The first Vicar of St Matthew’s Westminster was the Revd Richard Malone. He was born in Portsmouth in about 1821. Before coming to London in 1851, he had been the incumbent of Christ Church, Plymouth. His wife, Jane (nee Robyns), came from Exeter. His first parish in London was St Michael’s, Chester Square.
The church had only just been built when Richard Malone started his ministry in our parish. He was faced with the daunting task of creating a church community in one of the worst slum areas of London - in fact the term ‘slum’ was first used to describe the area around St Matthew’s. Once he had got the church organised, he then set about fundraising for the church school.
He had a curate from 1859 to help him. Unlike today, the Vicar did not live close to the church all the time.
2. Visitation returns
Eleven years after Richard Malone came to St Matthew’s he had to complete a Visitation return before the Bishop came to see the parish.
You are now going to hear what Richard had achieved in just 11 years since 1851 based on this information which is now held at Lambeth Palace Library.
What is your address? I live at 43 Vincent Square . Although not in the parish, it is just 400 yards from the church. I moved from Gloucester Street, near Belgrave Road, in the last year.
Do you have a Curate? The Revd Thomas Smith is my curate and he started in July 1859. He is paid £100 per annum from the Westminster Spiritual Aid Fund
Has any open air preaching been done and to what effect? Yes, by laymen . I have seen no good.
What services do you have? Special services are conducted in the school room and are well –attended. We have the Litany as a separate service on a weekday. We have Prayers on Monday & Friday with a full service on Thursday. We have Mattins and Evensong services in church on Sundays with a sermon at each service.
How many persons were confirmed in church in the last 2 years? About 100. Children are catechised once a quarter.
What about your seating? (This indicated the social background of the congregation as the church could generate income from seats that people paid for) 300 sittings are available of being let. The total income would be £200 if all seats were used.
About 180 pews are let for money. These seats are occupied by a mixed class. There are some who have servants and some wealthy people together with some poor tradesmen. The free seats are occupied by the poor.
What is your average no. of Communicants? At Easter, we had 150. The average for other seasons is 86.
The total number of communicants is estimated at 250.
How many are in the congregation inclusive of school children? About 450 on Sundays and 60 on weekdays.
About 300 children attend church.
What do you consider impedes your ministry? The streets of evil fame well-known by the criminal classes over England and reported to by the bad characters from the whole kingdom.
What would you do to improve the parish? I would pull down the streets as they are. People could do with better housing.
3. But behind this wonderful success story lay a tragedy.
As you have heard, the living conditions in Westminster were dreadful at this time. The parish is also close to the river and there was no modern sewerage then. The river carried disease and cholera was a problem.
In 1861, Richard Malone wrote to Bishop Tait, Bishop of London, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury:
“I venture to appeal to your Lordship’s favourable consideration for a change of preferment under the following circumstances.
For the last ten years, I have been labouring in the lowest part of Westminster and my work has been most depressing in its character and most exhausting in its effects. St Matthew’s Church was only just built when I was appointed first incumbent and I found the Church completely unfurnished and the District containing scarcely a single person capable of tendering me any aid. The first years of my incumbency were years of great labor and anxiety; the expense of making the Church suitable for public worship was considerable and the labor of setting on foot all the various agencies in such a district was greater than I can well describe.
The church is now filled with a larger congregation; the schools are created and contain nearly 500 children; and all the charities are fairly supported. The income of my Benefice which for the first years of my incumbency only averaged £200, now average £500 per annum.
Your Lordship may enquire why leave in such circumstances – I should wish for other Preferment if possible in the country or the suburbs of London of equal value to my own. I must therefore inform your Lordship that since I have been in my present charge my wife and children have never returned their health and I have been compelled every year to send them to the country for four or five months. At the commencement of the present year my wife caught scarlet fever in my district and my whole family and household have been laid down with this terrible disease.
I have lost my eldest little boy in this fever and this sad bereavement has made me all the more conscious to effect a change in my charge.
I am the ‘least’ unwilling to ask your Lordship’s favourable consideration..My successor will find not only a good organisation but a good prospect of spiritual progress.
I mentioned to Mr Jennings, our Rural Dean, Rector of St James and Patron of the Living my feelings of depression and my sincerity to obtain some other equivalent preferment….”
Richard Malone would not have liked the reply he received from the Bishop. The following notes were written on the reverse of Richard Malone’s letter:
“My dear Sir, I quite feel it…and especially under the melancholy circumstances .. the difficulty is to find any opening …might you [find] it a challenge? “
Three years later, Richard Malone had an alternative plan for his family, as a result of their anxiety over ‘river fever’and wrote to the Bishop to see if his family could live outside London while he continued his work in the parish:
“My wife and children suffered so much from the frustration of thought occasioned by river fever caught in my district that they were recommended change of air and scene for some little time. I took a house at Richmond and I have down to them as often as I could be spared from my duties at this place.
My family have so much improved by the change of air that I was anxious to keep them there a year or two and I preferred retaining my present residence and running both as often as I could.
In order to do this, I thought it well to send your Lordship the petition for residence at Richmond.”
In my miserable district, there is no house whatsoever, even any house if even unoccupied – fit for the residence of the clergyman and the Minister must reside at such a distance that his residence can possibly produce no moral effect or have any social influence in the district of Matthews."
There is no further correspondence in the Bishop’s archives relating to his reply. We do know that he remained as incumbent until 1866 when he left for a parish in Cornwall - St Paul in Penzance.
4. Richard Malone’s bid to return to London
From the correspondence from his friends, it appeared that he was able to move to Cornwall due to the health of his mother-in-law. Just a year after leaving London, his mother-in-law died and he wanted to return to London. He had heard that the incumbent of Paddington was going to be the new Dean of Exeter so wrote to the Bishop to find out if he could be considered for that parish:
“It is very hard and unpleasant to hint at any peculiar fitness I have for the position I should like: but I may mention that in a very hard post in Westminster I was enabled to organise all the institutions of the District: and that the late Dean of Westminster selected me as an Easter preacher in the Abbey. I venture to write to Vice Chancellor Wood and other Westminster friends to testify to my qualifications should your Lordship deem their knowledge of my work more accurate than your own. “
He did indeed write to his friends and quite a few testimonials were received by the Bishop from worthy gentlemen. These testimonials revealed so much about the character of Richard Malone:
The first churchwarden of St Matthew’s, Joseph Wood wrote:
“to assure your Lordship of the great merits and power and Christian worth which the Rev R Malone would take to a position so well-suited to his talents and piety. “
James Chalk from Whitehall Place praised :
“the exemplary manner in which he discharged his parochial duties” and how he obtained the “reputation of being a most valuable friend to the Poor” as well as having “ pulpit eloquence”which rendered him “a most desirable Minister for an educated congregation.”
General Sabine added :
“cognisant of the zeal, activity and remarkable success with which he conducted the ministerial duties in an unusually difficult parish” fitted him for the parish for Paddington.
It is not known if Richard Malone did secure a parish in London as he was still in Penzance in 1871. By 1881, he was the incumbent of Potton in Bedfordshire. He had moved back to Penzance by 1891 to a different parish in Penzance and died there on 7 June 1908.