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The Clergy who have served Bow Common
261 Overview of section G
G 262 Arthur Cotton, Rowland Plummer,
G 263 Walter Forster,
G 264-266 Jonathan Goodwin, Cyril Carter
G 267-280 Reginald Gresham Kirkby
G 281 Duncan Ross, Bernadette Hegarty
G 281 List of Curates at St. Paul’s, Bow Common
G 282 List of Vicars and Curates at St. Luke’s, Burdett Rd.
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Those who have served …
Incumbents of St. Paul’s, Bow Common:
Rev. Arthur Benjamin Cotton First Vicar 1858-1878
(son of William Cotton, benefactor and builder of the church)
This account from the East London Church Chronicle (ELCC) for 1908 has
already been quoted earlier:
‘… a magnificent church was built by the late William Cotton, the founder of St.
Andrew, Bethnal Green, and was consecrated in 1858 by Rt. Rev. Dr. Tait, the Bishop
of London. The Church stood in a lovely position in the fields, with the Blackwall
Railway Extension in the background. On a dark night the good people might be seen
picking their way across the fields with the aid of lanterns, and occasionally coming to grief in the gravel pits. Then
roads were made and houses sprang up like mushrooms, and the great Church was filled with suburban residents
during the incumbency of the first Vicar, Rev. A.B. Cotton, who resigned in 1878 after twenty years’ work.
In the ‘Retrospect’ which Arthur Cotton also wrote in 1908 for the 50th Anniversary Booklet, he said this:
‘During the incumbency of the first Vicar Rev. A.B. Cotton, the population rapidly increased from 1,400 to 14,000
souls, and the Church was filled to overflowing, but after twenty years of ever increasing work he effected an exchange
of Livings with the Rev. Rowland T. Plummer, who became the second Vicar in 1878.’This exchange was for the
ancient parish of St. Leonard’s, Hartley-Mauditt, Hampshire.
Work was hard but these were perhaps the most prosperous and ‘successful’ days for the church with good
resources of finance and personnel to share the work. Things got harder very soon.
Rev. Rowland Taylor Plummer Second Vicar 1878-1900
The work of the new church was clearly exceptionally demanding and led to the first
Vicar ‘swapping’ parishes with the man who then became his successor at Bow Common.
As the ELCC noted, a lot changed for the worse during Rev.
Plummer’s incumbency, including over-strained finances and
very inadequate staffing, which led tragically to his breakdown
‘During the incumbency of the second Vicar, Rev. R.T. Plummer, the
population increased to nearly 15,000, but with the removal of wellto-
do people, financial difficulties arose, and he was compelled to
appeal to the E.L.C.F. to provide stipends for the Assistant Clergy.
£135 per annum was granted for a second Curate, and with the help
of volunteers, the parish was worked by a staff of five clergy and many
lay-helpers, until disaster came in the utter breakdown in the of the Vicar’s Health and his
resignation in 1900.’
Arthur Cotton also noted this in his
‘In 1892, Church life was at its highest activity, the parish being
worked by a staff of five priests. Communions on Easter Day,
numbered 508, baptisms 330 for the year, nearly a hundred
candidates were presented for Confirmation each year, and
1200 children were being taught in the various Sunday Schools,
but since then the population has changed very much and work
has suffered, and the second Vicar resigned in 1900, completely
broken down in health, and was succeeded by the Rev. W.
Forster , who had been Assistant Curate since 1885.’
He died in 1914 and on 7th April 1914 this very short
report appeared in the local newspaper (EEM)
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Rev. Walter Forster Third Vicar 1900-1928
As we heard from Arthur Cotton, the parish was at perhaps its greatest peak around 1892 in terms
of the size of the congregation, number of clergy, range of parish activities and, above all, financial
resources with which to carry on all this work. Rowland Plummer saw both the peak of ministry
at Bow Common as well, during his final years, the sharp decline of what the parish was able to
do, with the prosperous parishioners moving far out and workers being harder both to find and to
Of the four curates who assisted him, Rev Walter Forster who arrived in 1885 would also have
witnessed both the rise and decline of the parish’s fortunes. He is the figure on the right of the
picture, taken around 1890. Rowland Plummer is at the centre and the other curate is un-named.
On the left is an image from Walter Forster’s later days in his 43 years spent in the parish, 15 years
as curate and 28 years as Vicar.
therefore had no
the job in hand
when he was
Plummer in 1900
as the third Vicar.
He oversaw the
1908, the same
year in which the ELCC article above noted:
‘Since 1900 difficulties have increased by the immigration of an alien population and the overwhelming
growth of poverty. Again, the E.L.C.F came to the rescue with a further grant of £30 per year: but the parish
has only a staff of three priests and a very few lay-workers.
This parish, like many in the East End, has buildings and everything needful, but lacks the necessary workers
but must have gone under long ago, but for the E.L.C.F. A ship has been the emblem of the Catholic Church
since primitive times, but in the East End it must be likened to a ship without a crew to man it. ‘
Alas, almost nothing has come down to us about these men who gave so much for the life of the
church and their community.
On 19th October 1934 The Church Times had these few lines to record the passing of Walter Forster
two days earlier.
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Rev. Ralph Jonathan Goodwin Fourth Vicar 1928-1938
There is no information about the third Vicar of St. Paul’s, Bow Common in the church archive.
In the section on St. Luke’s, Burdett Rd., published a week after his Licensing as the third Vicar on
7th July 1928, the East London Advertiser surveyed the recent and past church life of the area as a
glimpse of the world the new Vicar would be engaging with.
Rev. Cyril E. Carter Fifth Vicar 1938-1950
Revd. Cyril Carter (on the left) arrived as the fourth Vicar of the Parish in
the dark days immediately before World War II and saw the parish and
church through the even darker days of the Blitz and the destruction of his
church. Really, he knew the building for only two to three years before it
was badly shaken by the explosion of a land-mine nearby in September
1940 and then totally destroyed six months later by incendiaries in 1941.
Thereafter, for the next nine years he and his congregation met and
worshipped wherever they could and he must have held the church
together through its most testing times. The whole of this account opened
with those War-time days and the PCC records track Fr. Carter and his
people in their movements & challenges.
Late in 1950 just one line in the Church Council Minutes states:
17 October 1950
‘The Vicar stated that he had been offered and accepted the Benefice of Holy
The church now had no buildings and no Vicar and the Minutes are useful in following the steps
and processes which led to the building of the most remarkable new church of St. Paul’s, Bow
Common, the likes of which could never have been imagined in those later post-War days.
There is a certain poignancy of this next photo which is perhaps the last one that we have of ‘normal
times’ before disaster struck. It is a photo of the church choir captured on Sunday 7th April 1940.
Seated next to Fr. Carter is his curate Fr. Cobb who had been in the parish for about a year. Easter
was now behind them and
even with trepidation
about how the War was
going to develop, no-one
could have imagined the
relentless attacks and
destruction which would
come just 5 months later
when the Blitz began on
7th September 1940.
The undamaged church
can be seen behind the
group, never to be used
again after the collateral
damage it suffered on 20th
September of that year
and then devastation on
19th March 1941, its days finally ended.
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There is almost nothing in the record about any of that vast array of people who make up the
majority of any church – its lay people! The view above however, unusually, identifies some of the
laity and it is good to be able to name even a few. Extraordinarily, in my own ministry I came to
know one of them personally, Henry Haywood, and had the deeply sad privilege of attending his
death. The young Henry Haywood shown at the right end of the 2nd row was part of a solid St.
Paul’s, Bow Common family. They all moved from Bow Common and Henry came to St. Dunstan’s
where I got to know him very well as churchwarden in my first years of ordained ministry at St.
Harold Kingston’s son Horace came to be churchwarden before Fr. Kirkby arrived and as my
neighbour, still living in the School Caretaker’s house right next door to the vicarage until his
death, was the only person in the congregation who had known the old church and had watched
it burn down. He was a truly good man and a real friend and neighbour and very sadly, I was also
to attend his death. Harold is 2nd from the right on the back row.
This tribute to Fr. Carter is from a local
newspaper on 24th November 1950.
It is a glowing tribute to his ministry in
perhaps the parish’s darkest and most
difficult days as well as, clearly, a much
valued ministry, along with that of his
wife, to children and in education.
The article continues on the following
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The PCC Minutes recount:
16 November 1950
‘The following Minute to be sent to the Bishop of London:
‘My Lord Bishop, in accord with our
privilege, we the Parochial Church
Council of St. Paul’s, Bow Common
wish to make request to your Lordship
that the vacancy in this Parish caused
by the preferment of the Rev. C. E.
Carter be filled by a priest who is
Catholic and loyal to the Book of
12 December 1950
‘Mr. W. Haywood introduced the
Rev. G. Kirkby who addressed the
meeting and stated his views. He was
asked a number of questions and
suitably responded. It was
unanimously agreed by the PCC that
a letter should be sent to the Bishop
saying that we were pleased with the
interview and would welcome Fr.
Kirkby as our new Vicar.’
The vastly changed parish to which Fr. Kirkby came. This view, taken on 5th July 1950, shows
temporary prefabricated housing on the site of William Cotton’s fine town terraces, all now
destroyed, with the ‘trimmed’ shell of the old church in the background.
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Rev. Reginald Gresham Kirkby Sixth Vicar 1951-1994
Fifth Vicar of St. Luke’s, Burdett Rd., and Priest-in-Charge of St. Paul’s
Bow Common, Sixth Vicar of St. Paul’s, Bow Common and
First Vicar of the United Benefice of St. Paul with St. Luke from July
Without Fr. Kirkby’s vision, persistence, genius, stubbornness and
refusal to compromise on the unique and radical outlook which he held
there would not be the remarkable building upon which this account
primarily focuses and which is now recognised as the most significant
post-War church in Britain. It was his instinct which spotted the gifts
and shared vision held by Bob Maguire and Keith Murray and together
they evolved the remarkable building which has been described here
across many pages!
In what follows a few items from the small collection which exists about
him in the church archive is gathered in tribute to this remarkable man.
Below perhaps are the earliest photos we have of Fr. Kirkby in 1951,
having recently arrived in the parish and celebrating a Feast of St. Paul in the ruins of the old church,
marking the news that a new church would arise on that spot – as indeed it would some nine years later.
On the left, Fr. Kirkby is the figure by the altar and behind
him are Fr. Whittaker, his curate, and Fr. Hordern, another
Here is Fr. Kirkby very early in his incumbency, at the altar of St. Luke’s,
Burdett Rd. which was used after St. Paul’s had been bombed out.
On the right is Fr.
Kirkby in 1958
assisting the Bishop
of Stepney, The Rt.
Rev. Everard Lunt,
in the laying of the
Foundation Stone of
his new church
which would be
consecrated in 1960.
Fr Kirkby in 1988
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The 1950’s ‘Skiffle’ star Lonnie
Donegan is seen here in 1958
helping launch the Appeal for the
new building and also the new
Stebon School nearby.
I read somewhere that Fr. Kirkby
conducted Lonnie Donegan’s first
marriage without realising how
well-known he was!
There are no photographs of Fr.
Kirkby at the consecration of his new church but one of the first major
services was a celebration in the church shortly after its consecration in 1960 to celebrate the Centenary of
the Church School. He is seen at the altar with curate, Fr. John Rowe.
A glimpse of some of the congregation on 28th November 1965. Fr. Kirkby is at the right.
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In 1968 Fr. Kirkby
celebrated his silver
jubilee of priesthood.
The East London
Advertiser featured the
celebrations in this
article. He comments on
attitudes to the new
In 1972 the new Church School (also by Maguire and Murray) was dedicated by the Bishop of
Stepney, The Rt. Rev. Trevor Huddleston.
A Dedication Mass was held in the church at which Fr. Kirkby assisted.
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In 1988 a real accolade for the church, and a national recognition of its importance just 28 years
after it was opened, from the Dept. of the Environment as the church was granted Listed Status –
not just Grade II but Grade II* - that ‘*’ meaning that the building was recognised so early on as
being of ‘importance or more then special interest.’
The rules only permit a minimum of 30 years to pass before a building can attain such listed status
and so that period had been applied to the design and first beginnings of the church in 1958 rather
than its consecration in 1960.
The Independent newspaper had this article about this and other buildings granted listed status in
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- 272 -
The East London Advertiser 8th April 1988
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Six years later Fr. Kirkby retired after 43 years at St. Paul’s, Bow Common, leaving behind him an
extraordinary legacy in his remarkable building which, as I discovered during the 18 years which
followed, had so much more to reveal in the future.
This article appeared in East End Life on 10th March 1994.
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What remains of Fr.; Kirkby’s final sermon ...
And his final letter to the church following his retirement …
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Twelve years later, on 10th August 2006 just the day before he would have turned 90, Fr. Gresham
Kirkby died. Below are the obituaries which I have archived.
22 August 2006
It’s quite a journey from Cornish Methodism to Anglo-Catholicism (a ‘higher’ church
tradition within the Church of England, bringing in much of the ritual of the Roman
Catholic Church). Father Gresham Kirkby (who died earlier this month) achieved it,
along with a synthesis of his anarchist and pacifist beliefs.
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He also became one of the East End’s longest serving priests, one of the best known,
and was the driving force behind the building of one of the borough’s mostrecognisable
You’ll recognise St Paul’s, Bow Common as you drive west along St Paul’s Way,
crossing Burdett Road. There on your right is a petrol station, on your left a
shimmering ‘mural’ of metal discs decking the church’s west wall. ‘Angel’ with its ‘O’,
colon, dash and a bracket is, in fact, a smiley face (on its side) with a halo. It’s maybe
not what you’d expect on the side of a church - but St Paul’s is no ordinary church.
When Gresham Kirkby became vicar of St Paul’s in 1951, he had very little church
to be vicar of. Like so much of the surrounding area it had been largely destroyed by
German bombing in World War II. His first job was to rebuild it. He chose the
architects (Keith Murray and Robert Maguire) and the trio looked resolutely forward
not back in their planning.
Murray and Maguire had already worked on the new chapel for the Royal Foundation
of St Katherine in Stepney, alongside letter carver Ralph Beyer. St Paul’s was their
first church, and it turned conventional design on its head. Asking ‘What will Christian
worship be like in the year 2000, and how do we build a church to reflect this,’ they
put the altar in the centre of the church, rather than facing a long aisle flanked by
pews. They used new, industrial materials (as much from necessity, as these were
years of austerity), making a font of concrete, inlaid with copper. A central glass roof
flooded the building with light. The partnership of Murray and Maguire would go on
to design many more churches (and schools) but Bow was the testing bed for their
new ideas. In the late fifties they would return to build the church school at Bow
Common. On that occasion, a tight budget would see them using portal frames
(adapted from barns) to give space and light.
The new church at Bow Common was consecrated in 1960, Architectural Review
dubbing it ‘the important church built in the 20th century’ - largely because it pointed
the way forward. Maguire and Murray were only too aware of that. They viewed
another project of the time, the new Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence, (another
building necessitated by enemy bombing), and which employed a more conventional
church design, as essentially a ‘medieval building’.
And so Father Gresham Kirkby took charge of his new church, and was to stay there
until 1994. Kirkby had been born in Cornwall, the son of a Methodist mother, though
he moved swiftly to the Anglican Church, and to the Catholic tradition within it.
Leaving Leeds University in the early 1940s, he went on to study with the Community
of the Resurrection in Yorkshire, an Anglican religious group which to this day aims
to foster individual’s talents within a communal life, while propounding chastity,
poverty and obedience. The Community gained a reputation for encouraging strong
personalities. A contemporary and friend of the young Kirkby was Trevor (later
Archbishop) Huddleston, who was to play such a key role in the fight against
apartheid in South Africa.
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Kirkby had strong views too. Moving through a succession of curacies in the North
of England, he described himself as an ‘anarchist communist’. He joined the (antinuclear
weapons) marches to the Aldermaston air base, and was imprisoned for his
pains, in 1961. Throughout his career, Kirkby maintained his concern with the world,
and how the Church and politics was serving it and its people - he was a confirmed
’socialist anarchist’ on his death bed. But he combined this world view with the hard
work of a parish priest. He died a day before his ninetieth birthday, on 10 August. St
Paul’s, of course, lives on.
East End Life: 28th August 2006
(column runs from this to following page)
(and then back up again)
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The Church Times: (transcript, incomplete) by the late Rev. Ken Leech
"ALWAYS remember that the Kingdom of God is the regulative principle of theology." These were words
uttered by Fr Gresham Kirkby to an ordinand in the 1960s (myself). They summed up his theology, and his
life and ministry.
Gresham Kirkby, who died on 10 August, a few hours before his 90th birthday, was the longest serving
parish priest in the East End of London. Catholic anarchist, he was an early supporter of the Campaign for
Nuclear Disarmament, a member of the Committee of 100, and a pioneer of liturgical renewal. He was also
a faithful and dedicated parish priest in the Mile End area of London.
He was born in 1916 in Cornwall, and never forgot his heritage. His mother and an aunt were Methodists,
and he was influenced by Methodist hymnody, though he moved early towards Anglo-Catholicism,
inspired by Fr Bernard Walke, socialist priest at St Hilary in Cornwall. Gresham Kirkby's musical abilities
were memorable, and he was often known to play the organ at services in his own church while another
priest officiated at the altar - and sometimes would move from the altar to the organ
He studied for ordination at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, during the time that Trevor
Huddleston was a novice in the order. (He regarded Huddleston at the time as rather conservative.)
Ordained deacon in 1942 and priest in 1943, he served his first curacy at Our Lady of Mercy and St. Thomas
in Gorton, Manchester, where many older people still remember him as "the Cornish curate". After three
further curacies in Middlesbrough, Becontree and North Kensington, he became Vicar of St Paul's, Bow
Common, in 1951, and remained until 1994.
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The church had been destroyed in the Second World War, and one of his achievements was the building
of the new church, consecrated in 1960, and described at the time by the Architectural Review as the most
important church built in the 20th century. Gresham Kirkby chose the architects, Robert Maguire and Keith
Murray, and asked them the question: "What will Christian worship be like in the year 2000, and how can
we build a church to reflect this?”
The church was designed with a central altar, no altar rails, and no permanent structures: no pulpits,
lecterns, stalls, and easily movable pew benches - except the altar. Everything and everyone was on the
same level, with only the altar elevated. The liturgy followed the Roman rite, but anticipated the reforms of
the Second Vatican Council by at least ten years. "Rome will catch up with us eventually.”
He was an anarchist socialist - he always said "anarchist Communist" before1956 - influenced by Kropotkin
and by Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement in the USA. When the Bishop of London
visited him in hospital two days before his death, he reported that he had "proclaimed his undying faith in
anarchy". He was one of the first priests to march to and from Aldermaston, and probably the first priest to
go to prison for anti-nuclear activities in 1961. (I was with him when he was arrested after celebrating the
All Souls' Day requiem. He livened up the worship in Brixton prison chapel during his time there). He was
the last surviving member of the League of the Kingdom of God (founded in 1922), and chaired the Socialist
Christian League until its dissolution in 1960. He had no sympathy with reformist socialism, particularly
the extreme Blairite version of it. He believed in "socialism from below". He had a wonderful sense of
His abiding concern was the vision of the Kingdom of God as a hope for the transformation of this world.
He spent much of his life writing and rewriting the same article. I read the first version, entitled "The earth
shall rise on new foundations" (Socialist Christian, January 1956), at the age of 17. He revised it in 1977 for
the centenary conference for Stewart Headlam's founding of the Guild of St Matthew at Bethnal Green, and
he then called it "The Kingdom of God: The regulative principle of theology". I vividly recall Archbishop
Michael Ramsey, sitting attentively, and saying "Yes, Yes, Yes" at virtually every sentence. The final version
was his essay "Kingdom Come: The Catholic faith and millennial hopes" in Essays Catholic and Radical,
edited by Rowan Williams and me in 1983.
Fr. Kirkby at his farewell party on 30th April 1994 with the then Bishop of Stepney, the Rt. Rev.
Richard Chartres, Bishop of London from 1995
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The Times: 9th September 2006
Fr. Kirkby on the day of his final Mass and farewell celebration, 30th April 1994
One could not do better than to refer to the 35 pamphlet written by the late Fr. Ken Leech in 2009
to gain a close understanding of what made Fr. Kirkby the remarkable man and priest that he was.
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Rev. Prebendary Duncan Ross Seventh Vicar 1995 - 2013
Vicar of St. Paul’s, Bow Common 2002-2013
Rev. Bernadette Hegarty Eighth Vicar 2014 - present
Vicar of St. Paul’s, Bow Common
Curates and Assistant Ministers at St. Paul’s, Bow Common
(Some served simultaneously with others)
Rev. Hezekiah Martin Rev Henry Salkeld-Cooke 1887
Rev. Robert Graham (St. Mary Plaistow) Rev. John Bullock 1890-1895
Rev. Slater Rev. Arthur Webb
Rev. Becker (St. James Ratcliff) Rev. W. Wombill 1900
Rev. Dr. Finch Rev. Clarence Ingram
Anson W.H. Cartwright c 1860 Rev. William M. Edwardes
(St. Augustine’s Mission, Stepney) Rev. R.E. Spencer
Rev. William Holmes (Whitechapel Infirmary) Rev. William Christopher Edwards 1929
Rev. W. Oakdew Rev. F. C. Varley
Thomas Beevor Daveney 1868 Rev. Baker
Rev. William Willan 1869-70 Rev. G. M. Hickman
Rev. St. John Thorpe 1871 Manningtree A. B. J. Cobb (also St. Luke’s) 1939-46
Rev. George E. Jackson 1878 Rev. J. H. Whittaker Sept. 1946 – Jan 1953
Rev. Bernard D.D. Shaw 1880-85 Rev. John Goring Rowe 1953-1956
Rev. Arthur Humphries 1882-83 Rev. Irena Czerniawska-Edgcumbe 2000-2004
Rev. Alfred W.B. Watson 1884-1885 Rev. Diane Webb, Dss. 1998-2003, Priest 2003-08
Rev. Cyril W. Holland 1884-85, 1888– Reader: Simon Gordon Clark 1997 - 2004
Rev. Arthur Strong Jervis 1885-87 Reader: Christopher Morgan 2007 – 2012
Rev. Walter Forster 1885-1900 (Vicar 1900-1928) (ordained 2012: Curate, St. Dunstan’s, Stepney)
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Incumbents of St. Luke’s, Burdett Road:
Rev. Dr. William Wallace First Vicar 1865-1913
Rev. B. N. Switzer Second Vicar 1913-1926
Rev. Valdemar Lawson Third Vicar 1926-1928
Rev. Evan Bruce Murray Fourth Vicar 1929-1951
Rev. Reginald Gresham Kirkby Fifth Vicar 1951
Vicar of United Benefice of St. Paul with St. Luke 1951–1994
Curates at St. Luke’s, Burdett Rd.
(No details have been preserved before 1926 )
P. L. Thorne 1926
H. W. Thompson 1927-29
Leonard Charles Gillam 1929-38
Evan Evans 1939
H. J. Johnson 1943-44
A. B. J. Cobb (also St. Paul’s 1939-46) 1945-46
Went to be Vicar at nearby St. Michael and All Angels, Bromley-by-Bow
C.A. Sutton 1946
J. H. Whittaker 1948-52
All © DUNCAN ROSS 2015
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