Joe Overs the Bishop

Joe Overs from Rev Fleetwood’s memoirs:

Joe Overs

No account of life on Canvey Island would be complete without a mention of Joe Overs. Joe was employed by Jackson’s Photo Service, a leading photographic firm on the Island, and was considered by many to be the finest photographer in the area. He took infinite pains over his work and would spend ages arranging a group of people, or perhaps the folds of a bride’s wedding gown, exactly as he wanted them. Folk would sometimes get impatient and call out, “Oh, come, Joe; we haven’t got all day!” and the assembled company would raise their voices in the well-known chorus, “Why are we waiting” to the tune “Adeste fideles”.

Very few of those folk, I believe, were aware that the Joe who was trying their patience in the interests of good photography, was, in fact, “The Right Reverend Joseph Overs”, – a Bishop! He was a bishop of a small independent Catholic Church, not in communion with Rome, whose clergy had to earn their living by pursuing a secular occupation. When I first went to the Island he was simply a priest; his sphere of ministry lay somewhere on the mainland. Then the area bishop died and Joe was elected as his successor, and was duly consecrated in their “cathedral” at Clapton, in East London. He once showed me his splendid episcopal vestments and, in fact, lent them to me on one occasion when I needed to dress someone up as a bishop for a “Pageant Service” I was putting on. But, seeing Joe taking wedding photos outside our parish church, or standing on a chair in a hall asking the long rows of diners to look towards the camera, you would never guess that he was a priest, let alone a bishop.

The only clue to his episcopal status were his purple tie and purple socks! Bishop Joe lived in “digs” on Canvey Island, and I used to visit him from time to time. His great joy, on my visits, was to let me hear, on a ven­erable gramophone, some of his favourite records, of fair-ground organs, and vintage music-hall songs. He had a great sense of humour, and I shall never forget the sound of his loud, hearty guffaw. After some years Joe gave up his photographic job, and left the Island. When I last heard of him he was serving as a cook on board a merchant vessel. How he fitted this in with his episcopal duties I have no idea. It could be, of course, that the little independent Catholic Communion to which he belonged “folded up”. At any rate, it seems that Joe went from “See” to “Sea”.

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