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A family history enquiry during lockdown

Jo Halford – Seminary Archivist

During this latest lockdown, I’ve been permitted to come to the seminary to work in the archive. The size of the seminary buildings means that it is easy to work alone, away from others in a Covid secure manner. The sorting and cataloguing of this extensive archive is now essential work, as St. John’s seminary will sadly cease to operate as a house of formation in July 2021. The archive comprises over 250 boxes of records covering all areas of seminary business, from administration to recreation; from academic matters to the records of the buildings. The collection dates from the foundation of the seminary in 1889 to the present day. Over the next 18 months, all of this will be prepared to move to a new home.

Whilst I’ve been busily working my way through the boxes, the seminarians have been continuing their studies locked down in a ‘house bubble’! A couple of weeks ago, I received an unexpected enquiry from Stephen Corrigan, a seminarian from Clifton diocese in his final year at Wonersh. Stephen had always been aware that he had a relative who was a priest and had been a seminarian at Wonersh, but it hadn’t occurred to him to find out more about his time here until recently. All he had to go on was that his name was Fr. Gerald Gamble, and that he was his great-great uncle.

Stephen says:

“My time at Wonersh has often been busy with my focus on my studies and all the other things we do at Seminary, so there was never much of an opportunity to think about or look into a family connection at the Seminary. But when the seminary appointed an archivist, it occurred to me that I really should investigate the archives and see what could be discovered about him.

I think at the human level the upcoming closure of the Seminary, and my own departure in July, when I will be ordained priest and return to full-time to work in the Diocese of Clifton, prompted me to finally ask Jo to look into the matter, and I am sure there was a spiritual dimension encouraging me as well.”

Stephen was fascinated to discover that there are indexed registers recording every student who has ever entered the seminary. I was quickly able to find Gerald Gamble for him. Gerald entered the seminary on 6th September 1912 and was ordained on 12th July 1925. The register tells us that his studies were interrupted by World War I during which he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Student Register, 1904-1918

Using the dates from the register, I moved on to consult the diaries of the Dean and Rector to see if Gerald featured in them. These revealed that he had been a very sporty member of the Wonersh community. He was a regular member of the football team, and had been the captain of the cricket and hockey teams. This in turn led to the sporting committee minutes and photographs.

Here is the report of a Juniors v. Seniors hockey match played on 16th April 1924, during which ‘Mr Gamble gambly stuck to his post’! The minutes are signed by Gerald and he appears as a proud captain of the team in the adjacent photograph.

Gerald was one of a group of seminarians who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to Salonika in Greece during World War I. News of this group features in the wonderful ‘Wonersh Mail’, 'An Unofficial Chronicle of all that Wonersh did while her doughty sons were absent from her on military service'. It was sent to the students 'called up'. It included news from the seminary and of those fighting, and was illustrated with humorous drawings by Fr Alexis Hauber, then procurator, later Parish Priest of Guildford.

An illustration from the Wonersh Mail, March 1918

Once I had located the sources, I was able to allow Stephen to consult them, after a period of quarantine and with social distancing observed.

Stephen commented:

“It was wonderful to be able to hold the primary sources in my own hands the very books that these people had written about my great-great-uncle. I was able to see various photos of his sporting endeavours which brought the whole thing to life, especially recognising where the photos were taken, and how in some ways how little the place has changed in the last 90 or so years. Sadly, my own career playing for the Wonersh football team has not been so prestigious!”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to investigate the life of my great-great uncle, and to learn more about my own family’s connection with Wonersh. By all accounts he was a good priest and a good man, and in following in his footsteps both at Wonersh, and in the priesthood, I hope and pray I can emulate him.’

Many thanks to Stephen Corrigan for bringing me this interesting enquiry and for his contribution to this piece. Let’s hope that the archive continues to receive many more such enquiries far into the future.

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