Mr J Garner’s Retirement from Secretary of Cowper Memorial Church


United Reform (formally Congregational) Church, Olney Illustration by kind permission of Naomi Brady – 2010

As reported in the Bucks Standard dated Saturday, May 9th 1942


A representative gathering of officers and members of the Cowper Memorial Congregational Church at Olney assembled in the schoolroom of their church on Thursday evening to honour Mr J J Garner, and, by the presentation to him of gifts, recognised in a very tangible manner of his valued services to the denomination over a period of nearly 56 years. Since entering the church in 1886 Mr Garner has been one of the strong pillars of Congregationalism in Olney. As a young man he taught in the Sunday school and in the intervening years he has held every office open to a layman, and on many occasions during periods when the pulpit was vacant he took the Sunday services. On the administrative side of the church’s work no one has done more than Mr Garner, and during the many years he held the secretarial office, a position from which he has just retired, he gave the church high and very valuable service, and its present sound position can very largely be attributed to the businesslike way in which he has supervised and managed its finances and to his very loyal interest in the church’s many activities.

(Ed. Mr Garner resigned as Secretary to the Cowper Memorial Congregational Church on 13th November 1941 and the presentation took place on 7th May 1942.)


Cowper Memorial Congregational Church – c.1932 (1)

In recognition of his long years of devoted and faithful work for the church Mr Garner on Thursday evening, was presented with an illuminated address on parchment, a cheque for £10/13/-, a book of the names of the subscribers, on the leather binding of which was the letter ‘G’. The presentation was arranged by the church Diaconate, led by Miss L Gudgin, and the subscribers included many old friends who in the past had been happy to be associated with Mr Garner in the Christian work of the Cowper Memorial Church, as well as several of his former scholars in the Sunday school.

Prior to the presentation ceremony the assembly were entertained to light refreshments by the ladies of the Diaconate, the catering arrangements being in the experienced hands of Mrs Looms.

The Rev L M’Caw (pastor of the church) presided, and was supported by, in addition to Mr Garner, Mr J Ruff, of Hanslope, a well-known and esteemed figure in the life of the Cowper Memorial Church in bygone years, Miss Gudgin, Miss NaeSmith and Miss Hoddle. It was appropriate that Mr Ruff should have been selected to make the presentation to an old friend, for he was closely associated with Mr Garner in church work on his coming to reside in Olney, and the friendship established in those early days is still maintained.

Among other present were: Mrs Garner, Mrs F L Mann, Mrs Thomas Wright, Mr and Mrs W T Knight, Mr and Mrs C Hoddle, Mrs Looms, Mrs Elmer, Mrs Cyril Kitchener, Mrs Whinnett, Mrs T Ward, Mrs Ward, Miss Mapley, Mrs Johnson, Miss Minett, Miss Britton, Mrs Painter, Mr and Mrs Hanson, Mrs John Swain, Miss Hooton, and four of the oldest members of the church – Miss Labrum, Miss Berridge, Mrs Adams and Miss Willis. The Sunday school was represented by Mrs M’Caw and Miss Hoddle, and the choir by Miss L Fairey and Miss Luddington.

Mrs Albert Johnson was at the organ to accompany the singing of the hymn, ‘I love Thy Kingdom, Lord’. Mrs Arthur Johnson gave as a solo Cowper’s well-known hymn, a favourite with Mr Garner, ‘The spirit breathes upon the word’.

The Pastor gave a hearty welcome to all who had been able to come, especially to those who had come from a distance, and to their guest of honour, Mr Garner, and Mrs Garner. That was a church meeting, and they had met to honour Mr Garner, of whom they had happy memories. As they knew, they had met chiefly to give their tangible and obvious recognition to Mr Garner for his work in that church during the past half-century and more. Some of them might have wondered why that meeting had been postponed for quite a long time. As they knew, it was first decided that Mr Garner should receive recognition and appreciation from the Church about February at the annual church meeting, but it was not practical at that time. Now, with the election of the new, or old, Diaconate, and Mr Garner having given up his post as church secretary, they were glad to have him with them so that in some little way they could show their appreciation for all that he had done for the church. A special word of appreciation had been sent by Mrs Page, which showed that Mr Garner was not forgotten by his friends in Newport Pagnell. There was also a note from Mrs Fairey – “I should very much liked to have been with you, but as it is impossible I should like to convey to Mr Garner my appreciation of his long service to the church. Even though he has retired, I know he will still be very interested in all our work. Please give him my best wishes.”


The interior of the Cowper Memorial Church (Minister believed to be Rev. M H Roberts who closed his Olney ministry on 2 June 1912)

Miss NaeSmith, one of the Deaconesses, was the next speaker. She said: “I rise to honour one who for many years, through evil and good report, has remained absolutely steadfast to the cause to which as a young man he pledged fidelity. I have been thinking during the last few days of names of men who from time to time have been with us during the time in which I have been associated with the Memorial Church. These men have worked with us from time to time and helped us in many ways, but they did not remain. Mr Garner, on the contrary, has remained, and remained to work very hard. In his younger days, and in his days of health and strength nothing was too much trouble for him which he could do to help this church and the other churches in North Bucks. (Applause.) All of us know something of the tremendous labour he has put into it and we honour him for it and thank him for his work. And now that Mr Garner is retiring we wish him still many happy days in our fellowship. We know he will still be interested and that he will help wherever he can. May God send us some more young men who will pledge fidelity to Christ and the church and who will remain with us and work hard as Mr Garner had done.” (Applause.)

Miss L Gudgin said: “It gives me very real pleasure to be here this evening and to join with you in paying our tribute to Mr Garner for his long and faithful service to this church for over half a century. It has been such a joy to write to our old friends not now living in Olney and to receive their letters saying how delighted they were to join with us on this special occasion in recognising the good work Mr Garner has done.”

Miss Gudgin went on to read extracts from letters she had received, all proving Mr Garner’s long and faithful service to the Cowper Memorial Church. Miss Hoddle said they all thanked Mr Garner for his life’s service to their church and were sorry that the time had come when he was retiring. They would still have him in their midst and he would be with them to help them. They looked to him for help and guidance in the future.

Mr W T Knight was pleased to see such a representative gathering to show their appreciation to Mr Garner for the long years of valuable work he had given to that church. They would still have his advice and help and in all things concerning the business of the church they would find that help very valuable. Describing Mr Garner as “a fine stalwart for this church”, Mr Knight said their old friend had been faithful in the offices he had occupied, and in addition he had filled the pulpit when required. If they had been lacking for an organist he had taken his place at the organ. In fact, he had done everything it was possible for anyone to do to help the church. Everyone appreciated the work Mr Garner had done, and it would please him to see such a representative gathering and to know that all of them valued the long years of service he had given to that church. (Applause.)


Cowper Memorial Congregational Church – c.1932 (2)

Mr J Ruff expressed the pleasure it afforded him to be there to meet his old friend, Mr Garner, with whom in years gone by he was happy to be associated in the work of the Cowper Memorial Church. He recalled those early days and the financial difficulties they had to face, and the work which Mr Garner did to keep the church free from debt. He would call at the speaker’s house and tell him of the money that had to be raised and discuss ways and means for raising it. Those were days when Mr Garner did work very hard for that church, and in what he did he was influenced by the good example of his father and mother who for many years were a great help to the church. Mr Garner’s father was Sunday school superintendent and for many years he (Mr Ruff) was with him in the Sunday school. He was a kind, conscientious god-fearing man, and the son had followed in the footsteps of his father. Mr Ruff went on to speak of the splendid Christian service of Mr Garner and said how much the Cowper Memorial Church owed him for his devoted interest and loyalty. He had been a good and faithful servant and in all his work he had set them a splendid example of what service to the church should be. They hoped that God would bless Mr Garner and that in his remaining years he would have a pleasant time and be able to take the same interest in the church as he had shown for more than half a century. They hoped, too, that Mrs Garner would be blessed with good health and be spared to be a comfort and cheer to her husband in his old age. Mr Ruff having mentioned that he was present with Mr Garner when the foundation stone of the church was laid, and that he was present when the last penny of the debt on the church was paid, made the presentation of the illuminated address, the book containing the list of subscribers, and the purse of money, thanked Mr Garner for all he had done for the church and for all they hoped he would be able to do in the future.

The framed illuminated address read: ‘Presented to Mr J J Garner on the occasion of his retirement from the office of Church Secretary, April, 1942, in highest appreciation of his constant zeal in the service of God, and of his loyalty to the Cowper Memorial Congregational Church, Olney, during 56 years’.

Mr Garner hardly knew what he could say in the way of thanks for their generous gifts. He scarcely knew what sort of speech to make because he had never experienced such an event as that in connection with their church. But he did appreciate their gifts and was delighted to receive them. The secret had been well kept by the ladies responsible, for it was not until last Sunday that he was aware anything of the kind was being done. He confessed the pleasure it was to him to know that the parchment upon which the address was written came from his dear old friend, the late Mr Will Cowley, whose recent death they deeply regretted. Mr Garner proceeded by saying he was delighted to see their old friend, Mr Ruff, with them. They had worked together there for years – at one period when that church was thousands of pounds in debt. Mr Ruff was one of those men who loved to serve the church, and that service was more than ever needed today. “I have been to services in this church some 6,000 times, and I love to be here,” said Mr Garner, adding “I often come here when none of you know nothing about it.” His first experience of the church was in 1886 – on September 22 – just after he had started business in Olney. His father was superintendent of the Sunday school, and Mr Horton was the minister. One of the classes was taken by a young lady and she failed to turn up one Sunday and the minister asked him to take the class. When he arrived he found 40 young women waiting for him to take the class. After a while Mr Scott came and it was suggested that Mrs Scott should take the class, and she did so, he being given another class of boys. He continued as a teacher of that class for 25 years without once missing being at his post. Most of those lads were now married men, and he was pleased to see that the wives of some of them were present that evening.


Mr J J Garner’s parents – Daniel Thomas Garner 1845-1905 & Fanny Garner 1848-1912

When he came to Olney there were no active deacons at the church and Mr Horton was practically working alone. They had no instrument so an old harmonium was brought into the school and he played it, and for 55 years he had played it at nearly every week-night service that had been held during that period.. Mr Horton had no secretary and seemed to be very much alone in his ministry, and the only means of illumination in the vestry was a candle. Conditions had very much changed since then. Mr Garner recalled how occasionally he had filled the position of organist, and that often on Sundays he made four, and sometimes five, attendances at the Sunday school. His father had been in Olney four or five years when he came to live in the town. Previously he (Mr Garner) was at Buckingham, where he was secretary of a young men’s Bible Class and organist at the Band of Hope, so that the work did not come strange to him when he came to Olney. Having paid a tribute to his father and mother, to whom he owed so much, he said when he first entered the Cowper Memorial Church there were 92 names on the church register, only two of whom now remained – Mr John Swain and Mrs Ward. Some of the happiest times of his life had been spent in connection with the work of that church and the North Bucks Congregational Union. When his father left Olney he was appointed a deacon of the church, and Mr Ruff was appointed to similar office about the same time. The first happy time he recalled was when he attended as a delegate of that church the North Bucks Congregational Union meeting at Buckingham, a journey which had to be made in a horse and cart. Just before entering Buckingham they stopped to put on top hats and frocks, the orthodox style of dress in those days. At that meeting the Olney Church was recommended a grant of £16, but the minister and himself refused it, and they had not had a grant since. Twenty one years later, on that platform, the Sunday school teachers made him a presentation of a Bible.

The next happy time was when he was appointed assistant secretary of that church to Mr Field, a position he held for 28 years. Speaking of the North Bucks Congregational Union, he said it was in 1819 that the Rev John Morris, of Olney, went to preach at Buckingham, and it was 92 years before the Union came to Olney for its chairman, and that honour fell to himself. Not only was it an honour to him personally, but it brought honour to that church. That was the time when Mr Roberts was their minister, a man who did a great work in the Cowper Memorial Church. Thirty-one years ago this week Mr Roberts took him to the May meetings of the Congregational Union in London, and it was the pride of his life when he found he had a seat reserved for him in the Memorial Hall. Among other happy times recalled by Mr Garner was a birthday party when an envelope contribution realised £27/2/-, which was devoted to the funds of the church; the jolly garden parties at Mill House and the bazaars in the schoolroom; the installation of the electric light to the church and Manse; and to an occasion when he went to Northampton with the Rev. Smith and received the Diploma of Honour for 25 years’ work from the hands of the then Mayor, Ald. Beattie.

He recalled also the occasion when at the North Bucks Congregational Union meeting at Whaddon he was presented with the Roll of Honour for 50 years’ work in the church and Sunday School. In the church at Olney he had served in various offices under eight ministers, 14 organists, 12 caretakers, and he himself had served as caretaker and organ blower. Following the departure of the Rev Webb and the coming of the Rev Evans, he made just over 50 journeys in his car and travelled 1,082 miles to fetch ministers to take the Sunday services. He had seen the church experience its ups and downs, but he had never left it, and he was not going to leaves it. (Applause.) He was retiring from active service but he would still be pleased to do what he could for the church. He appreciated their kindness to him and he would always value their gifts, but if they wanted to make him really happy there was only one way in which they could do it – by regular attendance at church. He asked them to do the best they could for their church, be loyal to it, and be proud of their place of worship and their Sunday schools.

Finally, Mr Garner expressed his thanks to Miss Gudgin, Miss Smith, Miss Hoddle and Mr Ruff; also to those who had provided refreshments and Mrs Johnson for presiding at the organ.


Mr J J Garner, on extreme left, with group outside Ravenstone Chapel – October 1931


Should you have any comments on this article, please contact us at

Visit the next page – Mr J J Garner’s Funeral

Copyright © 2010 Olney & District Historical Society

Comments are closed.