ONE of England’s most senior clergymen will preach at one of Britain’s smallest churches in the wilds of Northumberland – to pay tribute to a great social reform pioneer.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has responded to a special request to attend a thanksgiving service on Sunday dedicated to the life of Northumbrian Lord William Beveridge – the man behind the introduction of the welfare state in Britain in the 1940s.
The tiny 900-year-old, 60-seat capacity St Aidan’s Church in the hamlet of Thockrington, north of Hexham, where Lord Beveridge was buried alongside his wife 50 years ago, will be thrust into the national limelight.
As one of Northumberland’s oldest parish churches, built by the Norman family of Umfraville in 1100, St Aidan’s has seen many historic days.
The Reverend Mike Slade, Vicar of Chollerton, set the ball rolling when he decided to go straight to the top with a direct request.
He knew the Archbishop had often referred to the significance of Oxford-educated Lord Beveridge’s 1942 Social Insurance Report, which led to the country’s first welfare state, implemented by Clement Attlee’s Labour government after the war.
The Rev Slade, who will lead Sunday’s service before the Archbishop preaches, said: “I phoned the Archbishop’s office to ask if he would be available – and I can’t believe that Dr Sentamu has agreed to come.
“We are really delighted. It is going to be a wonderful occasion.
“Lord Beveridge, a Liberal, addressed the five giants of need – want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness – in his report. There were some deep guiding influences and, by addressing those needs, he saw an opportunity to use his experience.
“It was a revolutionary moment in the world’s history and Dr Sentamu has often referred to his achievements.”
In a 2009 lecture to the Smith Institute, Dr Sentamu said: “The Beveridge reforms transformed the lives of millions.
“They virtually became a touchstone of what Britain was about. For the first time, everyone was entitled to a reasonable income if they were unemployed, a proper pension, paid holidays and, above all, free healthcare.” India-born Lord Beveridge’s wife Janet, who died in 1959, came from the Thockrington area and was buried in St Aidan’s Churchyard. Her husband was buried in an adjacent grave on his death aged 84 in 1963.
He had strong links with Northumberland as the Liberal MP for Berwick in 1944 and 1945, and made his home at Tuggal Hall near Bamburgh, taking the title of Baron Beveridge of Tuggal in 1946. The ancient church, some 213m (700ft) above sea level, is so remote that it has no road, and worshippers at the fortnightly Sunday services have to cross a rough pasture.
The church’s 60 seats will be allocated by special invitation, and the Rev Slade admitted: “We are expecting quite a crowd of people on Sunday. We have had to do some invites for regular members of the congregation as well as some invited guests.
“There will be standing room at the back, but we have decided not to relay the service outside in case the weather is not good.”
The Evening Worship service begins at 4pm, and Dr Sentamu has been given a special word of advice on what footwear to bring along – a pair of wellingtons to beat the Northumbrian mud!