THE BEGINNINGSThe history of the parish of St Peters, South Acton is the history of the growth of suburban London in the 1800s. In 1851 the whole of the village of Acton had a population of 2985 souls. Within Acton, the population of Southfield Ward (of the present Ealing constituency) and very, very roughly our parish area, was at that time probably less than 50 people plus a great many cherry trees. In 2010 Southfield ward had a population of 13,661.
What changed things was the 1859 Enclosure Act. This allowed for the consolidation of strips of common land into blocks. A year later in 1860 a road was built across ‘the south field’ thus Southfield Road and the north end of the parish came into being and the builders moved in. A series of ordinance survey maps 1870, 1895. 1912 and 1935 are at the moment on display at the back of the church and show how cherry orchards gradually became the streets we know.
The original ‘mother’ church of the parish that was to become St Peter’s was St Mary’s Acton, which in the mid1800s found itself transformed from a parish church in a rural hamlet into a mission centre which had to provide for this rapidly growing population.
A crucial figure in this provision was Andrew Hunter Dunn. He had hoped to take on an East End parish but was persuaded by the then curate at St Mary’s G B Coulcher, who he had known at Cambridge that the need was as great in the West of the city. Rev. Charles Musgrave Harvey, rector of St Mary’s offered him the post of priest in charge of South Acton. After attending a Sunday service in Bollo Bridge school-church, what he saw convinced there was work to be done.
He had enormous energy and it was said of him that, ‘When houses began to appear in any corner of the parish he put down a mission room to hold the ground for the Church.’ He created school rooms and mission halls all over the parish and also a coffee shop to give men somewhere to meet that wasn’t a pub. He believed people should be able to worship near their homes. Many services to begin with were held in Laundries, which with the Wilkinson Sword factory, was the main occupation of the area.
In all Andrew Hunter Dunn built at least ten church establishments and ensured the people of South Acton had a recreation ground. It has to be added that he was a rich man, from a family of furniture manufacturers and auctioneers and spent much family money in the parish. It is suggested he saw himself as a sort of urban squire and was referred to as ‘Parson Dunn’ by his parishioners. He has another claim to fame. His granddaughter is known to some as ‘Miss Joan Hunter Dunn’ the subject of John Betjeman’s poem, A Subaltern’s Love Song.
Though the drive to provide spiritually for the growing population of South Acton came from the Oxford Movement and was Anglo Catholic in origin, Andrew Hunter Dunn wasn’t dogmatic about ritual and vestments and theology. At that time there was still much suspicion of anything that smacked of ‘Popery’ and he would say that he wouldn’t wish to do anything that would put a newcomer off and prevent them returning to the church a second time.
The name of the new parish created out of Acton, St Mary’s was All Saints. In the course of his incumbency at All Saints 1872 – 1892 Parson Dunn’s biggest building projects were:
1872 All Saints
1888 St Albans
1882 St Agnes mission church, Cunnington Street.
Meanwhile down the Road as part of Bedford Park Garden Suburb
1869 Turnham Green Tube Station was opened
1880 St Michael and All Angels was consecrated.
1880 The Tabard Inn was built
In 1892 Andrew Hunter Dunn was promoted to Bishop of Quebec but continued to visit and advise his successors from a distance.
1892 is still 15 years before the first mission tent for St Peter’s Church was set up in Southfield Park in 1906, thus it might be wondered what all this history has to do with our parish today.
We know the present St Peter’s church wasn’t built until 1915 but the population of the area was growing. There was an active parish from 1906 onwards. As it grew there were fewer cherry trees and more houses.
The next newsletter will contain the story of the building of the St Peter’s church we now have.
Article by Sarah West. Sources: Andrew Hunter Dunn T & A Harper Smith 1995, Andrew Hunter Dunn, Fifth Bishop of Quebec, Percival Jolliffe 1916, Cutting and articles and photos found in the loft of St Peters
THE FIRST WORLD WARSt Peter’s has 52 names on the memorial of parishioners killed in the First World War. The original wooden plaque, with the names listed in order of their death is to be found high up, unlit, on the West wall of the church. It wasn’t there originally and is largely unreadable. A framed list of the 52 names, in alphabetical order is to be found in the Sacred Heart chapel. Below is a quote from a booklet produced for the 75th Anniversary about the chapel contents.
“The great crucifix is part of the memorial to the War dead and the six brass candlesticks were given in memory of the young Crucifer at the Consecration who became the first victim from the parish in the slaughter of Flanders”
Sadly, we don’t know this young man’s name but it is probably one of the three below. With a little more research, it may emerge. With their history such as we know it, here are the names of those on St Peter’s memorial plaque killed in 1914.
England declared war on Germany on August 4th 1914
William H Cornborough: Killed in action 23 August 1914. He was born in Hackney and lived in Hanwell. He was a private in 4th Royal Fusiliers and was killed at Mons just before the great retreat. His brother Clement is also recorded on the plaque in 1917, but we have no details of their actual connection with the parish.
Edward Albert John Timmings: Killed in action 15th October 1914 aged 23. He was an Electrical Artificer 4th Class RN on HMS Hawke, which was torpedoed by submarine U9 and sunk with the loss of 525 lives. He lived at 19 Carlton Road. His mother Rebecca Timmings lived at 80 Fielding Road, Bedford Park.
H W Hirst: This man probably died in 1914 as he is the third name on St Peter’s plaque. We, as yet have no information about him.
Any information about any of these young men and their connection with the parish would be most welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact the parish office.
The next newsletter will include those killed in 1915.
Thanks for the details above are due to Tanya Britton who for some years has been researching the life histories Acton residents killed in the First World War and generously gave St Peter’s a copy of her research.