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A Brief History


by by
Rev. Donald Elliott Bernard Pike



James Fraser, repaired photo print

Early in 1914 Dr. John Oman of Westminster College, Cambridge, invited the Revd James Fraser to accept a Call from the Trinity congregation. Mr. Fraser, a colleague and friend of David Anderson while at Westminster College, had meanwhile been assistant minister in affluent Egremont, Liverpool, and was currently minister in genteel Bexhill-on-Sea. In 1914, James Fraser felt compelled to change his sphere of service and was inducted at Camden Town in April 1914 - for three years to begin with.  In the end, he was to spend two long periods in Camden, amounting to 36 years in all.

As a 1966 newspaper obituary put it, ‘Belonging by birth and upbringing to the upper strata of society, he spent his life and substance in the service of the poorest with whom he identified himself and his home.’  The obituary is headed ‘Rev James Fraser, clergyman, pacifist and social reformer’. 

He was Scots and Irish by descent, and a Londoner by birth and schooling. A somewhat florid profile penned for the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1938 describes James Fraser as having ‘the physique of a blond beast’ with ‘the muscular walls of the rowing man’, yet ‘very sensitive, essentially gentle’, and with a ‘prophet’s consciousness of the… wrongs and dangers of his time’,  ‘a practical mind that… grounds itself on facts’, ‘a store of laughter’ and ‘a gift for delicate fooling’.  Mrs Fraser is depicted as ‘a cultured girl and a lover of beauty’.  ‘Together they did the church work and the house chores, chasing one another round the table on cold mornings to keep warm’(!)  (From Our New Moderator, 1938, author unkown)

At first James and Madge Fraser, who had married in 1911, lived in Camden High Street (over Bowman’s the furniture retailers, now Waterstone’s etc).  Later on, they moved to a ‘bug-infested’ house in Clarence Road, opposite The Victory public house. On their home visits, the Frasers would often carry paraffin and brush to exterminate bugs, the result of their own necessary researches into effective eradication at home!  The Frasers kept open house with food and cocoa available to all comers. 

The Frasers brought with them committed concerns for peace and justice in both industrial and international affairs. They were also enthusiasts for physical exercise such as rowing, sailing and country dancing! At the Girls’ Club, Mrs Fraser would take off her coat and join in the drills. In the street, all the barrow boys were known to Mr Fraser. 

In 1916 the life of the congregation was hugely strengthened by the arrival of Miss Lesley Griffith as Church Sister. When she married in 1920, her successor was Miss Iris McCrea, later to become Mrs. Woods.  She lived in a little house on Buck Street. 

The first World War saw the demise of the Boys Brigade Company.  In its place, Mr Fraser started a Boys Club on Friday evenings. A Girls Club – called the Sunshine Club – also began. Members of the Frognal church helped with play hours and clubs over many years.  Gymnastics, cricket and tennis were prominent activities. 

Previous to 1914, part of Hawley Crescent School was hired for the Sunday School.  There were about 400 children.   From 1920 the Sunday School met in two groups (with 5 sections) at 2.30 and 3.30 respectively. 

Early on, James Fraser introduced into regular Sunday morning worship the ‘conference’ at which a member of the church would introduce a topic and then have it discussed by the adult congregation.  Records exist from 1918 and indicate the range of the conference, from The Church’s Task to Trades Unions, from Household Work to the League of Nations.  The month’s topics were advertised in advance by leaflet with the key questions and Bible passages given for advance thought.  The practice was maintained into the World War II period.  It was no doubt profoundly educational, and led to deep commitments. 

During the 1920s and the period of mass unemployment, the church opened its doors to the Hunger Marchers from the North of the country.  Many dossed down in the upstairs room.

In the thirties, as the rumours of further war with Germany increased, James Fraser’s pacifist commitment became a rallying point for many in the congregation who would become Conscientious Objectors to military service in World War II.  Ethel (‘Ettie’) Stuckey recalls the occasion in 1937 when Mr Fraser, in an effort to avert hostilities, invited a group of Nazi officers to speak and answer questions at the church.  Later, Stan Stuckey was to see service as a ‘C.O.’ in the heavy rescue of blitzed buildings