Still among the Geordies

Mr Richardson, Organist, John and Mr Marshall in the Worship Centre

Mr Richardson, Organist, John and Mr Marshall in the Worship Centre

After the first year John began sounding out the possibility of altering one of the downstairs halls and making it our Worship Centre. He pointed out how expensive it was to heat the Central Hall and the advantage in having a more compact area. Mr Marshall the builder was in agreement and would carry out the work. I can’t remember any being against the idea. In due course we moved downstairs to a bright warm room with comfortable chairs and excellent lighting which would seat around 300. Wilf Marshall and his workers did a great job. The main hall was still there for big events like the Christmas Oratorio etc. We were a more homely group and more of a cluster than we had been in the large auditorium. I remember looking around on a Sunday morning there and wondering why people didn’t ‘bunch up’ a bit instead of being spread out. After some thought I realised it was probably because in the past the auditorium would be well filled but over the many years members would have died or moved away or become frail and those still attending sat in the seat they had always sat in! I’ve heard people say when talking of one who was no longer with us, ‘You remember, she sat beside Mrs —–, over on the left?’ Those who had left the gaps were remembered.

In the Manse, the breakfast room next to the kitchen had a very large range the make of which I have forgotten. It heated the room and had two ovens. The top was always hot so the kettle was ever ready for a cup of something. Most of our cooking was done on it. It was pretty old and unfortunately after a while some part of it gave up and couldn’t be replaced so we were for a time without hot water while Mr M. tried to find someone to mend it. Alas, it was too old to be mended! Once again the Mitchell’s stiff upper lip was called on! Wilf Marshall decided to put in a gas fire with a back-burner to heat the water. I was sad because it meant I’d have to use the electric cooker all the time and I didn’t like it much, having been used to gas cookers. So it all had to be removed which meant a lot of dust but the day came when the gas fire was put in and Wilf asked me where the gas pipe was. Daft question! He had renovated the kitchen before I had time to get familiar with it. I did vaguely remember noticing a bump on the floor of the larder they joined to the kitchen just after we arrived. It had, of course, been covered over with concrete to make it level with the kitchen! They had to get a new pipe brought in by the gas company which delayed things a bit, but thankfully not for long. It was certainly easier than shovelling coke, and the fire heated the room well. We still had coal fires but we liked the breakfast room because it looked out on the garden and the Moor and was warm. The dining room was the Study and the sitting room was large; it was impractical to have more than two coal fires on. And expensive! We had a kitchen table and chairs, a wee settee and it suited us fine. The main room at the front was for the summer and for visitors.

Sister Mavis was a lovely cheery lass and worked hard. The staff (and wives) were a friendly bunch and met together often. I think it was 1970 Mavis left and married. Her husband had a shoe business and they did well. Sister Hannah was appointed to fill the gap. She was less out-going than Mavis and more senior. She was with us at Westgate Hall for two years. Earlier that year, our Church had been visited by a Commission from Methodist Headquarters in London. John was aware when he accepted the charge that it was a real challenge. Although the congregation was quite large most of the people were scattered over the area and only a small number nearby. Costs were rising; we had few young people to pick up the baton from the ageing membership. It was decided that Westgate Hall should close at the end of that Methodist year, August 1972, which was a shock. However in conversation with one of the Commission John was asked about his family and when he said Anabel would be doing her O-level Exams in the next school year, the visitors gave it some thought and decided we should keep going until 1973 but without having a deaconess. We regretted losing Sister Hannah but it was a tremendous relief, not only for Anabel’s schooling but it would give more time for John to get all the members linked with other congregations to join. You might have thought it would be rather a sad year but in fact it turned out to be a happy year in many ways. All the members had known that the Westgate Hall’s days were numbered and accepted that it was inevitable.

Mum, Dad and the girls in the garden at Newcastle

Mum, Dad and the girls in the garden at Newcastle

My mother had a stroke in January ’73 and I went up to Greenock for a few days. The weather was very wet and I had no umbrella so my Dad bought me one! I still have it, although now I use a stick I’m not likely to be using an umbrella again. Mum wasn’t making a lot of progress. My two Aunts came to every visiting time so I had only one brief ‘private’ time with my mother when Jim took me up on the morning I left. She was sleepy but the last thing I said to her was that I loved her and she said she loved me, too. As it turned out I was very thankful to have had that short time with her.

When I got home I heard about John and the girls having chips for tea. Apparently John wouldn’t let them get the chip pan fat really hot for safety reasons so the chips took ages to cook and were the worst ever. The kitchen was never John’s forte! He was great with the vacuum though, and when we had a wee Hoover washing machine with a mangle attached he always turned the handle when he was around. Anabel was always keen to deprive him of that job as soon as she got the hang of it. Also, no family ever had cleaner shoes thanks to him.

I was all set to go to see Mum a few weeks later but, a couple of days before, Annabel rang to tell us she had died in her sleep. That was 23rd February. It was a blow indeed, she was only 73. So we all went for the funeral. Annabel and Jim made all the arrangements and it was well done. It was good to see cousins and others we hadn’t seen for years. Such a pity it takes a funeral to get families together. Our US friends will travel hundreds of miles for their regular family get-togethers. I have never forgotten the comfort and sympathy we had from the Westgate folk.

In our last year at Newcastle

In our last year at Newcastle

I had taken over from Hannah at the women’s meetings and enjoyed being more involved. John did indeed direct every person to another Methodist church, some to the Clarence Street church of the Circuit and most to the Methodist Church nearest their home. It was sad, but the Central Halls had had their day and few are left now. Through that year all the usual events happened and were well attended. I made lots of apple and ginger jelly for the last time and had tea parties on the lawn. I wasn’t a great baker but I was good at what we called ‘wee buns’. Fairy cakes with icing in various colours or made into butterfly cakes! Plus scones, I wasn’t bad at them. ‘Auntie Annie’s Tea Loaf’ was easy to make and all were well received. Many of the people thought as John and I did that although there was no ‘happy ending’ for Westgate Hall, the final months were not a dirge but a celebration of all that the people of Westgate Hall had done for the community for so many years.

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