Prebendary George Chappell

Priest at Paddington for 30 years


George Thomas Chappell, priest: born London 14 June 1904; ordained deacon 1928, priest 1929; Organising Secretary, CMS, for dioceses of Oxford and Coventry 1934-41, and Peterborough 1935-51; Priest-in-Charge, St James's, Sussex Gardens 1941-43, Vicar 1943-71; Prebendary, St Paul's Cathedral 1963-71; Curate-in-Charge, Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road, 1971-74, Priest-in-Charge 1974-75; married 1929 Yvonne Choret (died 1999; one son, one daughter); died Bournemouth, Dorset 25 December 2005.

George Chappell was parish priest at Paddington in London for 30 years, founder of a pioneer housing association and the Church of England's second oldest former stipendiary priest. He died on Christmas Day aged 101.

Ordained in 1929 by the Bishop of Chester, he served as curate at St Mary's, Birkenhead, where Cammell Laird shipbuilding yard was in the parish. As a newly married man in 1931 he moved to a second curacy at Margate where his French wife, Yvonne, could more easily visit her family.

When the Second World War was declared he was working for the Church Missionary Society in Oxford. The Bishop of London, the future Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, dissuaded him from becoming an army chaplain and in 1941 appointed him Priest-in-Charge of St James's, Sussex Gardens, in Paddington. Two years later he became Vicar.

The parish was under enemy air bombardment and the incumbent was required to offer immediate leadership. A third of all homes had been affected by bombing. The partly damaged 28-room vicarage became a club and the Church Army took over buildings to provide shelter for the homeless and centres for servicemen and women to meet their families.

Chappell spent evenings at St Mary's Hospital ministering to the casualties, which could number 50 or 60 a night. He knew Sir Winston Churchill's doctor Lord Moran and on occasions met the Churchill family, who had lived in the parish. Chappell was also padre to the 1,000-strong Home Guard based at Paddington Station. At the church there was an air-raid warden's post and every night hundreds used the crypt as an shelter. Many church services continued by candlelight. As D-Day approached in 1944 St James's was open day and night for prayer, confessions and counselling.

In peace the Vicar continued to have a wide responsibility due to Bishop Fisher's calling on him to serve on the Diocesan Reorganisation Committee considering the future of bombed churches. His own had lost its spire and windows in 1943. This had been the church's centenary year and time was found for a week of celebrations which raised £8,000 for restoration in future years.

Chappell remembered John Betjeman telling him that St James's was "one of George Street's best churches". The hall had to be rebuilt and the opportunity was taken to incorporate a new vicarage and clergy flats. In 1951 the church's west end saw one of the first post-war window restorations. This Te Deum window incorporates the image of Bishop James Hannington who preached his farewell sermon in the church before going to his martyrdom in Uganda. Also depicted is Robert Baden-Powell who lived in the parish and Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin whilst working at St Mary's Hospital. Another light shows a steam engine leaving nearby Paddington Station, where Chappell was a familiar figure as the GWR's station chaplain.

Among the peacetime parishioners was Thora Hird, who took charge of the make-up for the pantomime at the parish school where pupils included her actress daughter Janette Scott (making her stage début). The Vicar, being keen on high standards of worship, persuaded the actor John Westbrook, whose deep voice was familiar to radio listeners, to join the rota for reading lessons. Another friend was the actor Jack Warner, who often rehearsed in the church hall. One morning the Beatles arrived there on a day trip for an audition.

Paddington was still an independent borough and George Chappell was chaplain to 12 mayors and, following local government reorganisation, the first Lord Mayor of Westminster. By then he was also Rural Dean and a Prebendary of St Paul's. Research by him revealed that Paddington Town Hall was on part of the old burial ground and proceeds from the sale of the redundant building settled the church's restoration bill.

A more pressing problem was the poor housing conditions and the victims of Rachmanism, which was rife in Paddington. In 1965 he founded the Paddington Churches Housing Association. The inaugural meeting was in the vestry with Chappell as the first chairman and his curate Ken Bartlett taking the minutes. Bartlett later became chief executive of the PCHA, which now manages more than 20,000 houses across London.

On retirement in 1971 Chappell moved to Loughton, Essex, but commuted back into central London, where he was Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road, until 1974. Briefly he was assistant priest at St Giles', Cripplegate, in the City before moving to Poole in Dorset, where he continued to officiate in both the Winchester and Salisbury dioceses. He marked 70 years as a priest by celebrating the Eucharist, as ever with no microphone, at All Saints', Branksome.

Chappell lived long enough to see the rebuilding he had presided over at St James's superseded by a new scheme in which he took an interest. He berated Simon Jenkins for his failure to include the church in his book England's Thousand Best Churches (1999).

Chappell was broad-church in outlook during his London ministry but by 2000 he could be described as having become "catholic Anglican". He thought that the Church of England had "exceeded its powers" in agreeing to the ordination of women.

Leigh Hatts

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