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HoC - People and Parish - Mrs Shelford


Mrs Shelford, wife of Revd Shelford

The wife of an Edwardian vicar traditionally played a key role in the life of the parish. In this Mrs Shelford seems to have been no exception. Accounts in the Parish Magazines of the time point to a woman of considerable drive who did much in the early days of St Michael’s to lead and support pastoral work within the parish while at the same time being the mother of a young family.

One of the earliest references (May 1914) is to the ‘Girls’ Bible Class’ which she ran on Tuesday evenings in the Parish Hall. The class was aimed at ‘working girls and domestic servants’. In addition to Bible study the evening activities included drilling, dancing and games.

Even before the outbreak of war in August, 1914 had been a challenging one. In February the Shelfords’ elder son was taken ill with Scarlet Fever – a potentially very serious condition in the era before antibiotics. Mrs Shelford thus found herself in the role of chief nurse and was confined the vicarage for some weeks. Revd Shelford also suffered a bout of ill health caused by overwork and, according to the Parish Magazines was orderedby his doctors to take a holiday and through July the family spent time at Kingsgate in Kent.

In August 1914, on the outbreak of hostilities, Mrs Shelford established a working party to provide clothes for the wounded being cared for by the Red Cross. In this she was assisted by the Church Warden’s wife, Mrs Coombs together with Mrs Ray and Mrs Vidal. The working party are described as concerning themselves ‘..with providing comforts for our wounded soldiers especially Chiswick men of the 10th Middlesex Regiment’. The Coombs already had two sons, Leslie Howard and Frank Maurice, on active service.

The working party organised a very successful Whist Drive in October 1914 to raise funds for materials. There were some twenty tables, Mrs Shelford presented the prizes and the evening raised £5.12s 6d. The ladies of the parish met under the supervision Mrs Shelford and her team at 10.30am and 2.30pm on Thursdays. Within two months they had produced the following items:
150 bandages
6 pairs of pyjamas
8 shirts (for helpless cases)
12 bed jackets
30 pillows
4 night shirts
12 pairs of bedsocks
72 hankies
Some clothes were also sent to children of Belgian refugees.

The war caused disruption and separation to many lives including the Shelfords. The Revd Shelford felt called to become an Army Chaplain and January 1917 saw him on active service. He is recorded in the Parish Magazine’s ‘On Service’ list as Leonard Shelford, Temporary Chaplain 4th Class. In May 1917 in a letter to the parish he describes himself as being at Woolwich ‘pending embarkation’. In the event this did not take place and it appears Revd Shelford ministered to troops before they deployed on active service. In June he returned to Chiswick for a Parade of the 4th Btn Middlesex Volunteer Regiment. 1917 was however not without its happier moments and on 8th December the latest addition to the Shelfords’ family, Gordon Hope McNeill, was baptised.

The cessation of hostilities in 1918 saw a return to a more settled existence. In the November 1920 edition of the Parish Magazine Mrs Shelford and Miss Flora Shelford are recorded as ‘presiding over refreshments’ at a church social event. The following year, despite Mrs Shelford suffering a bout of illness which required surgery, was in many ways a happy one sinceit was the year of the engagement of Flora Shelford to Ralph Coombs, son of the Church Warden. The marriage ceremony, conducted by the Bishop of Kensington, the following year was widely covered by the local press and by all accounts was a very fine occasion only marred by the rain which fell later in the day limiting the use of the vicarage garden for the reception.