The Samaritans …. and acrobatic performances

12 November 2013

Reverend Edward Chad Varah was born on this day in 1911 in the town of Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. His parents, William Edward Varah and Mary Atkinson, married in early 1911 and are childless in the 1911 census when they are living at Eastville Vicarage, Boston. Edward Chad was the eldest of their nine children.

William was the vicar at the Anglican church of St Peter. A strict Tractarian, Canon William Edward Varah named his son after St Chad who, according to Bede, had founded the seventh century monastery at Barrow, which may have occupied an Anglo-Saxon enclosure next to Barton Vicarage.

Initially he was reluctant to follow his father’s vocation, but his godfather persuaded him to study at Lincoln Theological College, where he was taught by the Reverend Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury. He was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1935 and as a priest in 1936. He first served as curate at St Giles, Lincoln from 1935 to 1938, then St Mary’s, Putney from 1938 to 1940, and finally at Barrow-in-Furness from 1940 to 1942. He became vicar of Holy Trinity, Blackburn in 1942, and moved to St Paul, Clapham Junction in 1949. He was also chaplain of St John’s Hospital, Battersea.

The Worshipful Company of Grocers offered him a benefice at St Stephen Walbrook in 1953 and it was here that he set up the Samaritans, a telephone service for the suicidal and despairing. The service subsequently spread throughout the UK, with thousands of volunteers offering a listening ear and words of comfort to distressed callers, at any time of the day or night.

He was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal in 1972 and became an Honorary Fellow of Keble College in 1981. He also held several honorary doctorates. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1961 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre.

Appointed OBE in 1969 and advanced to CBE in 1995, he was created a Companion of Honour in 2000. He died just short of his 96th birthday in November 2007.

A little further back in history, the French acrobat Jules Leotard – what a brilliant name! – first performed a flying trapeze act without a safety net today in 1859. Unfortunately, censuses prior to 1911 are not easily searchable by occupation but amazingly, there are 108 acrobats in the 1911 census for England and Wales! Four of them – three born in Morocco, one in Germany – were visiting the home of ‘Ellen Blancher Burgess’ at 45 Lambeth Road, London, her sons recorded as ‘diamond mounter’ and ‘variety agent’s clerk’ and other boarders including a ‘hall keeper alahambra’ and an ‘admiralty pensioner messenger’. An interesting household….!

[Picture courtesy of The leotard was invented by Jules Leotard in the 1860s. He wore this tight fitting and stretchy garment in his act to show off his muscular body!]

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