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A Tribute to Revd. Oscar Muspratt 1906 – 2000

Chaplains at War: Revd. Oscar Muspratt
The Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church
A visit to the Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

The Revd. Oscar Muspratt, who died in March of this year (2000), was the Vicar of Holy Trinity Penn between 1944 and 1989. 45 years of service one would think was enough for anyone but Oscar did so much before he came to Penn.

Oscar Muspratt born in Rochford, Essex, in 1906.  Oscar moved, with his family, to Australia in 1920 and at the age of 14 worked as a bullock cart driver and supported his father on a small dairy farm as a labourer. Due to the kindness of a cousin of his father Oscar was able to study chemistry at Melbourne University and became captain of the University Rugby Team.

It was in 1926 that he had what he called “a spiritual experience” which led him to enter the Church Ministry; intending to become a missionary in China. The Chinese considered this an appropriate time to prohibit any more missionaries from entering their country, and so Oscar began his Curacy in Melbourne.

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

In 1936, Oscar obtained a fellowship at Cambridge, where he supplemented his grant by taking services in local churches. At one of these he met Margaret Hooton, the incumbent’s daughter and they were married in 1st June 1937 in Cambridge.  They then returned to Australia where he became Vicar of Dandenong Mountains, and his first task was to rebuild the parish church. Here he honed his conscripting skills as he cadged, cajoled and coerced his small congregation and former university friends to help design and build the beautiful St. Michael’s and All Angels Church in Kalorama. A church and congregation that remained deep in his affection for the rest of his life.

Oscar became a serving chaplain in the 2nd World War and was posted to Egypt during the battles of El Alemain, Malta during their blitz, the initial invasions of Sicily and Italy and the Normandy landings.

And so to Penn.  Oscar became the Army chaplain for Buckinghamshire where he met Richard, Viscount Curzon and subsequently the Earl Howe. As the future patron of Penn Church, which was then without a clergyman, he invited Oscar to become the Vicar of Penn Church.

He was demobilised in 1945, and began the restoration and development of Penn Church and its parish. A labour of love that occupied him for the next 45 years. He reintroduced the Church Choir, of which he was so proud, and the restoration of Penn Church’s tradition of bell ringing. The building of the Lady Chapel and construction and repositioning of the new organ. The re-roofing of the church, the extension of the cemetery and the restoration of the long window on the north wall.

His moments in Penn gave Oscar moments of great happiness. Special personal highlights were the development of links between Penn and Pennsylvania; receiving the Freedom of Pittsburgh; being the guest of the US Senate; the establishment of the Penn Pennsylvania Fellowship Trust and the Penn Mead home.

Oscar’s wife Margaret took ill and died in 1976.

When he retired in 1989 Oscar was in poor health and to the pleasure of all who knew him, in 1990 Oscar married Vera who had cared for him at his lowest times. Vera’s effect on Oscar was wonderful. He made a good recovery, throwing away his walking stick.

In 1995 Oscar and Vera bought their lovely bungalow in Brecon. There Oscar spent his time writing his recollections and his treatise on World Peace, while Vera created a beautiful garden in which Oscar took as much pride as if he had made it himself.

Over the past 2 years, Oscar’s health worsened. He had difficulty in walking, but his happiness in Brecon with Vera was great. He passed away on the morning of 8th March 2000, after an intestinal aneurysm.

So that was a little part of the man you may have known as Oscar. A suitable epitaph should be the words of Wordsworth. ‘That best portion of a good man’s life. His little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.

We are indebted to Derek Evans for most of the above.

Chaplains at War

From an article found on ‘Chaplains at War’Oscar Muspratt enlisted in the Army January 1941 upon his return from Australia. He was posted to the 1st battalion the Rifle Brigade (which he shared with the 2nd Battalion the KRRC) in the 1st Armoured division recovering from Dunkirk. During his 2 1/2 years war service in the Middle East he tended the wounded and dying from both the first and the second battles of El Alamein.

Volunteering to replace casualties at the height of the blitz on Malta, he became the gunners chaplain. This involved taking countless services with a handful of men manning the great number of anti-aircraft guns in their open gun-pits: these went on even during an actual air raid under standing orders, whilst all hell was let loose overhead.

During the invasion of Sicily, he was posted to the famous 51st Highland division and returned with them for the Normandy Invasion. As his wife was unfortunately faced with a major operation, he was made responsible instead for supervising the spiritual ministrations to the many scattered Army detachments throughout the county of Buckinghamshire. As a precaution, in case London had been hopelessly crippled by bombing, a great part of the key administration of Britain’s war effort was duplicated and scattered throughout eh county of Buckinghamshire. As chaplain he served a wide range of these often most secret and most vital establishments including Chequers and the troops who guarded Winston Churchill.

He was released from the Army service owing to his wife’s serious ill-health at that time and appointed to Penn by Earl Howe in response to the parishioners’ request for an ex-Service Chaplain.

His great grandfather James Muspratt was one of the founders of Britain’s heavy chemical industry in 1825.

From Crockford’s Clerical Directory:
Trained at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia
Deaconed in 1929 and priested in 1931 in Melbourne, Australia

1929-1933 St Mary’s, Caulfield, Australia
1933-1936 Panton Hill, Australia
1936-1937 permitted to officiate Canterbury diocese
1938 priest in charge at St Mark’s, Fitzroy, Australia
1938-1941 Minister of Mt Dandenong, Australia
1941-1945 Chaplain to the Forces
1947 Honorary Chaplain to the Forces
1948-1989 Vicar of Penn, Oxford Diocese, UK
1990 retired and moved to Brecon.

The Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

Kalorama Church 1940’s, © Images of Yesteryear

One of our former Vicar’s proudest achievements was that, in 1940, during the darkest days of the Second World War, he had inspired the building of a beautiful new church at Kalorama, 2,000 feet up in the hills of Mt Dandenong, surrounded by eucalyptus trees, with a distant view of Melbourne, 25 miles away to the north west.

Oscar Muspratt was 31 when he arrived at Mt Dandenong in 1938.  He had been ordained for nine years, working as a priest in a succession of parishes in the Melbourne area with a 2-year curacy in England where he met and married his first wife at Cambridge.  A wealthy parishioner, Ernest Jones, died soon after his arrival at Mt Dandenong and his widow agreed that the building of a new church at Kalorama would be a worthy memorial to him.

The chosen architect was Keith Reed, an old friend and former team-mate from the Melbourne University rugby team, of which Oscar had been captain.  The design for a 60-seat church was debated and there were supporters for both a log cabin style and for a clinker brick clad church, but the final choice was for local (Kilsyth) stone.  This stone was found only a few miles away and came in soft varied tones of cream, buff, brown and grey.  It was decided to follow the Early English style with a small tower and was to cost about £1,400 of which £1,000 was the gift from Mrs Jones.

Oscar Muspratt chose the name St Michael and all Angels for the church, inspired by the Battle of Britain which was being fought in the skies over England at that very time.  He had found a text in Revelation Ch 12, v7,  ‘there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…and the dragon prevailed not’.

The foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1940, the day France fell, when it seemed that the whole future of Christian civilisation was at stake.  ‘A giant struggle lies ahead of the world and our Empire in particular’ he wrote in his church newsletter.  The church was completed in five frenetic months and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Melbourne on 28 November 1940.

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

The final cost of building was £1,835, nearly double Mrs Jones’ original offer, but she agreed to meet the whole of it leaving only the furnishings to the congregation.  Oscar Muspratt was remembered as the prime mover behind the project.  ‘He pushed – no church would have been built otherwise’.  The architect had vivid memories of the Vicar ‘being on the ball all the time, up there every day’.

The Muspratts left Australia in January 1941, only two months after the consecration, bound for England and volunteer war service as an Army Chaplain.  Keith Reed also volunteered for the Forces.  Oscar Muspratt returned several times in later years, most recently with his second wife, Vera, in 1990, for the 50th anniversary of the church.

The church has been described as an architectural gem and people come from miles around to be married there. The two photographs reproduced here confirm that it is a most attractive church.

Perhaps we should consider some formal arrangement for linking our two churches?  A good few of us will travel to Australia from time to time and it is easily accessible from Melbourne.

I have taken all the detail for this article from a detailed history of the church called ‘A light in the Hills’, written by H.L.Speagle in 1990, as well as checking with Vera Muspratt’s own knowledge of the church.  A copy of the history can be found in the Parish Office.

Miles Green, 22 December 2000

A visit to the Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

I wrote in our Newsletter two years ago (Feb/Mar 2001) about the small stone clad church at Kalorama, near Melbourne, for which the foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1940, the day France fell.  The building of this church was very much a product of the enormous enthusiasm and energy of the young Vicar, Oscar Muspratt, who was to be our Vicar from 1944-89.

This August, our family holiday was spent in Australia visiting my wife’s mother who lives at Ballarat, about 80 miles west of Melbourne.  We set off early one Sunday morning with our two younger children on a 2½ hour car journey through Melbourne’s suburbs, to Kalorama, about 25 miles east of the city.  It is about 2000ft up in the wooded (mainly eucalyptus) hills of Mt Dandenong, a lovely area popular with Melbourne residents and tourists.

The church is just to one side of the road with a long view of the open lowlands behind it.  It is clad with the local stone in soft, varied tones of cream, buff, brown and grey and looks very neat and established.  It seats 60 people (about one third the size of Penn) and is apparently immensely popular for weddings and funerals with people coming on occasions from as far away as New Zealand.

We were met by Henry Speagle, the author of a very well written and detailed history of the church (available in our Church Office), who had been kindly forewarned by Vera Muspratt, Oscar’s widow.  The service was entirely familiar based entirely on the Book of Common Prayer, even including a prayer for the Queen and her Ministers.  We were warmly welcomed as representatives of Oscar Muspratt’s other church.  The congregation was on the elderly side, although there is apparently an active youth group and familiar sports jackets and corduroy trousers were in evidence.  Tea and biscuits in the nearby hall and a tour of the church followed the service.

Jean and Henry Speagle invited us to lunch and we found much in common.  His generation of Australians was educated as if in an English school with no mention at all of Australian history.  He was very knowlegeable about Anglican personalities and had been particularly impressed by Rowan Williams who he had heard preaching.  The Melbourne diocesan newspaper was full of the appointment and its likely consequences for the Anglican Church.

It was a most interesting visit.  We received the friendliest of welcomes and I recommend Kalorama to future visitors to Melbourne.

Miles Green, 10th September 2002

Peter Widdicombe, Priest-in-Charge 1991-1993

The Diocesan Duties of the Priest-in-Charge My appointment to Penn is a shared. position with the Diocese of Oxford. Two days a week I teach in various programmes for the Diocese. In the autumn of Ihe past year I taught a course in Patristics for the Non-Stipendiary Ministries programme of the Diocese. The NSM programme provides theological training for those who wish to be ordained, and will thus be able to fulfil all the functions of a Church of England clergyperson, but who will remain employed in secular jobs and receive their income from those jobs. The programme is three years long and is very demanding. The students attend lectures one night a week for most weeks of the year and have weekend and summer seminars. There are forty students in the programme and it is expanding. The students are made up of teachers, nurses, lawyers, academics, housewives and businessmen.’ The Church of England is suffering increasingly from a shortage of clergy and Ihis is one of the ways the Church is attempting to meet the need.. The course I taught dealt wilh the development of the doctrines of the Trinity and the person and work of Christ in the first five centuries of the Church, which are my particular specialities. In an article in a subsequent issue of the parish magazine I shaH describe more fully my academic interests.

This spring I have been teaching a course in Patristics for the Faculty of Theology at Oxford. In the autumn I shall be leading a seminar in the historical and theological significance of the Nicene Creed for the diocesan programme for the continuing education of the parochial clergy.  It is likely that most of those who attend will be from the Buckinghamshire area of the Diocese.  Next spring I shall be teaching a course in systematic theology for the Thamesway lay training programme, which is based in Slough.

The work requires a great deal of time and energy, but ensures that I continue to read, and so, I trust, contributes to my preaching and the pastoral work I do in the parish.  It also means that the Priest-in-Charge of Penn has, for good or ill, a slightly higher profile in the diocese than might otherwise be the case.

Rev. Peter Widdicombe, June 1991.


Following my appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies in McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, I have, with regret, submitted my resignation as Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity to the Bishop of Buckingham. Karen and I have made many friends here and I have been greatly encouraged by the increasingly flourishing life of the Christian community in the parish. I appreciate deeply the kindness and support I have been given since we arrived. Such things one does not forget.

The position at McMaster is a rare and attractive one: the Department is considered to be the best in Canada and eighty people applied for the post. The Department is primarily concerned with the teaching of post-graduates and it has undergraduates as well. The position is ideally suited to me, allowing me to address my main theological interests. I shall be teaching undergraduate courses in the history of Christian thought from the second to the twemieth centuries and I shall be teaching post-graduate seminars and supervising theses in both early and modem Christian theology. I shall also be doing research in early and modem theology.

Hamilton is located around the western end of Lake Ontario, forty minutes from Toronto, where Karen and I lived before coming to England. I am pleased to be returning to my home country.

Our last Sunday in the parish will be May 30th.

Peter Widdicombe, March 1993

No 1: 12th Century Evidence

How old is our Church?

This is a question that we ask of any church, and the older the church, the more meaningless the question becomes. Churches grow and change throughout the centuries reflecting both the size and wealth of the population, and changing fashions of architecture and worship. Thus parts of Penn church belong to each of the preceding centuries and we have to ask instead, what is the oldest visible part of the church, and probably with a different answer, when was a church first built on this site?  What we can be quite sure of is that the earliest forerunner of today’s church would have been unrecognisably different. Much smaller for a start.

Dr. Clive Rouse, who lives in Gerrards Cross is one of the country’s leading experts on old churches. It was him that painstakingly re-assembled the Doom painting when it was mistakenly crow­barred out of its place above the chancel arch in 1938. I went to see him some years after and he was quite clear that the yellow mortar in the north wall of the nave (the wall you see as you approach the church) suggested 12th century work. He was able to say this as a result of working on many of the churches in this area.

This dating is supported by the 12th century font of which the stem and base are of Purbeck marble, and to some extent by the stone coffin just outside the vestry, which is thought to be early 13th century.  (I always enjoy the comment of the vicar of 1883 who noted of the stone coffin, that, ‘there are no present contents!’)

Written records of this period are scanty, and there are almost no parish churches which can lay claim to a recorded foundation date. However we do have some unusually significant dates for Penn. The Cartulery of Missenden Abbey records ‘Hugh, Clerk of Penn’ as a witness to an agreement in 1183.  Clerk was the term used then, as it still is today in legal documents, in the sense of cleric, and so Hugh is the first recorded priest in Penn. ‘Walter de la Penn’ appears on a record in 1194 and is referred to as clerk of Penn in 1200. The celebration of the 700th anniversary of the church, which was marked in by the putting up of the Iych gate in 1913, thus seems to have been decided more on the grounds of convenience than of history.

Perhaps the most intriguing clue is provided by a letter written in 1802 by the Rev. John Middleton, who was curate and then vicar between 1766 and 1800. In his letter to Lyson, the author of Magna Brittanica, of which I have a copy, he says he saw the date 1177 on a foundation stone whilst the Curzon vault was being dug under the chancel in 1797.

I shall examine this claim more closely in the next article.

© Miles Green, January 1996

No 2: 1177 Inscription in 1797 vault

John Middleton, the vicar in 1802, claimed that he had seen the date 1177 on a foundation stone whilst the Curzon vault was being dug under the chancel in 1797.

Outside the east wall of the chancel (the wall unfortunately ‘improved’ by black knapped flints in the 1860s), there are steps leading down to the vault. The entrance is now bricked up, but about ten years ago it was opened and the then vicar, Oscar Muspratt, Earl Howe and myself, went in to explore. There was no obvious inscription, but poor lighting and the presence of a large number of ancestral bones and decaying coffins was inhibiting and we did not feel able to have a close search.

In the absence of any physical evidence can we reasonably believe John Middleton’s claim? Expert opinion is divided. To find an inscription of such an early date would, according to my Oxford supervisor Dr. John Blair, a leading historian of the early church, be both unprecedented and improbable. On the other hand, Dr. Doris Jones-Baker, who specialises in the graffiti found in churches, agrees that it would be unique but regards it as perfectly possible since there is no doubt that in later centuries the dates of building and consecration were typically cut into the stonework. Both the age of the font and Dr. Rouse’s estimate for the age of the north wall of the nave support 1177, which also marries in with the wider picture which saw the great majority of later medieval parish churches built by the mid 12th century and the parochial system crystallised by 1200.

It is a pity that John Middleton did not describe in detail how the date was written – whether in Roman numerals or in our modem Arabic form which was not commonly used before about the 14th century. The date Middleton saw would presumably have been written as MCLXXVII, perhaps preceded by ‘anno incamationis’, but he was an educated man, the tutor to several ‘young gentlemen’ and one can reasonably assume that he was entirely familiar with Latin, which remained the language of record until the 1730s, and did not regard it as of any particular significance.

My own view is that Middleton’ s claim was an accurate one. He had been curate and vicar for 42 years when he died, ‘universally regretted’ in 1808, and his many entries in the parish register are meticulous, neat and full of interesting information. There seems no good reason why should wish to mislead the author of Magna Britanica. On this view, we missed our 800th anniversary in 1977.

© Miles Green, April 1996.

No 3: Where was the earlier church?

We have seen so far that Penn had its own Clerk or Priest in 1183, and that the oldest parts of the present church appear to be late twelfth century, probably built in 1177. The question then arises of whether there was a still older church or churches on the same site or elsewhere, and the answer to this depends very largely on when there were sufficient people living in Penn to justify a church

There is no reference to Penn in Domesday Book but this does not mean that there was no one living here in 1086. Domesday Book was not a comprehensive list of all towns and villages, but was concerned only with those places at which geld or tax was collected. Penn was paying geld through the manor house at Taplow, and so was included in its Domesday totals. In fact, a very good case has been made that Penn was already a 5 hide manor with some 600 acres under plough, as a part of King Alfred’s royal estate centred on Burnham, some 200 years before the Conquest. By the time of the Conquest, in 1066, Penn seems to have been nearly fully developed, with 1500 acres of arable.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that there were earlier churches. Archaeological evidence, either of an earlier church or graveyard has not been found, probably because no one has been looking for them, and we should make a point of carefully inspecting any holes that are dug in or near the church.

Before the Conquest most local churches are likely to have wooden. The century or so between c.1050 – 1150 is recognised to have been a period of great rebuilding when simple wooden churches were replaced by stone churches or its local equivalent, flint in our case, and with more style.  A pre-Conquest observer recorded that ‘the whole world was putting on a white mantle of churches’, and William of Malmesbury reported in 1125 ‘churches and monasteries rising in every village town and city in a new style of architecture’.

Domesday Book is not helpful on the presence of churches in Buckinghamshire. Some counties are more fortunate but only three churches are mentioned in the whole of Buckinghamshire out of what are assumed to have been two hundred or more.

An earlier church may well lie beneath the present one, but it is a reasonable assumption that the very first church to be built in Penn was a simple wooden building on a knoll half a mile from today’s church.

© Miles Green, May 1996