A History of Vicarage Road and

Father George Graham

Pelsall Vicarage was built in 1848 near to Fordbrook Lane bridge, (as seen in the photograph above) shortly after St Michael and All Angels Church was built in Hall Lane, Pelsall. This vicarage replaced an ancient thatched vicarage which once stood in Paradise Lane. In 1848, the sum of £1,000 towards the cost of the vicarage was provided by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Since this was the first such building to be situated in the area above, it can only be assumed that this road was named Vicarage Road for that very reason.  

The photograph above is one of the oldest showing Vicarage Road, Pelsall and an unidentified farm in the foreground.

Photograph courtesy of Mr A Weller - Pelsall History Centre

The postcard above shows Vicarage Road to the left

Behind the wall seen to the left in the postcard stood Pelsall Vicarage.

The photograph of Pelsall Vicarage seen above was photographed in 1977.

Photograph courtesy of Mr Cowley

Above:  Father Graham (wearing glasses) sitting to the right of the top table

Photograph, courtesy of Mrs D Massey

The history of Vicarage Road cannot be written about without the mention of Father George Graham.

I wrote about Father Graham back in 2004 when Bev Story had written to Pelsall Times to say that she was surprised that no one had ever written to me about Father Graham since he held such a reputation of being a very kind man who was very well loved in the village.

When a request for further information went out, Mrs Massey got in touch almost straight away, she had a photograph of Father Graham and lots of memories to share with readers.

Mrs Massey wrote:

As we look back on our lives, there are some people who weave the rich tapestries that are the memories of our formative years.  Larger than life characters that touch the lives of others in so many ways imbedded in our psyche long after their physical presence has left its mortal coil.

One such man was Reverend George Graham, vicar of St Michael and All Angels Church, Pelsall from 1966 - 1977, affectionately known as Father Graham.

Father Graham played a major part in my childhood.  I was around 4 years of age when he came to the village, and like many of the village children he referred to me as on of his 'Little Disciples'.  He loved children and wherever he went there seemed to be a trail of children behind him, whether it was on one of his famous outings in a van or merely walking up and down the common to the Church.

I can remember one of the many occasions Father Graham visited our home for a cup of tea and a piece of home made cake, my sister as a baby, comfortably sitting in his lap, in the fireside chair.

He was without question, a 'gentle giant' of a man.

Father Graham, I recall could out sing a church organ with his massive booming voice, but by comparison could hold a baby at its christening so gently in his immense hands.  I remember in awe the size of those giant feet that used to protrude under his long black cassock.

As I was growing up, I was lucky enough to be invited on some of his outings, usually for the youngsters in the Church choir.  I was never in the choir, but my sister was, so I got to go too.

T R Swain's Electrical Shop, the white building, seen above

Photograph courtesy of Mr T R Swain

Osbourne's Bakers is shown above. This building was situated where the Lotus Blossom Cantonese Food Takeaway stands today.

Photograph courtesy of Mr A Weller - Pelsall History Centre

The day usually started with a trip to Osbourne's Bakers to get a big bag of Chelsea buns and loaves of bread.  Then Father Graham would pile us into his green van and head off at the great speed of 20 miles per hour, anywhere we wanted to go just as long as he didn't have to turn right.

We'd often end up at the Chase, Ellesmore or even the Wrekin which on one occasion he got so carried away, forgot his age and then had to be rescued by one of the choir boys when his old legs gave way.

Every year on the occasion of the Sunday School Festival we would all be decked out in our best white dresses, after the morning service would happily parade around the village behind a huge banner blowing in the wind following the brass band music coming out of the loudspeaker on the top of Mr Swain's van, another example of Father Graham's commitment, pride and belief in the young people of his parish.

As time went on and I became a teenager, I remember going to the vicarage on a Sunday afternoon to Confirmation classes.  I can still see the huge table we sat at - all three of us.  I can smell the fusty air that lingers in most old buildings, but most of all I recall the fear and trepidation I felt sitting with my feet of the floor, under the table as a result of the rumours of the place being over run with mice.  As a result of this terrible fear, I must confess I didn't learn very much and concentrated on sneaking sly glances at my watch, desperate to get out of there.

Mr Swain's works van in the 1950's

Photograph courtesy of Mr T R Swain

Monday nights were fun.  We went to bell ringing practice and Father Graham was so enthusiastic.

We all feared for our lives when he swung the sally, but he certainly did it with great gusto. The sleeves would be rolled up and the brow perspired greatly.  He was almost child like in his pursuit of mastering the art.

I'm not sure he ever did, but it wasn't through lack of trying.

Father Graham was a proud man who lived a simple life.  Asking for very little, living his faith, inspiring those around him and always with an easy smile and a kind word for all.  Glorying in village life, happily wondering across the common, stopping to catch a breath while he looked around himself every now and then.  A traditional man with strong values that were not fully appreciated by some of his parishioners.

I recall the day of Father Graham's funeral in 1977.  His Church was full of the people whose lives he had touched and enriched.  Many wept for the loss of the man who was far more than the parish priest to them.

His gravestone in the Churchyard is a fitting tribute - a large rock like stone, nothing over elaborate, but a lasting memory to a man whose memory needs no prompting for those who knew him.

Pelsall Vicarage following the death of Father Graham in 1977

 

In 1984 the vicarage was demolished and replaced by sheltered accommodation for the elderly.

Photographs above, courtesy of Mr Cowley

In her time Bev Story recalled that she and her friends would often ask Father Graham what was upstairs in the vicarage, he always used to tell them that there were bones up there.  Needless to say, no one was ever brave enough to venture up there to find out if there was any truth in what he said.

Bev recalled that Father Graham liked his food and was particularly fond of cream cakes.  Bev remembered that when she and her friends used to go to choir practice, he would bundle them all into his van and would drive them to to Osbourne's cake shop, where he would buy a selection of cakes.  They would then go back and have tea and cakes before they even started.

Bev recalled that he was a very kind man, not just because he used to buy all the youngsters cakes, but because he really cared.

If any of the youngsters were ever unwell, Father Graham would always pay a visit to find out how they were.

When he passed away, Father Graham was very sorely missed.

If you would like to share your memories of Father Graham, why not drop me a line?

Where the vicarage once stood on Vicarage Road, Pelsall Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times