Canon John Topham

Report on meeting held 16th November 2015

Prior Rick Hudson welcomed members and, for the benefit of newer members, explained the society’s rules regarding questions and comments. He then introduced honorary member Bro Robin Sharpe MA whose paper was entitled, “Canon John Topham, Rector of Bridlington Priory from 1915 to 1944”. Bro John Walker and Judy Wilson read the illustrated lecture on Bro Robin’s behalf.

Bro Robin outlined a little of the history of the clergymen and other members of the Priory Church prior to World War One. Then, the Rev. John Topham arrived on 15th January 1915 taking up the post of Rector. He applied to serve as Chaplain to our forces four times but was turned down and remained at the Priory. He involved himself in local life at all levels with an emphasis on helping the war effort, and was made a Canon in 1916.

“The Brotherhood” was an active group at the church in this period. Prominent among them was Robert Carr who quickly became a friend of the Rector. All too soon Robert Carr lost his life launching the lifeboat. Bro Robin gave us the moving words used by Canon Topham on this sad occasion.

Canon Topham spoke about many key events during his time at the Priory. He gave eulogies on the death of prominent people. Bro Robin was able to give Canon Topham’s eloquent words about Earl Haigh and Lord Baden-Powell. Also his comments on the election of the first lady member of the local Charity Trustees, Mrs Jordan Clarke; the congregation members lost in the war; at the 1932 annual Fishermen’s Service, recalling the Great Gale of 1871, broadcast by the BBC; the abdication of Edward VIII; and the coronation of George VI. These give an insight into the clear thinking and compassion which typified Canon John Topham.

Canon Topham’s time at the Priory had its difficulties. Bro Robin explained how the reduction in church going following World War One affected the church and its income. Bro Robin also gave us Canon Topham’s light hearted report on the problems (clock refusing to strike, heating apparatus taking exception to things, unable to see the pews from the west door in a fog), ending with his heartfelt thanks to those who had offered financial assistance.

Included throughout Bro Robin’s paper was information about other people prominent in the church and the town who had links to Canon Topham and their recorded comments about him. In July 1944 Canon Topham retired. He was over 80 and had given 55 years of service to the Ministry. He died in 1955.

Bro Robin briefly mentioned his own links to the Priory Church. His mother and father had both known and respected Canon John Topham. One of Bro Robin’s most treasured possessions is a medallion given to him by his mother with a 1923 view of the Priory painted on it.

The vote of thanks was given by Bro Martin Wallace. He was particularly impressed by the meticulous attention to detail, dates, names, and events.