He was a rotund figure of a man with a round head with a receding grey hairline, dressed in his charcoal grey clerical stack. Yes that is a little boy’s description on seeing the Reverend Benjamin Huddleston Hayward-Browne for the first time when he came to check the attendance register at Holy Trinity School in 1935. He carried this task as he was as in later years found out was chairman of the school governors. On other occasions another board member Miss Gwen Pinder-Brown carried out this task.
As we had a scripture class every morning he came around twice a year just before the exams to test us on what we knew from the syllabus that we had been taught from. I am not sure if it was the teachers that were being examined or we.
When we arrived in Mrs. Snapes class for two years, and we had singing lessons, which I enjoyed, which included such song as “Gossip Joan”, “The Keelrow”, “The Keeper” and “On Richmond Hill”, plus many other English folk songs. Every couple or months or so, “Big Ben” as we boys had quickly named him, used to arrive to listen to us singing. This is where he would pick his recruits for the church choir we found out. He would leave having not said a word. Then there came a time when he would tap you on your shoulder and say “Friday night, five o’clock at the Church, Choir Practice, and don’t argue, I’ve asked your Mother already!” It was only the boys that he wanted, as in those days the church choir was an all male entity. The men joined us at six o’clock and we would go through the psalms and hymns for Sunday services and any anthems that we were practicing for a Festive occasion.
Then came the time when every boys voice will break, and no longer can you reach those high treble notes. You think at last I’m free! No luck you get seconded to being a Server and a Crucifer, and at that time church bells were about to start ringing again, while they had been silenced for the early years of the War. So I learnt how to ring on a silenced bell for a while before the ban was lifted. One exciting thing was we had girls who were learning to ring as well, that made the task very enjoyable.
Being a bachelor for quite a while, towards the end of the War he met a lady from the New Forest and they were married. I can remember that the Easter of 1946 the Parish raised enough money to send both the vicar and his new bride on a holiday to North Africa, which had just opened up for tourists.
In July 1951 was the last time that I had a long chat with him in his study at the Vicarage, before setting sail for Canada. He had mellowed somewhat from those early years and he hinted then that he might not be in Cookham when and if I should return. The war years had been quite a strain for him and he was glad to have the support of a wife at last. By the time that I returned in 1954 he had left the village and taken a living in the small parish of Icklesham in Sussex in 1952. I did visit them once, and found that they were quite happy with a small congregation and a very relaxing life.
Many thanks to Pam Knight for help in obtaining the photographs in this story and help with some of the facts here contained.