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Memories of Chilwell Road Methodist Church: 1932-1939 - by Geoffrey Drinkwater


Sometime in 1932, as a 3 year old, my mother took me along to join the Sunday School Infants department, at Chilwell Road Methodist Church, known as Ďthe babiesí. If I remember rightly, the leader was Madge Redwood, assisted by her sisters Edna and Millicent, the daughters of Alfred Redwood, whom I was to meet later when he was Superintendent of the Junior (later to be called ĎIntermediateí) Sunday School. We met in what is now the Wesley Room, which in those days was called the 'Ladiesí Room' because it was the venue for The Ladiesí Sewing Meeting. It contained some large floor-to-ceiling built-in wall cupboards (presumably where all the sewing tackle was kept) and, pushed into a corner, a large, heavy table suitable for sewing machines and spreading out material. Another wall featured a cast iron fireplace and a connecting door to the Primary Department Room - the present Guild Room. This door, through which was another door so that the two were about 10 inches apart, was covered with green baize, probably for sound proofing reasons. In the lobby outside the entrance door, was a large wicker Bath chair. This, I have conjectured since, probably belonged to the Beeston Benevolent Society to be hired out at something like 6d per week. Apart from the fact that we sat on little wooden chairs with sea-grass bottoms - the chairs, I mean - I remember little or nothing of what happened from Sunday to Sunday, except that on one occasion I was found by my mother to have been scratched by another boy, whose name I remember to this day - but who shall remain nameless - about whom my mother made what seemed to me to be an embarrassing fuss.

Procession What I do remember with great clarity was the Whit Sunday Parade. This was a parade of witness in which all of the Sunday Schools in Beeston took part. The Chilwell Road representation included several decorated horse-drawn drays. On one of the drays were a dozen or so of the previously mentioned little wooden chairs, on to which a number of other little children and I were lifted. To be in this elevated position with the prospect of the hitherto unknown experience of being propelled through the streets of Beeston at the heady speed of three miles an hour was, to me, a prospect of tingling excitement.

As with all the other Sunday Schools, ours was headed by a large decorated banner about 8 feet square on which was emblazoned on a scrolled background, 'Chilwell Road Methodist Sunday School', very similar to the ones we have all seen on TV at the Durham Minersí Festival parade. On each side, the banner was attached on to a stout round pole, about 10-12 feet long. The bottom end of each pole was supported in a cylindrical leather pocket that formed part of a leather harness, worn by a man acting as bearer. At the top of each pole were fixed two long support ropes, which were held by two men, one in front and one to the rear of the banner. Thus it required 6 men to carry and steady the banner - especially necessary if there was a breeze blowing, as the banner would billow out like a sail. (Some idea of this can be seen in the photograph on the left. This shows a contingent leaving the New Connexion Chapel on Chapel Street, Beeston in about 19101. The photograph on the right shows a typical but unidentified procession tableau transported on a horse-drawn dray)

DrayIn those days, beyond and adjacent to the path at the west side (the Chilwell side) of the church, was a shrubbery mainly consisting of laurels, which was later to prove a good place for playing hide and seek. Adjacent to this shrubbery, where the present metalled road now is, was a dirt road covered with black ashes. This road and the shrubbery were separated by a galvanised paling fence, which contained a wide gate for access from the church to the road. Our detachment of the parade formed up on this road and then made its way to Dovecote Lane Recreation Ground to join with the other Sunday Schools. Led by the town brass band, the Beeston Silver Prize Band, the procession made its way along Queens Road, up Station Road and along Nether Street towards its destination, the Broadgate Recreation Ground. On arriving at the area bounded by the ends of Nether Street, Lower Regent Street, City Road and The City, the parade halted and accompanied by the band we all sang ĎBrightly Gleams our Bannerí to the Tune: St Theresa. In my imagination, I can still hear the band playing this tune complete with all the passing notes. I have been fortunate enough to obtain a copy of this tune from a 1904 Methodist Hymn Book, which belonged to Mrs Phoebe Stallard (a former leading figure in the Womenís Bright Hour) and kindly lent to me by her daughter, Mary Taylor.

The procession then continued on its way up City Road to the Broadgate Recreation Ground. Here with the young Redwood daughters our little group of infants joined hands in a circle, with one child in the centre, and sang to the tune, which I still, remember:

Poor Mary sits a-weeping, sits a-weeping, sits a-weeping,
Poor Mary sits a-weeping on a bright summerís day
This was followed by another verse, the words of which I donít remember, which led in to the child in the centre changing places with one from the circle. I have a vague recollection that when it was my turn to be in the centre, I found it faintly embarrassing as there was nothing to do but sit and pretend to be weeping and to be the focus of the gazes of the surrounding children and teachers.

When I was 5 or 6, I moved up to the Primary Department, which met in the Guild Room. The Superintendent (a name which sounds quite authoritarian, reflecting the discipline of those times) was Miss Elsie Torrance. She was short in stature with black hair in a loose perm, which clung tightly to her head, as was the fashion of the times. As with all the lady teachers of that time, she had a motherly manner and even though she had the forbidding title of ĎSuperintendentí, I felt at ease and secure.

My class teacher was Miss Grange. She had an attractive slim figure and moved gracefully. Her hair was a natural raven black, worn straight and nicely cut fairly short to just reach the nape of the neck and was contrasted and emphasised by her porcelain complexion. Moreover, she was blessed with a soft voice, which complemented her manner. She was the epitome of gentleness. I immediately fell in love with her. I hung on her every word as she recounted bible stories and such is the working of the brain, that a connexion was made between my neurons, which has caused me to be able still to recall and associate with her the story of the child, Samuel, with the priest, Eli, and hearing Godís still, small voice.

At about the age of 8, I moved into the Junior Sunday School, which met in the School Hall. At that time it seemed a huge space, the boys sitting on the left and the girls on the right and filling the hall from front to back. We were split into single sex classes of about ten boys or girls, each class with a teacher and occupying two long wooden benches with sloping backs. These seat backs were hinged at the base so that they could be swung over so that the occupants could face in the opposite direction without turning round the whole seat - a useful facility when it came to the time in the proceedings when each class was addressed solely by its own teacher. At different times, my teachers were Mr Joe Pittam, Mr James Pittam and Mr John Ollerenshaw. Occasionally, I would by chance meet Mr Joe Pittam during my walk from home to Sunday School and my abiding memory of him is that he had an incredibly rapid pace, which even as a young boy, I had difficulty in matching.

On arriving at Sunday School, the first thing to be done was registration, which was conducted as follows: each class had a pack of postcard sized coloured cards, one for each pupil, contained in a strong, grey manila envelope. I remember our cards were bright red. Around the edge of each card was printed a matrix of squares, one for each Sunday of the year. The teacher would indicate present or absent by a cross or a nought respectively. The completed cards in their envelopes would then be collected and sent to the Sunday School Secretary, Mr Harold Sansom, who occupied one of the vestries situated alongside the hall at that time. He would then use punching pliers to punch out the noughts so that an absence would be immediately apparent. At the end of the year it would then be easy to see which pupil had a full attendance record. This would merit the presentation of a Bible or a book or even a silver medal. I remember winning one of these medals on several occasions - no merit to me, but a reflection of the ordered life that my parents led and a credit to them. Playing truant was more than I dared contemplate for fear of the retribution that would certainly have followed - in any case, I enjoyed Sunday School and regarded it as an integral part of my life.

After registration and before going to our separate classes, the Sunday School Superintendent, Mr A Redwood, addressed us. Christian names of adults were taboo in those days to such an extent that we didnít know them, let alone use them - far too familiar). I later discovered that his name was Alfred.

Mr Redwood always seemed to wear a plain grey suit - which was in fact true to form, for I learned much later that he was an insurance collector, though I never saw him wearing bike clips. He was about 5 feet nothing, inclining a little to stoutness, and was to my eyes and ears, somewhat pompous. Before speaking he would take a perceptible deep breath as if he believed that somehow this would add gravity to the words that would follow. But, for all this slight disdain in my perceptions, he was an effective witness for Jesus Christ as manifested by the impression he made on me when he sent us home with the words I still remember, "Act right, speak true, follow Christ the King".

However, this manner of expression had problems for me - which may well have helped me remember it. Even at the tender age of 8 or 9, the influences in my life - my Day School, my parents - had begun to inculcate in me a desire to do things properly. So saying, "Act right, speak true" instead of, "Act rightly, speak truthfully" seemed to me to have an ungrammatical ring to it that didnít heighten my opinion of Alfred, as I will now call him at this distance in time with the affection and respect he deserves for being a faithful servant of the Lord.

Remaining as leader until I left for the Senior Sunday School after the age of eleven, the next appointed Superintendent was Mr Arthur Smith, a lovely man whom I liked very well and whom I later came to respect and admire as servant of Christ. He easily held our attention, when addressing 150 to 200 of us from the front of the School Hall. Even so, I always had this inclination to find in situations something humorous or unusual. Arthur was no exception to this. Whenever he spoke, instead of looking, as is usual, at his eyes, my gaze always drifted to a large mole on his cheek to which my eyes became riveted. The other fascination was with his manner of speaking. He was one of those people, such as the late Roy Jenkins, who have trouble in pronouncing their Rís, so just as with the mole, a visual distraction, the Rís proved to be an aural one. Nevertheless, what Arthur lacked with his Rís, he compensated for with his Pís and Bís, which were delivered with explosive force. I cannot remember any specific examples from that time but can illustrate what I mean by a later experience.

When I was a young adult, I came to know Arthur quite well. I was making some remark about a some situation in which someone seemed not to have been as good as their word, to which he remarked,"Well, you must wemember, Geoffwey, pwomises are like pie cwusts - easily bwoken".

Finally, I would like to give you a further example of this propensity for finding something unusual, distracting or amusing.

Around that time, Arthur was one of a number of people, including Les Williams and Percy Matthews, who led the meeting after evening service known as Sunday Evening Fellowship, when one of the activities was the singing of favourite hymns. These were chosen by calling out the number of the hymn requested, such as 123 or 444, a number which the leader would invariably repeat. You will not be surprised to learn that, when Arthur was leading, the one of pwomises and pie cwusts fame, one of the hymns most often requested by myself and friends was No.333.


1The photograph has been dated provisionally by David Hallam based on the age of the young man behind the chapel railings. He believes strongly that this is George Henry Peel, who was then an active member of the New Connexion Methodists in Beeston and was an uncle to David. He was born in 1892 and is probably about 18 at the time of the photograph. His identity on the photograph was confirmed by George himself, before his death in 1978. The New Connexion Methodists merged with other strands of Methodism to become part of the United Methodist Church in 1907. After this, its membership merged with the then Methodist Chapel on Willoughby Street and gradually withdrew from activities at Chapel Street.