The office recently received a lovely email from a lady in Moira, County Down. It concerned a monumental inscription in the churchyard of the parish church (Church Of Ireland). On it was a reference to W.J. North, vicar in Staurbridge, England. I knew St Thomas’ had not had a vicar with this name. So who was he? Ever the sleuth, I started to research and found this very interesting character, and his wife.
W.J. North was William John North, born in Rathfriland, Co. Down on the 24th May 1880. His father, a school attendance officer was (Thomas) John and his mother, Jane (nee Mcchesney). He was one of 8 children, two boys of whom died before 1900. I was unable to find anything about him in Irish records. I found him in Sussex during WW1, at a camp and hutments working for the YMCA. It must have been here he met his wife Ethel Mary (May) Nuttall and they married, quite grandly, in All Saints Crowborough in February 1916.
The next thing I found was him as a curate at St Mary’s, Old Swinford where he was very popular as, when he went on to become vicar of St John’s Stourbridge in 1924, the comments were that he would be greatly missed. He kept up his association with St Mary’s after becoming vicar at St John’s (where he was inducted by the Archdeacon of Dudley on 14th November).
In 1936 he lost his wife, Ethel who was buried in St Mary’s churchyard after a funeral at St John’s where Canon Newland, vicar of St Thomas’, assisted. At the request of her bereaved husband, The Londonderry Air was played at the service. She was very popular in both parishes. A newspaper article stated W.J. North continued as vicar of St John’s until 1943 when he retired due to ill-health. He went to live in Wolverhampton with his housekeeper, Kate Harris who received a legacy from his estate to the value of £500 for looking after him in illness. He died on 14th September 1944 however the location of his burial is uncertain – further research required!
It is interesting that Canon Newland of St. Thomas’ is mentioned – they must have been good friends. I found an article in Kinematograph Weekly from 19th September 1940 where they joined together to complain about a concert in the Odeon, High Street, Stourbridge on a Sunday during church hours:
“When Canon M S Newland, vicar of St Thomas’ Church, Stourbridge protested against a concert being held at the Odeon, Stourbridge on Sunday September 8th during church hours, manager Jack Rolls suggested that he should conduct a short service during an interval in the programme. He pointed out that it was impossible to cancel the concert at a few hours’ notice. Accordingly, Canon Newland accompanied by the Rev. W.J. North, vicar of St John’s in which that Odeon is situated, conducted a short service from the stage.“
Jack Rolls was a singing organist on the Odeon circuit, playing theatre organs around the country. The Odeon, Stourbridge was a beautiful building, as the picture shows, and it was sad to see it demolished to make way for a Wilkinsons store.