Biography of Christophe Chavasse
HERITAGE NO : 207
Reverend Christopher Maude Chavasse by Alex Service
Nicknamed "The Flying Curate" Christopher Chavasse was a clergyman who, after graduating from Oxford University, was ordained in 1910 and appointed to the St Helens Parish Church staff. This former Liverpool RU player played mostly in the `A` Team as an amateur.
Christopher made his debut for the first team in the 24 points to 2 home victory over Hunslet on the 2nd. January, 1910. He scored a crucial try in this match and followed up a week later in the narrow 11 points to 10 victory against Swinton at Knowsley Road. His third and final try came in the 26 points to 15 home win against Coventry on February 4th. 1910.
Christopher Maude Chavasse, together with his twin brother Noel, was born on 9th November 1884, entered the church and in 1913 became Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of Liverpool. Prior to that he was the Curate at the Parish Church in St.Helens and had a distinguished sporting pedigree. He was an England lacrosse international and both he and his brother took part in the athletics during the 1908 Olympic Games in London. An Oxford Blue, he played rugby union, but wanted to empathise with his parishioners and so he turned out for St.Helens at the thirteen a side code. He was good too, a pacy winger who could score tries if given even the slightest opportunity.
The Flying Curate as he became known scored three tries in six matches for the Saints. Yet his biggest moment was to end in total embarrassment. Chavasse was selected for the home match against Wakefield Trinity on 21 January 1911. On the day over ten thousand packed into the ground. Yet spectators only counted twelve St.Helens players when they entered the playing arena. Chavasse appeared to be missing. The game kicked off and Wakefield soon coasted into an 8-0 lead. Reserve Sam Daniels went on, with Butcher Prescott put on the wing.
After half an hour a figure in a blue and black hooped jersey vaulted over the fence and rushed onto the field. It was Chavasse. This did not go down at all well with the referee, who sent him off and later reported him for un-gentlemanly conduct, not having first sought the referee`s permission to enter the field of play. The Yorkshiremen eventually won 18-8 and Chavasse became the talk of the town after his initial no show.
The following week`s local papers were full of the story and Chavasse himself made a statement explaining his late arrival: "The whole thing was a fearful mull on my part and I accept full responsibility for it. I had been up the previous night preparing a sermon and after lunch I sat in my chair in front of the fire running through it when I dozed off. I rushed to Headquarters to find the dressing room doors locked and everyone gone to the match. I obtained the keys and sent for a cab while I dressed but they had to harness the horse and when I reached the ground it was only to find I could not play."
What made matters worse was that the game was patronised by members of the Northern Union Committee who had come over to be formally introduced to the Earl of Derby. However, things were soon forgotten and Christopher soon had more important matters to attend to rather than on the rugby field. On the outbreak of World War One, Christopher volunteered and was serving as an Army Chaplain by the end of August 1914. In 1918 Christopher Chavasse became Deputy Assistant General 9th Corps, when he was wounded and awarded the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for gallantry. His twin brother Noel also became a double VC. Christopher married in 1919, having five children. After leaving the Army, he continued in the church, eventually becoming Bishop of Rochester. Christopher Chavasse died in March 1962, at the age of 77 and is buried in Oxford, his home city.
In the St. Helens Newspaper on Saturday 20th May 1961, there was an article about the Bishop, just after Saints had lifted the Challenge Cup. He wrote a letter to Councillor Rex Winter praising the team`s cup winning performance. The letter is reproduced below.
I must thank you again for letting me have the opportunity of witnessing a magnificent game at Wembley and of helping to cheer on the Saints to a well-deserved victory.
It was a glorious spectacle. The tackling was fierce and the best I have ever seen, and yet the play was clean and without injury. I think the second try was the best moment I can remember having seen on the football field.
Everyone admitted that St. Helens were the better side. I was so glad to be privileged to see it and I so enjoyed sitting among a crowd of Lancashire people once more. I listened with pleasure to the talk and characteristic jokes. It was a wonderful match to watch and thrilling to me because of my old association with the Saints 50 years ago.
Will you tender my most cordial congratulations to the present-day Saints on this magnificent performance.
As part of the World Cup celebrations in St Helens in 2022, the Parish Church carried a biography of Christopher as part of a rugby league pictorial display and it is reproduced here, with more facts about his amazing life.
Christopher Chavasse OBE MC TC was born in Oxford, Christopher and was the son of Francis Chavasse, Founder of St Peters College Oxford. A graduate of Oxford University, together with his twin brother Noel, he was an accomplished athlete, who took part in the 1908 London Olympics as a sprinter.
An Oxford Blue and England lacrosse international, he was ordained in 1910 and appointed Curate at St Helens Parish Church. He played rugby league for St Helens RFC as an amateur, making 6 senior appearances on the wing and he scored 3 tries. Christopher was also a regular in Saints’ reserve team.
He later served with distinction in the First World War before becoming the Bishop of Rochester and always followed the fortunes of his former team, attending the 1961 Challenge Cup final against Wigan. He died in 1962 aged 77. He was also remembered for falling asleep after writing a sermon and missing the team’s wagonette up to the Knowsley Road ground for a match against Wakefield Trinity on 21 January 1911. He arrived at the ground with the game in progress and promptly vaulted over the fence onto the pitch where he was duly sent off by the referee, as he had not asked for permission to enter the field of play.
This is what he had to say to the local press after his failure to show:
"The whole thing was a fearful mull on my part and I accept full responsibility for it. I had been up the previous night preparing a sermon and after lunch I sat in my chair in front of the fire running through it when I dozed off. I rushed to Headquarters to find the dressing room doors locked and everyone gone to the match. I obtained the keys and sent for a cab while I dressed but they had to harness the horse and when I reached the ground it was only to find I could not play."
What made matters worse was that the game was patronised by members of the Northern Union Committee who had come over to be formally introduced to the Earl of Derby.
Other facts about Christopher Chavasse are mentioned here:
At the outbreak of World War One, he volunteered for military duty and was serving as an Army Chaplain by the end of August 1914. In 1918 he became Deputy Assistant General 9th Corps, when he was wounded and awarded the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for gallantry. His twin brother Noel also became a double VC.
Christopher married in 1919 and had five children.
Christopher’s brother, Dr Francis Bernard Chavasse, died in a motor car accident in Liverpool in 1941.
The Bishop’s eldest son, Noel, won the Military Cross with the Eighth Army in the Middle East and became ADC to General Montgomery.
Christopher was consecrated as the new Bishop of Rochester by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1940.
He took his seat in the House of Lords in November 1945. He was sponsored by the Bishops of Lichfield and Manchester.
In August 1939 a motorboat overturned off the Giant’s Causeway and trapped 9 people, including the Bishop’s wife and family. While he was lifting the boat a great wave brought it down on his leg on the rocks. The leg was amputated 4 years later.
|Season (Official Matches)||Tries||Goals||DGoals||Matches|
|Season (Other Matches)||Tries||Goals||DGoals||Matches|
|2nd Jan 1911||1||
|7th Jan 1911||2||
|28th Jan 1911||3||
|4th Feb 1911||4||
|11th Feb 1911||5||
|18th Feb 1911||6||
|*Unofficial Match. **Non Playing Sub.|
|WINS : 4 | LOSSES : 1 | DRAWS : 1|
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