The Rev. Alan Newman Guest

The Rev. Alan ‘Joey’ Newman Guest M.A. was an eccentric Irish priest who was appointed Vicar of St. James, New Bradwell on 25th September 1908. He discovered in 1909 that his church had not been licensed for marriages for the past 50 years – approximately 1000 during that period – and announced that all marriages at St. James were illegal, and couples in New Bradwell were living in sin.  This created headlines in the local press “1000 marriages ILLEGAL Startling Disclosure at Bucks Church”.

He discovered that the marriage register being used at the church was actually the one for St. Peter`s Church, at Stanton Low and, as such, St. James Church was not licensed for the solemnisation of marriages.  An Act of Parliament was hurriedly passed on June 4th 1909, declaring all marriages at the church were now valid, and confirmed, in the House of Lords on July 16th that year. This incident was turned into a play by J.P. Priestly.

Alan Newman Guest was born in County Kerry, Ireland in 1862 – a family of French origin. He took a BA. degree in divinity at Trinity College, Dublin in 1889, and MA in 1893, before coming to England in 1894.  He had friendships whilst in Ireland with renowned Protestant Loyalists and left because he believed he was on an IRA hit list. Previous to moving to New Bradwell, he held two curacies in Ireland, four in London, and one in Brighton, before becoming Curate of St. Johns at Stanford Hill.  The first parish he was offered was Piddlehinton, in Dorset, but he declined because he took objection to the name. He was finally appointed vicar of Stantonbury in 1908 on £350 per annum.

His experience in that parish was not a happy one, for he could not tolerate other churches – all others he considered to be interlopers. He particularly disliked the Salvation Army, kicking a hole in their drum one Sunday.  In 1915 he was summoned to court for striking a 14 year old girl for attending the local Methodist Chapel, instead of his church and fined £3 plus costs.  This was followed in 1918, with a second appearance at the courts, for insulting behaviour in the public streets.  For which he was fined one pound or, in default, fourteen days imprisonment.

His sermons at times were more political than religious and he condemned the Labour Party for being pacifist – upsetting Stantonbury and Wolverton, which were Labour strongholds.  For some years, there were differences between himself and the lay officials of his church.  Stormy vestry meetings followed, which gradually developed into an attitude of antagonism to the vicar and, which ultimately, resulted in the withdrawal of Mr Guest’s warden, the organist, and the whole choir.  The Sunday School teachers with their scholars also left.  The church which, under the guidance of former vicars, was filled on Sundays with worshippers, slowly became deserted. This was not because there was a lack of loyalty to their church by residents in the parish, but because they could not see eye to eye with their vicar, his method of conducting services and his failure to co-operate with his flock.

Following a petition, the Bishop of Oxford attended a service to meet the parishioners. Over 1,000 are reported to have attended the meeting in the evening, at the local school, where the Bishop called for “give and take”, and sided with the vicar.  There were reports of uproar when the Bishop and Rev. Guest left the building and police were called from Newport Pagnell.  The result was that, eventually alone, he went through the offices of the church and played the organ with only himself forming the congregation.

As early as Sept 1916, letters between the Bishop of Buckingham and the Archbishop, suggested that the Rev. Guest be allowed to go free with an income and be replaced by the, then, Bishop Powell – Vicar of St. Saviour`s, Poplar in the London diocese. But the Reverend Guest declined the invitation. When World War I started, he volunteered to be a chaplain in the Royal Navy, but the Eccelastrial Commissioners told him, if he went, he would forfeit his living.  So he stayed in Stantonbury.

He married in 1916 to Miss Dorothy “Dolly” Cook from Eastbourne – much younger than himself and described as “a smart, well-spoken woman, quite a lady”.  They had three children – two boys and a girl – Castell-Franc, Betty and Newman.  They made frequent visits to his disgruntled mother-in-law in Bournemouth, where it is reputed that he made a nuisance of himself there, by playing the piano into the early hours of the morning – police being called to stop him.  Mrs Guest eventually could stand no more leaving him in 1926, taking the oldest son, aged 9, to return to her mother in Bournemouth.  The Reverend claimed custody of the other two children, as he believed was his right.  He employed a local housekeeper to help bring up their children, until, eventually being sent to private school. After college, their son Newman, worked in Barclays Bank, Bedford, before serving in the Royal Navy during WWI.   The Elder daughter worked as a nurse in Bedford hospital.

Rev. Guest was considered an eccentric, renowned for his “ sit-up and beg”  bike.  It had a large motorbike saddle and wide handles which he rode down the steep canal hill into New Bradwell with his feet on the handlebars and cassock flapping behind.  On one occasion, the handlebars came adrift and he crashed, hurting himself badly.  A friendly parishioner called for Doctor Penny and he was laid up for a fortnight.  He was a fine athlete, often jogging around the fields bare footed and vaulting five bar gates to save time opening and closing them.  He was also a swimmer, challenging others for a race in the river and a boxer, challenging one person to a match.  This fight was stopped by the Bishop, having discovered that betting was on the outcome.

The Rev. Guest was a fine musician and composer and writer.  His two main compositions being a book of hymn tunes and a book called Stantonbury Tales – both printed by George Withers and Sons in London. There are copies of both of these in the British Museum.

He suffered several bouts of illness, from 1928 to 1930 – pernicious anemia.  And the church almost closed during the 2nd World War due to his illness and people being away. After 38 years, the Rev. Newman Guest resigned as Vicar of Stantonbury and New Bradwell, on 3rd October 1946, and died at a Bedford nursing home at the age of 79 in the same year.   His body was cremated at Golders Green.  In remembrance of this eccentric vicar, a street “Guest Gardens” was created in New Bradwell, approved by the Council in 1908 and after his death the local public house was named ‘The Jovial Priest’. It would appear that the name Jovial Priest was a complete misnomer, for it was reputed that he had very little sense of humour.  And being a teetotaller he would not have approved of this.   His nick-name of “Joey” has never been explained.

Ref.  Streetwise. Street Names box 2{108}.  Hawtin Mundy, Mr William May, interview with son Alan Newman Guest.

Aside | This entry was posted in Living Archive. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s