By Rebecca Phelps
The WW1 war years were a demanding time for the Church of England and its ministers. Richmond was a busy and growing town and the whole country was still under the influence of Victorian religiosity and values. The vicar of Richmond Parish Church had a high profile in the town and it was with some trepidation that the Reverend Max Binney took over from his deceased and hugely popular predecessor, Canon Proctor. Rev Max Binney, whose service of investiture took place at St Mary Magdalene on 19 September 1900, came to Richmond from his previous post at St Nicholas’ Parish Church in Sutton, St Helens’ in Lancashire. His professional background was that he had gained his theological degree from Kings College Cambridge in 1883 and was appointed assistant curate at St Andrews, Bishop Aukland, Durham. He was appointed vice principal of the Cambridge Clergy Training School in 1888 but relinquished this post on being appointed to his post in Sutton in the same year. While working in Sutton he married Emily Blinkhorn and they had two sons together one of whom became Sir George Binney, a renouned Arctic explorer and writer. It seems that shortly after giving birth to her second son and moving to Richmond, Emily died. The Richmond Local Studies archives hold a touching letter written by Rev Max Binney to his parishioners thanking them for their sympathy following his bereavement and hoping that the experience might further assist him in his ministry to them.
Canon Proctor had presided over plans to meet the needs of the growing local population and consequent lack of space at St Mary Magdalene’s by extending the church buildings and had collected £3,100 pounds for this project. After his death Rev Max Binney put forward a motion that the project should go ahead and the planned new chancel would be built as a memorial to Canon Proctor. Rev Max Binney also decided that he would fund a new side chapel himself to be built as a memorial to his late wife Emily. The plans were produced by the architect George F. Bodley. Following completion of an extension to the church new stained glass windows were added to the chancel, chancel aisles and side chapels. They were given as memorials by various parishioners and the subjects of the windows form a coordinated scheme of design and colour which was drawn up by Rev Max Binney. The large window over the altar in the Binney memorial chapel was funded by Rev Max Binney as a memorial to his father and the Latin inscription reads: ‘ADMG et in memorian Thomae Binney dilectissimi patric tertii prejus paroeciae vicari AD MCMIV’. The subject of the window is a depiction of four saints representing the branches of the Catholic church: St Basil the Great (representative of the Greek Church); St Gregory the Great (representative of the Latin Church); St Augustine of Canterbury (representative of the Anglican Church) and St Columba (representative of the Celtic Church). A side window in the chapel was funded by the sister of Emily Binney.
After what must have been an extremely traumatic and eventful first few years in the Parish of Richmond Rev Max Binney found personal happiness again when he married for the second time to Miss Lilias Lindsay in 1903. Rev Max Binney continued to be a very active vicar: in addition to overseeing and contributing to the substantial alterations to the building of St Mary Magdalene and also a new organ and other improvements to St Mathias he used his business expertise to bring the parish finances into a healthy state, started a Parish Church Relief Committee, served as a member of the Education Committee and cultivated good relationships with Christian workers of other denominations. During the WW1 years he took his ‘stay-at-home’ role very seriously and supported his parishioners in a number of ways and these included:
- Writing a regular and informative newsletter covering the progress of the war and other matters in the monthly parish magazine.
- Praying for those at the front and providing an opportunity for parishioners to take part in weekly inter-cessionary prayers at St Mary’s and St Mathias.
- Providing practical and spiritual support for women via the ‘Mothers Union’ at the church.
- Providing information on the names of local men serving, dying and being honoured in the armed forces.
- Ministering to the wounded soldiers residing in Richmond.
- Assisting with financial and other practical support to parishioners affected by the war.
- Organising organ recitals as a diversion from the ‘all absorbing pain of the war’ for those left at home.
In 1916 at 57 years of age Rev Max Binney surprised his parishioners by announcing that he was to leave Richmond. His reason was that after ‘16 years of strenuous work in Richmond’ he had decided that a younger and more energetic man was required for the job and he would make way by moving to a country parish in Ringwood in the New Forest. At his farewell gathering on 31 January 1917, Rev and Mrs Binney (who had been president of the Richmond branch of the Mothers’ Union) were presented with gifts for their ‘valuable and devoted service’. Sir George Cave, the then Home Secretary who lived locally and who made the presentation, praised Rev Max Binney as ‘a man of character and good judgement who would leave his mark in connection with the Church and Town’.