MEMORY LANE: Tale of a miner-turned-missionary sparks interest

INDIAN ADVENTURE: James Parkinson who swapped Blackhall for missionary work in West Bengal in the 1950s. Here he is in Blackhall as a young man and in his later life
INDIAN ADVENTURE: James Parkinson who swapped Blackhall for missionary work in West Bengal in the 1950s. Here he is in Blackhall as a young man and in his later life

IT didn’t take long for the public to react to our story on miner-turned-missionary James Parkinson.

Last week, we told how James swapped life down the pit at Blackhall Colliery for vital work in an area of West Bengal.

Within hours of our publication, his daughter Margo Rutter told us more about the dad she describes as “a man with great integrity.”

She said she had written a book called Coals to Calcutta: The True Story of the Daughter of a Preacher Man, which is about the life of her father.

It tells the tale of a man who made a difference to thousands of people both in England and in India.

And as well as helping others, who also had the momentous memory of meeting one of the world’s most influential figures.

Margo said her father met a young Mother Teresa when she was setting up leprosy clinics. It was fitting really as part of James own work was to educate and improve the health of the children of West Bengal.

But let’s turn the clock back further.

James left school at 14 to work at Blackhall Colliery. Four years later, he first felt the urge to join a ministry.

Our original report on James in 1958 said: “This meant long hours of self-education at the colliery but he passed his local preachers’ examinations and went on the Horden circuit.”

He moved to Yorkshire and to a mining community in Sheffield where he was minister of a church on a new housing estate.

It was during a stay at Rotherham that he became increasingly interested in missionary work. To prepare, he studied Eastern religions at St Andrew’s College, in Birmingham, and then moved to India with his wife in 1954.

He was posted to the industrial township of Barrackpore which was a few miles from Calcutta.

Later he became the superintendent of the Mills Area Mission Circuit, and had under his charge, five churches over a 20-mile area. He had 150 Christians in his care and felt that, among his most important work, was to educate the children.

Upon his return to England, he moved to Southall in Middlesex where he stayed for 16 years before retiring to Worcestershire to be near his family. He continued to preach almost up to his death in October 1999.

Margo said her father had been in Southall at the time of the troubles in the 1970s and was an active supporter of non-violent protest. “He was a compassionate man with great integrity. He was also a progressive man who was very much about community and about justice. He worked in quite a few circuits in Yorkshire as well as when he was in India.”

Our thanks go to Margo for getting in touch and we would love to hear from more people willing to share their family stories. Contact Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377 or email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk