Reverend Canon Lionel Garnett
Lionel Garnett was a giant of a man, one of the most inspirational leaders any village could have. He was responsible for creating the village that Christleton is today, and his name is revered in village history. He was a man of many parts, and as well as his Christian knowledge and discipleship, he was a clear thinker, a strong leader, a man to get things done, and above all an inspiring sportsman.
Although from an aristocratic family from Wyreside, in Lancashire, Lionel had a number of local connections. His father Henry married Harriet Potts from Great Boughton, daughter of Henry Potts* of Chester (Solicitor of Watergate Street) at Holy Trinity in Chester in June 1839, and at one stage in their married life lived at The White Lion Inn at Hartford, where Henry is recorded as being an Iron Merchant. This might link in with the family being involved in the building of railway engines and in the growth of railways in France, near Rouen. (Allard & W B Buddicon Resident Engineer on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.)
Henry and Harriet had 7 children, Annie, Louisa, Charles, Lionel, Robert, Lawrence and Stewart, with the eldest five are listed as being at school in Chester. Harriet’s sister Sarah Potts was married to Richard Barker* of Chester, and they lived at 50 Whitchurch Road (1851 census), and 89 Whitchurch Road (1861 census). Two of Lionel’s brothers, Frank and Stewart lived with their uncle on Whitchurch Road in Christleton. There are no records of the school where the Garnett children attended in Chester, but we know that Lionel went on to study at Oxford University, possibly Wadham College and had been a Housemaster at Eton and in charge of Rowing before he came to Christleton.
*Henry Potts & Richard Barker as well as being brothers in law were Solicitors in Chester, and Henry Potts won the Grand National at Aintree on the horse “The Duke”
Lionel Garnett married Ann Thompson of Boughton Hall in Chester and they had three children; Claude, Lawrence and Olive. Claude L Garnett was a distinguished captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was killed in action aged 31 at Amara in Iraq. He is buried in the Kut War Cemetery. Lieutenant Lawrence H. Garnett emigrated to Toronto in Canada, but came back to serve his country during WWI. He served with the Royal Field Artillery but died fighting in Ypres, Belgium in 1917, aged 25. He is buried at Brandhoek Military Cemetery.
Olive married a Captain Clarke and in the early years of their married life the family lived in Belfast and it was at their home in 1912 that Rector Lionel died at about the same time that the Titanic went down, and so that event dominated the news in all the newspapers. There was no record of his death even in the Parish Magazines, and it was years later when carrying out research into WWI that we found a newspaper obituary for the Rector. (See Appendix)
Lionel’s sister Annie, who lived in what is now Birch Heath Lodge married Thomas Francis Rolt son of Lt General Sir John Rolt KCB, GCH, whose son Lionel Thomas Caswell Holt inspired the regeneration of the canal system in England and Wales. He is commemorated in Chester at the Canal Basin and at the LTC Rolt Centre at the Boat Museum in Ellesmere Port. His mother Annie Rolt is commemorated by a beautiful bronze memorial plaque in the south aisle of St James Church in Christleton.
Lionel Garnett was the first married rector of Christleton for over 100 years, and he regarded his parishioners as his extended family. Advice was always forthcoming; whether it was on how to make a good home made drink at 3d a gallon for harvesters or how to create cheap blankets for the winter. ‘Paste a few newspapers together to the required size and spread them beneath the quilt. Paper is a very powerful non conductor of heat and acts as a very warm blanket. The only objection to the plan is the crackling sound of the paper, but then you must not expect to get everything for a penny or so!’.
Always having to raise money for village schemes, he was frugal with expenses (except in the re building of the church) and in 1891 decided to change the evening service in winter to Thursdays at 7.00pm to preserve fuel. ‘The fire lighted for Thursday evening will warm the church for Friday morning’s service’. He paid for the excess costs of the parish magazines himself, and the bound volumes of the first six years which are currently in the Cheshire Record Office are impressive. They contain a great range of religious tracts, articles about everything from equal rights to British birds, poetry and long serial stories illustrated with beautiful etchings. In 1881 he had to cut down free sheets of local news, which were also handwritten for a while in 1883, until circulation improved again.
He never failed to bring the needs of individuals before the parish in the belief that help would be forthcoming. In March 1904 he wrote, ‘Problem; a labouring man with a wife and family, himself ill - nigh unto death for five months- a child ill almost as long. Doctor’s bill; £8 17s 6d. How is he to pay it? The best solution - a little help. It is a deserving case, and I shall be glad to receive contributions.’
His stewardship of the village was immense, and he was responsible, together with his great supporter Lucy Ann Ince, for the rebuilding of much of the village, including the church, both Girls’ and Infants and Boys’ Schools, Christleton Institute and Christleton Grange his new Rectory. He started the Village Fete and Flower Shows to raise funds for the building and running costs of both schools and rebuilding of the church. He formed two bands to give the young men in the village something to do. He encouraged the bellringers and choir, and formed the village Cricket, Football and Rugby Clubs, who played on the Rectory Field and changed in the Men’s Institute.
He and his family were fully involved in village life, with Mrs Garnett leading a Boys Christian Class on Sundays and occasionally during the week. Several of the fallen from the youth of the village in WWI were her pupils. She was active in all aspects of village life, attending the schools each week, and encouraging the girls in creative subjects in particular. She also inspired villagers with her watercolour paintings one of which appeared on the front cover of the Parish Magazines for many years. The Garnetts generously gave their time to organising entertainments in the Boys School, together with Samuel Earlam the Headteacher. Rector Lionel also gave the Lych Gate to the church, and had the village pump house on The Green, erected in memory of his mother and sister respectively.
His personal interest was in sports of all kinds, although we learn that he was a passive bystander at the pheasant shoots held on the family estate at Wyreside during the Christmas holidays. He was a keen skater and insisted that the villagers could safely skate on the frozen “Pit” only after he had made his initials on the ice. His first love was cricket, which he described as ‘one of the oldest and best English games, calculated to do nothing but good’. He was an accomplished batsman, good enough to play for Eton College 1860-62, Southgate 1864, Harlequins 1864, Western from Lancashire 1862-71, Free Foresters, 1872-1876, Manchester 1872 and Nantwich 1872. I’ve found one report that stated that he played for the MCC whilst playing for Southgate, and he is listed as a first class cricketer in cricketing archives.
Some of his matches are recorded at the end of this article, and I am very grateful to John Garnett from Southern Ireland who has allowed me to use the photograph of the Garnett XI v Western Club on July 24th & 25th 1874. This must be a unique photograph and I have recorded details of the Garnetts and their cricketing careers at the end of the article. (Ref. cricketarchive.com) We don’t have the scorecard for the 1974 match but the Garnett family won the match by an Innings and 126 runs.
Lionel was the Village Cricket team in its early days and excelled at batting, bowling and fielding, although whether he was playing in the return match against Waverton in 1878 when the scores were Waverton 102, Christleton 14, he did not say. There were many occasions when as many as seven Garnett’s are recorded as playing in the Christleton XI, but nothing like the eleven in the match against Western at Eccles that is recorded later in the article.
One village legend that continues to puzzle is whether W.G. Grace ever played at Christleton on the Rectory Field? There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to say that it is a possibility. I have followed a trail that has led me to the Nantwich & Crewe Cricket Clubs, and Lancashire County Cricket Club at Old Trafford. The link running through this story is Albert Neilson Hornby, born in Blackburn in 1847 and who is buried at Acton Church, Nantwich. He was one of the best known sportsmen in England during the 19thC excelling in both rugby and cricket. He was the first of only two men to captain their country at both Rugby and Cricket, but was also the Captain of the English team who lost the test match that gave rise to the ASHES in 1882. He also played for Blackburn Rovers, ran cross country and boxed for his country. An extraordinary man!
Albert or “Monkey” Hornby as he was nicknamed was the sixth son of William Henry Hornby, a Cotton Mill proprietor, director of The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railways and an MP at Westminster. The Garnetts of nearby Wyreside in Lancashire were also involved in Cotton, Sugar & Railways. Lionel was born in 1843 and it’s almost inconceivable that these well know Lancashire families didn’t know each other as Lionel’s grandfather was also Lord Lieutenant of the County.
Rector Lionel is recorded as playing for both Manchester and Nantwich in 1872 when Albert Hornby was Captain. W. G. Grace is listed as playing for Gloucestershire at Old Trafford in the mid 1870’s and in 1878 both W. G. Grace and A. N. Hornby opened the batting for England in a match against Australia. (Incidentally these matches were not yet called Test Matches). The scorecard shows that W G Grace scored 8 and 31 in his two innings, but his bowling was much better, recording figures of 11 overs 10maidens 1 wicket for 2 runs. Hornby looks to have been a little erratic in his batting as he was stumped by Blackham in both his innings for 0 and 4 respectively.
The Match Scores were; England 1st Innings 95 all out. 2nd Innings 180 for 9
Australia 1st Innings 182 all out
So we can perhaps still imagine that there is a possibility that these men knew each other. If W.G. Grace travelled to Old Trafford in Manchester after playing in Crewe via Nantwich and Chester, he could easily have stayed with Hornby at his home in Nantwich or Lionel Garnett in the Rectory at Christleton. It is also possible that W. G. Grace from Downend and Mangotsfield in Gloucestershire knew the well known Cullimore family of Christleton who also came from nearby Tetbury & Badminton in Gloucestershire but this is just guess work and there are no records of any meetings.
In the history of Christleton Rector Lionel was a giant; dictatorial and Victorian in every sense, but he was a devout Christian who gave himself honestly and entirely to the service of his parish in changing and difficult times. It is said that he died of small pox in 1912, contracted whilst working amongst his flock in the village. He is commemorated by a large stone cross in the churchyard, by a processional cross and small plaque in the church, but his legacy to the village through the building and re building he achieved, and his immense energy in creating the sporting clubs and institute that are still successfully running, will live on for many more generations.
Lionel Garnett Memorial in Christleton
Horby grave detail
References. John Garnett from Ireland, Garnett Family Records/Archive;
Christleton 2000years of History. Published by Christleton Local History Group
In their Words- Life in Christleton 1875-2000 by Judy Smith. Published in 2000 by CLHG