John began his Ministry in Findochty, a fishing community on the Moray Firth, Haltwhistle was a small country town, and Sunderland was a seaside resort. Now we lived in a city. Newcastle-upon-Tyne has many green spaces, lovely buildings, a theatre where we enjoyed some great shows, excellent shops and friendly folk. The Geordie accent is music to the ears! The city centre is compact and you can cover a lot of the shops in a day if you are so minded.
The Newcastle Mission Circuit had Westgate Hall, which was John’s responsibility, and Clarence Street. Their Minister, Arthur Wade, his wife Olive and their two children moved on the next year and were followed by Tom Duerdon, Joan and their two boys. John and Tom had a good rapport and worked together well. We also had a Deaconess, Sister Mabel, and later Sister Hannah. We soon got to know each other and become friends.
Olive was a nurse and I phoned her for advice one morning when I had a severe pain in my left arm. She said sit down and I’ll come round. They lived around the corner so she arrived in minutes and found it was a wasp sting! The poor thing must have landed on my side and when I put my arm down (I was hanging washing) it got trapped and didn’t like that. I was none the worse, although it stayed painful and swollen for a bit. A hornet stung me when I was a girl and it was painful too. But the third and last was the worst. It happened high up on a Swiss mountain when we were having coffee on the terrace of a café. John and I were standing looking at the view when I was bitten above my right eye by something and it swelled up and discoloured and was very sore. My eye was out of action! One of the staff gave me some ice in a bag, which was helpful, but when I eventually looked in a mirror I was appalled. It certainly made people notice me and was quite embarrassing. It was a few days before it got back to normal. I hoped people didn’t think John and I had had an altercation!
The people who lived near us were friendly. The elderly couple on one side had recently lost the last of three Bull Mastiffs and were not going to replace him, so they were rather sad. Having known the same sorrow several times I sympathised with them. He went to a nearby farm every week for eggs, so kindly offered to buy some for us. It was good to have fresh eggs and sometimes pullets’ eggs straight from the farm. On our other side was a couple who owned an optician’s business so we all had our eye tests fixed up. They had three daughters, two around our girls’ ages. They were in and out of our manse for a while probably from curiosity! However they went to the Convent School so the friendships didn’t become firm. They had a friend across the road whose father was George House who, with another chap called Mike Neville, read the news on Tyne-Tees Television. It was a pleasure to watch them – their news reading was excellent, but also they were like comedians some times and were very popular. I know it was kind of them but I was quite dismayed to get an invitation to a cocktail party at lunch time on a Sunday, from our optician. However we went straight from morning church and had a small sherry, feeling like fish out of water. Their lives were so different and their conversation about things we knew nothing of. Part of my trouble was I couldn’t envisage asking them to our place in return. Anyway we thanked them for inviting us and remained neighbourly acquaintances and customers.
Some of our congregation were elderly people of pension age, others were working people, comfortable but not rich. There was a small Sunday School. We soon got to know everybody. We did have one couple who were able to be very generous in many ways. They were Alderman John G. and Mrs Ellen Nixon. They had provided funding to build a Hospital in Segbwema, Sierra Leone, and helped to maintain it. It was destroyed in the Rebel War but rebuilt later. It is now a one hundred bed hospital serving a rural community of around 30,000. When I last read about it, it had one resident Doctor, six nurses and two midwives. Compared to that, and with all its shortcomings, we should be glad of our NHS. Mr. Nixon died many years ago and his wife sometime after. They contributed a lot to the annual fund-raising weekend and each Christmas staff members were given a monetary gift and a turkey. I cannot remember how much, but we were very grateful and appreciative.
Before the fund-raising weekend came round, John wrote many letters to people and organisations who might be moved to send a gift. It wasn’t something he enjoyed doing but it was what Central Halls did, not only to get funding but to make known the great need there was in the area. There was unemployment, there were folk who couldn’t manage the small amount of cash they had never having learned to cook or mend. For many children Christmas would have been just another day had not our church folk collected, cleaned, repaired, wrapped and categorized toys and other gifts by ages. I was a helper for that. Boxes of food were given to families based on the observations of Sister Mabel. I think of this when the Food Bank my local Church supports is mentioned and wonder that more than 45 years later it is still needed! The Mission also had a clothing store and provided warm clothing to many who lacked it. At the Christmas party there were many elderly folk who would enjoy the warmth and a lavish dinner with entertainment to follow. On one occasion, two of the men found items of clothing missing! Obviously one of the other guests had taken a better coat and hat than the ones he had arrived in. The two refused to go till they had a hat and coat. The upshot was that John came dashing into our house where the children and I were waiting to have our Christmas meal. He went off with his second best Trilby and his ex-police overcoat which had served him well for years but was in excellent condition. It was quite a sacrifice, he loved that overcoat! It had its funny side as well, as we used to see the coat now and again when the wearer appeared at jumble sales and John would feast his eyes on it. It certainly was a Christmas not forgotten!