The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Walter Pitkin (1882 – 1945)


The name Pitkin is ancient in the annals of Berkhamsted. One William Pitkin first came to notice in the town in 1610 when he was elected as Minister’s Churchwarden. He would have been in attendance when the Prince of Wales – later to be Charles I – visited the town in 1616.

When James I granted a new Charter to Berkhamsted in 1618, William Pitkin was one of the first Burgesses, becoming a Chief Burgess in 1628 and Bailiff in 1636 and also a Member of Parliament.

The son, also William Pitkin, educated at Berkhamsted School and Pembroke College, Oxford, became Headmaster of Berkhamsted School on 8th August 1636. In July 1643 he died of the plague on a trip to London, leaving a young family, including another William Pitkin and a daughter, Martha. Both these emigrated to Hartford in Connecticut, William in 1659 and Martha in 1661. There they founded two dynasties prominent in the community throughout the centuries.

From that time on, the Pitkins remaining in Berkhamsted were no doubt respectable ‘pillars of the community’ whose names appear from time to time in documents but not in prominent positions until the latter part of the 19th century.

In the June quarter of 1882 the birth of Walter James Pitkin was registered in Berkhamsted. He was the son of William Jonathan Pitkin and his wife Annie, who came from Markyate. William was a painter and plumber and the family lived in Cross Oak Road. Whereas Walter’s elder brother Frank followed his father as a painter and plumber, Walter on leaving school became a solicitor’s clerk. In September 1905 Walter married a local girl, Edith Mary Ward, the daughter of a fishmonger in Castle Street. The family had three sons, Walter Leslie, Cecil Harold, who sadly died aged 5, and Ernest James, and lived initially at 19 Kitsbury Road. Walter had something of the spirit of his forefathers working for the community and in 1920 was elected to the Berkhamsted Urban District Council, on which he served for twenty years, for the last two of these as Chairman.

The years 1938-1940 were no doubt difficult years with the threat of War looming imminently and then its outbreak. Locally this was the time of plans for a new Secondary School at Greenway and arguments as to whether it should be a church school. This dominated the first months of his Chairmanship. In September 1938 the Rector of St Peter’s remonstrated with Walter over the attitude of the Council with regard to proposed Sunday opening of the cinemas. At a time when the Prime Minister was meeting with the German Chancellor and peace or war was in the balance it was not appropriate to consider such matters. Chipchase Stainsby (the Rector) appealed to Walter against Sunday opening ‘I know of your public spirit and your concern for the honour of our town.’ The Council approved Sunday opening 73 to 67. With the outbreak of war, Walter – as Chairman – masterminded the arrangements for the schooling of the evacuees. The most notable event of his Chairmanship was however, the laying of the foundation stone of the new Civic Centre and its official opening on 14th October 1938. A meticulously arranged programme started at the Town Hall at 5.30pm from whence they were to process to the new Council Buildings and the Chairman would unlock the gate. A tour of the building ended in the Council Chamber with the official opening The Chairman received a memento for his service on the occasion.

Walter died on 4th September 1945 at his home, 10 Clarence Road, at the comparatively young age of 63.

Jenny Sherwood

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