The Good, The Bad and The……….
St Mary de Crypt has seen a number of characters contribute to its history. The recent work by the History Research Group has (thanks to generous funding by an Old Cryptian) produced astonishing information about people across the social spectrum, and there is more to come. The research has also been made available by high-quality display material; reading them gives rise to many emotions including pride, respect, sorrow and hope. These notes mention just two of them:
George Whitfield is, of course, a major figure connected with St Mary de Crypt; at last he is getting some of the recognition in this city of his birth and early education that he has for a long time had in America and other nations across the globe. His somewhat rebellious nature determined the course of his ministry, and I smile inside as I compare his experience with that of another priest regarded as ‘troublesome’ who came to lead the SMdC congregation in a parish weekend (at Lindors in the Forest of Dean) at the invitation of Canon David Paton. He was none other than Bishop David Jenkins (Durham) who, despite what the national press said, did not have two heads and a forked tail; he led a formative and memorable weekend. Bishop David gave us a phrase that was later adopted into a prayer leaflet available to all visitors:
‘God is, as he is in Jesus, so we can hope’
At the other end of the personality scale comes James ‘Jemmy’ Wood, a banker 1756 – 1836, was legendary for his wealth, meanness and eccentricity. At his death he was reputed to be the richest commoner in the kingdom with a vast fortune of £1.25 million! He served the city as Sheriff in 1811 and 1813 and as an Alderman from 1820 to 1836 and of course by his banking and money lending, the latter at the very highest rates of interest. All this did not endear him to his fellow citizens, who watched his funeral at St Mary de Crypt,
‘evincing a levity of demeanour, which was quite inconsistent with the solemnity of the occasion’.
Only the lawyers of the day profited from his great wealth as Jemmy’s will was drafted in an obscure way which led to years of legal wrangling. There is a commemorative stone (now quite badly worn) to the Wood family in the floor of the chancel.
Jemmy Wood is thought by some to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; furthermore, the long running legal dispute over the will found echoes in his Bleak House.
– Peter, Churchwarden at St. Mary de Crypt.