Sunderland North Circuit

Our second year was less fraught than the first fortunately. It was a large circuit with five ministers. To begin with John looked after Thomson Memorial Hall and Hood Street churches, and later on Dock Street church amalgamated with TMH as their building needed repairs beyond the ability of the congregation to fund. I vaguely remember he also had Whitburn in his care at some point. Our Super lived next door, which was convenient for Mr Allison and John. It was handy when chimney sweeping time came around. Both our houses were the same and the breakfast rooms had a chimney which official sweeps were reluctant to look at apparently. So the two ministers swept both chimneys together. There were two little square doors on the chimneys one of which was accessed from the roof and a lower one. Each part was done separately and we two wives stayed in whichever house wasn’t being swept and enjoyed a cup of tea till it was over. John had to be tutored in chimney science which in turn he passed on to the Super’s successor. Another senior lived just along Roker Park Road, Alan and his wife Hilda. There were several younger ministers.


We still looked back at Haltwhistle often, but we got used to the changes and found our feet. John was out a lot more and had a lot more ground to cover. I had far more housework and we had many visitors. We got used to hearing the noise from Roker Park Football Ground and seeing the enormous number of fans arriving for the games. John became a Sunderland FC fan and went to the home games whenever he could. He followed their progress for the rest of his life. The Super and his wife had a son, John, and a few times his Mum asked me to keep him company when they had both to be out. He was old enough to probably have felt he could look after himself but we got along fine. He is a Minister now. (In spite of some protests we never left our girls alone in the house till Anabel was 16!)

Every Tuesday Elspeth and I went to the Women’s Bible Class where Elspeth sat on her little chair and fell asleep leaning on me. We always got home in time for Anabel coming home from school except once. At the time I was troubled with sciatica and in the middle of the busy road I was suddenly struck with horrible pain and my leg wouldn’t walk. We just had to stand till the pain went off with lots of traffic passing both ways! I saw our bus pass by. We got the next bus and when we got to our corner I could hear Anabel crying forlornly at the door, sobbing pitifully. I couldn’t run but when we got there she said – you didn’t open the door, I couldn’t get in! She recovered after a cuddle with Elspeth and me and it never happened again.

Sunday School Anniversary 1962Although we were always busy there isn’t a lot I can write about. Each Church’s calendar was full of events, and each year followed the same pattern. The various Men’s and Women’s meetings, Sunday School and the Church each had an Anniversary. Most had a special service and some a Saturday evening concert or Rally. Special speakers were invited and very often stayed with us. This applied to each church so there were a lot of events. I went when possible but the children came first. I especially enjoyed the Sunday School events, always full of parents and grandparents, and took the girls to them. Which reminds me of the first time Anabel took part in Haltwhistle Sunday School Anniversary held on Good Friday 1962. It was a ‘dress-up’ occasion for the children. Shortly before, the local draper’s had a sale and there was a lovely little party dress in their widow. It was pale blue with frills and just the right size for Anabel (as pictured). I bought it! She loved it and so did Elspeth when her turn came to wear it. Anabel had a four line verse to recite and I remember so well saying it to her and helping her to memorise it. It still lingers in my mind!

Little birds in winter time, hungry are and poor.

Feed them for the Father’s sake, till the winter’s o’er.

She said it so beautifully and looked so lovely in the party dress. I made lots of pretty dresses for our girls but that was the only bought party dress ever! So like the swallows coming each year to Haltwhistle, church events came round each year basically the same – but always looked forward to with the same anticipation and never, ever boring!

The children grew and Elspeth joined Anabel at Redby School in 1965. A couple with a boy and girl ages with ours lived quite near and attended Roker Methodists at the end of our street but not one of John’s. I knew the Mum slightly and she suggested we should have the girls week about for an afternoon together during the summer so they would have a friend at school. I wasn’t attracted to the idea and nor was Elspeth! The boy was in Anabel’s class and bullied her. However I didn’t like to refuse. I took Elspeth the first time and she cried. It was a bad idea and I regretted not having been more firm and saying no. The ‘friendship’ ceased as soon as they went to school. Elspeth told me recently the day they started school the girl announced loudly to the other children that Elspeth was ‘Her Friend’ then never bothered with her any more. Elspeth found compatible friends of her own choosing and was happier as a result.

A selection of school photos from Redby:

We enjoyed our usual summer visits to Greenock and made the most of all the lovely places. We liked having people to stay especially Annabel and Jim. I missed my parents and I missed Annabel a lot too. We were both happy with our husbands but how I wished we lived nearer them!

Our lovely dentist was a Norwegian called Olaf and he had a Ford Traveller in which he taught John to drive. He passed first time and that summer Olaf lent us the car to go to Scotland on holiday. There was no motorway then so it was a longer journey and it was like a big adventure for us! We were grateful to our dentist for his kindness. Then the following year, a minister John knew said he could get us a second-hand Ford Anglia with a newly reconditioned engine. We had just enough cash so we became car owners! That was in August 1965, just before we started our fourth year in Sunderland. It made a tremendous difference to John having his own transport and no longer having to rely on buses and walking. And when he had the chance he could take his family out for a drive.

There were a good number of overseas students in Sunderland and one of our church members was part of a group who looked out for them and gave any help needed when they arrived. In early summer of ’64 he sent a notice round the churches appealing for someone to have two young women students who had spent their first year in unsatisfactory digs. There was no response and we inquired about them. One was from Nigeria, her name was Funke. The other was called Manjula and was Indian, although she had come from Kenya where her father was a government official. We suggested they came and visited us which they did. They were lovely friendly girls so we invited them to stay with us. Funke had been educated in Methodist Schools in Nigeria and had been taught by Olive from Greenock who had shared the Valedictory Service when she left to teach in Nigeria and John to Headingley College in Leeds for his ministerial training. We had a large attic room which we furnished with twin beds and other stuff from downstairs and put an electric heater in. They were happy to share the room which had been the study when we came. John used the dining-room instead and had all his books etc. there. He seldom used it at night so the students could use it in the evenings for studying. I gave them a good breakfast, a substantial evening meal and looked after them as if they were our own. Most evenings they joined us for a snack before bedtime.

Funke and Manjula were glad to have found a home where they fitted in so well and we had a lovely year with them. They were happy, cheerful girls and were good with Anabel and Elspeth who got on well with them. They had breakfast and evening meal with us and told us about their lives at home and made us laugh many a time. We treated them as new members of the family and regretted not having them longer than a year. The Circuit decided to sell the three large terrace houses in Roker Park Road and buy more modern houses. It was a good idea but the house we got in Sidecliff Road had only three bedrooms so it wasn’t possible to have Funke and Manjula. The latter told us her husband was coming to study in England and could he stay with us too! I would have said no to that in any case. I loved having the two of them but a husband was too much! I think our children benefited from that year, they learned that people from faraway places are just the same as people at home when you get to know them and they grew up with a happy disregard for prejudice in any form.


4 thoughts on “Sunderland North Circuit

  1. I’m sorry to have to ask this (in case Football isn’t at all your thing!) but what did John say about Jim Montgomery’s wonder double save for Sunderland at Wembley against Leeds. As a youngster I was amazed. I love goalies and that save alongside Gordon Banks extraordinary effort against Pele stand out for me over the last 50 plus years as the best ever.


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