Remembering old Humphrey…

Spare a thought for Old Humphrey. In case you are wondering, Old Humphrey was one of the pen names used by George Mogridge, a very popular religious writer in the 19th century and who remains popular in some countries today. 

Alas, he is virtually forgotten in Hastings despite Old Humphrey Avenue just off All Saints Street and his recently restored gravestone in All Saints Cemetery. It was Jesus who said that no prophet is without honour except in his own country and among his own kin.

To some extent his lack of honour in Hastings is not surprising. The years pass and household names cease to be remembered. 

When I was teaching, references to Harry Worth (remember him?) or Hattie Jacques (remember her?) would draw blank looks upon the faces of 16 year olds. I once managed to find an internet clip of Harry Worth to show them  but they didn’t find it funny at all. I didn’t dare try my luck with Will Hay (remember him?)

“To every man his little cross. Til he dies and is forgotten,” says one of the characters in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. That’s a bleak verdict in a bleak play. However, I suspect that it points to a fear deep inside us that one day we may indeed be forgotten. Do we not cry out to be remembered in some way? The replacement of traditional funeral sermons by eulogies recalling the dead person’s life speaks to this need. We cannot all be remembered by means of a statue or having a street named after us, not that that helped Old Humphrey very much in Hastings.

We are approaching a season of remembrance. We have All Souls’ Day on November 2nd when at St Clement’s, like most other churches, we shall read out a list of the dead, both recent and the long-dead, whom we have been asked to remember before God. 

And on Remembrance Sunday it has always been my custom to read out the list of the war dead in the parish or school where I was working. It is always a very powerful moment. 

A special service this November will be A Service of Reflection, Thanksgiving and Hope in the light of twenty months of Covid-19. A bell will be tolled 200 times before the service in symbolic remembrance of the approximately 230 Hastings residents dying from covid. It is impossible to be precise because some residents’ deaths were registered outside of the borough – if someone died in Eastbourne Hospital, for example – and some non-residents registered within our borough.

The Bible talks a lot about remembrance and the main Christian service of Holy Communion is in response to Jesus’ instruction to “Do this in remembrance of me.” We are told that God always remembers us. We may or may not believe that. Either way, how will we be remembered by our fellow men and women and for how long? Perhaps a better question is how would we like to be remembered? Posthumous reputations can be burnished or blackened but to a very large extent we can shape the immediate memory that people have of us by virtue of the sort of lives we lead.

In this coming time of remembrance let us bring to mind all those whose memory we treasure for whatever reason and give thanks for their lives in our hearts, trusting that one day others will remember us likewise. 

Paul Hunt

The Reverend Paul Hunt is the part-time priest-in-charge of St Clement’s and All Saints in Hastings Old Town.  

A Service of Reflection, Thanksgiving and Hope takes place at St Clement’s on Sunday, November 7th at 4pm in the presence of the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of East Sussex and the Mayor of Hastings. Key workers will reflect upon their experiences of the pandemic and the sermon will be given by the Bishop of Lewes.

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