Reverend John Robinson

John Robinson

Reverend John Robinson was the vicar of  St Mary’s Church from 1899 to 1923, presiding through the extremely difficult years of the First World War. He had known many of these young lads all their lives and had seen them grow up. Many had passed through his thriving Sunday School, some had even taught there. Now they were going off in their hundreds to fight a war. In the monthly parish magazine he kept note of members of his parish who had volunteered for service, recorded their progress  and agonised over the effect that the mounting losses were having on this close-knit community. Ultimately he acknowleged their sacrifice, ensuring that their names would be remembered forever through a permanent stone War Memorial in the church. On 22nd October 1918 he wrote in the St Mary’s parish magazine  ‘May we never forget our heroes. When the long prayed-for peace arrives I hope we shall be able to place somewhere in the church a permanent memorial containing the names of all the men from our parish who have given their lives’. John Robinson was born on 21st November 1865 at Weston Colville in Suffolk, the son of Reverend John Lovell Robinson who was of Irish descent. He was educated at Marlborough and Cambridge where he was a keen rower and rugby player. He was ordained in 1888 and after six years at St Stephen’s in Walworth he took charge of a Mission at Waverley Park in Nunhead. In 1899 he married Minnie Hopkins in Surbiton and came to St Mary’s in Summerstown. A daughter Margaret was born in 1900 and four years later twin sons, John and Innes. The previous church at St Mary’s, built on the area of land between the north end of Keble Street and Summerstown, roughly behind the small strip of shops next to the present Texaco garage, had been demolished in 1893 due to insecure foundations. For the next ten years services were conducted in an adjoining ‘tin tabernacle’. This was a period of massive change for the area with an influx of new residents and the construction of Keble Street and great development to the south of Wimbledon Road with a wave of new houses being constructed in a network of streets that became known as ‘The Fairlight’. With work starting in November 1902, Reverend Robinson presided over the building of the current church at a cost of £11,000 designed by the renowned architect Godfrey Pinkerton. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Christian on 4th April 1903. The names of up to 600 Sunday School children, including some of the Summerstown182 are buried in a bottle beneath this stone. The Robinson twins were the first children to be baptised in the new church on the day of its consecration, 30th April 1904. Having served at St Mary’s through this extraordinary period of exxpansion to be followed by the First World War which took so many lives, John Robinson moved on in 1923. He became vicar of Downton near Salisbury, which was where he presided until his death on 11th February 1939. Both of the twins went to Africa and tragically one of them, John Lovell Robinson who worked in the Nigerian Civil Service died there in 1936 having only got married the previous year. Reverend John Robinson regularly kept in contact with St Mary”s after he had left and the numerous references to him in the parish magazines of the time indicate the respect and affection in which he was held.

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