Tuesday 5th May 1908
It’s a rainy evening in Morpeth, and yet a large number of St James’ parishioners turn out to the church hall to bid George Jennings Collis farewell. For the past three years he has served as senior curate in the parish and they wish to give him a good send off. A collection has raised sufficient funds to buy four silver candlesticks.
Cups of tea are served from a trestle table at the back of the hall, ready to warm those attending as they arrive. The rector, Rev J J Davies, brings the proceedings to a start – “Ladies and gentlemen, if you could please take a seat and settle down” – and the hubbub slowly quietens.
“Thank you for coming this evening, and I bid you a warm welcome. As you know, we’re here to make a presentation to our senior curate, George Collis and Mrs Collis, as they head off to Evenwood. Before I came here to Morpeth a couple of years ago, it’s fair to say that I had heard a great deal about Mr Collis; from what I heard, I gathered that he had won his way into the hearts of the people, and in their affections.” Someone pipes up “hear, hear” from the audience.
Rev Davies continues: “Such had been the experience of Mr Collis as an assistant curate that you, I am sure, wanted him to fill the place I fill at that moment. I’m sorry that you did not get your wish satisfied.” Laughter fills the hall. On the raised platform, George smiles.
“On a more serious note, I have always found Mr Collis to be upright, honourable, and an able and loyal colleague, and I part with him with deep regret. At the same time, I’m pleased that he has been promoted to the living at Evenwood, and in his new sphere of labour, I am sure, he will carry with him the best wishes and regard of those amongst whom he has ministered here in Morpeth.” (hear, hear).
George looks across to his wife Florence and two young daughters, nine-year old Dorothy and Kathleen, aged seven. Florence clutches a posy of spring flowers that – earlier that evening – a young girl from the congregation had thrust towards her with a nervous “thank you, Mrs Collis, we’ll miss you.” The rector carries on: “All of you do not know how extremely acceptable Mr Collis’ ministry has been to the sick and infirm. You all knew he was an acceptable minister in the church, but what you do not know is that he has been an acceptable minister outside the church.”
At this point, he invites Dr McDowall to say a few words: “Indeed, rector, Mr Collis has worked for a considerable time at the Asylum, and I can assure you that he has left his mark – not only amongst the afflicted people but also amongst the staff.”
“His work has been much appreciated by these people, and the staff have taken kindly to him. And what’s more, his skills have extended from the wards to the sports field, where Mr Collis has played as a member of the Asylum Cricket XI from time to time. And we all know what a sterling cricketer he is. Judging from his work amongst us in Morpeth, I have no doubt that he will do good things in his new sphere of labour.”
“And so, without further ado,” says the rector, “I’d like to present these silver candlesticks to Mr and Mrs Collis, as a token of our appreciation.” Applause reverberates around the hall as the rector hands over a box, neatly tied with a purple ribbon.
George has been busy during his three years in Morpeth; newspaper clippings reveal glimpses into his working life – conducting weddings and hosting bible society meetings, as you’d expect, but also giving lectures at the Working Men’s Club, presenting prizes at the local school, sitting on distress committee and supporting the Morpeth cricket club. He has enjoyed working in the town, especially in such magnificent surroundings – St James’ Church itself is remarkable, designed by Benjamin Ferrey, a pupil of Pugin, in the Norman style.
He steps forward to address the gathering. “Thank you, Rector and Dr McDowall , for such gratfiying words. On behalf of Mrs Collis, our daughters and myself, I’d like to thank you all for such a splendid present. These candlesticks shall grace the table at our new home in Evenwood and stand as a reminder of three very happy years spent here in Morpeth.”
He continues, “Some time ago when Canon Bulkeley left the parish, I remember sympathising with him very heartily, and now I find myself in a similar position. I can’t adequately express how much we value the kindness of so many friends for having turned out this evening in such weather. Your kindness is overwhelming, not only for the gifts but for the long run of kindnesses you have shown me and my wife. I feel the severance from St James’ keenly, and throughout my life will thank God that I ever came to Morpeth.” Applause breaks out once again, and it takes George raising his hand for it to quell.
“Our three years here have been to me a time of the greatest encouragement. I’d like to thank you heartily for the beautiful gifts, and for the friendship and sympathy which you have always shown. You’d all be most welcome to visit us in Evenwood. And you haven’t seen the last of us yet; the rector has kindly given me an opportunity of coming back for a Sunday in July, an invitation which I accepted with alacrity.” (Yet more applause).
And so, with speeches concluded, the assembled crowd topped up their tea cups and caught up with their friends. George and Florence mill amongst the gathering, a chance to thank parishioners personally.
A few evenings earlier, George and his wife had attended a similar presentation in St Luke’s Chapel at Hepscott, where the congregation had presented them with “a silver breakfast dish with revolving cover, convertible into a soup tureen and soup ladle; also a brooch with ruby centre for Mrs Collis. The tureen bore the following inscription:– “Presented to the Rev G J and Mrs Collis by friends at Hepscott, on their leaving the parish – April, 1908.”
Tomorrow morning, the silver candlesticks, soup tureen and all of their other belongings are packed into cases, ready for the move. It’s a journey fifty miles south – and the start of a new role as vicar of Evenwood.
These speeches are based around verbatim reports in the Morpeth Herald, sourced from the British Newspaper Archive
Architect’s drawing of Morpeth Asylum (later St George’s Hospitals) from Woodhorn Exhibitions