George Balleine biography

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George Balleine:
A biography

George Philip Balleine.jpg

This biography of George Balleine, author of the Biographical Dictionary of Jersey, is taken from the second volume of that Dictionary, edited by Francis Corbet, who also wrote this article.

Early life

The eldest of the four sons and two daughters of the Rev George Orange Balleine, later Dean of Jersey, Rector of Saint Helier and Honorary Canon of Winchester Cathedral, and of Florence Gardner, his wife, George was born on 1 April 1873 in Bletchington, near Oxford, where his father was rector at the time. He was educated by his father, an eminent Oxford scholar and tutor, until the age of twelve, then went to Jersey to live with his grandfather at Mon Plaisir, La Haule, attending first Mr Vibert's Grammar School at Saint Aubin, and then briefly Victoria College.

A high-spirited boy, he was sent in 1886 to Marlborough School as a boarder, but after two years returned to Victoria College in 1888, when the family came to live in Jersey upon the appointment of his father as Dean.

In 1890 he won the Queen's History Prize and, following his father's footsteps, went to Queen's College, Oxford, where he read Modern History, took a second-class degree, and, being too young for ordination, stayed on for a year to read Theology — later regretting that he had not instead accepted the scholarship offered by Wycliffe Hall, which would have trained him for his future work.


He acknowledged the deep impression made upon him by the American evangelist, Moody, in his Oxford Mission. Eager to embark on serious social work, he applied in 1896 for a curacy in the East End of London, the area in which he was to spend 38 of his 42 years of full-time ministry. Ordained deacon in Saint Paul's Cathedral in 1896, and priest in 1897, he was curate to the Rector of Whitechapel for two years.

Plunging at once into open-air preaching, work in a men's club and in a mission room, he found full scope for his zeal in evangelistic and social work, as well as ample justification for his socialist views. With the arrival of a new rector, he moved to a small parish between Hoxton and South Islington, and then to surburban Saint Paul's, Upper Norwood, where he did some teaching in church schools, becoming assistant diocesan inspector for church schools for the whole of South London.


In 1904 he married Ethel May Tierney Keddie, of Scottish parentage, a member of Saint Paul's congregation. He accepted the post of metropolitan secretary of the Church Pastoral Aid Society, with offices in Fleet Street. For four years he promoted all kinds of church activities and preached both to rich and to poor congregations, raising funds to enable large parishes to engage curates and lay workers.

In 1908 he was appointed Vicar of Saint James's, Bermondsey, a Thames-side parish of some 17,000 people, where, on 1 May 1908, Dorothy May, his only child, was born. He remained there for 30 years, until his retirement. He was already well acquainted with the borough, having made a film there in 1907 depicting the religious needs of the area.

The church had a seating capacity of 1,600 and was a magnificent building, being one of the 21 'Waterloo' churches restored as part of the nation's thank-offering for the end of the French wars.

Balleine took over a staff of eight and a large team of volunteers, including 30 Sunday-school teachers. The people were for the most part indifferent to religion, and many new methods were tried, induced and sustained by Balleine's writing versatility.

He wrote many plays for performance in the church with participation by the congregation. One performed on the steps of the church one evening attracted an audience of 3,000. A parish magazine with the title Cheerio was successfully launched.

His work was recognised in 1925 by his appointment as Rural Dean of Bermondsey, and in 1934, when he was made an alderman on the Borough Council.

Early in his career his love of history led him to write A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England which was published in 1908 and often reprinted, followed in 1913 by an equally popular work, The Layman's History of the Church of England.

Believing that the Munich Settlement in 1938 had averted war, he retired to Jersey in November of that year and lived at La Sarsonnerie, Saint Brelade, which he had inherited from his uncle, Frank Balleine. His wife chose not to accompany him immediately and only arrived in the Island in 1946, having been prevented from coming sooner by the German Occupation.

Family tree


Balleine family tree

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In January 1939 he was appointed honorary librarian of La Société Jersiaise, his first task being the cataloguing of the society's store of historical material. This set him on the path of writing Jersey history, which he did extensively during the ensuing 20 years, retrieving much that might otherwise have remained in oblivion.

He was painstaking in the preparation of his material, had a gift of phrase, and his happy personality permeated his terse and lucid style.

Throughout the German Occupation he was curate-in-charge of Saint Aubin's Church and, upon the death in 1942 of his cousin the Rev John Arthur Balleine, Rector of Saint Brelade, he became ministre desservant of that parish.

'G R', as he was familiarly known, was in later life a patriarchal figure, with a large stature and white beard. He was a familiar sight to members of the Societe, generally to be found presiding at the long table in the old Societe library, a regular and popular visiting preacher in many churches and a popular part-time teacher of religious education in some schools.

In 1946 he became the first editor of The Pilot, the Island's revived Anglican Church magazine which, as The Church Messenger, had been suppressed by the Germans. He devoted half of each issue to historical subjects. During 1948-1951 his three major works on Jersey were published: A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey, a History of Jersey and The Bailiwick of Jersey. He also continued to write on religious subjects. His biographies of Philippe d'Auvergne and of Sir George Carteret were published posthumously, the latter by the Societe, of which he was made Membre d'Honneur in 1955.

He died on 2 January 1966 and his ashes were buried in Saint Brelade's Churchyard. He was survived by his daughter, Dorothy May.

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