Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Yet another pub - and Woodbine Willie


OK, so this is not a pub, but it is part of Liverpool’s musical heritage. Once Great George Street Church, it attracted major speakers to its pulpit including the famous Woodbine Willie who Mum heard there in the 1920s. Later on the church was to become a major arts centre for the area- The Blackie - Great Georges Community Cultural Project.

Woodbine Willie, born Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy in 1883, was a charismatic parson who made religion live for many of the soldiers in the First World War. Intensely disliked by the conservative majority in the church he would begin his lectures with comments like "I know what you're thinking - here comes another bloody parson..." Using language and examples to which his listeners could relate he popularised religion in a way that few had done before. (Sound familiar? Didn't Jesus do that with his parables!). Born in Leeds of Irish origins he became an army chaplain at the outbreak of the war and is said to have personally given away nearly 9 million cigarettes during his tours of the trenches. He even won the Military Cross for his (unarmed) action under fire.

In 1929, although he was sick, he went to Liverpool on one of his many preaching engagements and died there on 8th March. As his body was being taken across the Mersey by ferry, somebody stepped forward and laid a packet of Woodbines on his coffin.

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