“A Schoolboy’s Impressions of Rawnsley”

In was in June 1909 that Bishop Diggle of Carlisle appointed one of his Honorary Canons – Canon H. D. Rawnsley – to the second residentiary Canonry in the Cathedral at Carlisle.

This is a time well remembered by those of us who were boarders at the Carlisle Grammar School, during the Headmastership of the Reverend George H. Williams.

Sunday by Sunday, during term time, we attended Morning Prayer at the Cathedral and were seated close to the choir, and within a short distance from the Bishop’s throne.

Rawnsley’s fame had, as a preacher, gone before him, and we boys were anxious to hear if he had anything to say which was worth hearing! We looked forward to his three months in residence, for he was at that time already a national figure, very familiar in the Lakes as a doughty fighter in defence of natural beauty, and well-known as the Vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick.

He was an impressive figure of a man – tall, bluff, hearty, with piercing eyes and a black beard which covered a massive chin. We boys thought he was a typical “man’s man,” with a touch of the sea about him.

But what impressed us most was, I remember, his voice and faultless diction. For whether it was in reading a lesson (which he did with dramatic emphasis) or in preaching, there was a ‘something’ about him which compelled one to listen.

Rawnsley had the gift of painting the most brilliant pictures in words it has ever fallen to my lot to hear. We boys were fascinated as much by his oratory as his bearing. He referred to things that were within our compass. Some of our masters were inclined to smile and murmur, “Words, words, words!” but to us, what he said rang true. We were never in doubt about the sincerity of his faith, and his message was always clear-cut. Rawnsley stood in marked contrast to the learned mumbles we ordinarily heard – and yet, did not hear!

One small incident stands out. Rawnsley was being conducted from his stall to the pulpit, by that very dignified Head Verger, Sergt-Major Windler, late the Border Regiment. Rawnsley had left his sermon-case in his seat and turned back to get it. Windler went on, and, at the pulpit steps, bowed his ceremonial bow to a non-existent Canon-in-Residence! Rawnsley, undisturbed, followed on, after recovering his manuscript, and smiled a knowing smile as he passed the row of grinning Grammar School boys who had much enjoyed the “extra”.

My contemporaries and I count ourselves lucky to have caught a glimpse of one of the great figures of our time.

(Source - RR/9/2)

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