We were given an entertaining and informative talk by Mr Chris Armstrong, who is a Trustee and Vice-Chair of the Norwich Historical Churches Trust. His subject was “Scholars, Saints and Sinners”, and the theme was “some of Norfolk’s most colourful clergy in the 19th century”. Chris, himself from a line of clergymen, said that in the past not all clergymen (regrettably) were devout and being a clergyman was in those times, for many, just a career option.
Revd George ‘Ammunition’ Smith was a remarkable character (a hero if not actually a saint). He moved from Britain to South Africa and was caught up in the wars against the Zulus. He was involved in the defence of Rorke’s Drift and wandered amongst the British soldiers, handing out rounds of ammunition. It was a 12-hour battle but he survived, as did many of the British soldiers. Eleven of these (though apparently not George Smith) received the VC.
Augustus Jessopp was a writer and scholar and also a cleric and teacher. He was headmaster of Norwich Grammar School for 20 years. He was appointed at a time when the school was at a low ebb with only 30 pupils and he brought in a number of reforms including the teaching of mathematics and modern languages. He later became Rector of Scarning.
Our speaker went on to tell us about a sinner, though there were several candidates for this last category! Harold Davidson, rector of Stiffkey in the 1930s, appears to have been both naive and his own worst enemy in believing (sincerely, apparently) that he had a mission to women of ill-repute! This caused him endless trouble and led to his being eventually defrocked.
Our chairman thanked Chris for his entertaining talk and the members heartily applauded.