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1891: Celebration of the life of Haywards Heath's first vicar

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 03 March 1891


Scarcely had daybreak dawned at Haywards Heath on Friday when the passing bell of St Wilfrid's Church announced to the inhabitants that their vicar, the Rev R. E. Wyatt, was no more, having passed away about 11:30 the night before. At first the news was received with some incredulity, for it was not widely known that the Rev gentleman was sick unto death but when it became realised many and widespread –from all classes, Church people and nonconformists– were the genuine expressions of deep sympathy the sad intelligence evoked.

The event was almost entirely overlooked for, as the Vicar was among his people to the last. He had preached at St Wilfrid's church on the Sunday morning previous, and was to have occupied the pulpit at the Wednesday evening service had not the effects of a severe cold from which he had been suffering returned and prevented him from fulfilling his intention. By Thursday evening the deceased seemed much better, and a sleep on his couch greatly refreshed him. Soon after he retired to rest, between 11 and 12, he was seized with a sudden fainting fit, and fell, passing away in a few minutes from heart disease, in the presence of Mrs Wyatt. Other members of the family were at once summoned, but nothing could be done for the vicar, who was quite dead.

The reverend gentlemen, who had ministered at Haywards Heath for over 35 years, was well known among his clerical brethren, and greatly esteemed by the residents of Haywards Heath, by whom his death is greatly lamented. The Rev Robert Edward Wyatt, who was born on June 3, 1829, was the fourth son of Mr Thomas Wyatt of Willenhall, Warwickshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of Mr William J. Reeves. Mr Wyatt graduated at Exeter College, Oxford, obtaining his B.A. degree in 1852, and that of M. A. in 1859. He was ordained deacon in 1852, and priest in 1853 by Bishop Lonsdale, of Litchfield, in whose dioceses he excepted his first curacy ,vis, at Sheen, a small parish about 9 miles from Leek, Staffordshire, where he ministered three years. From Staffordshire he came to Sussex, as curate to the late rev T. A. Maberly, vicar of Cuckfield, in 1855, and was appointed curate in charge of the district of Haywards Heath.

At that period the now populous locality was nothing less than a wild heathland, and the few inhabitants had to go to Cuckfield to engage in the full privileges of public worship. On Mr Wyatt’s appointment to this unpromising charge he carried on services in a large workshop standing on the site of Hengistbury, at the end of what is now called Paddockhall Road, but then known as Dolphin Lane. The next step was the erection of a school chapel. It was an accomplishment of some difficulty, but the great energy of Mr Wyatt with the assistance of the late Misses Dealtry, of Bolnore, enabled him to overcome the obstacles, and the first portion off the present St Wilfrid's schools was built. From this step, mr Wyatt persevered with such happy and blessed results as to be encouraged to undertake the erection of a Church, and on st Wilfrid's day (October 12th) 1863, the cornerstone of St Wilfrid's church was laid by Miss Dealtry, the architect being mr G. F. Bodley, and the builder Mr Fabian of Brighton. The design of the tower is of the old Sussex character, and the building cost £6000, exclusive of the site and stone, which were gifts, the latter being quarried at Birch Green, just outside the boundary of Haywards Heath, on the Lewes road, in the parish of Wivelsfield.

Charles Tucker writes:- Prior to the railway coming in 1841, Haywards Heath consisted of a few farms, and labourers houses. Haywards Heath as we know it radiated out from the railway station. This picture of St Wilfrids Church was painted in 1865 by F. W. Weledge and would appear to show the view from Church Road looking in the direction of Victoria Park, in those days known as Pannett's Meadow. Prior to the church being built there was a windmill just to the North of the church, (to the right of the church in this picture

Standing on a hill, the church of St Wilfrid forms a prominent landmark, and moreover is situated in the exact Centre of the county. St Boniface's day (June 5th), 1865, witnessed its consecration by the late Dr Gilbert, Bishop of Chichester, successor of that St Wilfrid after whom it is dedicated; and in the course of the following year the ecclesiastical parish of St Wilfrid was formally separated from Cuckfield and mr Wyatt became the first vicar. Up to the day of his death Mr Wyatt was ever anxious to beautify the church he so dearly loved. Vestries have been built, an organ erected, stained glass windows inserted, a peal of tubular bells hung in the tower, and a brass eagle lectern (a Congregational Jubilee offering of 1887) placed in the church.

The east window, it may be mentioned, is a memorial to the late vicar’s mother who died on May 12, 1867, whilst the vestries were erected at the cost all Miss C. Ernuin, a neice of the Rev R. E. Wyatt, in memory of her father and mother. It was one of the reverend gentlemen's most ardent wishes to complete the organ, which was built by Gern, of London.

Equal to his love for St Wilfrid Church was that he evinced for St Wilfrid's schools, which have been added to from time to time as the increased population required, while their efficiency has raised them among the best conducted National schools in the diocese. It is a well known fact that the deceased clergyman was a staunch supporter of the voluntary school system, regarding it not only as a great religious gain, Bart and the equally great social help and bond of unity. In his opinion there was no better form of doing good, and none so richly blessed of God, than a loving care of the young, and throughout the 35 years he was at Haywards Heath he looked upon this as a “first duty”.

In addition to St Wilfrid's Church and schools, the vicar had an iron mission room, known as the Chapel of the presentation, in the new England Road, where Sunday services, a school etc, are held, their room and district being more especially under the care of the Rev T. G. Wyatt and Miss Otter (Lindfield). There are many other parochial organisations in connection with St Wilfrid's, most of which owe their creation to mr Wyatt's labours and careful administration, his loss being and all but irreparable one. In the last few years his efforts have been warmly supported by his curates–the Rev T. G. Wyatt (his eldest son) and the Rev F. H. Talbot– the former having assisted him for 12 years and the latter for 11. As the income of the living is only £152 with a house, it may indeed well be said that their late Vicar’s labours have been labours of love, and that he did all that lay in his power to meet the difficulties of his position. In the services at his church he always had large congregations, although not and eloquent preacher of the Liddon type.

The late vicar was a surrogate for the Diocese of Chichester, a member of the Chichester Diocesan Association, and a representative of his rural deanery (Lewes III) on the Diocesan conference. On the death of mr Maberly in 1877, mr Wyatt had the offer of the vicarage of Cuckfield from his bishop, but with noble self-sacrifice he preferred to remain with those among whom he had been labouring for 22 years. In outside and secular meetings he was not of late a prominent figure, and never appeared at political meetings, “not wishing to alienate the sympathies of any portion of his spiritual family.” Such were Mr Wyatt's own words when he attended a meeting of the Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield Conservative Association in January, 1889, to move a vote of condolence with the family of the late admiral the honourable T. A. Pakenham upon his recent death.

But he felt very keenly the attack made up on the church in recent times, and above all the attempts made to injure their voluntary schools, and thereby the cause of definite religious teaching. Upwards of 20 years ago mr Wyatt took a part in the movement which led to the formation of the Haywards Heath local board in 1872, and was one of the first members, sitting till 1880, when he resigned. He was treasurer to the board for some time. In 1887 Mr Wyatt came forward in connection with the Royal Jubilee celebration, and was a member of the committee which carried out the days celebration, the purchase of the recreation ground etc.

One of the most happy memories of Mr Wyatt's life was, perhaps, the presentation made to him some 20 years ago at one of the gatherings of the choral Society, in which he took so deep an interest. The presentation was made by the leading gentry of the district, as some recognition of his services for the benefit of the place, and consisted of a purse of money and a handsome gold watch, which latter the reverend gentleman valued greatly, and was never without, wearing it to the day of his death. The Rev gentleman leaves a numerous family, to whom every sympathy is extended in their sudden bereavement. He was thrice married, his second wife being the sister of Mrs Rush, of Haute Terre, Haywards Heath, whilst his third wife, who survives him, is the daughter of Mr Joseph Busby King, of Haywards Heath. Mr Wyatt's eldest son–the Rev, Thomas Geoffrey Wyatt- as before mentioned, is the senior curate of St. Wilfred’s, whilst the second is Mr Robin C. Wyatt who resides at Tottenham. The late Vicar’s brother, sir William Henry Wyatt is a J. P. and D. L. for Middlesex. The vicarage is in the gift of the Rev Canon Cooper as vicar of Cuckfield.

The funeral will take place at St Wilfrid's church tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. There will be choral celebration of the holy communion at 8 o'clock and the actual interment will take place at seven.

Many thanks to Charles Tucker for the picture image of St Wilfrid's


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