In December 2004, the congregation at St Paul’s celebrated the centenary of a Cambridge woman who spent almost all her life without sight or hearing. Simon Brook tells the story of Bessie Jones, who became an inspiration to many disabled people. 

Tuesday 21 December 2004, perhaps appropriately the year’s longest night, marks the centenary of the death of Bessie Jones. She was 84 when she died, and had been deaf, dumb and blind for 82 years. 

Bessie’s life is commemorated in a stained glass window “erected by her devoted sister Ellen” in St Paul’s Church. The window includes the representation of what has become one of the most noteworthy Pre-Raphaelite paintings – Holman Hunt’s “The Light of the World” – with scenes of Jesus healing the deaf, dumb and blind on either side.

Born Elizabeth Jones, Bessie was the eldest daughter of Cambridge dentist John Jones. Bessie’s life was to become an inspiration to many as an example of how it is possible to adapt to disabilities and live a full life despite them. Her own difficulties were the result of what may have been a severe attack of measles, at the age of two.


Stained glass window in St Paul’s church, with a representation of Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’ in the centre 

Despite her blindness, she was able to produce beautifully stitched needlework. She made a purse which was presented to Queen Victoria on the occasion of Prince Albert’s Installation as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1847. The Queen had been told of Bessie’s achievements by the Master of Trinity, Dr Whewell. He was fascinated by Bessie’s ability and made a study of her life. He later wrote in a book about her that she “disclosed a perpetually growing sympathy with the other children of the family. She sat, dressed, walked as they did; even imitated them in holding a book in her hand when they read, and in kneeling when they prayed.” She communicated by a deaf and dumb alphabet, using touch. In recent years, teachers of people with such disabilities have both researched, and taught from, her example. 


The year 1847 – the date of Queen Victoria’s visit to Cambridge, her first by train – proved to be a special one. Bessie’s father was appointed “Dentist in Ordinary to the Queen” and he used the newly introduced anaesthetic, ether, for tooth extraction; and Charles Perry, the former Vicar of St Paul’s, was consecrated in Westminster Abbey as the first Bishop of Melbourne, Australia. He preached the sermon on the Sunday morning before Prince Albert‘s Installation in Great St Mary’s. Two years previously, both the station and St Paul’s School had been opened and Queen Victoria, as Head of the Church, had instigated the Parish of St Paul. How apt, then, that Bessie’s memorial window with its special painting should be placed in St Paul’s. 

Holman Hunt had first painted “The Light of the World for Keble College, Oxford. He gave his permission for another version in stained glass to be the centre of a memorial to Bessie. This was executed by Messrs Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London.

Hunt’s final version of “The Light of the World” was exhibited around the world, including in Charles Perry’s Diocese of Melbourne, where it was viewed in February 1906, the month after the dedication of Bessie’s memorial. It is now on permanent display in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and was borrowed for the National Gallery Millennium exhibition “Seeing Salvation”. The painting has been used in countless ways to introduce Jesus to people; but for all who see it in the context of Bessie’s memorial, there will always be the challenge of living with disability in this life, and the assurance of resurrection. 

As her memorial brass plate concludes: 

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) 

Taken from Ely Ensign, December 2004. Used by kind permission. 


By Gerald Bray

St Paul’s church traces its origins to the medieval parish of St Andrew the Less in the Newmarket Road. At a very early date, possibly around the year 1200, this parish had been taken over (‘appropriated’) by Barnwell Priory, a community of Augustinian monks which had moved to the area in 1112. The prior became the rector of the parish, with the right to receive its tithe revenue, as well as its patron, with the right to appoint the clergy (a right known in law as the ‘advowson’). As rector, the prior of Barnwell appointed vicars (‘substitutes’) to do the actual work of parish ministry, and it is probable than the men chosen were mostly, if not all, monks from the priory. When the priory was dissolved on 8 November 1538, the prior’s rights passed to the crown and were then sold to a series of lay impropriators who could dispose of them as they saw fit. In 1835 a young fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, by the name of Charles Perry, bought up the advowson and began an extensive programme of reforms. He built another church in the Newmarket Road, which replaced St Andrew the Less as the parish church in 1846 and is now known as Christ Church. He also established a mission hall in Hills Road, which became St Paul’s.

To further the work of evangelism among the railway workers and tradesmen who were beginning to settle in the Newtown area of Cambridge, Mr Perry had the area made into a conventional district and got the bishop of Ely to license him as its first curate. Within a few years, Mr Perry had accomplished the remarkable feat of building a church which on 2 January 1845 became the centre of a new parish. The parish was created under the terms of the New Parishes Act of 1843 and was carved out of St Andrew the Less, with the addition of some land to the west of Hills Road, which had previously been part of the parish of St Andrew the Great, a church located near the market square in the centre of Cambridge. Mr Perry became its first minister, with the title of ‘perpetual curate’. In 1847 he was appointed the first bishop of Melbourne (Australia), where he served for twenty-nine years before retiring to Cambridge. On his return to England, he became one of the founders of Ridley Hall, which has been a theological college of the Church of England since 1877. He lived until 1891, long enough to see his church firmly established.
Mr Perry’s immediate successors were also styled ‘perpetual curates’ but in 1891 Henry Paine Stokes was instituted as the first vicar. This was the designation preferred by the New Parishes Act because the ancient system of tithe had been dismantled in 1836 and the traditional rectorial rights had been extinguished at that time. Until 1975 vicars were appointed for life, but only one (John Gwyn-Thomas) actually died in office at the age of 55. Mr Stokes came from an Anglo-Irish family of great distinction and he served in the parish almost to the end of the First World War. He then moved to Little Wilbraham where he served until his death in 1931.
His successors were all prominent preachers, and one of them, Gerard Gregson, went on to become an army chaplain during the Second World War and a travelling evangelist afterwards. In the post-war years Kenneth Hooker had an active evangelistic ministry among students, before moving to the North London suburb of Cockfosters in 1958. One of his curates, Mark Ruston, became the vicar of the Round Church (Holy Sepulchre) in the centre of Cambridge where he developed a popular student ministry which continues to this day, though it is now housed in the redundant church of St Andrew the Great. The next vicar, Herbert Carson, seceded from the Church of England to become a Baptist and split the congregation in the process. The damage caused by this was considerable but it was successfully repaired by John Gwyn-Thomas, who had a popular ministry of expository preaching and counselling which attracted a congregation from outside the parish itself. This trend has continued under his successors although the development of the St Paul’s Centre has led to a renewal of ministry within the local community.
Today the advowson is held by the Church Trust Fund Trust, established by Charles Perry and administered by the Church Pastoral Aid Society, which ensures that the incumbent of the parish will be an Evangelical clergyman. The original parish was subdivided in the late nineteenth century by the creation of St Barnabas (1888) and St Philip (1902). More recently, the parish of St Martin has also been carved out of St Paul’s parish (1961). The vicar of St Paul’s remains the patron of St Barnabas and St Martin, while St Philip is in the hands of the Church Trust Fund Trust, which is also the patron of St Andrew the Less (Christ Church) and through its vicar, of St Matthew’s church as well. Currently St Philip’s looks after a daughter church (St Stephen) and St Martin’s has another daughter church (St Thomas). All of these are linked through the Church Trust Fund Trust and belong to the same Evangelical family of parishes as St Paul’s.
Assistant clergy have been appointed to serve at St Paul’s for many years, though the last resident full-time curate left in 1977. Since that time, assistants have served on a part-time, unpaid basis and many services are taken by lay readers and other members of the congregation.
This list of clergy has been compiled as part of a project covering the entire diocese of Ely, in conjunction with its 900th anniversary in 2009. On the left are the dates of appointment, given in year/month/day order and on the right are the dates of termination. An ‘R’ beside this date indicates that the clergyman resigned, retired or removed to another parish. In the case of assistant curates, only the year of departure is given, unless the man went to another appointment within the diocese of Ely, in which case the date of that appointment is given. The letters NSM indicate a non-stipendiary minister, and women are noted by an * after their name. Inquiries about this list, or that of any other parish in the diocese of Ely, may be sent to the compiler, Gerald Bray (glbray@samford.edu). It is intended that the complete list will be published on the diocesan website during the course of 2009 and kept updated.


From                                                                                               To

1842/10/24                     Charles Perry                                      See below. 

Perpetual curates:

1845/01/02                      Charles Perry                                      1847/05/14 R  (1)
1847/05/30                      John Scott                                            1863/01/08 R
1863/01/08                      Henry Hall                                            1890/11/06 R


1891/01/10                      Henry Paine Stokes                            1917/11/20 R
1918/01/21                     Johnston Carnegie Brown                 1928/09/10 R
1928/10/11                     John Arthur Gibson Ainley                  1937/04/07 R
1937/04/07                     Gerard William Joseph Gregson      1944/06/30 R
1944/10/03                      William Hooker Rowdon                   1947/08/21 R
1948/04/08                      Kenneth Howard Hooker                   1958/06/21 R
1958/06/21                      Herbert Moore Carson                       1965/02/16 R
1965/06/21                     John Gwyn Joseph Gwyn-Thomas  1977/11/21
1978/09/19                     Michael Robert Wedlake Farrer        1992/09/30 R
1993/03/02  (2)               Michael Shaun Beckett

Assistant curates:

1846/01/19                    John Young Nicholson                                 1858 R
1858/11/14                     Frederic Edward Wigram                            1863 R
1859/06/19                     William Saumarez Smith                            1861 R
1865/10/25                     Richard Judd                                                 1868 R
1868/12/20                     Joseph Cullin                                                1870 R
1869/10/01                     David Arthur Williams                                  1872 R
1870/12/18                     Algernon Howell Smith                               1873 R
1873/07/28                     Daniel Beales Redfarn Banham               1876 R
1875/05/23                     Henry Paine Stokes                                     1877 R
1877/02/21                    George Archer                                                1880 R
1877/07/16                    Thomas Ivens                                                1878 R
1877/12/07                     Henry William Fulford                                  1881 R
1878/12/22                     William Warren                                             1880 R
1891/11/03                     Henry Wilmot Watson                                  1900 R
1900/07/26                     John Merrin                                                    1906 R
1906/12/10                     James Turkington                                        1908 R
1907/12/13                     Claude Herbert Grant Cowen                    1912 R
1911/12/17                     James Yorke Batley                                     1913 R
1912/07/24                     Frederick George Marriott                           1915 R
1916/10/02                     George Frederick Saywell                           1918 R
1919/03/07                    John Hilton                                                     1920 R
1922/03/20                    John Crawford Trotter                                  1924 R
1924/09/21                    Edward Stanley Farrow                                1926 R
1928/01/14                    Archibald Maclulich Maclulich                     1929/08/02 R
1932/10/22                    Arthur Hamilton Paget Wilkes                     1933 R
1935/12/15                    Gordon Hyslop                                               1937 R
1938/04/07                    William George Lee                                      1944 R
1945/04/30                    Alwyn Cobb                                                     1948 R
1949/09/28                    Lawrence Davies                                           1954 R
1953/05/29                    Bruce Douglas Reed                                    1954 R
1953/06/14                    Harold Geoffrey Platt                                     1956 R
1954/11/29                    Cuthbert Mark Ruston                                   1955/05/12 R
1957/06/16                    David Charles Knight                                    1958 R
1958/09/21                   John Geoffrey Sharpe                                    1961 R
1961/05/28                   John Roger Bowen                                        1965 R
1968/10/06                   Peter Ernest Dale                                           1971 R
1971/06/27                   David Douglas Sceats                                   1974 R
1975/06/29                   Henry Butler                                                     1977/05/04 R
1981/06/28                   Roger William Morgan (NSM)                       1984 R
1987/04/04                   Diane Beverley Lammas*                             1990 R
2000/07/01                   Christopher John Rose (NSM)

(1) Became the first bishop of Melbourne (1847-76)
(2) Priest-in-charge. Became vicar on 11 September 1994