THESE nostalgic photographs show hundreds of people and religious dignitaries – including the Archbishop of Canterbury – turning out to mourn the death of the first ever Bishop of Chelmsford.

John Edwin Watts-Ditchfield died on July 14, 1923 aged 62 from complications following an operation to remove his appendix. He had become the first ever Bishop of Chelmsford when the diocese was founded in 1914.

Born in Manchester to a family with a strong Methodist background, he was the only surviving son of John Ditchfield and his wife, Mary Ann Watts. His father had started work in a cotton mill at the age of eight, but had risen to become headmaster of Patricroft higher grade school.

From an early age the younger John Ditchfield was taken on pastoral visits by his father, and during adolescence had a profound religious experience which left him determined to enter the ministry. He preached his first sermon in 1877. He eventually converted to Anglicism and in 1888 was confirmed in the Church of England. He went on to become vicar of St James-the-Less, in Bethnal Green before his appointment as the inaugural Bishop of Chelmsford.

Although he was hailed as a peaceful and measured man who believed that ‘soft answers turn away wrath’ he wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers amongst the congregation with his sermons. One of his sayings was “We are too polite in the pulpit. A sermon that is not personal is not worth preaching.”

Also an accomplished author, when the bishop died, his passing made national headlines.

In an obituary in the Southend Standard newspaper he was described as: “possessed of many qualities which eminently fitted him for his post

“He has travelled widely, he was genial in all talk and shrewd in judgement,” described the obituary.

“He believed in the good faith of his fellow man, his word was his bond. His sympathy was never far off when real distress was made known and he was never more at ease or more assertive than when he was in the pulpit.”

The late bishop’s funeral took place in the churchyard adjoining Chelmsford Cathedral. Among the mourners was the Archbishop of Canterbury, five diocesan bishops, several canons and a swathe of other senior clergy

His remains were enclosed in an unpolished oak coffin which had lain in state at Chelmsford Cathedral. A small wreath of lillies of the valley were placed on top.

A full muffled peal was rung on the Cathedral bells during the funeral proceedings. This was and remains a rare event. Bells are only rung fully-muffled after the death of the Sovereign, the incumbent vicar or the bishop of the dioceses.

There is a statue to the late bishop within the chancel Chelmsford Cathedral today.

He was succeeded by Frederic Sumpter Guy Warman who served as Bishop of Chelmsford from 1923-1929

There have been 10 Bishops of Chelmsford so far. The right rev Stephen Cottrell holds the title currently.