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No time to rust...

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Document of the Month - January 2019

William Francis, Dean's VergerChrist Church Archives P.SOC xxi.c.2

On 3 January 1938, Christ Church mourned the passing of William Francis, the Dean’s Verger, aged 97.

Francis was born on 17 July 1840 in Reading, the son of a carpenter. Narrowly saved from joining the Navy by his quick-witted mother, he began to train as a carpenter with his father but when Francis senior began to suffer from rheumatism brought on by an earlier accident, there was no hope of an apprenticeship for William, so the boy took a position as a ‘sweater’ (a scout’s boy) at Winchester College. He was at the school for four years, hearing often from the boys about Oxford and determined that he was going to get there one day.

In 1859, somehow he heard that Dean Liddell, who had been appointed in 1855, needed a footman. Francis applied and was accepted for the job. And so began a long and eventful career at Christ Church.

After four years as the Dean’s footman, and after toying very briefly with a career as a warder at Winchester Gaol, Francis became an Under-porter and Library Keeper.

One of his duties was to toll the 101 every night at 9.05pm, and another was to rise at 5am every morning during the spring and summer to scythe the grass in Tom Quad.

Just a year later, in 1867, Francis was made canons’ verger (as well as retaining all his other posts), and later he was appointed Dean’s Verger, the first of only four men to hold the post in the twentieth century.

Memorial to William FrancisFrancis was at Christ Church throughout the changes to the constitution in 1867 and the restoration of the cathedral in the 1870s.

Dean Duppa’s screens, fitted in the 1630s, were still in place when he began his career in the cathedral. The north and south choir aisles were fitted up for the families of the dean (on the south side) and canons (on the north) to attend services – squashed into dark corners and unable to see the conduct of the service at all.

In 1925, when King George V and Queen Mary came to visit the House as part of the quatercentenary celebrations, Francis was introduced to the monarch and recounted that he had known the King’s father as an undergraduate and remembered the visit of Queen Victoria to Oxford in 1860.

Asked for the secret of his long life and continuing good health, Francis acknowledged his good fortune in possessing an excellent constitution but recommended moderation in all things and ‘perpetual motion’; by continued activity, he said, there was no time to rust!  He retired in 1934, having served Christ Church for more than seventy years.