Behind the St. Mary’s Kneelers lie some remarkable stories, none more so than that which commemorates a famous policeman 1997
ST MARY’S KNEELER : A GLORIOUS TRIBUTE TO SIR GEORGE ABBISS & JOY FRANKLIN
On Sunday, 19th October 1997 eleven more church kneelers are to be dedicated at St. Mary’s, making fifty-four in all. Among these most recently completed kneelers is one designed by the late Joy Franklin and dedicated to the memory of Sir George Abbiss; both true Pirton people. ************
Just over 100 years ago Jack and Polly Abbiss lived near Great Green, Jack working as a horse keeper at Walnut Tree Farm. Jack and Polly’s ‘real’ names were John and Mary but these were times when most first names in the village often deviated from those given at baptism. Their home, one of the tied cottages owned by Walnut Tree Farm, was in Bury End (the one nearest The Bury) now owned by Alan and Rita Norgate. The neighbouring one of this pair of cottages, now the home of Juliet and Stewart Alexander, also belonged to the farm. A lovely painting of the old thatched cottage as it was at that time still exists. In 1884 Polly Abbiss gave birth to George, who was to become a most celebrated person.
George certainly had a brother, Charles, who was five years older. They both went to the village school and George was a contemporary of John Thrussell, who later owned the village post office. Although little is known about George’s early working life we do know that on 8th May 1905, aged twenty-one, he joined ‘7’ Division in the Metropolitan Police Force. He pursued this career with great ability and enthusiasm and became only the second officer in the 117 years of the Metropolitan Police to be appointed from the ranks.
By 1929 he became a Superintendent and was in the special team that introduced the police telephone box to most major cities. This important innovation enabled police officers to contact their stations more quickly. In 1934 the Wireless School at Scotland House (the south building of New Scotland Yard) was established under George Abbiss’ leadership. This was the time when telecommunications were making a great leap forward and in 1937 George was instrumental in introducing the 999-emergency service.
In 1930 he became a Chief Constable and in 1933 Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Force. Three years later, on 19th August 1936, he was promoted to Assistant Commissioner. For George to have reached such high office after working his way through the ranks was unique. In Pirton there was great excitement and talk with George Abbiss’ climb to such an important position and village people were justifiably proud of his promotions. Pupils at Pirton school had special interest in his progress, for the school was given a half day’s holiday to celebrate his promotion.
His appointment, published in ‘Police Orders’ dated 28th July 1936 read:
His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to appoint Mr G. Abbiss, O.B.E., Deputy Assistant Commissioner, to be Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police as from 19th August 1936 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Lt. Colonel Sir Percy Laurie, K.C.V.O., C.B.E., D.S.O.
In 1933, the year he became Deputy Assistant Commissioner, he was awarded an OBE and further honoured in 1941 when he received the title Knight of the Order of St. John for his services to the police force and the public.
On 1st September 1908, three years after joining the police force, George had married a Pirton lady, Alice daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Day. Jim Newbury, now living at Sandy but formerly living in our village, can recall Sir George and his wife visiting Alice’s parents who lived at what is now No. 16 Royal Oak Lane, now home of Liz and Peter Harding. Jim Newbury recalls : “I can remember this very large and impressive car being driven up when Sir George came to visit his wife’s parents. I can’t remember the make but I know it was large, black and had a personalised registration plate, GA1”.
We can be sure that holding such a a high office, particularly during the war-torn years in London, must have posed huge problems to George but at every turn his achievements were greatly admired. After forty-one distinguished years in the Metropolitan Force he retired in 1946. At the time of his retirement a glowing tribute to him was published. This included special reference to Sir George’s exceptional memory and his interest in the much neglected history of the police force. The writer stated ‘”His chief claim to fame is that he rose to his present rank (Assistant Commissioner) after joining as a constable. …It’s a long journey, involving nine promotions and requiring an unusual combination of qualities to achieve it”.
Sadly, in the very year that Sir George retired – 1946 – his wife, Alice, died. She was buried in Pirton St. Mary’s churchyard alongside her parents’ grave. Sir George’s parents are also buried at St. Mary’s, his mother died in 1928, his father six year later. Sir George lived for a further twenty years after his wife’s death, having his home in Potters Bar where he died on 6th October 1966, aged 82. He was buried alongside his wife in our churchyard at St. Mary’s.
Joy Franklin was born in, and loved, Pirton. In 1906, the year after George Abbiss joined the police, Joy’s grandfather, Thomas, took over the tenancy of Walnut Tree Farm. which was later to be farmed by Joy’s father, Laurence Franklin. Three generations of the Franklins lived in and gave much to the village.
Joy’s deep love of the village shines from every page of her wonderful book, ‘Memories of Old Joys’, published in 1992. Her recollections of village and farm people whom she knew and grew up with make a lovely book. When it was decided to enrich St. Mary’s with its own kneelers, Joy was one who gave her wholehearted support . She first made a kneeler dedicated to her own beloved Walnut Tree Farm and then made one commemorating ‘The Live and Let Live’ now the home of Fran and Tim Manning .It is not known whether or not Joy ever met Sir George Abbiss, but it is highly likely that she saw him on one of his visits to Pirton. But the link between the Abbiss and Franklin families goes back to the Abbiss cottage in Bury End belonging to Walnut Tree Farm where Joy grew up. Certainly she much admired him for here was a Pirton boy who grew up to become a really important figure. At the beginning of 1996, Joy decided to make a third kneeler, this one to be dedicated to the memory of Sir George Abbiss. Wishing to make sure that every detail was correct, Joy wrote to the Archives Branch of the Metropolitan Police. From Maggie Bird in that department she received great help: pictures of the correct insignia for Sir George’s rank were most important in Joy’s design. She also received information about Sir George’s career and from Clare Baines in the village obtained details of his marriage dates and other historical facts.
Sadly, Joy’s health began to deteriorate, and she moved from her home in Cromwell Way into Pirton Hall Nursing Home. Here she continued with the kneeler and even the day before she died, in October 1996, she was working on it. She had managed virtually all the detail of the kneeler; it was mainly the background that was unfinished. This was kindly completed by Margot Anderson and so the kneeler that commemorates two special Pirton people – Sir George Abbiss and Joy Franklin – will take its place in St. Mary’s. –