MICKLEWRIGHT, FREDERICK HENRY AMPLETT (1908 – 1992)

Frederick Henry Amphlett Micklewright was the founder and first Chairman of the Upper Norwood and District Preservation Society, UNDPS, later renamed the Norwood Society.  During the early 1960s Norwood was going through a period of great change. Living at that time in Bishop’s Folly, 228 South Norwood Hill Micklewright wrote to the local press proposing that residents who were concerned about the state of affairs should meet together to discuss the formation of a society to watch and, where possible, influence the changes that were taking place. (Warwick, 1972).

Frederick Amphlett Micklewright was born in Chipstead, Surrey on 22 April 1908.  His birth was later registered in the nearby town of Reigate.  His parents were Frederick William Micklewright and Daisy Argent.  His full name was Frederick Henry Amphlett Micklewright, and it was through the encouragement of his grandfather, a Cheltenham solicitor, that the forename Amphlett was included to perpetuate his ancestor, Baron Amphlett.

He was ordained an Anglican priest in Manchester Cathedral in 1935, and it was really from that time onward that the style “Amphlett Micklewright” was exclusively used. (Gillman, 2004).   Joining the Unitarian fold in 1941, he ministered to two prominent congregations:  in Southampton, at the Church of the Saviour from 1941-43 and then in Manchester at the Cross Street Chapel from 1943-49, but these ministries were not without controversy arising from his various secular sympathies and affiliations.

Micklewright outlined his “humanist” views in a talk he gave in 1943 to the Portsmouth and Southsea Rotary Club.  He concluded that “Civilisation and religion needed bringing together, but this could not be done by a revival of traditional religion, but only through the clear light of reason.”  He looked forward to “a religion purged of all dogma and a civilisation based on science which realised that science must be devoted to the highest ends and not to useless slaughter”.  (Micklewright, 1943).

Cross Street Chapel c.1835, Wikipedia.

During World War Two the Cross Street chapel was destroyed by bombing and the congregation had to worship in a makeshift building within the ruins until a new building was erected in the late 1950s.Micklewright seems to have led by example as he was one of the first working in the ruins of the Cross Street Chapel after it was badly damaged by German bombs in December 1940

Micklewright was a liberal thinker and established a reputation for himself as a reviewer to the legal press.  He spoke out against the role of the State interfering in areas of privacy and declared that the church should not demand that society as a whole should conform to Christian morality.  Furthermore he pointed out that a claim that the law is founded on Christian tradition is somewhat vague and tenuous.  He went on to state that promoting Christian doctrine throughout society at large is undesirable and could do much to bring contemporary law into contempt.  (Public morality and the criminal law, 1961).

Frederick Micklewright at work in the ruins of the Cross Street Chapel, Manchester Evening News, 1940.

In September 1944 his caring side for domestic pets appeared in a letter to the Manchester Evening News deploring the poisoning of numerous cats in the Whalley Range area of Manchester and pointing out what sorrow and distress such events could bring to their owners. (Letters to the Editor, 1944).

Elizabeth Maude Jones, Epsom and Ewell History Explorer

Micklewright’s humanitarian character surfaced again in February 1945 when he signed, along with numerous other Manchester ministers, a letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Herbert Morrison, urging a reprieve for 18 year old Elizabeth Maud Jones who had been condemned to death, along with a U.S. Army soldier, for the “cleft chin” taxi driver murder.  They urged mercy quoting her difficult circumstances as a child.  Jones, who had been found guilty of the murder, was considered by many as an accessory as she was involved but had not pulled the trigger of the murder weapon.  This was much the same as the unfortunate Derek Bentley.  Jones was granted a reprieve and her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.  She was released on licence in 1954 and nothing more was heard of her. (Jackson, 2013).

Her reprieve caused widespread indignation and streams of telegrams to the Home Secretary: in her native town, “SHE SHOULD HANG” was chalked on the walls beside drawings of a figure dangling from a gallows.  (Unknown, 2017).

He left the Unitarian Church in 1949 and rejoined the Church of England, being given the prestigious living of All Saints’, Ennismore Gardens, Kensington, London, now the Russian Orthodox Church, until a ‘fall out’ in 1956, after which he never officiated anywhere, and concentrated on a career lecturing in History and Law and as a freelance journalist writing for learned journals, such as theological debate in ‘The Hibbert Journal’.

Frederick moved to South Norwood before 1959 and had taken up residence with his wife Irene, whom he had married in Manchester in 1943 whilst he was minister at the Cross Street Chapel.  Their daughter Jane was born in 1949.

They were living in the house then called Bishop’s Folly along with Mrs Helen M H Hamilton-Flint and Blanche and George Bayliss.  Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s Bishop’s Folly is not listed as flats in either the telephone directory or electoral rolls for that time and, the three families shared the same phone number, Livingstone 4355. Livingstone being the name of the exchange at the junction of Church Road and South Norwood Hill; the letters would have been dialled in place of 548.

Called to the Bar, Middle Temple, in 1968, Frederick established a reputation for himself as a reviewer to the legal press. He was admitted into the Roman Catholic Church in 1974, and contributed many articles to ‘The Tablet’ and other Catholic publications.  He took the publication of the National Unitarian Forum for a time from around 1947, but it is not known whether he ever wrote for it.

Towards the end of 1959 there were increasing complaints in the newspapers serving Norwood, of neglected plots of land and derelict houses in the area.  Speculators were invading Norwood and according to Micklewright, threatening compulsory purchase frightening many householders into the unwanted sale of their homes.  In response Micklewright decided to convene a meeting of local residents.

The inaugural meeting of the society, called by Mr Amphlett Micklewright, took place in All Saints school February 5 1960.  It was attended by 36 local residents, including two local Councillors.  An initial constitution was approved and Micklewright was appointed the first Chairman and Mrs Hamilton-Flint Honorary Secretary. The meeting made local newspaper headlines (Norwood Society, 1960).

Two weeks later a second was called at which more than 60 residents turned up.  At that meeting detailed aims were drawn up:

  • To influence public opinion and assure local authorities of the Society’s interest.
  • To preserve, protect and improve the amenities of the district.
  • To ensure that unoccupied land be kept in good order.
  • Gradually to build up cultural activities.
  • To issue publications bearing upon the aims and activities of the Society.

The names of the President, Sir Ninian Comper, and Vice Presidents, Sir Alan Ellis, QC, KCB and R Kelf-Cohen MA, FR Hist. were announced at the second meeting and reported in the Review by Mrs Hamilton-Flint.  Subscriptions were 5 shillings per member or 7shillings and 6 pence per family and were open to “those who have an interest in the district”.

The preservation and planting of trees became an early issue for the society.  A petition was quickly created and signed by 100 residents calling on Croydon council to preserve the woodland of Beaulah Heights and replant trees on the Auckland Rise estate, which was under construction at the time. The society felt that needless destruction of trees had taken place during the construction of the estate.

In the first edition of the Norwood Review, Winter 1960, Frederick picked up one of his lifelong themes of freedom and mental life, finishing his introductory notes:  “Faced with great cultural problems of architecture, tree life and the like, as Norwood is, we hope that our society will make a vital contribution to this land, striving against all that oppresses man both in his environment and in his mental life”.

First edtion of the Norwood Review, 1960.

Alan Warwick, author of the Phoenix suburb contributed a brief article to the first Review outlining the history of Norwood. That edition’s final page listed seven local planning applications, several of which the society objected to and sadly noting that the construction of 50 flats in the garden behind the Queens Hotel had been approved.

After the first year, in which it was growing in numbers and experience, the Society decided to change its name to ‘The Norwood Society’. The word ‘Preservation’ was not a complete success. ‘What is there to preserve?’ was the facetious comment of some as they surveyed the post-war desolation. That the Society was really seeking to preserve the opportunity for enabling a new Norwood to emerge from the ashes of the old, so that it should compare favourably with its earlier charm, was perhaps too obscure. Preservation of trees, so distinctive a feature of Norwood, and their replacement when lost, was a first priority. Protection of skylines was another urgent matter. Preservation of semi-derelict Victorian houses that could not be adapted to modern requirements was not in the master plan.

Since the Society was established, Norwood has undergone many significant changes, but the key aims to “preserve and improve” remain.  This is accompanied now by the equally important one of researching and sharing Norwood’s history, in the form of its buildings, its open spaces and of course, most importantly, its social history.

Frederick’s wife Irene passed away in 1984 at the age of 74.  By the time of his death on January 14 1992 he had moved to a flat at 1 Lansdowne Road, Croydon.  His estate of £138,420 went to probate but it is not clear who inherited his money.  His daughter Jane is yet to be traced.

Today Bishop’s Folly, the home of both Amphlett Micklewright and Hamilton-Flint,  stands proudly on South Norwood Hill whilst unfortunately many of the similar Victorian mansions, such as St Andrew’s, Tressillion, St Austin’s, Nettlestead, The Firs, Hazelbank. Ravenswood, Richmond House, St Margaret’s Illwara, Hillfield and Kingsbury, that the UNDPS was trying to preserve, have long since been replaced by featureless blocks of flats the likes of which are likely to be little mourned at their passing in the hopefully not too distant future.  Had the Norwood Society not been established in 1960, then judging by the developments taking place around us today it would need to be set up now.

Bishop’s Folly was called St Helen’s until Micklewright moved in.  He renamed it following a scandal centred on William Bryn Thomas, Rector of the Ascension, Balham.  Allegedly the scandal involved his curate’s wife and a parishioner, Mrs Brandy!  Micklewright spoke out in support of the “randy rector” and subsequently renamed St Helen’s Bishops Folly in frustration at the Church authorities decisions to unfrock the rector!  (Gardom).

Norwood was indeed fortunate that Frederick Henry Amphlett Micklewright was destined to arrive on South Norwood Hill, for he cared: cared about the environment; cared about the architecture he found around him, but most of all cared about his fellow human beings.  He valued his fellow citizens individually and collectively and spoke out for them and did what he thought right to support and protect them and society.  For such people we must be grateful, for without them we might be subdued beneath the dogma and greed that surrounds us.

Sources:

(n.d.). Retrieved September 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_Street_Chapel

Gardom, F. (n.d.). Some Summer Scandals. Retrieved November 2017, from Trushare: http://trushare.com/0134JLY06/31Somesummerscandals.htm

Gillman, D. (2004, Oct). NEWSLETTER 355. Retrieved Aug 29, 2017, from The National Unitarian Fellowship: http://www.nufonline.org.uk/archives/newslettfr355.html

Jackson, L. (2013, February). The Cleft Chin Murder. Retrieved November 3rd, 2017, from Epsom and Ewell History Explorer: http://epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/CleftChinMurder.html

Letters to the Editor. (1944). Manchester Evening News .

Micklewright, A. (1943, April 28th). Jews and Unitarians Left out. Portsmouth Evening News , p. 7.

Norwood Society. (1960, Feb 6). The London Evening News .

Public morality and the criminal law. (1961, Aoril). Retrieved June 2017, from The Eugenics review: http://europepmc.org/articles/pmc2973067

Unknown. (2017). 1945: Karl Hulten, for the Cleft Chin Murder. Retrieved November 3rd, 2017, from Executed Today: http://www.executedtoday.com/2013/03/08/karl-hulten-george-orwell-cleft-chin-murder/

Warwick, A. (1972). The Phoenix Suburb. Chippenham: Blue Boar Press .