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Biographies of Heath and Reach Vicars

Saint Leonard's banner June 2008
Saint Leonard's banner June 2008

Long time resident of Heath and Reach and former churchwarden Geoff White wrote short biographies of a number of Heath & Reach's earlier curates and vicars in issues of the parish magazine. The following summaries are based on his articles, with references and dates.

Martin Benson [P84/30/30 - August 1988]

Heath & Reach's first perpetual curate was born in Tunbridge Wells [Kent], the son of a clergyman, also called Martin. He attended school in Sevenoaks and Westminster, matriculating at Jesus College, Cambridge in February 1808, obtaining his BA in 1812 and MA in 1816. One of his ancestors was William Benson, the last Abbot of Westminster, who presided over the destruction of the religious house during Henry VIII's dissolution. His first curacy was of his father's parish of Merstham [Kent] in 1815, becoming a curate at Dunstable in 1819. Benson was curate of Heath & Reach from 1825 until his death on 11th August 1834, aged just 45 at Heath Cottage (Heath and Reach did not become a Vicarage until 1866). His son, Martin Edgard Benson also became a clergyman. Twenty one years after his death his children erected a memorial to him in the church in the shape of the font. He is said to be buried under the nave in the church.

The font January 2009
The font January 2009

Grant Lawford [P84/30/31 - January 1989]

On his nomination as Curate of Heath & Reach Lawford was just 24, second son of William Lawford of Leighton Buzzard. He obtained his MA at Wadham College, Oxford and left Heath & Reach in 1842, dying in Brussels five years later, aged just 36.

John Charles Orlebar [P84/30/31 - January 1989]

Orlebar was an offshoot of the cadet branch of the old gentry family of Hinwick Hall in North Bedfordshire. His grandfather, Daniel Shipton, was Vicar of Wavendon and Willen in Buckinghamshire and his father was a doctor and Justice of the Peace. He had a number of brothers, one of whom was Vicar of Farndish from 1852 to 1858 and then Vicar of Willington for fifty four years. John Charles Orlebar lived at Heath Mount in 1846

Thomas John Williams [P84/30/31 - February 1989]

Born in 1832 Williams was 25 when he became Curate of Heath & Reach. He came from Shrewsbury [Shropshire] and attended University College, Oxford. After Heath & Reach he became Vicar of Waddesdon [Buckinghamshire].

Stallard's memorial in Heath and Reach church January 2009
Stallard's memorial in Heath and Reach church January 2009

Joseph Orlando Stallard [P84/30/31 - February 1989]

Stallardwas Curate, and, after 1866, Vicar of Heath & Reach for thirty seven years. He has a memorial plaque just inside the door of the church. He was 36 when he arrived in Heath, having been born in Worcester. He attended Lincoln College, Oxford, obtaining his BA in 1848 and MA in 1851. His first parish was Brockhampton in Herefordshire, which now has a wonderful Arts and Crafts Movement church built all of a piece in 1902.

William Wallis Richards [P84/30/31 - April 1989]

Richards became Vicar of Heath & Reach in 1900 at the age of 47. He came from Holbeach [Lincolnshire] and his father, Thomas Wallis Richards, who, as Patron of the Living of Heath & Reach, nominated him, was Vicar of Leighton Buzzard from 1862 to 1901. William went to the Cathedral School in Peterborough and then to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, obtaining his MA in 1879. He was a deacon in Rochester [Kent] for a year in 1876 before moving to Hemel Hempstead [Hertfordshire]. He moved quite a lot in the next quarter of a century including St.Albans [Hertfordshire], Long Melford [Suffolk], Hornsey [Middlesex] and Exeter [Devon]. During the First World War he encouraged the use of the church by the officers and men of the 21st Division who were billeted locally during the winter of 1914-1915 before going to France.

Stained glass window in the porch January 2009
Stained glass window in the porch January 2009

Lambert Woodard [P84/30/31 - July 1989]

He was born in Shoreham [Sussex] in 1848 and attended Lancing College, which his father had founded, before going up to Jesus College, Cambridge. He was ordained in Worcester Cathedral in 1872 and had curacies at Belbroughton [Worcestershire] and Stretham [Cambridgeshire] before becoming Vicar of Thriplow [Cambridgeshire] in 1878. He was Vicar of Saint Paul's, Bedford, from 1886 to 1916 and an Honorary Canon of Ely Cathedral from 1908. After three years in Heath & Reach he left to become Vicar of Saint Stephen's, Shepherd's Bush and died in 1924.

Edwin George Meyrick Wood [P84/30/31 - May 1989]

He was a Londoner and came to Heath & Reach aged 65. He had only obtained a third class degree in modern classics at Balliol College Oxford in 1878 and his first appointment, as a curate, was to Saint James' Notting Hill. His other posts were both in the metropolis - at All Saints, Margaret Street and Saint Stephen's, Hammersmith.

The copy of Transfiguration by Raphael
The copy of Transfiguration by Raphael

Leonard Joscelyn Lightbody [P84/30/32 - April and May 1990]

In 1935 Dudley Hiam, Vicar of Heath & Reach moved to Christchurch, Ottershawe [Surrey], exchanging livings with Leonard Lightbody. iam remained at Ottershawe for 26 years, Lightbody at Heath for just five. He received his MA from Saint John's College, Oxford in 1919 and began his widely travelled career at Box, near Bristol, moving to South Molton [Devon] in 1922 and to Camberley with Frimley [Surrey] in 1925. From Heath & Reach he moved to Kingston Bagpuize [Oxfordshire], later being Chaplain of Kiambu and Vicar of Saint Mark's, Nairobi in Kenya. His last ministry was at Marlborough [Devon]. Much of his time in his first year at Heath involved trying to sort out the notorious painting.

Benjamin Hezekiah Bissell [P84/30/22 - November 1990]

Bissell obtained a PhD at Yale University in America in 1923, then went to New York General theological Seminary. Six years later he was ordained deacon, then priest in Connecticut. He was allowed to officiate in the Church of England by the Colonial Classics Act 1930, he served in two English parishes before arriving in Heath & Reach just before war broke out in August 1939. After Heath & Reach he moved to Point Fortin, Trinidad and by 1950 was at Port of Spain in that country. He was reportedly murdered in America but details are sketchy.