acquired from his father during those early formative years.


He received his early education at Newton Abbot College, from where he matriculated to Keble College, Oxford, graduating with honours in History in 1878. While at Oxford be rowed for his college eight and also took an active part in games and athletics. His vacations were often spent in walking tours, some of which brought him to North Wales. There too he and a fellow student, after discussing their plans for the future, exclaimed, "Well, whatever happens, none of your parsons for us! "; a resolve which fortunately for us was not kept. After some months spent as a private tutor and as an assistant master at his old school in Newton Abbot, he entered Cuddeston College in 1882 to study Theology. He was ordained deacon at St Asaph cathedral in 1883 and priest in 1884, being licensed as curate to the Rev. Stephen Gladstone, rector of Hawarden.


The parish of Hawarden at that time maintained churches and schools at Broughton, Penymynydd, Shotton, Sealand and Saltney, so that the young curate was immediately involved in the strenuous work that these entailed and found ample scope for his unbounded energy and enthusiasm. At Hawarden it was natural that the parochial staff should come into almost daily contact with the occupants of Hawarden castle and Harry Drew soon became a frequent and welcome guest in the household of the Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone, and it was no surprise when in 1886 he married Mary, the second daughter of the 'Grand Old Man' and Mrs Gladstone. They had one daughter, Dorothy, now Mrs Parish and living in Taunton.


In 1893 Mr Drew sought to widen his experience and knowledge of the work of the church and, in spite of the tempting offer of the rectorship of Hawarden, he resigned his curacy and sailed to South Africa where he did almost a year's duty as curate of St Saviour's Church, Claremont, near Cape Town. On his return to Britain he undertook the task of organizing and cataloguing the contents of St Deiniol's Library at Hawarden, which had been set up and endowed by his father in law for the promotion of religious scholarship. This work engaged him for two years and on returning from a short holiday spent in the Holy Land he was offered the vacant living of St Matthew's Church, Buckley.


HAVING LIVED for so long within sight and walking distance of the clusters of tall chimneys which crowned the bleak hill to the west of Hawarden, Mr Drew could have been in no doubt as to the problems and difficulties with which he would be faced as vicar of Buckley, neither could he have doubted his ability and determination to tackle and solve them. The parish church, built in 1821 within the space of nine months and strikingly attractive in its outward appearance, was plain, inconvenient and uninspiring within, and was badly in need of repair. The vicarage, built in 1819 to serve as both parsonage and day school and for the most part occupied by bachelor clergymen, was also dilapidated. The three day schools were overcrowded and in debt, and the managers were under great pressure from H.M.Inspectors for their improvement.


Within a short space of time these all received the vicar's attention. The church clock was repaired; the tower roof was made weatherproof and a flag staff was erected; the churchyard was tidied and beautified with trees and flowering shrubs; more efforts were made and funds were raised to eliminate the debt on the schools and an additional classroom was built onto each of the four departments; the vicarage was repaired and modernised; the mission churches at Pentre and Ewloe Green were repaired and redecorated and were reopened for regular weekly services. These however were but minor undertakings and were carried out at the same time as what proved to be a complete rebuilding and refurnishing of the parish church.


Soon after taking up his duties in the parish Mr Drew offered to provide a new vestry for the clergy and choir at his own expense. This generous offer was gratefully accepted and the work was put in hand. When this was completed he began the rebuilding of the chancel as a memorial to Mrs Drew's father the Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone who had died in 1898. After the consecration of the new chancel in 1901 work commenced on the west end to provide a baptistery (in memory of Mrs Gladstone) and a font; and to these were added a lychgate, a porch (the gift of Mrs Drew) and a remodelled tower, which housed a new peal of eight bells donated by Mrs Drew and a three-dial clock and chimes given by Mr Drew. In order to complete the work and bring the entire church to the same standard of perfection, the vicar and his wife offered to rebuild and refurnish the nave at no expense to the parish on one condition, namely that in future all seats should be free of rent. This generous offer being accepted the entire project was completed and on the 11th of January ,1905, the new church of noble proportions and impressive, inspiring beauty was open for daily worship.


In addition to this larger project other building operations undertaken included the erection of the mission church of The Good Shepherd in Drury and of an assistant clergy house in Church Road. The old Pentre mission church, in spite of attempts at renovation, was in such poor condition that Mrs Drew undertook to provide a completely new church to serve the needs of that outlying part of the parish. The clergy house was built on land adjoining St Matthew's infants' school purchased from the Hawarden estate at the very reasonable price of £19 and Mr.H.N.Gladstone generously donated half the building costs.


In all, between 1898 and 1905, the sum of £13,477- 15-1d was expended on the work of the church in the parish, the larger part of which was donated by Harry and Mary Drew.


ONE WOULD IMAGINE that the organisation, supervision and financing of even a few of these undertakings would have been more than enough to occupy the time and exhaust the energies of any one person. Not so with Harry Drew. He was no mere builder. He not only worked for the parish; he worked in it. In church he strictly maintained the anglican rule for the daily reading of both Morning and Evening Prayer and the service of Holy Communion was regularly celebrated with quiet dignity and simple ritual. Not even the prolonged activities of the builders were allowed to interfere with the reverent and the regular order of worship. He took a keen and active part in the running of the day and Sunday schools. An inspector of schools of wide experience said of him that he had never met a school manager who had more thoroughly mastered the whole the business of schools, the conditions of finance, of health and of good teaching. Nor was his interest in young people confined to their religious and secular education. He knew from personal experience the value of physical and mental relaxation and with this in view he formed a Recreation Society. He had prepared for this by filling in the vicarage pond, situated between Church Road and Tram Road, from which the clay for making bricks to build the parsonage had been extracted in 1819. This site was levelled and sown with grass seed and set out as a bowling green, quoits courts, tennis courts and a croquet lawn. The society was soon formed with eighty-four members who had the use of the ground from 5 p.m. to dusk every evening except Fridays, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 3 p.m. throughout the summer months.


Mr and Mrs Drew did not limit their activities and interests to the parish church and its worshippers. They brought the same enthusiasm, foresight and generosity to work in the wider field of public service.


Some years previously the Buckley Gas Company had been formed and gas mains had been laid to various parts of the district; several buildings, including the parish church, had been converted to gas lighting. The company made several attempts to have a system of street lighting installed, for up to that time almost the whole town was in darkness after sundown. These efforts were met with individual opposition and general indifference until Mr and Mrs Drew, in a determined endeavour to push forward this much needed public amenity, entered into a contract with the gas company for the lighting of the entire length of Church Road from Lane End to Liverpool Road by eighteen Welsbach incandescent lamps. They undertook personally to guarantee the sum of £40 a year for a period of three years. The great advantages of the scheme were soon obvious and from the 1st of September, 1901, the system was gradually extended to all the main streets of the town by arrangement between the Urban District Council and the company.


Mr and Mrs Drew also took the initiative in the purchase of an ambulance for the use of the general public and to provide the speedy transport of workmen injured in the accidents which occurred from time to time in the local mines, brickworks and potteries. They formed a carnival committee to assist in raising the necessary funds and also contacted the managements of the various industrial firms who were induced to contribute to the ambulance fund in proportion to the number of their employees. In acknowledgement of his and his wife's efforts, the vicar was deputed to make the formal presentation of the ambulance to the Urban District Council on the 22nd of February, 1902.


Two months later the council received from Mr and Mrs Drew the gift of a water cart for damping the streets. The need for such a contrivance may be difficult for today's younger generation to understand, but those were the days before tarmacadam, when roads were made with large limestone chippings rolled and levelled with soil and fine gravel. In winter they became pitted stretches of mud and in summer the white dust rose in clouds with the slightest breeze. A walk along some of our present day unadopted roads will give an idea of the condition of most roads at the beginning of this century. The gift, purchased for £35, was a token of gratitude to the council for the lighting of the streets in the previous year.


The vicar and Mrs Drew also conceived the idea of providing a Free Library for the use of the townspeople. With this object in view Mrs Drew obtained from Mr Andrew Carnegie, the founder of the Carnegie Trust for the provision of educational and charitable undertakings, an offer of about £1,600. She also used her influence with the trustees of the Hawarden estate to gain the offer of a plot of land in Church Road for the erection of the library together with a Public Institute. Before these arrangements could be ratified however the Urban District Council accepted another piece of land in Mold Road, and the project of a combined library and institute never materialised.


Another public service introduced to Buckley by Mr and Mrs Drew was the District Nursing Service. In October 1900 a Nurse Smith of the Church Army was engaged to work in the parish visiting and attending to the sick and elderly, and her wage of 18s a week was paid by Mrs Drew until the plan of her services became settled and their value recognised. How valuable her services were, was not fully realised until her two years term of duty ended and a successor not being available the parish was without a nurse until 1903 when Nurse Clark, also of the Church Army, came in her place. The duty of providing a district nursing service was taken over by the Buckley Nursing Association formed at a well-attended public meeting held in St Matthew's school in 1905.


THESE ARE but part of the public service given by the Rev. Harry Drew during the seven years in which he lived at Buckley vicarage. To attempt to evaluate the magnitude and extent of his influence upon the moral and spiritual lives of the people be served would be an impossible task. Not everyone was able to accept his special style of doing things, of course, nor to bend to the discipline that he demanded both of himself and of them, and it was only natural that many of the changes made by him should arouse some measure of criticism and even of opposition among certain sections of the people. His moderately high church views and practices, such as the introduction of vestments and the use of ritual, were frowned upon by those of strong nonconformist opinion. His outspoken defence of church schools and of religious instruction in day schools, vehemently and sincerely expressed during the controversy of 1902-3, aroused both support and censure far beyond the limits of parish or urban district. But Canon Drew was no fanatic and his personal charm, deep sincerity and gentleness of approach disarmed even his severest critics. He was indefatigable in his parochial visiting and made no discrimination between churchmen and chapelmen; all were met and treated with the same courtesy, respect and understanding. He willingly conceded to others the freedom he claimed for himself to think, speak and act according to the dictates of conscience.


Two incidents will serve to illustrate the strength of the amicable relationship which was built up between the various sections of the population. The first took place immediately after Mr Drew's induction in 1897. Owing to the repairs being made to the vicarage he and Mrs Drew continued to reside at Hawarden castle and in order to keep in touch with his new parish he accepted the offer of a room at Hawkesbury Place, historically the stronghold of local nonconformity. Here he was available to visitors for two hours every evening. The second incident took place in 1903 when the living of the neighbouring parish of Bistre became vacant. A deputation of local people, including several leading nonconformists, requested the bishop of St. Asaph to amalgamate if possible the two adjacent parishes of Buckley and Bistre, in order that both should have the benefit of Mr Drew's care and supervision, so greatly did they value what he was doing for the people of Buckley.


Neither did the zeal and energy shown by Mr Drew in this, his first incumbency, pass unnoticed outside Buckley, and it is not surprising that offers of promotion in the Church should have come his way. He had been appointed a Cursal Canon of St Asaph cathedral by the bishop in 1903, holding the canonry of Canonia Sexta Radulphi de Birkenhead. Other offers included the livings of St Margaret's, Anfield, Liverpool; St Alban's Birmingham; St James', Plymouth; and Oswestry. It is typical of the man that he should decline these tempting offers, not because he considered himself indispensable for the satisfactory completion of the undertakings within the parish of Buckley, but because, having started his work here with a very definite vision in mind, he did not deem it fair to his successor to leave until his mission was fully accomplished.


The new church was finished and used for the first time on Wednesday the 11th of January, 1905, and on the following Sunday Canon Drew conducted his last services as vicar, being now free to accept the call to be rector of Hawarden. In his diary he wrote,


"My last Sunday at Buckley, and our last night at the dear vicarage . . . A wonderful congregation in the evening, some standing, many unable to get in, every available bench and chair from the vicarage raked up; splendid hymn-singing; a blessed and inspiring day... I cannot realise at all that this is 'Finis'. The morning was harder than the evening, but I got through it much better than I dreamed I should. Deo Gratias."


In a letter written at this time he wrote, " As for this parish, my roots have struck very deep these seven years we have lived in it, and it is no small trial to have to leave it."


AT HAWARDEN Canon Drew faced again many of the problems he had already resolved in Buckley. He restored and improved the churches, he extended and rebuilt the schools. With a view to giving fuller and more public expression to his views on education, especially in relation to denominational schools, he contested and gained a seat for a Hawarden ward in the Flintshire County Council in 1907 and was returned unopposed in 1910. But on the 30th of March of that year 'a life spent in doing good' came to its close after an illness of only a few days. He was buried in Hawarden churchyard, sincerely and deeply mourned by the entire populace of the parishes of Hawarden and Buckley, whom he had served so faithfully.


In his first sermon as vicar of Buckley, Harry Drew spoke of the relationship between the eastern shepherd and his sheep


- "one who leads his flock, he does not drive them, he goes before and they follow, clustering close around him and behind him. He leads and they follow. May that be our lot, dear brethren." This hope truly became reality and it is therefore appropriate that his memorial in St Matthew's church takes the form of a stained glass window, designed by Henry Holiday, depicting Harry Drew as The Good Shepherd.



Author: Jones, John Clifford


Year = 1900

Gender = Male

People = Single

Extra = Formal Portrait

Extra = 1900s

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