December 15, 2009

Noble Street kids - Yil het te gan te chorch!

By Dr Clive Dalton

Saturday - day of play
Saturday was the best day of the week for us Noble Street ‘yunguns’ – because there was ‘nee school’ and we were free from the terrors of Jean Milburn in the Juniors, before progressing to Joe Lumley in the seniors. Here you knew that the dreaded 11+ exam would descend upon you and dictate your future, because it meant Grammar School for free, private secondary school paid for by parents, or more of Joe. Nobody, expected us to pass the exam – so most of us confirmed their expectations.

Sunday - day of misery
The only problem with Saturday was that it was followed by Sunday – not seen by us as ‘the day of rest’ but more as a ‘day of misery’, because us laddies knew the mantra that would waft aroond wor lugs all day – ‘New divn’t git yorsels dorty, as yil het te gan te Sunday School, and yill het te gan te church’.

Sunday school was in the morning and church was at some other time decided by mother.

Oh what misery, especially as the other kids in the street I played with like the Benson lads or Billy Little didn’t have to face this. Why had I got to leave the rabbitin, the football or the cricket on the fell behind the houses, and they didn’t? What great benefits would this sacrifice bestow on me, that they would miss oot on? Would the ‘chorchifying’ guarantee that ‘Aad gan up te Heaven’ when I’d much rather ‘gan up Hareshaw Lynn’.

I suppose we were lucky as our parent's Victorian generation were not allowed to play games on Sundays. The lads were not allowed to fish or the girls to knit, and playing cards was a deadly sin. Even whistling in some houses could bring problems from on high!

Drafting into flocks
Walking to church was like sheep being ‘caaed oot’ on to their appropriate hefts on the hill. The Catholics had the longest trek (mornings only for them) to their church on the corner near the Tyne Bridge to hear the good word of Father Delaney.

We Church of Englanders (C of E) headed for the resting place of St Cuthbert carefully guarded by the Black Bull and Fox and Hounds. St Cuthbert’s spirit no doubt rested peacefully because of this as he had been on that spot. The story was that after his death on the Farne Islands, his coffin was carried around by his devotees and where it rested they built a church. They must have had a ‘lang walk te git te Bellingham’. They found a good source of fresh water just by the church which is known as 'Cuddy's well'. To this day it's beautiful water to drink and there to be enjoyed by walkers on the Pennine Way as they pass right by it on their trek.

The Methodists were right in the village, (handy for the public netties) and the Presbyterians had a short hike up the Otterburn road to their church and manse. We all passed each other nodding politely –quietly believing that ‘wor lot’ was better than their lot.

Mixing breeds
We Anglican lot had a bit of affinity with the Presbyterians as they took communion once a quarter, and we were qualified to join them. But there was less affinity between us and the Methodists where any thought of suppin wine at a communion was out of all bounds for them.

Years later our Anglican minister in Leeds told my wife and I that if we used a Methodist Godmother for our son’s christening (who was his aunt), the minister wouldn’t answer for wor lad at the final Day of Judgement! He lost our business after that daftness.

We never worked out what came over the poor sowl. We worshipped in an old tin hut and when the new church and C of E school was built he changed and wanted to go ‘High Church’ and wanted to start confession like the Catholics. I felt sorry for him and he left soon after to go back to missionary work ‘doon sooth’ from where he came. He was a canny lad for a suthenor!

Oh and the other rule he brought in was that you couldn't send your bairns to the new C of E primary school if you were not a 'practicing communicant'. We sent our son to the council school.

Beware of the Catholics
The biggest danger for us Anglicans (and maybe any other church lot in the village as far as I can remember) was to get mixed up with the Catholics! Complete isolation was the safest policy in the village in those days. I have a faint memory that wor lot could have taken mass in the Catholic church, but nobody in my day would ever have dared risk sampling Father Delaney's brew.

It’s hilarious today to see the Pope now having opened his gate to dis-satisfied Anglicans and the farcical antics of the British Anglicans over women clergy and dare I mention - gay clergy. It's hard to believe at times that this is the 21st Century.

Sunday School
For us C of E bairns, Sunday school was held at 10am in the Reeds School, and I considered it an absolute agony going back there on a Sunday, as Monday to Friday was enough for any laddie. We had a woman teacher (Miss Turnbull I think) and her good work was regularly supplemented by the appearance of the Rev (later to be Canon) W.J (Daddy) Flower himself, when his other Sunday duties allowed. Who named him Daddy would have been interesting to know as you couldn't call him a 'father figure' and they had no children.

St Cuthbert's church Sunday School 1935?
Daddy Flower far right

The parish was officially ‘Bellingham and Corsenside’ (in Woodburn) so Daddy had a fairly busy day on most Sundays. When he visited the ordinary Reeds school classes (which he did regularly), one of his favourite lessons was the story about tea picking in Ceylon as he’d served there during his naval service.

He’d bring a bit of privet hedge along, as it was the nearest he could find to the tea plant, and show us how the pickers plucked out the very top leaves and threw them over their shoulder into a basked on their back.

Sunday school meant that our young lugs were bashed with concepts far above ‘wor heeds’ like what sinners we were (which we knew from many other sources too), why Jesus suffered death on the cross for wor sins, and what we had to do to fix the situation (‘repent’ - which we didn’t really understand). Then there was the Holy Spirit who could help us oot, but he always seemed a hard man te git a howld on!

The Christmas story was good as it was associated with Santa, and I knew plenty good shepherds who came to the marts although most would not have been attracted by a star in the East – but more like the light above the Railway Hotel door!

We had to turn out at midnight for a service and communion for this celebration. The big bonus was when Christmas day fell on a Sunday - yipee a double banger so no extra church during the week!

Easter was a very confusing time for kids with all its grief of the death of Jesus and then his return (at any time like the thief in the night) to save us. Then IF we got to heaven, we’d be sorted into sheep and goats (which I knew a lot aboot) so we’d better behave worsels and keep confessin wor sins! Whew - it was heavy stuff for young heeds.

The bad news about Easter was that there were services on Good Friday that we had to attend. We only had one day's play between more church. But the good news was that it was the end of Lent and the end of official fasting - whatever you had decided to give up for Lent.

In our case - mother encouraged us to give up sweets or chocolate, which was not a great sacrifice as we'd got used to going without these during the war. But the feast at the end of Lent was worth it, even if feeling a bit sick was the result.

Noah and mucking oot
I liked the story of Noah and his ark imagining him getting all the animals in there and tied up. I could appreciate his problem, knowing what it was like in a byre when cows got into the wrong stalls. And then I wondered how he mucked them oot each morning, as spending so much time at Dove Cottage I knew it was no easy job hoyin muck high on to the midden each morning with a shovel. But then all Noah had to do was to hoy the muck ower the side of the ark inte the watta! I thought that would have been handy, but then he'd have nee muck left to spread on his hayfields when the rain stopped.

Adam and Eve
This was a canny story but then you dare not look too close at their pictures 'wi nee claes on' and in any case the bits you really wanted to see where covered in leaves! We all knew about 'forbidden fruit' thanks to a bloke called Hitler who cut off our supplies so we were never tempted.

Joseph and his coat
We could all identify with the story of Joseph and his coat of many colours as we all had jerseys like that, made by our mothers during the war from all the odd bits of wool left over from various jobs. We were all good knitters too making blanket squares for the soldiers and scarves.

Recognition for good attendance
The only tangible benefit most of us saw from suffering Sunday school was a new book at the end of the year for our good attendance. Our parents didn’t buy us books as there was no money for such things so our Sunday school books were very precious,

I was not a great reader, but I well remember receiving and reading many times ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Black Beauty’ that I got at Sunday school. Always in the front was a little label with St Cuthbert’s Parish Church Sunday school and your name and ‘Presented by Rev W.J.Flower for good attendance’.

Trip to Whitley Bay
But the real ‘Big Deal’ form Sunday school was the annual trip to Whitley Bay on a bus. “The Spanish City” with all it’s roond-aboots and staalls begging for wor money – oh what sins that could have entered on wor slates.

Mrs Mary Mitchell of the Black Bull, (our church organist when needed and often the only member of the choir), always went with us to Whitley Bay- accompanied by her accordion. This alone was worth the trip, as some of her antics on the way home playing while dancing up and down the aisle of the bus, hyping up us bairns was unforgettable. We loved her.

Daddy always smiled politely at Mary’s antics, but certainly not Mrs Flower who had a face like thunder! It would have done her the world of good to have hiked her skirts up and joined in – and who was to know she wasn’t craving to do just this!

Tommy Breckons – the Good Shepherd
My old friend and great Northumbrian Tommy Breckons of the Foundry Farm in Bellingham, sadly now passed on, had this story told about him when he attended Sunday school as a wee laddie.

The tale goes that young Tommy was asked by the teacher – ‘why the Good Shepherd had left the ninety and nine sheep in his flock, to go and seek that which was lost’? Tommy replied that ‘Well - it was probably the only tup he had’!

But things got worse for a growing laddie who had things to do at weekends. In my case from age seven I couldn’t wait to go to Jimmy and Helen Wood’s little farm at Dove Cottage at Reedsmouth. I biked there and also went on the train and could have lived there all weekend – sometimes I was allowed to. They were like extra parents to me as they lived next to us in Noble Street when first married and before getting the Dove Cottage tenancy from Robbie Allen.

At Dove Cottage there was muck to spread, the cow and goat to be milked, and hay to be made – all in my view far more essential events than ‘ganin te chorch’ to be harangued about what sinners we were and to ‘git riddy for the next woorld! But in mother’s views – ye had teg an te chorch and that was the end of it.

At around age 12-13 I think, Daddy Flower came around (always in time for a cup of tea and rock buns) and suggested that it was time I started ‘Confirmation Classes’ so I could be ‘confirmed’ and then be allowed to take ‘Holy Communion”.

Mothers were the decision makers on religious issues in most houses, as fathers were usually fairly reluctant churchgoers, and were generally ‘oot’ on essential business like tending their leeks when the vicar called.

Hareshaw Head village hall
I had to suffer confirmation classes at Hareshaw Head on a Sunday afternoon in the little corrugated village hall there. My Reeds schoolmate Kenneth Pick was another candidate, and as Ken couldn’t get to Bellingham on a Sunday as there was no school car, Daddy Flower collected me and we’d take off in his little blue Standard 10 car for Hareshaw.

Ken and I must have had half a dozen of these weekly classes, confirming that we were little sinners, for ever in need of repentance, and going through a little red book that we had to keep and use regularly thereafter, to guide our prayers before we were ‘ready’ for the Bishop of Newcastle to ‘lay his hands on wor heeds’ and give us his blessing, and allow us to take communion. This book then had to be our lifelong companion.

I had to get cleaned up for these classes and couldn’t just ‘gan in me aad play claes’ – so that was more agony, especially if I had to leave a game we were in the middle of.

Falstone church
Confirmation took place in Falstone's St Peter's Church of England, and I remember mother and I having to get there on Norman’s bus. Ken and I were there in ‘wor Sunday claes’ along with lasses that we’d never seen before from other parishes in white dresses. We had afternoon tea in the church hall, which I thought was the best bit of day. Then back home on the bus back to Bellingham.

But what I didn't appreciate at the time was that being confirmed made Sundays even worse, as the decision had to be made about which Communion to go to. Each week, Daddy Flower before he started the sermon would read out the ‘announcements’ from the pulpit.

There was a range of these, starting with the passing of a parishioner where - ‘We have heard with great regret of the passing of Mrs So and So, and passing on all our sympathies to the family.

Then there was reading the bans of marriage at the morning service –‘Where if any of ye had any cause or just intent why these two etc etc’.

Then there were other events like meetings of the Mother’s Union in the Rectory. Finally we were told about who the collections would be for next Sunday.

Communions - which to go to?
I was always depressed by this announcement:

‘There will be celebrations of the Holy Communion on Sunday next at 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock and at the 11 o’clock service’.

The reason was the decision about which one ‘te gan te’. Thank goodness you were only allowed to take the bread and wine once on a Sunday. Somebody in the Anglican church, presumably guided by higher authority must have been keen to prevent us becoming alcoholics!

Getting up early for the seven and eight-o-clock session was never a good option on a Sunday, yet it was a way of getting it over with so you had a clear day ahead to play. But then you were reminded that going to Communion didn’t absolve you from the other services of ‘Matins’ (11am) or ‘Evensong’ (6pm).

The worst deal was to go to the morning service and then discover that it was communion as well – and you felt that you had to stay and participate in full. You had to be fairly brave to walk out before the communion started unless you had taken communion earlier – because you knew that ‘God knew of your every move’. Communion at Matins really did stuff up your morning, as it lengthened the hour’s service to an hour and a half. Such valuable time wasted was my view.

How much to mix
We used to laugh at this, and there were other vicars up the valley apparently that were even better at it than Daddy. What they had to do was to look around the congregation and do a mental calculation of how much of the communion wine and water to mix to serve the numbers present.

But they were masters at just underestimating this and running out before the last row. So they had to mix some more, and for this mix they always overestimated, and of course they couldn’t pour this consecrated mix doon the drain. They had to ‘knock it back’ before the alter before God, and it was easy to tell how generous they’d been by the length of their swig! You could tell this from the vibrations of their Adam's apple - nee doot Adam would have approved.

Pulpits and lecterns have always fascinated me as a place to demonstrate power over fellow beings. Sometimes in the empty church, I’d sneak up into the pulpit and have a quick look down on the pews.

What an impressive feeling it gave you ‘looking doon’ on your audience – I felt the power, even an empty church! I could easily have ‘borst forth’ haranguing the sinners sitting before me, threatening with hell’s fires unless they behaved and confessed their sins!

Maybe this was the job for me – I knew aboot sheep and what a good shepherd had to do. Sheep were my favourite animal and playing auctioneers was a game I regularly played. Great qualifications I thought for herding a parish! As we used to joke - in the human flock 'the tups stay oot aall year roond'.

But I never dared stay long in the pulpit or try out my voice incase I got ‘copped’. The mind boggles over the feeling of power you must get high up in the pulpit of a mighty Cathedral and a full hoose. The other funny thing about raised pulpits is that they seem to make folk speak in that great pontificating sing-song voice that bishops and archbishops seem to develop. That muckle eagle that often fronts the pulpit lectern may add to their feeling of superiority when speaking on behalf of God.

I liked the few lay preachers that came never addressed us from the pulpit and spoke to us from floor level. It gave us all a more comforting feeling and usually you could understand their message.

‘May the words of my lips ….’
As we gave voice to the last verse of the hymn, and Daddy mounted the few stairs to the pulpit, took out and fitted his ‘pince-nez’ specs on his nose, my only thoughts were – how long will be going for this time.

We stood for the initial salutation - ‘May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable unto thee etc etc, before parking our backsides on the hard varnished pine pews - often as cold as charity on a winter's night, if you weren't lucky enough to get into the pew first and get beside the scalding hot pipes by the wall. 'Gentlemen' never went first into the pew!

Some of the pews had cushions but you had to be very careful that you got into your ‘right pew’! From olden days certain families paid for ‘their pew’ as a means of financing the church, and there was a little bit of that left in our day. You certainly never sat into the pew Mrs Flower sat in! She would have glowered you out of the church.

The collects
Then we had the ‘Collects’ – (pronounced ‘col-lects’ ). The ‘Collect for the day’ is usually the prayer proper to the Sunday of the current week. However, the Collect of a Principal Feast, other Principal Holy Day or Festival always takes precedence over the Sunday Collect and becomes the Collect of the day. When a Lesser Festival falls on a weekday its Collect may be used in place of the Sunday Collect. (Mr Google told me that).

The Text for the day
Then we’d have the appropriate ‘text for the day’, which Daddy read to us twice for maximum emphasis. My old memory still remembers what must have been Daddy’s favourite text, as we seemed to have it often, or it’s hard wired into my old brain:

‘And He will come like a thief in the night, He will come like a thief in the night’!

This was a serious warning to us to be prepared, and not take any risks with our sins as we ‘cud git catched oot’ when our Redeemer came back to save us – IF we had been behaving like sheep and were worth saving, and had not acting like goats! I knew a lot about the behaviour of both these animals so the message was always clear.

Then away we’d go – my mind on the long wander, occasionally lapsing back to what Daddy was saying, now and again taking a sly look at the watch, then back to looking around the stone roof wondering how on earth they built those stone arches and got the stone slabs on the roof to stop the reivers' fires.

There was the old church’s history to ponder, the flaking paint, the stained glass windows and those families who had paid for some of them, the joints, knots and grain in the wood of the pews, anything to pass the time waiting for the magic words which signalled that maybe the end of my agony was nigh. And there was always the mystery of the ‘Lang Pack’ to ponder as the stone coffin lay outside by the church door. What was in it now - old bones or dust?

It was all too easy to nod off taking great lunges forward before you came to, or your head would fall back creaking your neck. The biggest fear was to start snoring – as some of the older gentlemen members of the congregation sometimes did before some kind wife would dig them in the ribs. This had to be done carefully otherwise they’d awaken with a muckle snort like an old bull or their lurch upright could break wind!

‘And finally dear brethen..’
You waited with baited breath to hear Daddy say these magic words – ‘And finally dear brethren’! It was a sign that he was coming to an end. It was his last big point to make before my release.

But it was a trick, and one I have used over the years –thinking of Daddy whenever I did. It’s a ‘sucker punch’ as you can see the poor sufferers at your feet visibly suddenly brighten up in anticipation of you finally relieving them of their agony. But it’s NOT over!

Daddy wasn’t going to end there. He would get going again, supposedly to summarise his message, except that the summary would introduce new issues, and further warnings about ‘the thief in the night’. He’d try another ‘And finally dear brethren’– but he had worked out that a third was too much.

‘And now to God the Father…..’
Oh those magic words – still imprinted on my old memory. It was when Daddy finally gathered up his notes, took off his specs and put them in their well-worn case, turned to the alter and out came those magic words:

‘And now to God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit, be as is most justly due, all glory, might, majesty, dominion and power, now and for ever more. Amen.

It was over, and I had to be very careful not to be the first to leap to my feet, as I was so keen to get out of there. Wonderful – I’d be home after the next hymn, the collection and the blessing.

Brownrigg Camp School
Brownrigg school was in its hey day in the 1950s and the pupils used to go to their appropriate churches in the village – probably under threat. The Anglicans came to St Cuthberts, sitting in the back pews behind Mrs Flower, and the poor beggars used to get bored during the sermon and started whispering and yakking quietly to each other. Then a bit of pushing and grabbing developed to help pass the boredom and Daddy's words where at risk of being drooned oot.

Some of the old stalwarts in the congregation would turn around and give them a ‘glower’ hoping they would get the message and shut up, but on occasions – Daddy had to reprimand them from the pulpit! He didn’t realise they were maybe getting fed up with his interpretation of God’s word! He didn't realise the best thing he could have done was to 'give ower'.

How may times?
The question I used to wonder about frequently, but never dared ask anyone for an answer was – how many times did I need ‘te gan te chorch te be safe from etornal damnation’?

It seemed to me that the Catholic kids in our street (The Weltons) had it made. They only had one morning service each week, and got their slates cleaned for the following week – no problem. If I’d gone to all the possible services on a Sunday – would that have guaranteed me freedom from this sinful life I was leading, and the very high risk of endin up in hell?

How come the Presbyterians only had to take Communion once a quarter and I had ‘te gan ivry week? I never debated religion with my parents, nor with anyone else either. It was not done in those days. I wanted to know what was the least I could get away with to balance playtime with keeping a clean record for the next world! I should have asked Daddy at our Hareshaw meetings – imagine that.

Blowing the organ
At about age 12 I think, I was asked to blow the organ – for pay! But this meant going to both morning and evening services – and listening to even more sermons.

Along the side of the organ was a narrow passage with a solid wooden handle sticking out of side. This had to be pumped up and down to work bellows on the inside, and your guide was a little metal weight which slid down the wall on a string, which must have some how been attached to the bellows.

There was a mark on the wood to show ‘full’ (at the top of its range) and one to show ‘empty’ (at the bottom). Empty meant no air so no music, and you’d hear the organist in a loud whisper saying – ‘Blow Clive Blow’.

These marks kept changing because as the string came out of a wooden hole in the side of the organ, after a time it wore thin and would break, having to be shortened.

When you heard Daddy announce a hymn, you started pumping like mad to build up a head of wind before the first verse. You could have short breaks during the playing as the slide slowly fell, but it was unwise to let the weight get down below half way, just incase there was a sudden demand for air in the music.

So hymns like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ were hard work compared to ‘There is a green hill far away’. ‘Jerusalem’ generated a sweat! You had to know the service well, as wind was needed in small bursts for all the responses, and it was easy to nod off when there was not a lot of action. The air also slowly leaked from the bellows so you couldn’t rely on your past pumping staying in storage.

During the sermon you could come out and sit in the pew opposite the pulpit (and be watched so had to behave), rather than perch on the hard stool, hidden in the cubby-hole. You had to stand to pump and could only sneak an occasional quick sit on the hard stool while watching the metal weight move up as air was used up. For it to drop you had to pump!

Log of past blowers
The wooden side of the organ held a wonderful log of past organ blowers, as in moments of idleness, and secure in the fact that nobody could see, it was essential to write your name for posterity.

My name is still there a friend told me some years ago when they went to check! How wonderful – I hope it scores me some points when the sheep and goats are drafted! I remember older lads like John Howarth, Aynsley Glass, Fenwick Daly and my brother Geoff having their names engraved in pencil on the soft pine.

Collecting my pay
To do this I had to go to the rectory at an appointed time, met at the door by Mrs Flower or the maid, and shown into a small side room where we’d sit down at a small table and Daddy would get out a little note book with a red cover.

In it he had recorded each time I had blown the organ and the fee of I think a few shillings for each job. I was paid on a quarterly basis so after signing on the final page beside the massive grand total which he had added up, I proudly ran home with a small fortune of a few quid to show for my labours.

Tommy Hedley was a regular organist at Evensong while Jean Milburn generally played at Matins. It suited Tommy’s schedule because after church Tommy he was regular pianist at the Black Bull around the corner till hoyin oot time at 10pm.

Tommy had another trick - after the slow semi-solum music played as the congregation filed out of the church, after he had a bit keek around the curtain to see they had all gone, he was a demon for letting strip with a piece of air-guzzling Mozart which you had to be prepared for. I think he was warming up before the Black Bull session.

Mrs Mitchell (landlord at the Black Bull) was also an accomplished organist, and when she wasn’t playing, she was often the only member of the choir! She read the music as she sang – the remaining few in the choir couldn’t do that! She loved to get into a high note that echoed through the ancient roof.

During the sermon the organist always sat in the pew directly below the pulpit and facing back to the organ rather than the alter. Tommy Hedley being a farmer at the Demesne loved the Harvest Festivals, as the pulpit was always surrounded by sheaves of oats – probably donated by him.

He spent the time during the sermon selecting grains, removing the chaff and chewing the grain. Tommy knew what a decent ‘pickle’ was – a good fat grain. He really gave the organ full bore when he got back to play ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ and he knew the great feeling of satisfaction when ‘All was safely gathered in –ere the winter storms begin’.

For those in peril on the sea
 With Daddy Flower being ex Royal Navy (he always had a small anchor embroidered on his stoll) we knew that if it was a really clarty rough winter’s night, we’d launch into the sailor’s hymn of ‘Eternal Father strong to save’ with great gusto. We'd build up great gusto on the 'Oh hear us when we cry to thee' and slowy come back down to earth on the 'for those in peril on the sea'. A great hymn without doubt, and one to give the organ blower a decent work out.

And of course during the prayers, we always prayed for ‘Those who went down to the sea in ships and occupied their business in great waters’, after we did the Royal Family. No wonder the Queens have been long livers – with all the praying I said for them.

Tolling the bell
As well as blowing the organ, there was also the bell to toll. This was a tricky job, as pulling the long thick rope had to be done with a sharp click so the hammer hit the side of the bell and didn’t just move in sync with it, as there’d be no ring. You hadn’t to let the rope go free but keep it under tension between pulls.

It was a good feeling hammering the old bell that had been up there for a few hundred years. If you got the tolling wrong, everyone in the village heard your stops and starts.

Reading the lesson
I was never allowed to read the lesson as Joe Lumley had the job sewn up. He always did it well too. But I did fancy the job and remember doing it maybe twice. It paid you to know which were the lessons for that Sunday and have a practice beforehand as you could easily have been 'catched oot' by a biblical name that got you tongue tied.

Taking the collection
After a great deal of fund raising (I forget where from now), the organ got an electric motor so there was no more manual handle cranking. This cut my income but I wasn’t worried as it freed me from regular attendance.

I was then asked to take the collection, either by myself it there was a small attendance or with a partner if we had a ‘full hoose’ which only happened at special festivals. The turned and carved oak platters had a tiny bit of felt in the bottom so the coins landed quietly - good for anyone who had hoyed in a handful of pennies instead of half a crown!

The platters were first handed to the person at the end of the row and they passed it along the row to the next one before its return. You hadn’t to watch how much money folk put on the plate.

After the collection you then took it up to the alter rails, handed it to Daddy and he turned around and held it up high before the alter till presumably God added it up to see if we’d been miserable or generous. You then had to turn around, making sure you didn’t trip down the two steps on your way back to your pew to finish off the hymn.

The choir
You could hardly call it a choir - at best 2-3 of us, struggling to give the impression that we could sing. Daddy had a nice tenor voice and so did Joe Lumley when he was there. Singing was abou the only thing he taught us - but to be fair he did make sure we knew the ten commandments.

Mary Mitchell was a choir on her own, and she loved getting stuck into the high notes and hearing her voice echo through the ancient stone arches of the roof. All I really did was to fill a space, as I sat in the corner seat so could hide from the main congregation.

The Psalms
Hymns were good as they had rhythm, and even if Daddy sprung an unfamiliar one on us, after a few faltering verses we could usually get the hang of it.

But the psalms could be killers, especially if there were only a couple of us in the choir. Daddy must have known this as on such occasions he would declare that we would 'say' the psalm. He he would read one line and we would all read the next. A great idea that in my view should have been standard practice.

What made it hard was having to 'hing on' to one note, while gabbling a whole screed of words before dropping down or rising up to end - and then gasping for air to recover. Mind you this is a skill I still have, and entertain religious friends by singing them a newspaper column and even the ads to a psalm tune.

Good morning’ - Good Evening’ and gone!
The climax was to see Daddy come down from the alter after blessing us and proceed to the door to bid us ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ with his very pleasant smile.

I had to make sure I didn’t break into a run until I got past the Town Hall, so as not to show how serious I was te git back inte me aad claes with time to make up before dark!

It was school the next day and back to more regular sinning with Joe Lumley's strap acting on God's behalf to make us good little members of the Church of England.

Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne (Holy Island)
Daddy Flower must have had the idea to give our faith a ' rev up' and organised a Parish bus trip to Lindisfarne - which I thought would be a trip to the seaside like Whitley Bay. There was plenty sea and sand around Holy Island. That was a big mistake as I had underestimated what the word 'pilgrimage' meant, and should have sensed trouble as no buckets and spades were allowed.

We set off with a full bus load from Bellingham and when we got to Beal we de-bussed and after removing shoes and socks to expose our lilly white feet, we set off across the causeway as the tide was out. This must have been well planned. When we got to the island, with footwear back on again, we set off in a long procession with Daddy leading us in his vicar's garb. I can't remember if Mrs Flower was there but I'm sure she would be. It was quite a hike on the road through the village and on to the priory.

This is where I hit trouble, because as we passed one of the big houses (a boarding house), out of the front door came my favourite Aunt Martha and cousins Mary and Chrissie from Winlaton who were having a holiday there. They must have gone to the door to see what all the commotion was. I wanted to leave the throng and stay with them - but no, I had to continue in the procession with mother.

We finally assembled in the ruin of the priory and oh man, the service went on for hours - with no seats, just standing all the time on the grass. There was clergy of all ranks who had to make a long speel - there seemed to be no end to it.

Thinking back now the place was full so there must have been more than us Bellingham folk there. It was the pits for a laddie, to be so near all that sea and sand and not be allowed to 'gan and play'.

All these years later, I can't remember how we got back to the mainland. Maybe we hiked but we could also have paid for one of the ancient rusty taxis that would travel with the water up to the door steps when the tide was not fully out. Their exhausts were all eaten away with the salt water so sounded like tractors.

Mother and I did go back to have a holiday in later years with my aunt and cousins, and they were memorable days with fresh seafood always on the menu. I made sure we didn't spend much time in the priory.

A rare gathering
Daddy's wife was the sister of our local Dr Kirk's wife and this photo, found by Carole Durix is of the Kirk's daughter Pauline's 21st birthday.  Daddy Flower was Carole's grandmother's young half brother.

L to R.  Daddy flower with cigarette, ?. Dr Clements (Kirk's partner and much preferred by all of us to Kirk).  The rest of the ladies unknown.  Seated Dr Kirk, daughter Pauline, Mrs Kirk.

Photo provided by Carole Durix - a great


  1. James Ian MurdochMarch 15, 2010 at 7:01 AM

    Wonderful memories.

    I'm afraid I was one of the Brownriggers
    you mentioned whispering in the back pews albeit between 1960-63. In our defence Sunday breakfast at Brownrigg was rather sparse so we were all eager to hurry back to school for the much more substantial sunday lunch! Our sunday afternoons were spent hiking, Hareshaw Linn or along the track of the old North Tyne Railway were popular and in the summer term illicit swims in the North Tyne to refresh ourselves hot from the fells.

    Saturday afternoon visits to see a film in the Town Hall followed by a quick milk shake in the village snack bar was a treat - the snack bar had a juke box and consumed many of our threepenny bits!

    Coincidentally I too was confirmed by the Bishop of Newcastle - though at St Cuthbert's, and enjoyed the pleasures of Whitley Bay where I would vacation with relatives during school holidays when my parents were overseas.

    Alas Brownrigg School is no more - I never returned - though I still remember idyllic times there, spring lambs bleating on the fells, a cuckoo calling lazily on a heavy hot summer's afternoon, beautiful clear autumn days with the promise of winter in the breeze. And Bellingham's friendly 'fowk'.

    Happy days!

  2. I am related to the late Jean Milburn.I believe she was my Great Grandmother's cousin. I met her once when she was quite elderly. She seemed like a character but it's all so long ago.