A MAN OF SOME INDEPENDENCE

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 12:16

“A man of some independence.” These words, used by the Venerable F. C. Carpenter in his address at the funeral service of the Reverend Constantine Sinclair, although true, were an understatement. In my experience of the Cloth, the former Rector of St Andrew’s, Chale, was unique. The late Mrs Sinclair, a charming Scottish lady, told me that few social gatherings they attended were not startled by her future husband’s comments. This I could believe. At times he gave me a mild shock.

Our first meeting occurred in 1942 when, an evacuee to Chale after bombs made my home at Northwood uninhabitable, I approached him regarding something written by John Ruskin that was beyond my limited Latinity. That matter settled, he suggested I become his pupil – an invitation that led to my having many enjoyable tutorials in the old Rectory whilst reading New Testament Greek, Logic, and French with him. Had I wanted to improve my mathematics, that too could have been arranged. A letter received some years ago informed me he had been checking someone’s abstruse scientific calculations – this being another manifestation of his exceptional versatility.

Constantine Sinclair, born in 1898, was the eldest son of John Henry Sinclair, a solicitor and procurator fiscal in Dunbar, East Lothian. Emulating his father, at school he won the Scharo Bequest Scholarship, and later, in 1919, when he decided to enter the Church of Scotland, he spent four and a half years at Edinburgh University. Prior to that he had worked in the British Linen Bank, from which he passed out as a bank prizeman. During World War One he served in the Admiralty Coastguard Service and the Royal Scots, from which he was transferred to the Army Pay Corps. His statement that he was wounded at Waterloo was true. His leg was badly injured when a Zeppelin bombing raid caught him on Waterloo Station.

Having decided to become a parson, he held six appointments in the Church of Scotland before dissatisfaction induced him to apply for admission to Anglican orders, and after a trial period in the Community of the Resurrection he was ordained deacon in Edinburgh, held four curacies, and finally before being offered the living at Chale became the senior curate of St George’s, Ferry Hill, S.E.

It was, I imagine, his days as a military man that gave him the breadth of mind which, with his sense of humour, was a predominant feature in his character – a quality that contributed to his popularity with soldiers when, as acting brigade chaplain during World War Two, he visited remote sites, helped men to study, and lectured on French and Italian. Elsewhere he had lectured on elocution. He was also a special constable.

So much could be written about this remarkable man that, with restricted space, it is difficult to know what to omit. Always extremely helpful, when he learnt that I aspired to be a writer he offered to criticise my work, and I still have a story in which blue-pencilled comments in three languages and original text occupy equal spaces. Much of his critique was sagacious: some of it facetious. Was he qualified to judge? Well, he had done regular reviews for the Daily Chronicle, had frequently written for the Northern Star, and had deputised for St John Ervine as a theatre critic! At the same time he wrote on my behalf to J. B. Priestley, then living in Billingham Manor. I have the author’s pessimistic and unhelpful reply.

Regarding his own literary efforts, I know he wrote a monograph on 17th century houses (he was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland), and he showed me his embryonic The Parson’s Voice In Prayer and Exhortation – a work illustrated with scientific diagrams which, I believe, remained unfinished. In this field, one must not forget his Parish Magazine (latterly a monthly Parish Letter) – a singularly entertaining publication. Copies I preserved contain articles that cover the origin of Jehovah Witnesses, the rules of prosody, and an account of his visit to Budapest for the State funeral of Count Karolyi whose remains had been exhumed from the Chale churchyard.

Further evidence of his individuality was revealed when art was discussed, and I have heard him argue that Frank Brangwyn’s works were quite as good as some of those of the much-revered old masters. An ability to paint was yet another of his accomplishments. While in the London area he had attended the Grosvenor Art School and the Blackheath Conservatoire School of Art; the results of which were a well-executed nude that hung in his sitting-room, and a portrait of his Persian cat seated among arum lilies that was in his study. The cover designs of the Parish Magazine also were his.

Near-genius is seldom without its idiosyncrasies. One of his was a tendency to decorate existing texts. I once saw him using red ink to add Roman roads to a map in a library book. And a notebook of mine has a sketch satirising advertising methods which interrupted one of my lessons. Interruptions, I might add, were not uncommon, and these, made by a gifted raconteur, were most enjoyable. How he came into contact with theatrical people was never clearly explained, but I recall his telling me that he had visited Oscar Asche when, his success with Chu Chin Chow a thing of the past, he was in a very bad way. Another anecdote concerned George Robey, one of the comedian’s friends, and a proposed drive from London to Scotland, with Mr Sinclair accompanying them, and each taking his turn at the wheel. After a narrow escape at the outset, however, it was obvious that neither Robey nor the other man was sober enough to drive, so, with his companions asleep in the back, Mr Sinclair drove the whole way, arriving completely exhausted while the others, by that time sober, were ‘fresher than daisies’.

Unlike many teachers, the Rector always tried to simplify. Quite recently I found a chart he gave my father which was supposed to enable untaught musicians to play the piano.

While not being an exceptionally skilful executant himself, he nevertheless had a good ear and an extensive knowledge of music. In his time he had produced Gilbert and Sullivan operas, had been a supervisor in Edinburgh at the Royal Academy of Music, had been highly commended by the Royal School of Church Music for the excellence of the St Andrew’s choir and, during the war, had conducted a ladies’ string orchestra.

Never prepared to rest on his laurels, in 1947 having passed the Inter-BSc examination, he took, temporarily, the science mastership of the King James the First Grammar School where a number of his pupils obtained G.C.E. passes.

Undoubtedly, his was the most brilliant intellect with which I ever had the privilege of being associated. I valued his friendship and cherish his memory. In his last letter to me he said I was a scholar ‘after his own heart’. By this, presumably, he referred to the analogy of our interest in many subjects, for he must have known that, where degrees of scholarship were involved, he and I were not in the same league.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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