Getting involved

It felt very odd to be starting out with a more or less empty larder and such a lot of space around us. Low Shells was roomy but George Square and Holmscroft Street flats weren’t, so it was quite a shock to my system when I realised how much vacuuming, dusting, washing etc. I was going to have to do! Our predecessors, Hilda and Tom Guy, had left the house spotless so we were fortunate. My first shopping trip was to find out where the butcher, the baker and the greengrocer were, (we already had a stock of candles!), plus the grocer. Birkett’s the baker had a big choice of bread, buns and cakes. The shop staff were friendly and welcoming, as indeed were all the shop workers in the town. The fruiterer was almost next door and owned by Mr Ernie Carrick. His wife and Harry Birkett’s wife were sisters, about the age of our parents, and they were very kind to us. The butcher was further down the town and Mr Ned Norman was the owner. His wife Jenny worked in the shop along with her sister-in-law. The shop was divided with one side for raw meat and the other for lovely cooked meats, etc. They bred the animals on their farm and butchered them themselves. It was only after we left Haltwhistle that I realised what large half-pounds of mince they had served me. They were all our church members.

There were two grocers, the nearest being the Co-op so I went there and found a Methodist working in it. Joyce Robinson, who was a local preacher and Sunday School teacher in the Infants Department, was one who could be depended upon whatever she was doing. So I did most of the grocery shopping at the Co-op but we liked Brough’s biscuits best! They had a stand in the front shop with about twelve or maybe more big square biscuit boxes with glass lids. The stand then tilted forward so you could easily see what was in them. I loved choosing about four different kinds to make a pound. They had superb coconut, finger and summer creams, and a lovely chocolatey one the name of which I have forgotten. I was drawn there by the biscuits and the nice girls who worked there.

We opened two accounts at Martins Bank, which later became part of the Midland Bank. Mr Keenlyside was the Manager. When I left the Commercial Bank I was given a ‘dowry’ of around £300. So we had most of that and whatever John had which was put in the Savings Account – we felt quite rich! Our quarterly stipend went into the Current Account, and each week we cashed a cheque for £3 for housekeeping. Once in a while we ran out of money before Quarter Day but on the whole we managed things well. Coal, gas and electricity were the major out goings. We ordered 10 cwt of coal at a time which cost us around £3. We probably burned about 2 tons a year because we had to have the kitchen fire on year round to heat the water supply. My sister told me recently she pays £15 per cwt today, showing again how money value has changed.

We soon began to feel at home and part of the church family and the community. Walking along Haltwhistle and doing the shopping was a slow business because everyone was friendly and knew everybody else! We soon were very much involved in Haltwhistle life and were happy with it.

John MitchellAt that time most Ministers spent mornings in the study and afternoons visiting. John would be out at least two days at the country churches, where he would visit the people, have tea with one of them, then perhaps a committee meeting, getting home about 9pm or later. He was always hungry then and ready for a plate of chips, (fried in lard and crisp) and sausages or bacon, anything that didn’t take too long! He put on weight but cholesterol was still a secret then! Mr Thynne lent him his bicycle, so he got plenty exercise as there were hilly roads all around. However after a year he got a scooter, a ‘Dandy’, which was quicker and easier than the pedal bike.

In spite of having to stand up in front, I enjoyed the Women’s Meeting every week. I had a hymn, reading and prayer then introduced the Speaker. At the end, I gave a word of thanks, with hopefully some intelligent comment on the talk, followed by a final hymn and benediction. It got easier as time went on but I never lost that nervous feeling. Sometimes I was the Speaker. My Auntie Anna had given me a book about Quarrier’s Homes and I made a talk from it which was quite well received. Quarrier’s was a few miles from Kilmacolm, and on fine Sundays crocodiles of children would come up the Milton Road and turn at the Toll on to Lochwinnoch Road and back to where they began. It was quite a few miles and must have been hard for the smaller ones. I knew they were orphans, or had only one parent who couldn’t keep them, and was sad for them. As a little girl I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like with no family. Many of them were sent to the colonies when still young teenagers, for better or worse.

Then there was a lovely article about the 23rd Psalm in the Readers’ Digest Omnibus. At the meeting, of course, I told the group where I had found it and they really liked it. The following week the speaker was the husband of one of the Guild members who had been absent the week before. Incredible as it sounds he had the same ‘address’ from the Digest except that the source was not revealed to us! What an evening! I felt awful, people were trying hard not to giggle. It was a short and I hope, diplomatic thank you afterwards. However it speaks volumes for the Christian forbearance and kindness of the Guild women that it was never, as far as I know, disclosed to anyone else. Thank goodness!

In time I made quite a lot of talks and became fractionally more confident. The Women’s World Day of Prayer was a big event in Haltwhistle. All the Ministers wives were on the Committee and I vividly remember with what horror I realized that they took turn about to give the address at the Women’s World Day of Prayer Service. There was no way out and, what was worse, the service was prepared by women in a different country each year and the talk had to fit in with their theme. I started early and got a rough outline but have to confess that I had to get John to help me with it. The event was in the Anglican Church that year and was full of people. But I managed fine and we weren’t in Haltwhistle long enough for my turn to come round again. As time went by my thinking changed and I told myself that, although I’d never be a star on the platform, as long as I did my very best I should stop worrying, which I did.

After writing this post, I shut down the computer and picked up one of Dr William Barclay’s ‘Through the Year’ books. William Barclay was a much-loved New Testament Scholar and John had most of his books, many of which have now gone to a young minister, but I have kept a few. I read the page for that day and the last few lines said, “Let us have a go at the big thing. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly, so long as it is done as well as you can possibly do it”.


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