Bishop Heaslett

St Alban's Church, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Alban’s Church, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Andrew's Cathedral, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

When I explored the material in Sheffield Archives about the parish of St Cecilia, Parson Cross, I came upon a complete run of parish magazines from before the church was consecrated in 1939 until the mid-1950s.

The bulk of these magazines were edited by the first vicar, Fr (later Canon) Richard Roseveare SSM (1902-1972), charting the sprouting of streets and houses on what had been farmland, the establishment of one of the biggest parishes in the Church of England with three churches and six or seven clergy, and the impact of the Second World War and its aftermath on the initial high hopes and ambitious plans for Parson Cross and St Cecilia’s.

He was a powerful figure, with a finger on the pulse of Sheffield working-class people – he formally opened the Parson Cross Hotel in June 1939 and ended up in the News of the World for his pains – and also a strict Anglo-Catholic who exhorted his parishioners to worship with due decorum.

St Cecilia’s parish started out with high-status helpers.  Lady Mabel Smith, the socialist daughter of the Earl Fitzwilliam, was a strong supporter until her death in 1951, and Mary Jane, Dowager Countess Ferrers, built a house on Halifax Road so she could help in the parish.

When Lady Ferrers died in 1944 her house became the home of Bishop Samuel Heaslett (1875-1947), who was Bishop of South Tokyo from 1921.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 he was given a very hard time by the Japanese authorities, who couldn’t grasp the idea that a Church of England was not a government agency, and after four months’ imprisonment and interrogation he was expelled from Japan.

Back in England Bishop Heaslett was offered a role as Assistant Bishop of Sheffield and came to Parson Cross in 1944.  He returned to Japan with his opposite number, the Bishop of North Tokyo, an American Episcopal Bishop, Charles S Reifsnider, to help the reformation of the Anglican church in Japan, Nippon Seikōkai, in May and June 1946.

The Tokyo cathedral that Bishop Heaslett knew had been obliterated in the bombing of Tokyo towards the end of the war.  A wooden replacement building, St Alban’s Church, opened in 1956, designed by the Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond (1888-1976).  It stands alongside the more substantial St Andrew’s Cathedral (Hisao Kohyama 1996).

Samuel Heaslett is commemorated in Sheffield Cathedral by a wall-tablet, and he appears in the Te Deum window in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

From the pages of dusty old magazines, a memorial tablet, a face in a stained-glass window, fascinating stories emerge of lives lived in times that feel very different from the present day.

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