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.
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’.
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)
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
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.
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
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.
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’)
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