Canon Jack Bell

Jack Bell was born in 1923 in Blackburn, his parents were mill workers at the time but later they owned and ran a grocery store. He attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and left in 1941 with Higher School Certificate in science subjects. He applied to join the RAF but failed the medical- he never knew why exactly as he was a keen footballer. He got a job in a local chemicals factory so when summoned to do war work, told them he was a Pharmacist. The authorities told him that was a reserved profession, so he should continue in it. Later he heard that the official had written down that he was a Farm Assistant! He spent the rest of the war working in chemical production needed for the war effort in Runcorn and Springfields (now part of UKAEA). In 1945 he studied at night school and obtained a B.Sc in chemistry in 1949. Now working for ICI, he gave up a promising career in chemistry to join China Inland Mission (Hudson Taylor’s mission society) and attended their college in London for a year, learning Mandarin. I remember he told me that the worst thing about CIM was that they had to go to a Chinese restaurant once a week- in 1949, many people would have thought that the highlight of the week! Dad never ate Chinese food again after leaving the college! He would have gone out to China in 1950 but the revolution in China intervened, all British missionaries were expelled and soon CIM halted field placements. After a short time on the staff of St. Mark’s Haydock, he felt called to the ministry and was accepted into Oak Hill Theological College in 1951.

CIM had told all members of the mission that they could not marry as it was not safe to take a family to China, so Dad entertained no romantic thoughts. But now free of that, he asked Elsie Holden to marry him and they were married in 1955 just before Dad took up a curacy in Oldham. His first parish as Rector was St. Jerome and St. Silas, Ardwick, Manchester. This was a parish of terraced houses and a lot of poverty. Dad helped run a tramp shelter under a railway arch and on Saturdays would call at local shops to collect leftover food for the shelter. The church had a very large but rather dilapidated hall, built in 1912 to accommodate 800 Sunday School children but I remember that I was one of about 90 Sunday School children in the 1960’s, so we had plenty of space. Most of the parish of St Jerome’s has now been demolished and rebuilt, and the old 19th century street names are gone.

In 1969 we moved to St. John’s Mosley Common where Dad was vicar of St. John’s church until he retired in 1989, that was his longest period at a church. In Mosley Common there is a church school and Dad was on very good terms with the headteacher Geoff Swift, some of whose relatives are members of Christ Church Stone. He started Sunday School during morning services. At St. John’s he also started house groups which helped many in their faith. After retiring from Mosley Common my parents moved to Kendal where he helped lead services in rural churches in Ings, Crook and Helsington, and then spent six years in Stone where they attended Christ Church until 2017 when their health declined. My parents’ last years were spent in The Chimes care home in Penkhull where they were well looked after.

Dave Bell