Philippe Filleul

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Philippe Filleul (1792-1875) was a controversial Rector of St Helier, a parish he served for 25 years. Although twice nominated as Dean he was never appointed. During his tenure he opened new churches in St Helier and divided the parish into a number of ecclesiastical districts.

Early years

The son of another Philippe, a St Clement farmer, and Elizabeth Nicolle, he was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford, with the help of a grant from the Don Baudains and after obtaining his MA in 1820, he went first to Guernsey as a curate for six months, and then to St Helier to assist the Dean, Edouard Dupre. He was appointed Rector of St Brelade in 1818, and married Catherine Elizabeth Blanche Valpy, daughter of Reading Grammar School headmaster Richard Valpy.

He moved to St Peter as Rector and quickly made his mark, campaigning for the abolition of Sunday elections, and clashing with Methodist preacher Daniel Robin in public debates.

Despite twice being nominated by the Governor as Dean, he was overlooked by the Crown, and moved to St Saviour in 1848 and St Helier two years later, where he remained until his death.

Divided parish

He saw a need for new churches to serve the rapidly growing population, but it was his decision to create separate ecclesiastical districts which upset many of his parishioners. He hired a carpenter's shop in Castle Street to be used as a mission church, leading to the construction of the first St Andrew's Church on the Esplanade, and bought Chapelle Sion, a dissenting chapel in Union Street, establishing it as St Jude's Church, with his Curate Thomas Le Neveu in charge.

But he soon clashed with Le Neveu, who attracted many of the Rector's congregation and upset him with his support for non-Conformists. Filleul withdrew Le Neveu in 1860, but the Churchwardens refused to allow his replacement to preach, and when Filleul decided to lead services himself, the congretation would walk out, and he had to appeal for police protection when younger members of the community followed him home and shouted at him and threw stones.

Despite the Bishop of Winchester siding with Le Neveu, the church was closed, until it was needed as temporary accommodation for the congregation of the parish church while it was being restored. This much-needed restoration project became Filleul's next problem, as the Parish Assembly refused one set of plans after another and voted down the Rector's attempt to abolish the system of private ownership of pews.

Even when the delayed project was completed in 1868 Filleul's problems were not over, because his detractors accused him of including Popish devices such as the font inside the door and cupboards in the vestry which could be used as confessionals.

Sheep investment

To finance the expensive restoration project Filleul persuaded many parishioners and his own colleagues in the church to invest in a sheep farm run by his two youngest sons in New Zealand. The investors were to receive a handsome return of 5 per cent on their money with any surplus going to the church. In the first two years, returns of 18 and 22 per cent kept everybody happy, but then the market slumped. Filleul's pleas for patience fell on deaf ears, but eventually the market recovered and every investor was repaid with a bonus before Filleul died.

Even after his death controversy lingered on, because he made no provision in his will for the disposal of St Jude's, which was his own personal property. The church was left abandoned and derelict, and when the roof fell in, the property was sold by his eldest son and the proceeds donated to the parish to form the basis of an endowment fund in his father's memory.

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