In the spring of 1913, Father John came to Badsey and bought the Manor House. Having considerable wealth, he wished to do some good with it and it occurred to him that it would be an admirable plan to run a hostel for lads who were either quite alone in the world or had been in trouble either with the police or in other ways. He started a hostel in Birmingham and then he thought country life would be best for some, and so he looked around and finding the old Manor House was for sale, he started a Church Hostel there. He was a very advanced Anglo-Catholic with many views which I considered distinctly Roman. The lads were all sent to the Early Celebration at the Parish Church , but were strictly forbidden to communicate unless they had been to confession. The rest of the day …. [PAGE STILL TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED]
Have someone in charge. None of them hold long reigns – the best ones left I imagine because they could not check the expenditure and waste. It was a great pity because Father John had the welfare of the hostel very much in mind and if only more common sense was used it might have been a magnificent piece of work.
Later he bought the Stone House and fitted this up for the use of young boys and he was fortunate to get a first class head. Sister Katherine who was firm but kind and it was a real pleasure to visit them. I was always welcome and when they were all sitting round the fire in the evening directly I came in one of the boys would jump to give me a chair.
On Feb 18 1914 there was a formal opening of St Christopher’s, as the Stone House was called. Another priest from Birmingham came down and Canon Allsebrook was there too. A procession was formed which entered each room and blessed it. We finished up with a tea, waited on by the boys. One of the rooms was fitted up as a Chapel.
In May Sister Katherine asked me to bring a boy from London next time I went. So I was given the address in Shoreditch and called upon the boy’s mother and she said she would be under the clock on No 1 platform on the day I was returning. Sure enough, they were both there, and the boy, aged 11, was handed over to me. I quite expected there might be some difficulty. The boy might be frightened at being given in charge to an absolute stranger but he came without any fuss. Afterwards when he was settled I asked him if he wasn’t afraid. He said, “No, I looked at your face.”
When war was declared, the man in charge of the Manor, who had served in the navy, at once joined up and was in the ill-fated Antwerp expedition. This left Father John without anyone to take charge at the Manor and he urged me to take on the position. I was very loth, but was prevailed upon, so I moved to the Manor on Sept 5th on Saturday evening. The first thing I discovered was that a pane of glass in a window adjoining an outer door was missing and that it was possible to enter the building by this. I learned that my predecessor used to go to balls etc and came in that way. Naturally the lads found this out and used to come in late. So my first job was to get it mended, which I was able to get done at once. Then the rule was the lads were to go to bed at 10 pm. They went quite willingly. But I thought it wise to visit the dormitory and found none of them had started to undress, but on the contrary were having a fine game of cards. Now in my bedroom, I had a master switch which put out all their lights. So I gave them a quarter of an hour and told them I would then turn out the lights. At which one lad said, “There, I suppose this is the last of our exciting games.”
I was horrified to find that there were a good many tradesmen in Evesham who had not been paid for weeks. Directly they heard I was in charge they sent in their bills and these amounted to two hundred pounds. So when Father John came down I asked him to start an account at an Evesham Bank and give me authority to draw on it as required. He agreed to this but a week went by and I heard nothing. Now I knew he was very careless and dilatory over money matters so next time he came, I told him I was not used to be dunned by tradespeople and that if I didn’t get the authority I wanted I should start selling some of the treasures in his own apartments in the Manor, which he occupied on his visits. This did prove effective and I was able to get straight. Of course I arranged that he must pay into this account sufficient for current needs, and as this was only a quarter of the former cost, he did not have much cause to grumble.
I had much less trouble than expected from the lads. One who had a slight illness said he was going to Evesham when he first got up. I forbade him but he went. I told him I could not overlook this and left him uncertain as to what would happen. Then on the following Saturday when he came for his usual pocket money 1/6 I told him there was none for him. This disconcerted him very much so that he asked for a stamp and answered an advertisement in the local paper, but nothing came of it.
On one occasion when I had to be away all day, I found two missing and found them both in bed. They had partaken too freely of the cider, which I found they had free access to. So I locked the shed containing the barrel and then had to apply to me when they wanted any.
Then as Father John had given orders that they were to be allowed to play cards on Sunday afternoon, I had suspicions and went off after lunch in the car but was dropped a short distance and walked back and silently entered the house and there they were busy playing as and I suspected there was a pile of money in the middle of the table. I went in and put out my hand and grabbed all the money and put it in my pocket. They didn’t say a word, nor did I. But a few days after I told them I had some money belonging to them and asked them to choose something they would like which would add to their pleasure. They consulted together and then told me they would like some more gramophone records and so we spent the money.
Then I would invite some of the Badsey inhabitants to come and spend an evening with us. These were very helpful, especially J E Knight, in bringing about a home atmosphere. There was one lad who exercised a very bad influence and I had to get Father John to remove him.
Father John used to come down on occasion, generally weekends. The first time after I was installed, his chauffeur, one of the Birmingham older lads, was missing at bedtime. And at last found him in Father John’s private room in the best armchair, smoking a cigar. It gave me a certain amount of pleasure to order him to bed, as he was extremely rude to Father John. He actually said to him, “I hope you don’t want the car tomorrow as I want to go to Moreton” and he was actually allowed to take it. Seeing that he allowed such liberties, I decided to do the same to prevent people taking advantage of him, and I am bound to say he never took offence.
A short time after I had been in charge I had a letter from my predecessor asking me to see a cow he had grazing in the orchard. I knew nothing at all about the value of cows so I asked Mr Harry Kelland who had helped with the lads on the land some time back. He came and gave me his idea of what it was worth and suggested I should approach a farmer living in a neighbouring village who dealt with cattle. The farmer came and began to find fault with the animal. This vexed me and I told him that the animal belonged to a man who had gone to fight for his country and therefore I expected him to offer a fair price. He then offered a price considerably below Harry Kelland’s estimate. So I refused this offer and Harry then suggested that he should take it to Evesham Market. It fetched almost exactly Harry’s estimate, but on the way it appeared that farmer overtook Harry and recognised the cow and offered slightly more. Harry very properly said his instructions were to take it to market. The next day the farmer met me and said, “Ah, you didn’t get the best price.” I then told him exactly what I thought of him for offering a price well below what he knew it was worth after I had told him about the owner. I told him he was the meanest fellow I had ever met trying to cheat a man who was fighting for him and more to the same effect. The man beside in the trap seemed to enjoy this outburst of mine.
Father John employed an architect who seemed to me to be sponging on him. I found him altering all the pieces of oak supported the electric from round to square. (The Manor made its own electricity with a petrol engine fixed in the brick buildings to the north of the house. The house was fitted with hot water pipes and radiators all complete – except for the boiler!) At the same time urgent repairs were put off. This man used also to spend occasional weekends. This I could not afford as it was difficult to keep going on the allowance I had. So next time Father John brought him down I objected to giving him meals. Father John had to go back to Birmingham and he said to me, “Do give him some lunch,” to which I gave a decided No. Father John pleased for him but I refused. When he left I went to the Matron, a very good competent person and told her that this man would not be taking lunch. At lunchtime he came to the dining room, but found no place set for him. Seeing that it was hopeless he went straight off to the Vicar and begged for lunch there. I felt this was a nasty thing to do, but it was effective. And the man was so unworthy of any consideration that I felt I was justified. Money was evidently getting short for one day the rate collector met me and said the Reverend Gentleman had not paid his rates and if he did not pay he would have to be prosecuted. So I asked what the account was and when he told me I said I could pay him in three days’ time. He said that would do, so I looked round and saw his fowl pen and fowls and sold them and paid the rates and when Father John came next I have him the receipt and the odd sum which was over.
This was getting serious so next time I was in London I called on his solicitors. They were fully aware of the position and said they would support me in any way as it was imperative to reduce the expenses. However the war was by then taking the lads and so the scheme finished and I went back to my lodging. But I suggested to the lawyers that as I had had no salary, only keep, I should take over the land the Manor had occupied without payment. I gave several people’s names for them to refer to, as to whether this was a fair thing and the lawyers agreed at once. So I now rented an additional six acres.
I lost sight of most of the lads, but one wrote to me from hospital. He had been badly wounded. T H Roberts: “I have been hit since 21st May, so I have had a long spell of hospital. I was hit fairly bad and thought I was going to die. I had 9 large wounds and several small ones, also a broken leg. It was a bomb which exploded between my legs. It nearly finished me but through a strong hear, a healthy body and being merry through it all, I pulled through.” He told me the doctor told him to smile and he managed to do so and the doctor said, “That’s right, now you will do.” When he was discharged he came back to Badsey and I found him a job, drying belladonna leaves. He worked very well, but left in the late autumn as he said the country was all right in the summer, but he couldn’t stand the winter, so back he went to Birmingham.
Years after I was broadcasting and I received a letter from another one telling me that hearing me brought back memories of Badsey and went on to say that now he realised how ungrateful and tiresome he had been. He was working at the docks and had a wife and family. He said he would like to see me if ever I came to London and I did so, and was well pleased to see him making good.