I was a chorister in the Carlisle Cathedral Choir from 1910 to 1916, and there were two clergymen on the staff of the Dean & Chapter who left a lasting impression upon my young mind. One was the saintly Dean Barker and the other Canon Rawnsley. At the time of my service sermons were not of very great interest to lads of our age, nevertheless, when Canon Rawnsley preached something of the beauty and charm which he found in nature, and in God, came through to us which, I personally, vaguely appreciated, despite the fact that the Canon seemed to us to preach with his eyes shut. I recollect that he enjoyed fun and on more than one occasion he wrote a carol for us to sing at Christmas to which Dr. F. W. Wadely, our organist and choirmaster, composed a tune.
One of the most hilarious experience in all my years in the choir occurred one Sunday morning when Canon Rawnsley preached the sermon. There seemed to be a practice (not entirely inflexible) that when there was a visiting preacher or when a Residentiary Canon occupied the pulpit, the Head Verger (who was ex-Sergeant Major Windler) would, after the sermon, conduct the preacher back to his stall beneath the organ, and thereafter conduct the Dean during the singing of the last hymn, up to the High Altar in order to pronounce the Benediction. On the occasion in question something seemed to have gone wrong with the arrangements because at the conclusion of the sermon Windler led the Canon from the pulpit along the narrow aisle leading into the main aisle, and while the Verger turned right to take Canon Rawnsley back to his stall, the Canon quite unperturbedly (but might well have been quite impishly) turned left, wandering up to the Altar on his own. Meantime, Mr. Windler, with all the dignity which his office called for came on alone towards the choir stalls, blissfully unaware that his “charge” had deserted him. The feeling of the choir members as he passed us can be better imagined than described, as we tried to continue the singing of the hymn and at the same time seek to control the inward convulsion of supressed laughter. The Precentor had great difficulty in keeping a straight face also, and only succeeded by frowning grimly and applying himself assiduously to the hymn-singing. The climax came, of course, when Windler halted at the appropriate spot to bow the Canon into his stall and found no Canon there. The Verger’s countenance was a sight to behold and we had a feeling that several unparliamentary words were being muttered beneath his bristling moustache as he put away his “staff” and returned to the Altar.
Canon Rawnsley was proud of the fact that during the first World War, in order to help the war effort, he bought no new clothes. And on week-days he often wore a suit literally green with age.
(Source - RR/9/2)