Farewell to Swaffham’s ‘Vicar John’

Swaffham's longest-serving vicar since 1928 retires today after 13 and a half years at the heart of the community.

When the Rev John Smith first moved to the town from East Leake in Nottinghamshire in 1997, he admits he struggled to understand the Norfolk accents of the 'old boys' on the market place.

But now, as he sat on a deck chair in his study, surrounded by boxes of his possessions and memories, the vicar said he would be sad to leave the town where his children have grown up.

A retirement party at the Assembly Rooms on Friday saw 200 people come along to say farewell to the vicar of Swaffham and priest-in-charge of Sporle.

During his time in the town Rev Smith, 65, has been part of some of Swaffham's key moments including a visit from Prince Charles and Camillia Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, in July 2004.

The royal couple attended a Music in Country Churches event, which the vicar listed as one of his highlights.

'Kate, my wife, and I had to escort them round the town,' he said.

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'We're in the middle of packing up our bags and possessions at the moment and have the removal people in. One of the photographs they will have to look after especially carefully is the one of me and Prince Charles.'

But for Rev Smith, known as Vicar John to his parishioners, the role he has played in the lives of the local community remains his most treasured memory.

'I've been with people for the important occasions in their lives,' he said. 'The christenings, the weddings and, sad to say, the funerals. It's been a privilege for me to be alongside those people.'

Recently, that included baptising 10 members of the same family in a single ceremony at St Peter and St Paul Church.

In December, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren took their place at the font in memory of their late grandfather and great-grandfather Keith Green.

The vicar has been a steady presence in the changing town.

He said: 'In recent years they have had a rapid turnover of clergy. I know for a fact we have been here the longest since 1928.'

It has allowed his family to become an important part of the community, getting involved with the local schools and shopping at the Saturday market.

Rev Smith's children Matthew, 23, and Christopher, 20, were just nine and seven when they moved to the town.

When their parents retire to a new home in Grantham in the next two weeks, they will remain in Swaffham.

'I've asked my parishioners to look out for them, and I'm sure they will,' said Rev Smith.

The vicar leaves at an exciting time for Swaffham's church. In November, a �250,000 restoration appeal was launched which has already seen six windows replaced in the historic building.

victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk