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P.H.P. Gutteridge: “Snapshots” from a Son’s Memories

Peter Gutteridge1

Rev. P.H.P. (“Percy”) GutteridgeRev. P.H.P. (“Percy”) Gutteridge

P.H.P. Gutteridge (26 September 1909 — 31 October 1998) was the third of four boys, two others of whom spent much of their lives in full-time ministry. P.H.P. left school at fourteen (I think) and was employed briefly as a railway clerk, before moving to the Methodist Publishing House. Here, he gained experience in all departments of the firm, and had a probable destiny in management, had it not been for the fact that he was already active as a lay-preach­er, and soon had responsibility for a chapel in Walthamstowe, London.

After World War II (during which he performed fire-watch duties in central London), Percy undertook training for full-time ministry. A succession of posts in the Holiness movement (Calvary Holiness Church, Independent Holiness Movement, and Church of the Nazarene) was accompanied by continued study, further spiritual development, teaching at Bible Colleges, and evangelisation, notably on the “Blitz Site” in Central Manchester. The conviction that the Pentecostal Church had much to contribute, especially regarding doctrines concerning the Holy Ghost, led to the establishment of Gorton Church in Manchester (about 1958), a church that still thrives today. Among those attracted by his preaching on the “Blitz Site” were leaders of the International Society for the Evangelization of the Jews, and it was this organisation that urged him to extend his ministry to Canada and the USA.

A Self-Taught Man with a Sharp Mind

PHPG was essentially a self-taught man, and self-education remained a theme throughout his long life. Those who knew him will testify to his amazing memory and vast general knowledge (as illustrated when he won the General Knowledge prize on the liner Queen Mary taking him to New York). Reading was a lifelong occupation, and means of recreation.

All his life he was a most fervent admirer of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and the journals of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield were among his most treasured possessions. A visitor to the home would be immediately struck by the large book collection, and careful observation would reveal the homemade bookshelves many times adapted to fit a variety of houses.

A Handy Man and Willing Worker

Surprisingly for such a bookish person, he had also a very practical bent, undertaking building, electrical, and other tasks around the house, and also applying his practical skill to his sons’ haircuts, shoe repairs, and even the making of fireworks for November the 5th celebration [Guy Fawkes Day].

One glorious enterprise he initiated at his big (Holiness) church in Manchester (the “Tabernacle”) was the restoration of the disused pipe organ, which had been damaged by bomb-blast during the war. For decades the church had used very wheezy harmoniums, while a magnificent instrument was gathering dust and deteriorating further at the back of the church. I can still remember the thrill of hearing it played for the first time, and recall the hymn tune (Lloyd).2 It was at this church that Father faced one of his most daunting problems, apart from the difficulty of persuading diehards to consider different thoughts on the “Holiness” doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and that was, perhaps appropriately, dry-rot. Huge parts of one balcony were ravaged by it. He was never one to shy away from a practical problem, and at several churches initiated major re-decoration projects. Some of the manses we lived in had big maintenance problems. One in Manchester was affected by subsidence, and to seal the cracks in the wall, the old glue-pot was heated up and thick wads of brown paper were applied.

More than anything, at our second house in Manchester, I think of Father tackling practical tasks, which I think to some extent was a therapy and relief from the responsibility of a church and a large family. He installed a slow-burning stove, mended the sash-windows, and rebuilt the garden wall, a job he could not have found easy because he was on show to all the passers-by and hadn’t really got much idea about mixing mortar. His attempt at re-wiring caused us some hilarity for a time when circuits became crossed, and if switches were pressed unexpected results ensued.

At the “Tabernacle” in Manchester, Father used to take a turn at stoking the boiler, and I also remember him sanding off and re-varnishing the forms in the “Prayer Room.”

Open-Air Preacher and Pastor

The most conspicuous thing about PHP was his warmth and sense of humour, albeit that the humour might be a little laboured at times. A talent that was particularly useful in “open-air” preaching was his quick-wittedness, as evidenced on one occasion when dealing with the old chestnut, “Where did Cain and Abel get their wives from?” At first, he answered rather lamely, “When I get to heaven, I’ll ask them”; then he recovered magnificently when challenged, “But what if they aren’t there?” “Well, if they aren’t there, you’ll be able to ask them, won’t you?” He was very popular as an “open-air” speaker, and would attract large crowds because of his willingness to tackle controversial questions and deal with topical issues.

His warm and welcoming attitude to those who entered the church resulted in a very cosmopolitan congregation being assembled, particularly in such a multi-racial area as Manchester. His attitude to people was partly in response to his wide reading, and partly to his conviction that “whosoever will may come,”3 a belief that he might qualify at times by quoting, “Many are called but few are chosen.”4 Also evident of his tolerant and sympathetic attitude was the often quoted remarks “more sinned against than sinning”5 and “to know all is to forgive all.”6

A love of nature and wide knowledge of natural history was a valuable asset in the preparation of children’s talks, a number of which he contributed to “Holiness” magazines using the pseudonym “Uncle Timothy.” A vivid story that I remember was on the text, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is death,”7 illustrated by the pedigree cow which forced its way out of a field to join a herd being driven to the slaughter-house. Other sources of inspiration and illustration for his sermons were his knowledge of English literature and history.

Evidence of the practical side of his Christianity was his readiness to give assistance to anyone; the amount of physical labour he bestowed upon his churches; and the generosity he displayed to those in need, often giving beyond what he could afford. Although of an independent cast of mind, as shown by the churches he founded, he was far from being one who welcomed change for its own sake, and many traditional hymns and prayers were used in his services.

Although, as any minister, he had to carry enormous burdens, he was supported by a most intelligent and loyal wife, and the many interests they had in common; and though battered at times by storms, he never succumbed to them, and not only sustained his own faith but was able to strengthen that of many other people.

Father used to walk enormous distances to save bus fares, and then would give more than he had saved to various tramps who called at the house. He had visits occasionally from some pretty psychotic characters, alcoholics, etc., but believed strongly in welcoming everyone, and this included many of the new immigrants, something that was stressed at his memorial service in England.

Another problem Father had for over a year in Manchester was that the previous minister’s family was in residence in the manse while the husband was away in the USA. Our family were temporarily domiciled in a combined chapel and house in Stockport, where the minister had tragically committed suicide, and Father did much to help keep the chapel going, taking services and doing practical things, like stoking the boiler and dealing with mice. We children, or at least my sister and I, unwittingly helped to lighten the atmosphere by creeping down at night past the room where Mother would be and exploring the vestry and prayer-room and peeping through the keyhole at the congregation. On one such sortie we had a close shave, because just as the last hymn was being sung, normally our signal for retiring, Mother came out and cut off our retreat, thinking she heard noises upstairs. Fortunately, she was reassured before we were discovered.

A Good Father and a Lover of Animals

For those who were fortunate enough to be born into Father’s family, there was strict discipline, but encouragement and guidance in all the most worthwhile activities, including school sport, swimming, reading, and playing church music. Education was a high priority, and all six children benefited from higher education. Physical exercise was appreciated and long walks undertaken, though spirits were lifted by an interesting and light-hearted commentary. Long before healthy eating became a fashion, foods were selected for their purity and lack of additives, and herbs were regularly gathered for domestic consumption. An annual ritual when plums were cheap was the making of jam for the year, an activity in which both parents joined and children assisted by sucking the jam off the stones, so nothing was wasted.

Another of Father’s very distinctive characteristic was his love of animals, especially dogs and cats, and the interaction between these and the other family members (wife and six children). The house in Colne, Lancashire, his first posting, had serious mice infestation, and at first the gas-tap at the side of the fire was used to exterminate them once caught. Then a greengrocer member of the congregation provided a kitten we children called Tibby, but Father used the name on the tomato-box the kitten came in — V. V. Westerley. The cat certainly lived up to his exalted name, and became a formidable enemy to children passing with bare legs.

At the house in Manchester (87, Ladybarn Lane) which became our residence, we had at one time a dog, a cat, and a rabbit that thought it was a cat, because it would jump up on knees. It was in this house that we had, in addition to the Challen piano of mother’s, two harmoniums, one of which, a two-manual instrument sited in the kitchen, was for a time a refuge for our young dog, because one of the pedals for pumping air was broken and so gave access to the inside. Father was very tolerant of dogs’ misdemeanours, and at our previous house in Manchester, I once saw him cutting a ragged edge off the weekly cake put on one side to cool. He admitted to me that on three previous occasions the dog had managed to attack it without Mother discovering the real culprit. At our second house in Manchester we had an old cuckoo-clock, and because on one occasion its cuckooing made the cat give a miaow,8 from then on Father often provided a miaow when the cuckoo sounded!

One further detail about Father and his love of dogs: I remember him saying how much he hoped and half-expected to see dogs in heaven, and that coincides with something I read about Martin Luther, who while studying, I think, the Psalms, turned to his dog and said, “Thou, too, will have a little golden crown one day.”

Perhaps I should say also when recalling so much of Father’s humour, that equally impressive was his fervour and balanced approach to life; and I should say how grateful I am for the excellent guidance I received.


  1. Used by permission
  2. Lloyd is a common meter ( tune. Given the subject matter, a sound-clip is “worth a thousand words,” so here is a link to Lloyd being played on a small pipe organ (not the organ to which the author refers). Lloyd is an alternate tune for Watts' Amazing Grace and Faber's I Worship Thee, Sweet Will of God.
  3. Essentially, a slight re-phrasing of the closing words of Revelation 22:17.
  4. Matthew 22:14
  5. A quote from Shakespeare's King Lear, Act III, scene 2.
  6. From Madame de Staël's work Corinne, Book 18, chapter 5. The phrase is the English translation of Tout comprendre rend très-indulgent.
  7. Proverbs 14:12; 16:25
  8. English cats, of course, speak with a British accent.
2 comments… add one
  • JOHN BROWN December 31, 2017, 6:45 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading these reminiscences of John and Peter Gutteridge as I attended Percy’s church as a teenager in Gorton, Manchester in 1950s and we were all in the Church Youth Group together. I was a few years younger, but was fascinated by their natural musical abilities. I spent New Years Eve with them at the organist house in about 1954 or 1955 so very mindful of them this evening of 31/12/17.

    • Jim Kerwin January 4, 2018, 3:46 pm

      What a happy New Year’s Eve memory — “Auld Lang Syne” indeed!

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