Linton in Pictures
A History of Linton
in Photographs
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REV. WILLIAM BRETT OF LINTON

William Brett, the Stapleford incumbent since 1837, became the new vicar of Linton living in November 1844. His appointment marked a radical change in direction for the Linton Church since he was closely associated with the Evangelical wing of the Anglican faith. Edmund Fisher was far more conservative in outlook, but even he had moved with the times by establishing the National School to educate a new generation of Anglicans.

The Evangelicals were closely linked to the Church Missionary Society which had been founded in 1799. They were passionate about the gospel and wanted the teachings of Christ to be lived and shared with the wider congregation. Although they were a minority movement within the Church they were very influential in the Ely Diocese at this period. They were supporters of the anti-slavery movement, advocates of penal and factory reform and favoured the education of the poor. Practical Christianity should involve the richer classes in providing sustenance for the poor, especially since the implementation of the harsh Poor Law in 1834.

The Reverend Brett was determined to improve the morals and conduct of Linton society by rigorously enforcing the laws forbidding gambling, cruel sports and the excesses of drinking. The Sunday shop and pub closure laws were largely ignored in Linton and this was going to change! Overseas Christian missions needed the financial support of the Linton congregation and the Reverend Fisher had largely ignored their needs.

Evangelicals were also strong opponents of the new Tractarian or Oxford Movement. This conservative group saw the Church of England as a valid part of a worldwide Catholic Church, and its identity in terms of its pre-Reformation authority.

In practical terms this meant that local churches needed to be changed from being “preaching houses” to churches where the altar was the focus of worship. There was a renewed interest in pre-Reformation liturgy, doctrine and practice.

Evangelicals like William Brett deplored this move away from the central place of the sermon, and under his ministry Linton Church retained its galleries, triple -decker pulpit and simple clerical vestments. Evangelicals believed that the celebration of communion was less important than preaching, so the Linton chancel was comparatively neglected and in a poor state of repair.

William Brett was a fellow of Corpus Christi and a close friend of James Bowstead, Bishop of Lichfield from 1839 to 1843. Corpus was one of the most radical of the Cambridge Colleges at this period and James Bowstead was a prominent national leader of the Evangelical movement.

Brett was 39 years of age, and reasonably well off when he married 33 year old Mary Brown in 1836. She was the daughter of a Humberside solicitor and the couple had two young children. The Bretts resided at Abington for a brief period and pressurised Pembroke College and the Keene family to provide a substantial Linton Vicarage residence, at an estimated cost of around £1,000. His tactics seem to have failed since he moved into the present number 3 Church Lane as a tenant in late 1845. The couple named it “Winchester Lodge” and purchased the property in 1850.

On arrival in Linton, the new vicar demonstrated his pastoral priorities by establishing a Shoe and Clothing Club for the poorer parishioners, and the Cambridge press described him as “a zealous and respected clergyman”.

By early 1847, a Soup kitchen had been set up in the old Market Hall and the poor were served by the richer ladies of the local congregation. A report in the Cambridge Chronicle claimed that some recipients had complained that the soup, “was poor stuff and rubbish”. The vicar revealed an autocratic side to his character when, having tasted the soup, he wrote that “critics did not need food if they were too dainty to value it”.

His evangelical beliefs were reflected in his home visits to all classes of parishioners and his ardent support for charities. The Church was usually packed for his sermons and collections were made for the needy across the globe. The victims of the catastrophic Irish Famine were helped in 1847 and money raised for the building of an Episcopal Church in New York. Lintonians saw a coloured clergyman for the first time when an American minister preached to the congregation in 1850.

William Brett supported Church Missionary and Bible Societies, largely ignored by his predecessor. He was determined to reform the morals of the local populace and drink was already impacting on the behaviour of Lintonians. The relaxation of the drinking laws in 1830 allowed any enterprising householder to open a beer house for an annual fee of £2. Pubs even defied the Sunday closure laws and little had been done to restrict their activity

Everything changed in March, 1846 when the vicar demanded that the Vestry “instruct the local constabulary to enforce the law”. Charlotte Brand the landlady of a beer house on the site of the later Princess of Wales public house, was fined for opening during divine service. All the Linton pubs immediately obeyed the law. Brett’s zeal was then turned on local shopkeepers who were ignoring the Sunday closing regulations. The selling or baking of bread was banned and Linton shopkeepers no longer violated the Sabbath.

The Reverend Brett had a tremendous impact on Church attendance, largely because of his evangelical preaching skills. The 1851 National Religious Census recorded that 62% of Lintonians attended Christian Churches compared with the national figure of 41%. Brett had stemmed the Non-Conformist threat and two thirds of all Linton churchgoers went to the Anglican services. Most Evangelicals believed that the Methodist split from the Anglican Church was avoidable.

When the local Linton Congregationalists threatened to establish a rival British School in 1847, Brett attempted to accommodate their concerns. He suggested that the National School should be run separately from the Anglican Sunday School to ensure that all children would receive a non-denominational religious education. The catechism and Anglican prayers would be confined to the Sunday School and harmony of the local community safeguarded. Sadly, the Master of Pembroke College vetoed this liberal plan and commented that Brett’s proposal was “an idea so novel we cannot entertain it”.

Tragedies in his family life contributed to the breakdown in William Brett’s health by early 1858. In November 1849 a squib from a firework blinded 9 year old John, his eldest child. John died of consumption in 1856 and tragedy struck once more in January 1858 when his fourth child, Margaretta, died when she was only 11.

Even though Brett was a man of indefatigable energy and sterling character, these family losses contributed to the final breakdown in his health. He resigned the living a few weeks before his death on 22 December 1858. Mary Brett sold up in March 1859 and moved to Winchester.

The Linton curate, the Reverend Coles acted as caretaker vicar pending a new appointment. It is significant that he was not appointed as Brett’s successor even though he was regarded as “an excellent preacher who gave beautiful sermons… the Church was never to be so liberally crowded as on the occasion of his departure, the galleries, stairs and aisles… many were forced to stand.” The congregation presented him with a parting gift of fifty guineas, a huge sum in those days. However, times were changing and the evangelicals were a lesser force in the Anglican Church. Most English parishes were now coming under the influence of the Anglo-Catholic movement and Pembroke College did not favour the charismatic preaching style of the Reverend Coles.

William Brett had done little to improve the fabric of the building and Victorian England was to witness the transformation of most gothic churches. The Brett memorial is placed on the south wall of Linton Church above the porch. The inscription refers to the two children who died in Linton. Mary Brett paid for the memorial to her late husband and two of their children, but chose to be buried in Winchester after her death in 1899.