Vicar of Carbrooke 1927-1955
‘Father George’ was Vicar in Carbrooke from 1927 – 1955, a difficult time in British history. The population was learning to live with the effects of WW1, and facing the challenges of worldwide depression. The build up towards WW2 was starting, then, experienced, along with the aftermath. George Chambers offered stability at the helm, and was much loved by his parishioners, although gained a reputation from those outside, as ‘The Red Vicar of Carbrooke’.
George Bennet Chambers was born January 18th 1881 in Ealing, London. Into the large family of George N (a merchant) and Margaret Chambers. By the 1901 Census, he was 20 years old, George had become a Benedictine monk, based at Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire, Wales. After changing denomination, he took successive roles in the East End of London amongst the poor and destitute, and in South Africa working with the Church of England. He was deaconed in 1906, priested in 1907. In 1921 he married Aline Robinson at Dunmow in Essex. They had 4 children two of whom, Julian W. b.1929 and Justin H. b.1932 were born in Carbrooke and attended Carbrooke School.
Aline was the daughter of Louis Robinson a 19th century English physician, paediatrician and author. Although bought up as a Quaker he became an ardent evolutionist, and helped pioneer modern child medicine during the later Victorian era. He wrote prolifically in journals on the emerging science of paediatrics. Active in scientific debate, Robinson was critiqued in some parts of the press for his outspoken evolutionary views in the wider debate between scientific theories of human origin and the religious view. – Perhaps an unusual father in law for a devout Christian Vicar!
In 1927 George Bennet Chambers, or ‘Father George’ as he was affectionately known by his parishioners became Vicar of Carbrooke. He remained in Carbrooke until 1955, becoming Rector of Ovington, Norfolk in 1952. At this time Carbrooke had its own vicar who lived at what is now ‘The Old Vicarage’. Father George has written many notes in the Vicars Logs which make fascinating reading, for example the difficulties he had getting his parishioners into church, (some things never change). Or the problems he had with the boiler and drains in the Vicarage.
He was much loved by his parishioners, and has been described as a true Christian Socialist. He involved himself in all aspects of village life, joining the cricket club, founding the Carbrooke dance club and opening the doors of the vicarage and its grounds to his parishioners. Rallys were held in the vicarage grounds, for the Agricultural Workers Union, attracting Socialist MP’s. RAF airforce officers were given accommodation at the vicarage after the war.
He was a regular visitor to the school, teaching the children country dancing, and taking them on trips (including annual residential trips to Eccles, where Fr. George and his wife cared and catered for the children in their charge, some of whom had never been on holiday before).
His left-wing social and political views, were evident in his well publicised commission of a crucifix incorporating hammer and sickle iconography, but were not popular with everybody, and he earned himself the name ‘The Red Vicar of Carbrooke’. This caused a controversy when it was vandalised, attracting the national press to descend on Carbrooke. He was famous for his membership of the Thaxstead Group.
A Man Before His Time piece written for New Penny News by Lesley Kant.
In Carbrooke church we have a number of items which were commissioned by George Chambers, and created by artist friends of his The Moray-Smith’s – a fascinating couple who created many artistic works in plaster in Norwich and Norfolk.
By the altar on the east wall hangs a most interesting memorial to Elizabeth Chambers who died in 1932. It shows a girl walking in a meadow with a cat and a sheep on either side, and a blue tit on her hand, and is probably to his sister Elizabeth. Also a lovely printed Altar frontal – ‘The tree of life’.
Carbrooke Nativity Scene
Having seen them again, members of the heritage group who remembered them when they were new, decided to renovate them. Brian Smith restored the chipped plaster work and re-created the ‘Carpenter shop’ setting, his sister, Enid Clarke, a well known local artist, repainted the figures, and their neighbour a carpenter, recreated the tools to scale.
The family then set up the display as they remembered it. They were ready for display in the church in time for Christmas. The figures now look fantastic, in their new setting.
They are not strictly ‘Nativity figures’, as Jesus is obviously not new born and the 24” figures are set in a carpenters shop, and dressed in 1920’s style. Father George commissioned the figures, created by his friends Mr and Mrs Murray-Smith. (Enid Clarke, although only a child at the time, remembers the Murray-Smiths around Carbrooke, who lived with Rev. Chambers and his wife Aline at the Vicarage whilst they were working on the figures. They were very Bohemian, with long hair, flowing clothes and sandals – which must have been quite a novelty in 1920’s Carbrooke. The figures have been a great feature in ‘Carbrooke Christmas’ tradition for older members of our community, and now they can continue on for our younger members.
Controversially in 1955 the church roof was stripped of its lead and sold – to prevent it from being stolen. The money raised was used to renovate the church but this left the church with only its roofing felt for the next 30 years, until it was able to raise money for a new roof in 1988.
Christmas Production 1938
His interests included the study of Plainsong, and he wrote a book on the subject, he was also interested in Traditional Folk dance. He was actively involved in fundraising for institutions that included the Imperial Cancer Research fund (now part of Cancer Research UK) and a friend of several prominent left wing figures in England.
Aileen died in 1964 aged 70 and George died early 1969 in Surrey. An Aumbry was placed in the Church for the Reserved Sacrament. This was paid for by public subscription in memory of George Chambers and his wife Aileen. It was dedicated at a special service, when many of the relatives and friends of the Chambers family were present.
“Folksong – Plainsong: A Study in Origins and Musical Relationships”by Rev.George Chambers (GB Chambers) and updated in 1972
‘The concept that art music, in this instance chant and plainsong, grew from rustic and peasant roots is given a welcome airing by Father Chambers in this treatise on origins. His sources date back to the time when the early church was searching for tunes to carry the message of God and his son on earth. What better source than the songs of the rural working class. All that needed doing to them was to change the message from one of a healthy respect for the earth and its produce to that of praising the creator. Art music takes some serious knocks at Chambers’ hands and it surprises me that the book has not been reprinted and been made available to a wider audience. Trained musicians, read it at your peril! Traditional and folk musicians will love it’.
References Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_B._Chambers
Page last Updated 20.03.2022