Rev. Alfred Preston, 1822-1882

notes by Ed Grimsdale

Photo of Alfred PrestonAlfred Matthew Preston had been born to the Reverend Matthew Morris Preston and Elizabeth (always known in the family as “Eliza”, née Garrett) on 28 March 1822 in Watton, Hertfordshire. Alfred had at least one sister, Eliza and an elder brother, Theodore. Another brother, Francis, died prematurely, aged 16 in June, 1837. Both Theodore and Alfred graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and the two brothers were ordained on the same day, 28 Oct 1845 by the Bishop in his cathedral at Ely.

The Reverend Alfred Matthew Preston married firstly Harriet Eley, the eldest daughter of Charles Eley of Hove. Alfred’s father conducted their marriage service which took place on 11 Sep 1851 in Hove parish church.  Harriet died at Hurst Pierpoint on 1 July 1854, aged just 27.  Within two years, Alfred married again, this time to Mary Louisa, the youngest daughter of the Reverend Thomas Harrison of Womenswold in Kent, at a church in her birthplace, Barham near Canterbury, on 27 March 1856. Two years later, Alfred’s father, Matthew Morris Preston died, aged 77. He had served as the enthusiastically evangelical Vicar of Cheshunt, Herts. Incidentally, Matthew Morris’s father, Matthew Preston, again an ardent evangelical, had been the Vicar of Sheffield. Alfred’s brother, Theodore, became a brilliant scholar and Professor of Arabic Studies in the University of Cambridge from which he retired in 1871 and then renounced his clerical vows. It would seem that Theodore’s time as Professor was expended on research but ministering to his students did not appear amongst his virtues. One putative student, Robert Bensly, it is suggested "often recounted the tale of his persistent attempts to induce one of his Arabic professors, Theodore Preston, an obdurate absentee, to come up and deliver lectures".


Bucks Herald 28 Oct 1882

WINSLOW

DEATH OF THE VICAR

We regret to record the death, since our last issue, in the early morning of Thursday last indeed, of the Rev. Alfred Matthew Preston, M.A., vicar of this town and parish. The deceased gentleman, who as "out and about" his parish on Wednesday, we understand, has for more than a year been seriously ailing, and was informed, on medical authority, that his end might be, in fact was, somewhat sudden. [Alfred had been suffering from a heart condition and before his death, he’d gone to Bournemouth "to recruit his health".] For nineteen years Mr Preston has been the vicar of Winslow, having been appointed by the Lord Chancellor in 1863, having previously been curate to Dean Fremantle at Claydon, curate also of Barnwell, and of Cheshunt, and Eastbourne. He was of the extremely Low Church party in the church, fraternising not merely in Christian courtesy but on what he regarded as religious principle, with all orthodox Nonconformists and Nonconformity; and expressing his views at clerical meetings of his brother-clergy with frequency and indeed whenever openings presented themselves. Of his exemplary piety and devoutness no one ever doubted, and if he was a "true blue Protestant" in the party sense, he was also a true Christian gentleman in the wider sense. In his intercourse with neighbouring clergy he was kindness itself, and consistent with his Evangelical religious views diligently and zealously endeavoured to lead his parishioners into the same way of thinking and acting.

He graduated about forty years ago, at Trinity College, Cambridge, and as ordained by the Bishop of Ely in 1845, to the curacy of Barnwell, Near Cambridge. He leaves a large family of children*, mostly married or otherwise settled in life, to mourn their loss, while rejoicing in his great gain; and it will be long before his people and his neighbours will grow accustomed to the absence of his well-known face from parish and pulpit. A recent correspondence in our columns respecting Church hymnbooks and the Winslow "use" thereof, well delineates what manner of man the vicar was, and many of our readers will fill in the outlines for themselves. While guarding the pulpit of Winslow Church with perhaps more strict jealousy than almost any incumbent in the diocese against its occupation by decided and unmistakeable Low Churchmen, Mr Preston never violated Christian charity, or wounded the feelings of any tacitly excluded High Church, or Moderate, or Broad Church brother.  The large Reading-Room near the Vicarage was erected at his own cost, and he was as charitable pecuniarily, we believe, as religiously contributing largely to the restoration of Winslow Vicarage, which he made into a very commodious and convenient residence. The benefice is in the gift of the Lord Chancellor, of the gross value of £200, with a population of 1,700 souls.

*The children of Alfred and Harriet (née  Eley) and Alfred and Mary (née Harrison) were:


According to his obituary in the Schornian magazine from North Marston, Rev. Preston was extremely Low Church, contributed to the rebuilding of the Vicarage, and paid for "the large Reading room near the Vicarage". The services of his Curate, Rev. R.C. Allen, were retained by a public subscription.

See Vestry minutes 1867 for some disputes between Rev. Preston and the parishioners concerning, among other things, the church harmonium. "Churchman" criticised him in the local press for being too ecumenical and Low Church.

In 1869 he introduced a new form of Harvest Festival.

Leighton Buzzard Observer, 21 Sep 1869
  HARVEST THANKSGIVING.- On former occasions the Winslow thanksgiving was limited to an evening service in the parish church, this year it has been somewhat improved; and on Thursday, September 9th, an excellent tea was provided on the Vicarage Lawn, to which between 300 and 400 attended, the various tables being presided over by many of the principal residents of the town.  The tables were decorated with stands of choice flowers, while here and there could be seen well-arranged sheaves of corn, which had a very pretty effect.  The arrangements were very complete, the lawn being placed entirely under canvas in the event of unfavourable weather.  The Winslow brass band delighted the company with an excellent selection of music, and after seven o’clock a service was held in the parish church, the congregation being very large.  The only decoration noticeable was two sheaves placed on each side of the aisle leading to the altar.  The prayers and lessons were said by the Rev. H. Hayward, and a sermon preached by the Rev. A. M. Preston, from John iv. 8.  The hymns used on the occasion were the 111, 362 and 308 from Windle’s Church and Home Psalter and Hymnal.  At the conclusion of the service a collection was made on behalf of the Bucks Infirmary..

In 1873, Rev. Preston was involved in a dispute with his Winslow parishioners over the Infant School. He wanted to keep control of religious education in the school; they blamed him for obstructing the enlargement of the school.


Bucks Herald, 26 Sep 1874: opening of the Reading Room (or Iron Room, not to be confused with the later Iron Room in Horn Street)

HARVEST THANKSGIVING. – A service of praise and commemorative of the late bountiful harvest was held in the parish church on Tuesday last, when a very striking and beautiful sermon was preached by the Rev. Henry Bame, vicar of Farringdon, from the words “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” &c., treating it under the very expressive heads of - 1st, the manner of His love;  2nd, the manifestation of His love;  3rd, the reception of His love; and, 4th, its results.  It was listened to throughout with rapt attention by about 500 people.   Collections were made at the close in aid of the Aylesbury Infirmary, amounting to £6..12..4½. 

This service was preceded by a tea in the new reading room, which proved a signal success, apparently falling in with the views of the inhabitant, upwards of 350 sitting down to the refreshing beverage.  We have much pleasure in describing to our readers what has been termed the new reading room, Winslow.   On the spot where stood a short time since in the centre of the town of Winslow some very old and dilapidated cottages, almost unfit for human habitation, and nearly the only relict of Winslow cottage antiquity, has been erected at the entire cost of the Vicar of Winslow, the Rev. A.  M. Preston, a very neat and commodious iron room, measuring 48ft by 30ft, built by Messrs. Braby and Co., of Fitzroy Works, Euston Road.  The object and design of the rev. gentleman has been to furnish the working men and inhabitants of Winslow with a reading room, which shall be supplied with a library and leading newspapers and periodicals of the day, and thus secure for them a quiet retreat, where they can spend their leisure hours.   The room is to be opened from 5 o’clock p.m. till 10 to members at the nominal payment of 4d per month.  Tea and coffee will be supplied during those hours at a charge of 1d per cup.   The room will also be used two hours of the week for voluntary and gratuitous education.  The whole of this very laudable idea has originated entirely with Mr. Preston;  and inasmuch as the value of goodwill towards and interest in others is invariably most thoroughly weighed by the test of L s. d. we feel justified in saying that this manifestation of Mr. Preston’s generosity unmistakably shows that he has most earnestly at heart the welfare and happiness of the people of Winslow.   We cannot but regard it as a great boon to the town, and we heartily desire that its promoters may realise the design of their work, and at the same time we trust that the working men and inhabitants of Winslow will show their appreciation by at once enrolling themselves members.

The Reading Room's location is described in A.J. Clear's 1932 lecture. It was where 13-15 Vicarage Road are now. The Reading Room closed in late 1879, "because it was under one-man government" according to a later comment, but the building remained in use for church functions and was sometimes lent to organisations such as the Literary Institute (see below). It was described as "lofty and spacious" (Buckingham Advertiser, 27 Jan 1883); the size was about 134 square metres. It remained Rev. Preston's property and must have been removed after his death; the Buckingham Advertiser last mentions a function in it in 1886. The site was sold for building in 1891.

Buckingham Advertiser, 23 Oct 1886
LITERARY INSTITUTE.- A meeting convened by circular was held in the Reading Room, on Thursday evening, to discuss the possibility of re-opening the institute this winter.  There was a good attendance of members, and Mr. John Varney, jun., was appointed Chairman.  The balance sheet was read by Mr. Day, the secretary, and showed up to date a deficit of about £2 10/-, but as Mr. Day pointed out, the receipts included some extraneous and special items that could not reasonably be expected again (including good subscriptions from W S. Lowndes, Esq., H. J. Chinnery, Esq., H. R. Lambton, Esq., G. R. Greaves, Esq., Rev. S. T. Adams, &c.,) and he estimated that the ordinary subscriptions would not meet the working expenses by £8 or £9.  On the motiion [sic] of the Rev. J. Riordan, the accounts were passed, and considerable discussion took place as to best course to be pursued.  It appeared to be the general opinion that it was a pity to close the Institute altogether, and the best plan was to try for less expensive premises.  The old room in Church Street [i.e. the Girls' School] was mentioned, also the room on the top of the Engine House, and ultimately it was agreed that Mr. Day should make inquiries and report to the Committee.  The proceedings closed with a vote of thanks to the Chairman and Mr. Day.

Tent Mission

In 1875 Mr Preston gave his support to the Tent Mission in Winslow, an Evangelical and ecumenical movement which aroused much controversy among the local clergy and Anglicans. There was a lot of correspondence in the Bucks press, especially the Buckingham Express. Below are two extracts from longer letters:

Buckingham Express, 10 July, from "Lex"
… We are next advised [in a previous letter] to enlarge and restore our Parish Church.  We Churchmen of Winslow look with shame and contrition upon our infrequent services, our empty pews, and our dilapidated church.  Will Canon Fremantle, instead of taunting us, bestow on us his pity.  Will he never recognise the fact that the restoration must begin at the Vicar - and that unless the incumbent of the Parish is a sincere Churchman, no influence for good goes on in the Church.  There is no need for enlargement, for the Church has never yet been filled by any of the Rev. Gentlemen on the Committee of the Tent Mission or at any other time.  But as for the Restoration, let the Vicar call his parishioners together, let the Rural Dean attend, and then, perchance, he may become convinced that restoration is not possible…

Buckingham Express, 14 Aug, from the Rural Dean, Canon W.R. Fremantle
… You [i.e. "Lex"] say, “We in Winslow having watched the rise progress and departure of the Tent are now in a position to judge of its effects.”  I suspect it must be a very small minority which composed the “We in Winslow” for judging from the numbers who attended the services, notwithstanding the rain which continued almost incessantly for two days and two nights, we may ask where did the 600 people come from who attended on Monday night?  Of what class were the 800 composed who were present on Friday night? And the 1,000 on Sunday afternoon to say nothing of crowds in the Iron Room on two other days?  I quite believe that if some of the “We in Winslow” had been present at one of these occasions they would have been constrained to endorse what I copy from a London newspaper containing a correct and interesting report of the week’s proceedings at Winslow…


Preston’s final crisis at Winslow Parish Church

It is worthwhile, perhaps, to recollect the public clash between the Vicar and his flock, played out across the pages of the Bucks Herald.

During September 1882, this printed notice appeared in all pews at St Lawrence following representations from its congregation that  that Windle’s Psalms and Hymns was passé:

It is proposed to change the hymn books now in use for a new hymn book entitled, 'Hymns for the Church Catholic,'  by the Rev. J.B.Whiting.
The change to commence on Sunday, October 8th.

The congregation felt that the Vicar’s action had been:

A round-robin "numerously signed by heads and members of thorough Church-going families" was "immediately" presented to the Vicar.

To the Rev. A.M Preston, vicar of Winslow.

We, the undersigned members of the congregation, request, in consequence of the notice given of a change of hymn books in the Church, if any alteration is to be made from the books now in use, that Hymns Ancient and Modern be substituted, for the reasons following:

  • That Hymns Ancient and Modern are now almost universally used in all Churches throughout the country.
  • That in the event of us having friends visiting us on a Sunday, they generally bring these hymn books with them for use in Church.
  • That in the event of our being absent from our own Parish Church on a Sunday Hymns Ancient and Modern would be serviceable to us in attending Church elsewhere.
  • That most of us are already provided with these hymns.
  • That in the event of Hymns Ancient and Modern not being adopted, any other change is unnecessary.

The feeling among Church-people is very strong in favour of Hymns Ancient and Modern as being much in use, and likely to be permanently so; and this proposed change is looked upon as vexatious, and taking money from the congregation which would be much better expended upon the Church.

Here is the trenchant peroration of the Vicar’s last extended letter answering these charges, written to the Bucks Herald, just a few weeks before his abrupt death:

As the case now presents itself to me, I will not at present introduce the new book, "Hymns of the Church Catholic," by Rev. J.B. Whiting. Meanwhile, if any wish to possess it – and I can assure them it is a valuable treasury of hymns – they may obtain it at the Reading Room.

As an antidote to the [Romish] tendencies to which I have referred, I would beg you to study the Thirty-nine Articles in the Prayer Book, especially the 22nd and the 28th, and the rubric at the end of the Communion Service, beginning, “Whereas it is ordained, &c”. Above all, search the Scriptures, in which you will not find the Apostles teaching either the veneration of the Virgin Mary, or of the Lord’s Presence in the Lord’s Supper.

And allow me to address to you the words of St Paul "Watch Ye, Stand Fast in the faith. Quit you like men. Be strong. Let all your things be done with charity."

Yours Faithfully,

ALFRED M. PRESTON


It has been claimed that Winslow’s Parish Church ministered to the middle classes in Victorian times. How did children, born into bastardy because their parents could not afford to marry in church, react to this hymn in the Reverend William Windle’s Psalms and Hymns, the protestant hymnal that Preston espoused for 19 years of his time in Winslow?

Wash off my foul offence,
And cleanse me from my sin;
For I confess my crime, and see
How great my guilt has been. 

Make me to hear with joy
Thy kind forgiving voice;
That so the bones which Thou hast broke
May with fresh strength rejoice. 

Blot out my crying sins,
Nor me in anger view;
Create in me a heart that's clean,
An upright mind renew.

Withdraw not Thou Thy help,
Nor cast me from Thy sight;
Nor let Thy Holy Spirit take
Its everlasting flight.

Alfred Preston had published his grave concerns about Roman Catholicism in a 58-page booklet produced by Seeley and Co. in 1873: Lent Lectures. The truths of the Gospel contrasted with five fundamental errors of the Church of Rome. He also published a lecture on Babylon.

Preston was a strong advocate of temperance and had seconded the successful motion to form a local branch of the Church of England Temperance Society in the Buckingham archdeaconry in 1875. Preston declared that he had been a total abstainer since 1855 and noted that “in his own parish [WINSLOW] there were 19 public houses, to a population of 1,800, and common sense showed that such a number was not required, and should be greatly reduced, and therefore, he would say, let the legislature go to work in the matter.”

The grave of Rev Alfred Preston

The Reverend Alfred Matthew Preston is interred in Winslow churchyard to the south of the church’s chancel. His grey, granite, polished sarcophagus records:
“BLESSED ARE THE DEAD WHICH DIE IN THE LORD THAT THEY
MAY REST FROM THEIR LABORS [sic] AND THEIR WORKS DO FOLLOW THEM.”
(from the Book of Revelation Ch.14, verse 13)


 

 

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