The Reverend Christopher Leffler

 

IMG_1790.jpegFormer Rector of Trimley St. Martin, Cleric, Scholar and Historian.

It was the Kirton Village Recorder, Len Lanigan who furnished me with an introduction to Christopher Leffler, the former incumbent of Trimley St. Martin and St. Mary parish churches. Or perhaps I should more accurately say it was Len and the Reverent Henry Jackson Close (died 1805) who led me to the doorstep of our erudite former parish Rector.  Henry Jackson Close, the Agriculturalist, was the son of the St. Mary’s Rector, Henry Close. The former published various treatises on subjects such as “Experiments on potatoes’[1] and other horticultural concerns and is one of the subjects to be found 2019 Spring edition of the ‘Suffolk Review’[2]. The thirteen page article provides a fascinating insight into agriculture in the eighteenth century when methods and techniques were being examined in a scientific manner.  People often forget the Agrarian revolution and the impact it had on modern farming but it was every part as important as the Industrial one.

I should stop elaborating at this point because already a confusion of names abounds and there are more to come. The simplest way of describing the connection is to say Christopher Leffler had written an article about the agricultural experimenter, Henry J. Close. Len alerted me to this; a triangular email communication ensued, revealing a shared enthusiasm for the history of Trimley; the former rector and I arranged to meet to share our areas of interest and share we did.

Although my humble offerings don’t and can’t match those of my host, the ensuing meeting was a delight. The sparks of interest emerging from almost every sentence were consistent feature of Christopher’s conversation.  I may not have considered some of them before but now I want to investigate them and as a result you will find several references at the end of this Blog. Our first point of agreement was and is, history matters and history is important. The past informs the present and the future and we are tomorrow’s history.

The conversation, which was a mixture of reminiscence and history, began with talk of eighteenth century Greek and Latin fluency amongst the educated classes and then hopped lightly on to Earl Bigod’s Way between Walton Castle and Framlingham. Soon we were talking about another of Christopher’s magnum opus, his history of the two parish churches of Trimley St. Martin and Trimley St. Mary but one thing led to another and to place his study in context, I needed to understand his relationship with the parishes as well as that of some of his predecessors.  You will have to wait for the complete parish church history until the day it is published as will I, because I was fascinated by the links between Christopher and other clerics. They are as complex as anything in Trollope’s Barchester Towers Chronicles[3].  The difference being, Barchester Towers is fictional and Christopher’s life is very real. He is part of the rolling and continuous stream of incumbents who have ministered to the people of Trimley St. Martin for 704 recorded years. If the theory of six degrees of separation[4] is true, then we are just as connected to Nicholas de Gudmunlegh, the first recorded incumbent of St. Martin’s as Christopher. (Doubtless there were more incumbents before 1315 but to date, their names remain unknown.)

As we talked, I found myself recalling one of the Rectors who was Christopher Leffler’s predecessor and it led to a separate conversation.  My memories only go back to 1965 when the Rev. Daniel Ellis-Jones and his wife, Betty, the Deaconess, came to St. Martin’s. They are both still visible to me in my mind’s eye, particularly Betty who can only be described, in the best and kindest of terms, as a force of nature. Her warm disposition, efficiency, organisational skills and capabilities must have been impressive because they cut through the fog of my dozy teenage years as being impactful on every level. Christopher told me he had an earlier connection with her when she was a member of the community at Lee Abbey[5] in Devon.  Betty had also been the Warden at Leiston Abbey when it was the Diocesan Retreat and Daniel Ellis-Jones was Rector of Charsfield. When I mentioned the very tight Rectory ship Betty had run, Christopher recalled she had been responsible for altering the kitchen at the Rectory as well adding additional doors inside the front door to keep the draught out. Such a very practical and able woman. Christopher was able to tell me Betty was finally ordained in about 1983 or 1984, at his behest and recommendation to the Bishop, which was a satisfying conclusion to a dedicated career.  After Daniel and Betty retired in 1975, they remained within the village, living in an anonymously gifted house. In truth, they never left the village for they are now part of St. Martin’s Churchyard.  The Rev. David Gray succeeded Daniel Ellis-Jones and he was there until 1982 when he was replaced by Christopher Leffler.

Christopher Leffler believes his family is fairly unusual because of the number of individual members who are and were clerics in the Church of England.  His mother was the daughter of a Cleric but his father didn’t have a clerical connection. He was part of the Royal Flying Corp[6] (the predecessor of the R.A.F.) during the First World War and was also employed by the Bank of England.  Christopher was able to cite one member of the Leffler family who worked with the Choctaw nation[7] in Oklahoma and may have translated the Bible into the indigenous language of the Choctaw. Christopher’s mother’s brother  was  Uncle Cuthbert and known as the Reverend Canon Cuthbert Cooper,  who also served in the  First World War  and  who was ordained under age as he wished to serve as a Chaplain in the First World War; he was subsequently sent to Egypt. Today, in the twenty first century, Christopher and Jane’s sone Jeremy has a Parish in Birkdale in Lancashire. His wife, Jane, also has numerous clerical connections

Christopher entered the Church and was ordained by the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Mervyn Stockwood. His first posting was to Bermondsey Parish Church in the London Borough of Southwark, as a Curate. Shortly after his ordination a new Rector was appointed, the Reverend F.S. Skelton; the Right Reverend John Robinson, who had been his Tutor in New Testament Studies in Cambridge, was the new Bishop of Woolwich. Robinson was the author of several books of which the best known is probably, ‘Honest to God’, first published in 1963 and facilitated Christopher’s next move to St Paul’s  Herne Hill. This was followed by being appointed Curate in Charge in the Parish of St. Stephen in Canley near Coventry, situated in the middle of a housing estate.

The next appointment brought him to Suffolk after he was introduced to The Lady Blanche Cobbold[8], who was then Patron of St. Andrew’s Church in Little Glemham and Great Glemham.  An interview was conducted and the result was he assumed the living at Little Glemham and thus his career in Suffolk commenced in 1967. It was during this period he was became the subject of an article in The Daily Mirror. A reporter wanted to run a piece about the difficulties contemporary Parish Priests experienced. At the time many of the Rectories and Vicarages were large, unwieldy buildings which cost a fortune to heat in the days before double glazing and insulation. Christopher was the first of the Rectors to be interviewed but unfortunately the visiting reporter caught pneumonia and being incapacitated was unable to interview the remaining five priests. Consequently, the newspaper article didn’t offer any other points of comparison but focused solely on Christopher and his family. It was an article which surprised and alerted some people to the difficulties of living in unreconstructed  houses and subsequently  perceptions and situations began to change.

Christopher remained at Little Glemham before moving to Badwell Ash[9] in 1972, a small jewel of a Suffolk Church. By this time, he and his wife had several children, including their triplets. They spent ten years in the parish before finally arriving in Trimley St. Martin. Christopher was inducted into the Parish on 12th November 1982, an auspicious date he shared with his eldest son, who had his birthday on the same day.  He served the parish faithfully  in his role as rector for nearly seventeen years, before conducting his final service on Sunday 31st January 1999.

To return to the work mentioned at the start of this Blog, that of the history of the two Parish churches.. In his scholarly capacity Christopher has worked with many of the documents recording the history of the Church and Parish. In 1992 he updated St. Martin’s Church history produced by his predecessor, Mr. Denney and a Mr. Downes in 1956. Their production is quite homespun, having been produced via a typewriter and duplicator and is held together with brass split pins. His own, updated version was computer generated. I don’t know how many are now in existence, although do know there is a copy in Suffolk Record Office. In the preface to his updated version he mentions he may unite it with the history of St. Mary’s Church produced by Mr. Murton and this is the book he continues to work upon. The 1992 version contains little gems of information such as the cost of Longford House in 1850 (£1,800-0-0d) and the purchase of the old Rectory site in Church Lane in 1934.  Christopher also told me the Church Lane Rectory gardens were professionally laid out by Notcutts in 1939; I believe they retain the original structure to this day. The breadth of information Christopher has accumulated is astonishing and the prospect of an updated and extended parish history is a tantalising prospect.

I had and have, many questions to ask about not just St. Martin’s Church but also St. Mary’s, including the all-important one of why St. Mary’s tower has spent much of its life falling down. If you look at the hand drawn images of St. Mary’s Church on the Enclosure Map of 1807 and Isaac Johnson’s Map of 1784, you will see it depicted in a state of ruination. Such desolation t would seem to precede the eighteenth century, for Christopher told me William Dowsing had visited the Trimleys as part of his campaign to remove religious statues and iconography during the 1640s. St. Martin’s church was despoiled but Dowsing didn’t bother with St. Mary’s because it was in such a ruinous state he didn’t think it was a functioning building, which was good for the church. St. Martin’s didn’t escape so lightly, although two Angels escaped decapitation.

I left Christopher with gratitude for his time and conversation but overwhelmingly, it was with an appreciation for a lively and entertaining conversationalist who answered all of the questions I threw at him. Other questions have yet to be asked of this well lettered historian. I, for one, am keen to see his completed history in a published format, not least because it will fill in some of the details about not only the church but also the history of our parish. Perhaps interested parties could get together and arrange for it to be published by subscription, as in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?

IMG_2372.jpeg

A thoughtful Angel in the Chancel of Trimley St. Martin Church who escaped Dowsing’s wrath

IMG_2373.jpeg

A second Angel high up in the Chancel roof

If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

trimleystmartinrecorder@gmail.com

LR   05/04/2019

[1] https://archive.org/stream/annalsofagricult01londuoft#page/396/mode/2up/search/Trimley If you follow this link, you may read the article on the Internet Archive.

[2] Suffolk Review. New Series 72 Spring 2019 pp 35 – 47. May be viewed in Suffolk Record Office.

[3] The Barchester Towers chronicle consists of six books, all written by Anthony Trollope: The Warden; Barchester Towers; Doctor Thorne; Framley Parsonage; The Small house at Allington; The Last Chronicle of Barset. First published between 1855 and 1867

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2008/aug/03/internet.email

 https://www.sixdegrees.org

[5] https://leeabbeydevon.org.uk

[6] http://www.airhistory.org.uk/rfc/home.html

[7] https://www.choctawnation.com/index.php/homepage

[8] https://family-tree.cobboldfht.com/people/view/449

[9] http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/badwellash.htm

 

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