Reverend George J. Collis MA 1871 – 1918
The following section looks at Rev. G.J. Collis whose invaluable notes on the Great War have been heavily used in this work. Rev G.J. Collis died in September 1918. The Evenwood Parish Magazine ceased publication and with it reports of local news associated with the war. The magazine did not appear regularly until March 1919 when Rev. Ragg was appointed to the parish.
G.J. Collis was the sixth vicar of St. Paul’s, Evenwood following Rev. H. J. H. Faulkener in 1908. He was to remain vicar for ten years until his sudden death in September 1918, at 47 years old. His previous appointments were as curate at Berwick-on-Tweed 1894-97, Embleton 1897-1905 and Morpeth 1905-08. He was educated at Clare College, Cambridge gaining a B.A. in 1892 and he then went on to attain an M.A. in 1902.
The Parish was formed in 1866 and St. Paul’s Church was built at that time. It was restored 1890-01 but destroyed by fire in December 1907. The church was re-opened on Tuesday 23 March 1909 when the lesson was read by Mr. W. R. Innes Hopkins, managing director of the North Bitchburn Coal Company and father of W. Hustler Hopkins, chairman of the building committee. A public tea followed in the schoolroom.
At this time Rev. G. J. Collis was still the relatively new vicar and no doubt relished the challenge of building up his congregation in his newly built church. Perhaps the Evenwood Parish Magazine would be a valuable tool in “spreading the word”. His curate until July 1911 was Rev. A. Armitage who resided at Victoria House and his choirmaster was Mr. J. R. Bouch, the schoolmaster at Evenwood National School. He was also the honourable secretary of Evenwood Crusaders football team and clearly, he was an active member of the village community. He departed on being appointed Headmaster at Eaglescliffe National School in the Spring of 1912.
Rev. W. T. Taylor was the replacement curate who came into the village in March 1912. Rev. Taylor appears to have been instrumental in forming the Boy Scouts movement and by September 1913, there were 20 boys in the Evenwood troop. Messrs. J. H. Nutter and J. W. Hordern were Assistant and Deputy Assistant Scoutmasters respectively. In October 1913, it was reported that Rev. Taylor left the Parish to take up an appointment at Heighington.
The Parish Magazine was well established by this time and communicated local information throughout the district. Details of births, marriages, burials, church services and secular matters were provided but also many other topics were brought to the attention of readers such as local events, presentations, meetings, sporting occasions, educational achievements, schooling matters – even the sinking of the Titanic in 1912!
It was instrumental in passing on information throughout the locality and good news was especially welcome such as the Evenwood Silver Band winning the Boothroyd Challenge Vase at Bishop Auckland in 1910. Rev. Collis is included in the 1908 photograph of the prize winning band assembled outside the new vicarage at Shirley Terrace. Also the exploits of the village football teams enjoyed good publicity in the magazine. For instance the league winning Evenwood Crusaders and junior teams are mentioned in May 1909, June 1910 and November 1911. Again Rev. Collis takes pride of place alongside his friend Mr. J.R. Bouch, the village school headmaster, in team photographs. Clearly, Rev. Collis involved himself in various aspects of village life and reported many cheerful events in the magazine.
The Parish Magazine probably was as effective as any other broadsheet or newspaper during the years of the Great War. Rev. Collis gave his opinion as to the progress of the war, trying as would be expected, to paint a “rosy picture” in times of crisis and being as patriotic as the occasion demanded. The magazine also provided an outlet for letters from men on active service away from home. It was passed around, home and abroad and voluntary subscriptions were forthcoming and acknowledged. There can be little doubt that its readers valued the publication.
Rev. Collis offered himself for the war effort but was denied service as the following extract from the Parish Magazine (July 1918) confirms:
“I have three times offered myself at various times during the war for any National Service to which the Diocesan authorities might care to appoint me and have been three times informed that they considered that the best form of service I could render was in my own parish among my own people.”
Perhaps the manner in which Rev. Collis kept his parishioners informed about these events is one of his best achievements. It is evident that matters of life and death, tragedy and sorrow are reported with great sympathy and tact. Perhaps the diocesan authorities were correct in their belief that Rev. Collis should stay in Evenwood.
Sadly, as the war raged on in September 1918, Rev. Collis died aged just 47. The collection of Parish Magazines thus came to an abrupt end with the September edition.
Mr. Spencer Wade wrote the October 1918 edition which announced the death of Rev. Collis and his contribution contained a warm tribute to him. Apparently he had almost lost his sense of hearing and in August 1918 had enjoyed a month’s holiday returning in September “refreshed and re-invigorated”. His appearance of good health was obviously masking serious health problems.
To quote Spencer Wade:
“In the sudden death of the Rev. George J. Collis, Evenwood has suffered a great loss. He was in every sense of the word a good man and good men in this sin stained world are few and far between…I was greatly struck while at Evenwood with the love of the young people for their vicar…Mr. Collis’ influence in Evenwood has been such that few men will be able to follow him.”
Rev. Collis was buried 18 September 1918. He was succeeded by Robert Edward Ragg in January 1919 and it was not until March 1919 that regular copies of the Parish Magazine recommenced.
Commemorative Tablet to Rev. G.J. Collis in St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood
Rev G.J. Collis
Rev G.J. Collis
& EVENWOOD BAND
Rev G.J. Collis with
Evenwood Crusaders Football Team