Recently, when looking through a file on the computer searching for stuff to delete, I found the following item written by John, possibly for a Guild meeting, which gives his thoughts on manses. Although there is a recent posting on the subject, I think they are different enough to have some interest for my descendants if no one else!
More than a roof over our heads
I was pondering whether I might weave a story around the manses we have lived in when I opened the pages of the Methodist Recorder to discover that great minds think alike. Lord Griffiths, a Methodist minister and ex-President of the Conference, better known as the Rev Dr Leslie Griffiths, minister of Wesley’s Chapel in London, in his monthly article in the Recorder had chosen to write about The many manses of Methodism. He records that his present manse is the thirteenth house they’ve lived in during a ministry that has seen him work in eight different circuits, and at the time of writing they’d just celebrated residing in their current manse for 10 years – the longest they’d been in any house.
Since our marriage in 1956 to our retirement in 1994 I worked four circuits and we have lived in seven manses. In two of the circuits we occupied two different houses. The longest duration was in our final house; we lived in it for 14 years and it wasn’t a circuit house; it was the District Chairman’s manse. Our first circuit was a rural appointment in the Haltwhistle Circuit in Northumberland. Our girls were born there and the manse was their first home. So, it’s a bit special. I had pastoral charge of seven chapels. The second and third manses were at the seaside in the Sunderland North Circuit. I looked after Thompson Memorial Hall, and for a time I had a second charge which I eventually amalgamated with TMH. Those two manses were just a short walk from Roker beach and across the way from one of the town’s lovely parks. After six years we moved on and I became Superintendent of the Newcastle Mission Circuit with charge of Westgate Hall. Five years later we moved to the steel town, Consett in County Durham. I was Super of the Circuit, minister of a new church in Consett and one smaller village church. Consett was the other circuit where we moved houses mid-stream. We were happy to think of staying there for a longer than usual term when I was taken out of the appointment to become Chairman of the District.
The Chairman’s Manse was situated in Newcastle North and the house we lived in for 14 years to retirement was built about 12 years before we became its occupants. In my story about the manses we lived in I’m going to say no more about the District manse, except to say that like the other six manses it was very much our home and we were happy in it. Like the others, it allowed us to entertain and use it for a good number of church activities. It was our home – but church members were part of our family. Chris hasn’t paid me to say it, but she was an excellent hostess – she had to be when single-handedly committee members were refreshed, bishops lunched, large meetings of probationers’ meetings were catered for, as were groups of 30 or more entertained to supper when we had the President or some other big-wig in the District. They usually stayed with us too! I mention it because it is part of the story I weave around the manses of Methodism, for us much more than a roof over our heads.
Let me tell you a little about those manses.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, our predecessors having moved out in the morning; it was also the day before the Quarterly Meeting, our first stipend and our welcome meeting. We started to unpack as soon as we’d eaten, and by 10 o’clock when we had intended to stop we thought “we’ve got on like a house on fire, we could get everything out of the boxes and into temporary storage in another hour”, so we carried on. We were helped considerably be our predecessors, every part of the house was spotless, all the drawers clean and lined and we thought this would be the norm at every move in every circuit (we didn’t realise we were naïve but naïve we were!) By the way, we didn’t have a telephone but shared the Superintendent’s. Those were the days of generous and well-off benefactors in Methodist Circuits – sometimes the Circuit Steward – so our first manse was carpeted from a wealthy former steward’s billiard room, green of course. A varied selection of furniture had come from other sources over the years. Thanks to Mrs Maughan who ‘mothered’ this young couple, having ‘had a chat’ with the stewards, we soon had our horse-hair mattress replaced and a much-needed bedroom suite provided. There was no study, the dining room served. We converted a small box-room with plenty of light from its two windows to be a cosy little study. It was next door to the bathroom which in itself was unusual. It had been a cupboard, now it had an old-fashioned bath which was on two floor levels and had lion’s claw feet. You had to mind the step as you got into the bath and also avoid getting burned by the exposed pipes and the hot-water tank. A great place to start a ministry, among truly wonderful people. We thought the house to be really big – until we moved to….
Three stories high! The study was on the third floor, and as the gas supply was not strong enough to rise that high the ancient gas-fire didn’t get very hot. The stairway was divided at different levels; halfway up two sections sub-divided at another level. On the half-level above the hall was the toilet with no wash-basin. On the half-level below the third floor, the bath was cramped in a little space, no window or ventilation, heated by a small, conical, exposed gas fire. We would never leave the children alone there. On reflection since, we were lucky to survive!
We couldn’t unpack fully until December – rising damp had been discovered the length of the hall and it was a long way from front door to back – over 30 steps for me, more for Chris. While the walls were ripped apart and replaced, we dealt with the furniture. We opened wardrobe and drawers in our chosen bedroom and immediately set about ripping out the dusty, ancient, unkempt cloth linings and then got scrubbing. The back utility space, used as a kitchen, had no ceiling just high wooden lathes and the roof. It was on a slightly lower floor level and the floor covered with an ancient matted rug on which you tripped very easily. On one occasion a full tray of crockery became a casualty when Chris caught her foot on the low step. On arrival, the room next to the study was chock-a-block with all sorts: bedsteads, bedpans, braces, etc., absolute clutter! On the first half-landing was a large settee that had seen better days. All had to be removed – fortunately our organist was the deputy head of the Cleansing Department. Once again, it was home and we had a wonderful view from the front windows – the park across the road, with trees and shrubbery, tennis courts and bowling greens. Roker Bay and the North Sea were below the Park.
Halfway through our time we moved to a smaller house. I didn’t have a car, but we had a double garage. There was no study so the dining room became dual-purpose. We went back on every visit and looked at those two houses with fond memories and more than a little nostalgia.
Here we moved to ‘millionaires row’, so nicknamed because that is where the millionaires once lived. It had gone down-market by our time. Another very large house but in an excellent setting. Over the hedge at the bottom of the garden – the Town Moor, one of the large grass open areas. Just a stone’s throw from the city centre, cows grazed! The house was bought at the request of a new Mission Superintendent years before – a Methodist minister but a man of means and vanity! He didn’t like the once fashionable area in which the manse was situated so he said to the stewards, ‘Get me a nice house in a nice area and I’ll give you £50 a year towards the re-payment of the loan.’ So, much later Chris and I inherited this lovely large house (much in need of money spent on it), sold eventually on our departure for £8000, a good price at the time! The dining room was the size of two rooms, the hall the size of one and a half rooms. The downstairs sitting room was big enough to have a dance in and the room above it was the same, probably once called the Drawing Room. The main rooms had decorative moulding over each door and round the top of the walls, which was lovely. There was no central heating but there were gaps in the floorboards in Elspeth’s room and the heat from the kitchen came up through the spaces so our younger daughter was the only one with ‘central’ heating! It was so cold that Chris did her house-work with her coat, gloves and boots on. For a second time, we didn’t get fully unpacked until December to allow for some essential work to be done. Oh, the dining room in my predecessors’ time had space and to spare for his desk, bookshelves, a sideboard and a 3 quarter size billiard table. My, it was grand! The garden was large with three apple trees including a red crab-apple tree. We ate a lot of stewed apples and Chris made loads of apple and crab-apple jelly which we enjoyed, although most was sold at the garden coffee afternoons we had in summer for Church funds.
When we left Newcastle our next stop was…….
On our arrival, one of the removal men, who had seen where we had come from, said to Chris, “Is this just a temporary house for you?” We left behind our large mansion for a small ex-council property with two bedrooms and a smallish box-room, a sitting room and a dining-kitchen, all very small – but there was a conservatory (almost on its last legs). Chris was over-the-moon – a conservatory! She quickly set about cleaning it up and getting some geraniums from which she took cuttings and grew more for Church sales. I had to struggle with a nice sized garden – no, not a garden – a wilderness and rubbish tip. The previous manse was on the main road: a minister declared it was not safe enough for his children to play and he knew of a lovely smaller house, well-situated, which he asked the circuit to buy. He moved his study to the church vestry – where I also worked although in a different and brand new church.
The house was in a bit of a mess – there are some ministers’ families who really let the side down when it comes to care of the manse. The Stewards promised, when we came to view the house beforehand, that by the time we came the gate would be back on its hinges and the house would be a little palace. When we arrived there was no change! I almost reneged on the appointment because of the manse – how could I expect Chris to put up with it? I had a few hard words with the Chairman of the District about the situation. However, Chris said it was the Church and congregation I was called to, and the house was her job, though the bedroom carpet had to go immediately! The steward came round and they lifted the carpet which was damp and ancient and dropped it out the window. We were totally disbelieving when it turned out that whoever had laid it down had cut it round the wardrobe. We had a good laugh and very soon had a nice clean fresh carpet. We got it all in order and we came to love our little house in Consett, and had lovely neighbours on both sides and round about. Several people came with plants from their gardens and cuttings to help us make a colourful garden and by the next summer it was lovely. Elspeth liked cacti and had a small one, then an elderly lady gave her a large one when we left Newcastle and eventually we had several in the conservatory. The Newcastle one flowered spectacularly a couple of times. After three years we were moved to a larger house five minutes’ walk away so we had some more decorating to do.
We were happy in all our manses, whatever the snags. In each of them our manse stewards and members went out of their way to make the provision of a manse something more than just a roof over our heads. This is only part of our story, told not with a view to courting your sympathy. I tell it because in all these varied circumstances and situations we have been well-cared for and have felt ourselves loved by God’s people.
And, if our fellowship below be so sweet, what heights of rapture shall we know, when round his throne we meet?