St.Pauls and 'Woodbine Willie'

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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St.Paul's district was until about 1830 a very swampy area known as Blockhouse Fields. The first St. Paul's Church was built in 1835-37 soon after the first housing development began. It was a typical 'Commissioners Church' in the semi-Gothic style, having a small tower at the west end and seating 625. The present church was built in 1885-6 by A.E.Street, who had family connections with Worcester. His work is aclaimed nationally, and St.Paul's is a good example of his style, in red brick with black brick trim. The Windows are by Kempe. The old church was later used as the school hall and destroyed in c. 1960.

After the 1914-18 War, the Rev.G.A. Studdert Kennedy brought fame to the parish, for he was the most famous preacher of the age. He was Chaplain to the King, poet and writer, and a preacher who filled the largest halls in Britain and abroad to overflowing. His words were as powerful as the prophets of old, and his fame so great that he could have had one of the higest posts in the Church, but he choses one of the poorest parishes in Worcester, and for 15 years the dreary streets and tenements came alive in the light of his personality. He was a remarkable man, beloved by the lower ranks in the War, and knicknamed 'Woodbine Willie' from his handing out of 'Woodbine' cigarettes to the men in the trenches . He received the M.C. for bringing in the wounded under heavy fire with 'absolute disregard for his own safety'. In the peace those who were Christian only in name and oblivious to the poverty around them. He had a voice like a bull, and he described himself as 'looking like a monkey'. He ferociously shook people out of their selfish ways, and yet, those who worked with him knew 'he was as weak as a kitten and was moved to tears at the hardship and suffering of others'.He was the higest paid writer of his day, but not a penny went into his pocket, all was directed to charitable funds. Like St.Francis, he gave his cloths away to beggars at the door - he died of pneumonia, and it was believed, without a coat to his back. At his funeral, work in the city stopped; traffic came to a standstill as great crowds followed and lined the streets.