Incidents from life before his ordination

Canon David Neaum

When my series of Pew Leaflet articles “Golden Bells & Pomegranates” came to its end my son, Fr. Andrew Neaum, asked me to try another series. “Golden Bells and Pomegranates” was about my life from ordination until retirement, the new series, he thought, should be about my life before I was Ordained. I decided to have a go.


Eighty six years of age is rather different from seventy five though, and I have never kept a diary. So the incidents from my early life that follow might not be as accurate as I would wish them to be. It is difficult when one comes from a family of six, to separate one's own doings from those of one's siblings. If I have made this sort of mistake it will not be known to my readers and none of my family will mind, for they will know that nothing has been stolen in malice and that all things written are true, insofar as my memory allows them to be.


My life, from its start has been full of God's blessings and crammed with benefactors so the title I have chosen for these reminiscences is: “Count Your Blessings”.



The year 1912 had three great happenings, one a tragedy, one a building and one very personal. The tragedy was the sinking of the Titanic; the building was the ‘New Mill' in Belper, with its stone-topped tower and the year 1912 carved in its stone. When I was young I thought this dating was in my honour, but it wasn't as few outside my family knew that it was the year of my birth - a famous year!


First I must give you some idea of the place Belper, for it was there, in that small market town that I spent the first twenty two years of my life. In that day it was realised that for both man and beasts there must be market towns separated from each other by only twelve miles or thereabouts. Beasts were then driven on foot to market and twelve miles as a return journey was thought enough for the welfare of the animals. For humans, the twelve miles marked the distance indigent folk (i.e. ‘Tramps’ in those days) could walk in a day. So ‘Unions’ or, as they became known, ‘Workhouses’ were built in market towns, where such folk could be washed, fed, bedded and, after doing a few tasks, sent on their way to the next ‘Workhouse’.


Belper (its old name being Beau Repeare) was a small market town of some five thousand inhabitants, set in the middle of south Derbyshire and not far from the middle of England. It had its market and workhouse, with others at Derby (eight miles), Ashbourne (eleven miles) and Ilkeston (about twelve miles). The town itself was (and is) rather lacking in beauty, but its surrounds are beautiful with heather covered hills (the end of the Pennine Chain) and the River Derwent flowing from East to West, separating the rather ordinary, though stone-built town, from the posher parts, where beauty (and the Squire!) lived. In older days, when the town was smaller, the Squire lived within the town in Green Lane with a private footbridge over the main shopping street to his own garden. In my time that house had been demolished and the garden across the street was given by him as a Memorial Garden for those killed in the First War.


Some few years ago I was visiting the Doctor whose surgery was on Green Lane and upstairs. I looked out of his window and saw the back of the house where I had been born. My business being done, I decided to walk along Green Lane to look at Albert Street and its famous house. It was a short cul-de-sac ending at the railway station; very Victorian and quiet. I went down to No.17 and there it was - so small it seemed - and let into the brickwork was a stone with the name carved into it. I found it hard to believe that six lusty nuisances, including myself, were born in a house called “Primrose Villa”! How romantic and how incongruous! I turned to the other side to see the larger house we had moved into, No.20, only to find that that was named “Rose Villa”. I walked back through the railway station somewhat shamed when I remembered what trouble we gave to our respectable neighbours during our youth.


But one thing I did see, and that was my bedroom window which always reminded me of the poet Thomas Hood - you will remember the first verse:-

      I remember, I remember,

      The house where I was born,

      The little window where the sun

      came peeping in at morn:

      He never came a wink too soon

      nor brought too long a day;

      But now, I often wish the night

      had borne my breath away.

I have always loved that poem but, different from its writer, I never wished for life's end, for it all was too happy to miss. But now, a little more about Belper. At the bottom of Albert Street there was a walkway to the station where one could walk down to the East platform or cross the iron latticed bridge over the lines and turn left to the booking office and past that, to the main street - King Street; or turn right to the West platform or up a flight of steps and along another walkway to Field Lane. Crossing this road one entered the 'Ropewalk' (used for its proper purpose - our organist at Church was the rope-maker) which led into “The Clusters” and “Long Row”, four long streets of houses for the mill workers, and from there, turning left, some two hundred yards down was the Church which Mother and we children attended: very ‘High Church' - my father went to the larger parish Church, St. Peters - Evangelical! Christ Church, the home of my faith, stood across the main road into which Long Row led. The road, Bridge Street, was the A6 - one of the main roads from London, through Leicester and Derby, then passing through Belper and going on to Manchester and Glasgow. At the Church the road divided at a treed centre called The Triangle, with one going to Matlock and the other to Ashbourne. Some hundred yards from The Triangle, built between the two roads was “Bridge House School” which will play an important part in this tale, and which was owned and run by an old dragon, Mrs. Calder, and her three daughters, Florence, Maggie and Polly - a private school for “Ladies and Young Gentlemen” (up to the age of 8 years). The “Ladies” could stay for their whole education.


It is my hope that I have given you some small picture of the background to my tale: basically, a square with Green Lane and Bridge Street as top and bottom and King Street and Long Row at the sides - the square of my young life, with Christ Church in the bottom corner and the Parish Church half way along Green Lane.


Early Childhood

The first great Blessing that fell to my lot was being born into a loving family. It was 2 years before the Great War and as we were reasonably well off I had a Nanny - a lovely lass named Elsie Curley who stayed with us until the middle of 1915 when she left to be married. My every memory of her is good for she tried to bring me up as a “little gentleman”. I have two memories of those early years of which only one is tellable. I had managed to escape when she was dressing me, and I ran down the back path to the street with only the top of my little suit on. Elsie caught up with me as I was about to enter the street and I can still hear her rebuke, “Little gentlemen don't go out without their trousers on”. How right she was - I might have grown up into a ‘Streaker’!


When I arrived I was the fourth in a family of eventually six: Bess, the eldest, was born in 1907, Malcolm in 1908. Francis in 1910, then me. Later came Peter in 1916 and last, Anne in 1925 - my baby as I called, and still call, her. Halcyon days I'm led to believe, until the war came and father joined up and then Elsie left and was replaced by a maid - as opposite from her as was possible.


I had always wondered why I have such early remembrances of school until a couple of years ago, when talking with my elder sister, the mystery was solved. During the first year of the war, Pa was stationed in different parts of England before being sent abroad, and Mother spent as much time as she could with him wherever he was stationed, leaving us children in the care of a friend and the new (dreadful) maid. She, being unwilling to care for a three year old, persuaded mother to let Bess take me to Mrs. Calder's School.


There was no idea of ‘Play School’ nor even ‘Pre-School’ in those days, for on my first morning I was given a slate and a ‘Soft’ lead pencil and began learning ‘Pot-hooks’ - the beginning of cursive writing.


But before going into school days let me say that Bridge House School was like an extension of Church, for the Calder daughters were the main pillars of the Church: Florence, the most down-to-earth of the three, was the best teacher I have ever come across; Maggie was, as they then called it, ‘Humped-backed’ and somewhat of a religious maniac - when having to take medicine four hourly she wouldn’t take an early dose “lest to take it would break her fast before receiving Holy Communion”; Polly, whose main task was looking after the boarding girls, was an unknown quantity to us lads. I never remember the old dragon, the mother, ever going to church at all: the Vicar must have done something to offend her!


Each and every school day at 11.50a.m. the whole school was lined up and, with the three teachers, walked crocodile fashion across to Church for the ‘Angelus’. As Miss Maggie ran the Sunday School, all of us who attended Christ Church were bidden to be at school at 10.15 to recite the Collect of the week which we were expected to have learned by heart: and woe befall those who stumbled (she was a bit catty to say the least). But I have always been thankful for that discipline, for Cranmer’s Collects are beautiful and I have never been at a loss for a good sensible prayer when called upon.


There then is something of the background of my earliest years. One thing I have not mentioned is my God Fathers: the first was a good Church-warden and business man and the other the Police Superintendent. Both will enter this story in later years.


“With the departure of Nanny Elsie the atmosphere seemed to change, for the new maid had no intention of turning me into a ‘Young Gentleman’. I doubt if she would have known what the term meant. In a short time my brothers and I became what most children are by nature, a trio of toughs, ready for any mischief when my father was away, but fairly decent in behaviour when he was back on leave. There was always, I’m proud to say, the restraining hand of both school and Church to save us from any real villainy.


Apart from the pleasure of Pa’s presence my mind recalls his ability to turn the mud patch into which we had made the garden, into a place of beauty. The grass was cut and edged and the flower beds restored. I wonder that he had the patience to do this repeatedly until he was sent abroad. From then on it remained a mud patch and the scene of our ‘wars’. But more of that later, for it was still while Pa had regular leave that two happenings stay in my memory.


A day came when Pa brought home a small ‘Hutch’ with a slatted front which had as its occupant a broody hen sitting on 12 eggs. We already had a couple of Dutch black and white rabbits, but this addition was far more exciting as we eagerly awaited the hatching of the eggs. The whole dozen hatched and in a short time the fluffy, golden chicks would come through the slats to wander on the grass. I asked why the mother hen was so confined and was told that were she free she might tread on her chicks. This proved to be a horribly prophetic truth, though not for the mother hen, but for me!


When evening came I would help Pa to guide the chicks back into their hutch and they would shelter under their mum. Then came the day when one of the little things suddenly ran away from the hutch and dashed towards three year old me, just as my foot was descending and she was squashed flat - dead. The horror of that moment has never entirely left me. That beautiful life could be extinguished in an instant by me. At that moment I could have agreed with the whole of Hood’s poem quoted earlier, for I wished that the night had indeed “borne my breath away”. Youthful memory is, however, short and life went on with the eleven chicks growing up and being housed, but still, after all the years, I recall the horror and sadness of that small death caused unwittingly by me.


Another memory of home life happened on my fourth birthday. By this time, in 1916, Pa was serving in France and was home on compassionate leave. In my innocence I thought this had been granted for my birthday, but discovered later that it was for the birth of my younger brother. Pa brought with him a friend called Jerry Levi. That evening there was a terrific thunderstorm, an event that terrified me. Jerry took me in his arms to the back porch and talked to me as the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, in such a way that my fear was stilled and I have loved such storms ever since. (apart from the damage they do).


One last incident on this early home front. Those who know me may have noticed the scar I have below the left ear. That was suffered when I was in the trenches during the first world war! But, you may say, how old were you at the time ? My reply would be that it was in 1917 when I was five. The mystery is solved once you are aware that there were two trenches, dug by us boys, at the bottom of the garden. From these trenches we waged war across the twenty odd metres separating them. My elder brother and I and a small friend were always forced to be Germans while the eldest brother and his larger friends were the “Allies”. One Sunday evening when Mother was at Church and we were in the charge of the maid, I had found a special ‘bomb’ - it was the bottom half of a bottle with a jagged spike at the end. Being left handed I had it in that hand ready to lob into the ‘Allies’ trench. When passing my face in the throwing, the jutting point ripped open my face below the ear. Great consternation until the maid pushed the piece of flesh and skin back into place, tied a piece of cloth around my head and sent me to bed. With mother’s return the wound was attended properly and I forgot it, except for the fun of telling folk that it was a wound acquired in the war in 1917 when I was in the trenches.


One great good grew out of those early years, my elder brother Francis and I became bosom companions, so much so that we became like twins and when, in the aftermath of the first world war, we both suffered double pneumonia, we shared the same double bed. How different and speedy is modern medicine, for in that day we both spent thirteen weeks in bed and another thirteen before being restored to full active life.


Few memories of that time remain with me. The old Vicar was a regular visitor to talk and pray with us. His routine remained constant, after prayers he would rise to leave and then, after a few minutes, return saying: “Did I leave a small parcel on my chair for I must take it to a sick lady up the street.”. The small parcel referred to was a bag of fruit which immediately after his leaving the room, we snaffled and ate. He never seemed disconcerted at this behaviour, so we knew he had brought the fruit for us.

I’ve gone ahead a bit with my story and so return you now to 17 Albert Street, a nine roomed brick building half way down the street which was itself a small hill. The garden was quite large and had a green (or glass) house attached to the lower side. Needless to say by the time the war ended there was not a shred of glass remaining. When Pa returned from the war he roofed it with iron and we younger boys made it our ‘Den’, lining its walls and ceiling with butter box wood (which probably came from Australia) and installing an iron stove.


Beyond that was the garden shed and then the ‘Dunny’ - a small two roomed structure one half being the dunny proper and the other having the door through which the ‘Night Soil’ men removed and replaced the bucket. All these buildings formed the boundary between us and the rather prim family below us. I cannot end this without confessing to a shocking incident; I would have been about five years old and Francis two years older. We had been wandering around with the usual sticks that children love to carry and found ourselves in the back part of the dunny. We decided to open the small door used by the night soil men. It was stiff and hard to open, but just as we succeeded we heard the dunny door open and close, a rustle of garments and the hole above us filled with a pink bottom. What could we do but give the apparition a poke with our sticks! There was a loud shriek, the removal of the bottom, a rustle of clothing and a quick opening and closing of the dunny door. We two, somewhat dismayed, peeped to see who it was whom we had molested and saw a rather loopy friend of mother’s entering the house. We crept up to the window to see what would be in store for us only to hear the friend saying. “Those terrible boys....” and then the remainder of the tale. To our relief and delight the result was a burst of laughter from both Mother and her friend. We knew we were forgiven.



Of the twenty seven homes in Victorian Albert Street in Belper, there are only about nine which fail to jog the memory. They must have contained quiet, inoffensive folk who never complained about the impossible Neaum kids and thus have faded away.


On Sundays most of the families would be seen going to the Church of their fancy, but also on their way could be seen their maids, or if they had no maid, then one of the household, carrying a meat-baking tin covered decently by a clean cloth. Their path was always up the street to house number one where lived the Beestons, who were bakers, and had their bakery behind the house. As all folk went to church and there were no electric or gas ovens, the meat and spuds were taken to the bakery to be cooked while the owners were at church. Fortunately the Beestons were adherents of some sect which had its worship in the evenings.


The charge for this service was one penny for singles, two for couples and three for families. Returning from Church (much longer sermons in those days!), the well roasted meat was collected (an oven cloth having been taken in the handbag for this purpose)and put into the hot oven at home while the vegetables were cooked and the gravy made and all was ready for a good, hot mid-day dinner. My memory tells me that the meat was always beautifully cooked and I didn’t discover the secret of how such variable loads were ready at the same time until it happened that Francis and I had to be the carriers. We then heard from the baker that most Church Services started at 10.30am and ended by noon. That meant that most were delivered at about 10.00 and the time for collection was 12.30. If a later time of collecting was needed, as it was with the Neaums who went to sung Matins followed by High Mass, lasting altogether from 10.00am to 1.00pm, the baker had to be told. We then discovered that he had three lines of dishes, according to the size of the meat, which were put into the over at suitable times and so came out in perfect condition. I presume that this custom lasted until the baker died, or until gas stoves became fixtures in most homes.


Moving down the street I have no memory of Number Three, but Number Five is fixed in my mind like a brand mark, for there lived a retired Postmaster who was the bane of our young lives. At the slightest hint of mischief he would be off to the Police Station to collect a Bobby to arrest us. Even the Police became tired of him! The chief mischief was broken windows and his three miserable fruit trees which occupied our attention just before harvest. At the top of the street were three horse chestnut trees which, at the right time, were laden with nuts for “conkers”, a most popular game at that time. We kids would try to knock them off with stones with the natural result that occasionally a window or two were broken. Mr Rolson would be off to the police station at the first sight of lads with stones, sometimes taking Fran and me by the ear, with him. This was about a mile’s walk and we would go quietly with him knowing the result: he would place us in the custody of the policeman on duty, tell the charge, receive a few words of comfort and leave us there. The copper would then eye us for a few minutes and say, “You’d better see the Super.” And we would go through the back door to the Super’s house., where we were greeted by Mrs Vardy, the Super’s wife, with the question, “would you like a glass of milk and piece of cake?” And that was our punishment for the Super was my Godfather!


I have two special memories of broken windows and conkers. One is of father arriving as we stood under one of the trees before we began stoning. Seeing what we were up to, he climbed the tree, gave it a huge shake and we were showered with ripe nuts. The other is of what seemed to be a regular picture: Pa walking down the street with a pane of glass and some putty. As soon as we broke a window, Pa would measure it and then return with all things necessary to replace the broken sheet. He truly was a remarkable father.


Mr Rolson had only one redeeming feature: his tall, lanky and rather dim son who was in his twenties and mad on electrical inventions (the Crystal wireless set was then taking folk’s attention). Until I met my future father-in-law, Arthur had the largest feet I had ever seen anywhere, size 12! (My revered and learned father-in-law took size 13). One day Arthur was carrying a heavy car battery downstairs and slipping, fell from top to bottom. During this unexpected happening he managed to keep the battery upright and no acid was spilled. We kids thought that a wonderful feat, we only had his word for it.


At Number Seven there lived a couple with a rather unattractive daughter, a year or so older than us. I think her father must have told her of the “Pole and Hole” dunny when he was in the army for she showed a remarkable desire to emulate such primitive customs and seemed to dislike the outside dunny. Instead, she would climb on to a lower branch of an elder tree, in the field that ran down behind all our gardens, and when there, from the tree, in the manner of the “Yahoos” in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, would accomplish her business! We lot threatened to poke her with sticks while she was at this business, but her answer was, “You durst!” We durst!! That ended our association. She never became one of our gang!


Our touch with our neighbour at No. 9 Albert Street was very slight for some time, but before I was seven years old Fran and I fixed up a business relationship with him that lasted for quite a number of winter seasons. Before that came about we knew him as a very gentle bachelor who had a mania for his garden. Meeting him as we passed his house he always greeted us with a quiet “Hello Francis” and “Hello David”, until one day he introduced himself as Mr Alcock, adding the words, “One not two if you please.” We thought him a bit strange but pleasant to the two younger nuisances of the street.


Then came the day when walking past his house, he stopped us and said, “Would you lads care to earn a little pocket money?” Nothing could have been nearer our desire. Our answer “Yes” was quickly followed by the question, “How?” He had in his hands a bucket and small spade and showing these to us he said, “I will give you a penny for every bucket of manure you collect.” Those were the days when most of the traffic was horse driven or ridden and to collect their droppings was no difficult nor distant task.


All our spare time, when the weather was suitable, was taken up with this pursuit throughout the winter and we were told by Mr Alcock in March that he would not need any more manure until the following October. We had to find other means of earning cash.


In September Belper was blessed with a visiting circus that had the usual animals including one elephant which looked as though it was on its last legs, but was still able to perform its act. For such an entertainment to come to so small a town was unusual, but we thought nothing of that as it came for only one night’s show to which all the family went. The next day Fran and I went down to the “Meadows” to watch the dismantling of the marquee etc, only to find everything just as it had been. Day by day we called in to see what was happening and the answer was always, “Nothing.”. The owners had gone bankrupt and a couple of attendants were left in charge of the beasts.


It didn’t take long for the lion, tiger and monkeys to be sold off, but it appeared that no one was interested in the old elephant which was left to the generosity of the local farmers and people to feed. As the marquee and other bits and pieces. were sold off, the old elephant was taken across the road to a covered yard of the local hotel, for winter was approaching and elephants don’t relish cold. We lads grew fond of the huge animal and went every day to visit him during his long stay until the following February.


During these latter months we had carried on with our horse manure gathering for Mr Alcock and at that time, being manure minded, we found ourselves looking speculatively at an unwanted gold mine! The elephants droppings, sort of four-inch cubes, like the cobbles used for street surfacing in those days, were stacked up in a corner of the covered area, a pile as big as a decent sized dunny. Being known to the hotel manager from our regular visits to the elephant, we asked him if we could take the stuff away, bit by bit, over the next month. At Christmas that year Pa had made a small wooden barrow for us, no more buckets for us, but rather 3d a barrowful. The manager was doubtful of our ability to remove so large a heap, but not only agreed for us to remove it, he said he would give us a shilling each if we cleared the lot within the month.


Although not knowing whether or not elephant droppings have the same properties as horse manure, we thought they must do the same task, but that we should use a little guile to disguise the harder cubes from our employer. We would gather a layer of horse manure to cover the bottom of the barrow, then place about eight or ten elephant turds on top of that with another covering of horse muck to top it all off. This we did until the heap in Mr Alcock’s garden satisfied him - the very day we had cleared up the hotel yard and so received our shillings.


We were pleased to end that employment for the season and never hearing a grumble from our employer, we gathered that elephant droppings are as good as horse manure in the garden. Our relationship with Mr Alcock remained cordial and mutually profitable until he grew old and left his house for some abode where he could receive care.


Our touch with the lady-like spinster at house Number 11 was entirely different. She never openly complained about the behaviour of the Neaum louts, but she was made for lads to be a pest to her respectability. One incident I remember. We had been on a picnic for two and had a couple of sandwiches left over, unusual for us. Wrapping them well and borrowing a piece of string, we made a tidy parcel and posted it in Miss Madin’s letter box ( in the door, of course, not in the street as in Australia). The good lady waited until she saw Pa returning and stopping him, made as if to give the parcel to him saying, “I think this belongs to one of your boys, Mr Neaum.” “Does it really,” replied Pa, “then I suggest you should give it to him.” He raised his hat and came home. It was he who told us of the encounter. With that we leave the good Miss Madin in peace.


Next door to the genteel Miss Madin lived a pleasant, youngish couple, childless at that time, who never seemed to grumble at naughty boys and who knew that when a window was broken by a stray ball, it would not be long before Pa arrived to measure the frame and to replace the glass. The wife oversaw the telephone exchange of that time, a small installation about as large as an upright piano, set in a small dingy office in the main street.


That brings me to our next door neighbours, folk to be pitied. Those at number 15 were a quiet trio, parents and daughter. They were great gardeners who appeared not to be conscious of a row of Neaum faces hanging on the brick wall which separated their beautiful garden from our mud patch as it quickly became a few days after Pa’s return from ‘Leave’ As Albert Street was a small hill the Davies’ garden was about a metre higher than ours so that the dividing wall was some four foot high on our side and only about one foot on theirs. After some days of rain we were all hanging on the wall watching the gardeners, when the wall gave way and we, plus a good portion of their garden landed on our mud patch. Even this didn’t ‘faze’ them! What a quiet and understanding trio they were.


Our lower side sufferers were much more genteel and were lucky that an eight foot wall divided the properties. Unfortunately for them, we had a large garden shed built along a part of the wall and its roof made a wonderful viewing place for us. Their garden was more like a painting than a real garden, for everything in it was perfect, as indeed the Knightons and their son Ronald were perfect!


We lads had two ways of annoying our too posh lower neighbours. When they had small tea parties in the garden, during the suitable summer days, we would lie on the roof of our garden shed with our heads overhanging the roof ridge and make comments. Very annoying it must have been. The next trouble was our rabbits which spent most of their time in our mud patch rather than in their hutches. Finding nothing tasty in our garden they sought richer feeding grounds and burrowed their way into the Knighton’s perfection. We had to compensate for that by giving Ronald the latest of the rabbits young offspring. How we hated parting with so lovely an animal.


Here let me take a short look ahead. When I met up with my wife to be, some fifteen years later, I found that she knew Ronald from attending the same “French Conversation” classes. Going down to Derby on the same train their relationship grew to that of friends until on one return journey Ronald turned to Dorothy and asked, “May I give you a kiss?” As the answer was a decided “No!”, the relationship came to an end. Who knows, had Ronald been a bit more bold and not such a wimp, he might have stolen my pride and joy. I doubt it!


I have no memory of the next lower house, but No. 23 housed a delightful lady with a somewhat doubtful husband. Mrs Smedley was the purveyor of musical arts in Belper and lead a small orchestra. Our first real contact with the Smedleys was early on a Sunday afternoon when, setting off for Children’s Church we heard loud shouts from No. 23, followed by a breaking window through which sailed a meat dish and the joint with it. Both landed in the middle of the street and we left them there. On returning home we mentioned this to mother whose comment was, “Mr Smedley drinks”. That told us all we needed to know.


And here a glimpse backwards, before my day. In 1909 (I think it was) my father, Mr Smedley and a Mr Blount bought the first Rolls Royce ever to come into Belper. The only one of the three who could drive was Pa, so he took the wheel to drive on the narrow, grass verged road from Derby to Belper. On the way he came upon a blockage on the road: a horse and dray coming towards him and a woman with a child in a pushchair walking the other way. As there was no way past and the back-wheel-only brakes failed to hold on the metal road, he did the only thing possible and turned on to the grass verge and into the ditch. Mr Blount never forgave him for putting human and animal life first and so damaging the car. He never spoke to him again. Mr Smedley dropped the idea of learning to drive and took to drink. The Rolls Royce was duly repaired but as the other two dropped from the partnership it fell to my father to be the first owner of a Rolls Royce in Belper.


One further small remembrance of Mrs Smedley, bless her. We used to go shopping for her and the reward was always the same: a hard small “pastry” ball each, which, when put into the mouth was so hard that teeth could not inflict any punishment. One had to suck and suck for up to half an hour. The result was quite pleasant as the ball lessened in size until it vanished.


Of the last two houses down that side of the street I can recall only one, a retired missionary (Methodist, I think) who was one of those delightful folk who exude our Lord’s presence. There was no thought of annoying him, for he would invite us in for a glass of milk and a chat which included stories of his various wanderings in God’s work. Most of this was in South America. Perhaps he was the one who sowed the seeds of just such a way of life in me. God knows.


The end plot in our street was vacant and became our playground. It was grass covered and apart from being our playground was used by any workman whose task lasted for more than the day, to house their equipment, always a source of interest to us lads. It was in this place that I received my first bloody nose. A new play mate joined us and to our astonishment, brought with him a pair of boxing gloves. Tossing up for who should be the first victim the lot fell upon me. As I was putting on those peculiar padded gloves my opponent came straight for me with a heavy punch on my nose. How quickly that part of the face bleeds !. I have never tried to box since.


One day as Fran and I were walking home from school via the Station, the route which led us to the bottom of Albert Street, when we came upon a wonderful machine. It had four small iron wheels which carried the frame on which was a tall barrel with a fire under it and the necessary chimney. We had noticed a pony grazing in ‘our’ plot and soon found that its work was to pull the machine. With the machine were two men, higher up the street was a heap of yellow sand and filling all the atmosphere, the beautiful smell of hot tar.


Until that time both pathways had been gravel and now the time had come to bring them up to date. As we stood watching, one of the men had brushed the path for a few metres and the other was holding a large bucket under the tap in the barrel through which a stream of hot tar flowed. The bucket was fitted with a nozzle which allowed the tar to be sprayed over the path. This done the whole patch was covered with sand, swept level and rolled with a one man roller.


At our time of arrival, about 4.30pm one side of the path was almost finished. We continued watching until knock off time came for the workmen. The pony was called and it pulled the machine onto the empty plot for the night. The fire was raked out, a stone put on top of the chimney, the tap padlocked and both men and pony went off, as also did we for it was past tea time.


After tea we had only one thought in mind, the tar machine. Our intention was to get at the tar with our sticks, but every attempt was a failure until Fran found how to open the cap at the top of the barrel. We were made ! Sticks covered with warm tar and ready for anything. But what? There was not much of interest to enhance its beauty with tar. It was getting dark when the evil idea entered our heads; why not tar all the gate knobs in the street, all twenty-seven, no, twenty-six, we left our own untouched. That done, it was time we were back at home so throwing away the evidence, our sticks, we went home.


Some short time later Pa came in and without a word walked to the garage and returned with a tin of petrol, there were not many garages in those days, and a handful of waste, again saying nothing. Some half hour later Pa returned, put away the petrol, washed his hands and sat down. “Now” he said, “tell me why you did it?” What could we say ? He then went on to say that some of the neighbours had ruined their gloves (most women wore gloves then) and our enemy Mr Rolson had gone to fetch the Police. He told us that he had washed all the knobs we had fouled and to teach us not to play tricks that would harm others we were both to get a good hiding. And didn’t we get one, on the bottom, by hand.


That was the first good hiding of three that my father administered to me and I have been thankful (when the pain subsided) for all three for they were pointers to what was right and turned me from wrong. Of one thing I.m sure, they did not do me any psychological harm. Mind you. in these foolish days I should have been considered in need of counselling!


We did get one little joy from the whole episode, for we heard that when our enemy returned with the policeman there was not a shred of evidence of tar on the door knobs and the policeman grumbled at being called out for nothing, saying, “Everyone gets tar on their clothes when paths are tarred. One in the eye for Mr Rolsom due to the quick action of a good father.



There was always some slight suspicion (I now think totally unfounded) about the family at the larger bottom house, that there was something ‘German’ in them. The first World War having just ended and the large Edwards family being very reserved, may have helped form this. There being eight children I became friendly with one near my own age and on one occasion only I was invited to a meal. The dining room was large but almost filled by the table, big enough to seat twelve, but with only two chairs, one at the head and one at the foot. On entering to sit for the meal, to my astonishment, the parents sat and I and the other children stood!!. Later on I asked my friend if this was usual or merely for my benefit. I was told that the children always took their meals standing until they were eighteen, when they were given their own chair. Knowing of the suspicion I wondered if that was a German Custom - I never found out.


At the time I had no dealings with their next door neighbours of whom the father was the manager of a large car dealing and repair firm. When I was seventeen I faced him in the Magistrate’s Court - but that tale may come later if I remember.


Of the next two houses I have no memory save one and that is of a charming, friendly man in his forties who carried a bag of Mackintosh’s chocolate caramels in his jacket pocket. He would look to see if we were around and, if we were, would put two caramels on top of the nearest post for us to collect. We all knew he was a homosexual, but we didn’t know what the word meant and saw in him a friendly, generous man.


And so up to No.20, the house which my parents bought as the family grew in number. It was occupied at that time by some old friends of the family who lived with their married daughter, Daisy. To tell of one peculiarity I shall have to take you back to wash day in the early twenties, when there were no washing machines, no detergents and whites were boiled in a fire-heated copper. The implements used were a ‘Dolly’ and a ‘Dolly tub’. a wooden-rollered mangle and plenty of elbow grease. The dolly had a central three inch pole with a bar through the top; attached to the bottom of the pole was what might be called a five legged stool. The dolly tub was a corrugated metal tub like the bottom two thirds of a wine barrel.


The clothes to be washed were put into the tub which had hot water, soap and ‘soda’ ready to receive them. Then came the hard work as the dolly was inserted and agitated (from which the top loader washing machines were a mechanical repetition). When clean, the whites were put into the copper and the others, through the mangle making sure the buttons were well covered with material.


With that short introduction let me push on. Our washing day was always Monday, no matter what the weather. On Tuesday morning, Daisy called asking if she could borrow our dolly tub. It was returned on the same day. The same thing happened the following Tuesdays but the return time grew longer; so much so that the day came when I had to go across to ask for the tub on the Monday morning. It was given with apologies. This continued for some weeks and the apologies grew into almost grumbles. The end result was that we bought a new dolly-tub and the Baileys regarded ours as theirs.


That was ‘Rosa Villa’. Next door was the Station-master, a cheerful happy gardener in his spare time. The old Midland Railway was building him a new house along side the rail line and it was in the garden of this that Mr Merryweather gave me my first lessons in gardening.


I wonder if any younger person of today could imagine the austere grandeur of Banks and their attendants in the twenties. A Bank Teller was a very proud chap; such was Mr Parker of No.16. Each morning he would leave his house at 8.45am , pin-striped, bowler hatted and with furled umbrella, on his way to the Westminster Bank. He was very polite and if we were outside he would greet us with “Good Morning Francis, Good Morning David”, and we would reply in like terms. Now there was one unfortunate habit the dogs in the street had. They tended to use the pavement outside the Parkers as a communal ‘Loo’. One morning when I was alone as Mr Parker emerged, I was surprised to see him crossing the street towards me. As we met he said his usual greeting and then said, “David, do you know what we call Albert Street?”. I replied with a “No, Mr Parker”. He then said “Dog Shit Alley” and went on his way. I was almost as shocked as if a Bishop had sworn, for it never entered my head that our respectable Mr Parker even knew such a vulgar word.


Next up was “Toffee Walker” whose sticks-of-rock factory was on Green Lane. I still don’t know how they put the names of places in the sticks! We used to buy a paper of ‘Rock ends’ for a penny on our way to school.


My last memory is of Mr Evans who lived with two spinster sisters and who had a Jeweller’s shop. After he died the sisters kept on with the shop and Fran and I became their shop shutter removers until they sold the business.


Walk to School

It was always Winter, or so my memory tells me. Not the Winter of snow, slush or rain, but days when frost rimed the bare branches of the trees and changed the puddled road into the magic of ice upon which to jump and see the cracks radiate out from the centre to the circumference, changing in a moment the opaque gleaming sheet into muddy rubble. Windless days when smoke from cottage chimneys rose in a blue haze straight up as far as one could see; when banked bonfires steamed gently, provoking the urge to open them to see the fire within.


Despite memory’s pictures it cannot always have been like that, at least, not in a small Midlands Country town. I know it was not on my first day at school, for term began in September and I was hauled the whole mile, hand tight in my elder sister’s, yelling my head off, with a tear smudged face. Nearing the school I asked, “ Can she tell I’ve been crying?” I was comforted with the assurance that she couldn’t as my sister wiped my face with her handkerchief. The ‘She ‘ was, in my imagination, a giantess, an ogre, who with her two sisters ran a private school for ‘Little Ladies and Gentlemen’. When my first fright was over and increasingly through the three years I was a scholar there, I found her to be a wonderful teacher, strict but kind and a practising Christian whose influence has remained with me for more than seven decades. On that first day I had no inclination to observe the interests that in later months enthralled me so much that, had I dared, I would have lingered over them and arrived late for school. In those far off years, when discipline was a first step in character building, one didn't arrive late! There was, however, the thought of the walk home when time could be spent with no complaint from parents at a little dawdling, for there was virtually no fear of ‘Nasty Men’ interfering with children.



After the first week or so I was expected to be my own guide to school, and being the youngest, my shorter legs meant my leaving alone at eight twenty while the others left it to the last minute for they could cover the mile in less than twenty minutes. How miserable I felt, well washed and clothed, for those first few weeks. Little did I realise what surprising joys were to be revealed on a mere walk to school as the years passed by.


First there was the quick walk down the street, little of interest there, then along the station path and down the eleven steep steps with high dark stone walls. After this the path widened with turnings to right and left. To the right was the station platform, forbidden territory, to the left an iron bridge with latticed sides over the two tracks. Here was a hope of joy beyond all others; would there be time to wait for a train to pass under one’s feet? Yes, there was the whistle and the approaching roar of one of man’s greatest gifts to children, the steam- engine. First came the tremor of the bridge, then the mighty engine and, in a flash, one was lost in a hot cloud of smoke and steam with its strong smell of sulphur mixed with metallic steam, strong enough to be tasted. The first experience of this was frightening for one felt lost and unsafe in the sudden fog. Later it became a thing of exquisite pleasure, so much so that there was always the temptation to risk a caning for being late at school while waiting for another engine going in the opposite direction, for it was a busy line between Derby and Manchester and in those days cars and lorries were rare.


That joy over, there were others to come for the way to school was not through town but along the far side of the station, up two flights of stone steps (less steep than the other side) and along a walk to the road. This walk also ran beside the tracks and though the delight of the bridge was gone, there was always the hope of seeing other trains pass as the hedge was an uncared-for hawthorn growth full of viewing spaces.


Train or not, the path led straight on to the road which had no pavements and was aptly called ‘Field Lane’ for there were no buildings except for the Convent higher up. But there was little danger for traffic was slow and light in those days. Across the road was a gate into another path with a field on the left and the high railway wall on the right. Half way along was an intriguing board some ten feet long and three high with a regular pattern of inch-wide holes for this was the ‘Rope Walk’ and the man who made the ropes was the Church Organist and Choirmaster (and I was a member of the choir!). On the way to school there was no interest here except for the hope that on the afternoon return the rope-maker would be at work and would let me watch or even give a hand.


Passing that interesting place the walk went on to the first of four long rows of houses, build for the workers at the cotton mill, just past the school. The first three were called ‘The Clusters’ and named Joseph, George and William Streets while the fourth was simply named ‘Long Row’. Turning left down Joseph Street one came to a narrow ‘Jetty’ or pathway, wide enough for only one. This was a place of intense interest to a school boy, for at the first corner was a dung pit belonging to the local carter and green grocer. On cold frosty mornings it was impossible not to scramble on to the wall, not merely to look at all the weekend’s rotten fruit on the top, but also to inhale the ripe sweet smell of the steaming horse-muck and marvel at its warmth. This was a heady experience and difficult to leave, had it not been for other interests farther along. One of these was in the garden over the low wall. It used to puzzle me for it looked like a well-packed heap of soil from the top of which there was always a thin steamy smoke issuing. I knew it was a banked-up bonfire but never understood how it was kept alight for the outside surface was never broken. How I longed to get at it with a sharp stick and poke until I could see the fire itself!


That being beyond my courage I continued along the path to the end corner where there was a blacksmith’s forge with, astonishing to say, a smith who loved children. On the way to school all I could do was to look over the low half-door and say ‘Good morning’ and hasten on for it was nearing nine o’clock, but the return was a different story for then he would allow us in to watch as he make horse-shoes and at times let us work the bellows. He never seemed to find us a nuisance and the flying sparks and triple anvil ring remain in my memory as clearly as yesterday, one strike on the glowing iron to two on the anvil.


Regretfully passing on down George street one came to Cluster road which ran along the bottom end of the three streets and into Long Row. On this road was another temptation to dawdle, for the time about which I write was during the first World War and here was the Drill Hall. If it was one of my lucky mornings the new recruits would be suffering their first instruction under a very loud-voiced sergeant, waxed moustache and all. I would hang over the half-door, hoping not to attract his attention, eager to watch those who, like me, didn’t know their left from their right. But never was I allowed much time for in between the Sergeant’s screaming at wrong turns by his men he would find time to shout rudely to me, ‘bugger off’ - and I went, hastily. Though not a timid lad, I knew when it was time to move ‘At the double’.


Passing on, I came to Long Row and the Council School where, to my young eyes, there were hordes of rough boys of whom I was a bit nervous, so I passed there as quickly as I could - down to the main road where, on the opposite side, was our Church. Here the main road divided and at the junction that was called ‘The Triangle’- a paled oval with two huge beech trees on it. There also stood P.C. Greenwood, a friendly man in blue, who saw all children safely across the road. I remember the very rare passing of a motor car, but always the trot of horses being either ridden or driven. If it was the butcher’s light cart I would get a friendly wave of the whip for on some Saturday mornings he would take me on his round, letting me hold the reins. Being young and vulgar, one of my chief delights on these trips was the habit of the horse to break wind at every step.


But now I faced the doom of a day’s schooling for there in front of me stood the massive ‘New Mill’ and, nestling under its shade, ‘Bridge House School’. Even here there was one rather frightening pleasure, for at morning break we were allowed to play in the long back garden which, on one side, was bounded by a high stone wall - far too high for any child to consider climbing - behind which was a dull incessant roar of rushing water. This was the cut taken from the river to drive the mill’s turbines.


There is little joy in remembering lessons or the age-yellowed posters on the walls filled with various ‘pot-hooks’, to aid us in our copy book writing. However, one lesson stays in my mind - the piano-learning periods taken by the second sister at the school. For some unknown reason my lesson time was the half-hour before school started. It must have been Winter when I had my few lessons, for the room was freezingly cold and the teacher had a long ebony rule to rap any cold fingers which played a wrong note. Woe betide any who quickly removed the erring fingers so that the piano keys received the hit. That meant a double rap. I was fortunate (or so I thought at the time, but now regret it) in having only three lessons before the time came for me to leave for higher education, but I have a strong memory of my elder brother practising at home, playing a wrong note and instinctively drawing away his hands while saying, ‘No’.


Little ‘Gentlemen’ left that school when they reached their eighth year but the ‘Young Ladies’ continued there up to Matriculation and most did very well in later life for the whole purpose of the Misses Calder was not merely lessons but the building up of character with the essential ingredient of Faith in God through Jesus Christ and his Church. I thank God for those five years and especially for Miss Florence Calder, God bless her.


More than seventy years have passed since those happy days but I re-lived them last year by taking the same route. The change was almost unbelievable for the long street had shrunk into a mere, short cul-de-sac, while the large house looked small enough to house a family of dolls. The empty space was filled with house number twenty eight and the railway station, though still there, was almost dead. Even the three ‘Conker’ trees had gone. But the walk, now tarred, still leads to the eleven (still steep) steps while the once large station yard is almost completely taken over by a super-market which extends over the tracks thus making a new tunnel. No longer can a child see the passing trains for the open hedges have been replaced by ugly sleepers through which not a glimpse is possible. The latticed bridge is still in place but what child would stand in awe and wonder to see and smell a diesel engine - certainly not one who had experienced the magic of the majestic steam monsters of former years.


Field Lane is now wrongly named - hardly a sight of grass except for the tidy lawns of the houses which abound everywhere. There is still no pavement and the crossing from path to path is an ever present danger to the unwary. One place will still be there, I thought, for the long green stretch of the rope walk can’t have vanished. How foolish can one be! Who wants twisted fibre ropes in these technological days? Vanity of Vanities, all was gone, replaced by a huge car park for the new shopping area. No horses, no dung-pit; no horses, no blacksmith! The Clusters remained with the roads, being private, even more pot-holed than in the days of my youth. The Drill Hall still stands, dilapidated and rather like an old soldier whose usefulness is over.


Down to the main road and the Church with its comfort of changelessness in an ever changing world. No policeman standing to care for the children crossing the now smoothly tarred busy road, but a light controlled pedestrian crossing. And the ‘Triangle’? No beech trees, merely a paved oval with concrete flower stands and a red telephone kiosk. The old mill has been demolished but the ‘New Mill’ still stands solid and ugly as ever, though, while I was staying in the town, its chimney was felled. And what of the school? All gone! Demolished with its lovely front garden another car park. Vanished as though it had never been.


Filled with regrets for the loss of treasured places I pondered on life’s changes and wondered what the children of today will have to treasure when thinking of their youth. Will they have equal joy in recalling past days? Of course they will for it is childhood itself that promotes the pleasure and changing circumstances have only a minor part to play. But one ecstasy will never be known to them for they are unlikely to know the thrill of being enveloped in a cloud of smoke and steam while standing on a trembling bridge, lost for a moment in warm fog, as a glorious steam engine roars under their feet.


Before leaving the tales of the follies of my early youth and reaching one of those turning points in life in my seventh year, there is one shameful incident I must relate for the memory of it stays with me.


Some fair time since starting school I got to know another pupil whose home lay on the same way as mine, his name was Dennis Quilter whose father was a Manager at the ‘New Mill’. One day, as I was walking to the Quilter’s house, I found a penknife lying in the gutter. It was a beautiful small knife in excellant condition which, on showing it to Dennis, attracted his envy and greed. He evidently knew nothing of its owner but had a great desire to replace him with himself, for he did his best to persuade me to give the knife to him. On my refusal he sulked for the rest of the walk.

I handed the knife to Miss Florence, telling her how and where I had found it. She then displayed it to the whole school asking if anyone knew to whom it belonged. To my surprise, Dennis held up his hand and then said it was his and that he had lost it that morning. I knew this was a lie but he was believed and the knife given to him.


That ought to have warned me to drop my acquaintance, but it didn’t for some time. Then a day came when, on our walk home he said, “The folk are out, what about coming to pick gooseberries while we are on our own?”. I was quite ready for that as his father was a keen gardener who usually won first prize at the local Show for that very fruit.


It was a beautiful evening and Dennis and I lay under the shade of the gooseberry bushes reaching for the most luscious fruit as soon as we had swallowed the one before. After some time at this pastime my companion grew hungry for other fare and we went into the house and through the pantry where he found a cold cooked sirloin of beef in the meat-safe. Taking it out and finding a carving knife, he cut off the top slice, dug a large hole in the remainder, which we ate, and then he replace the slice and put back the mutilated joint into its safe. Knowing what would have happened to me if I’d done the like at home, I asked what his parents would say when they found the hollow joint. They won’t say anything, he said, they are used to it !. We then returned to the gooseberry bushes to fill up empty spaces.


It was then that I realised that unless I hurried there would be a disaster. What has always surprised me is that it never entered my head to ask for the lavatory at Dennis’ home but I had only one idea, to get home as quickly as possible, or even quicker. I walked up to the railway pathway and had just entered it when the inevitable happened. I crawled on, crab fashion only to meet the most miserably minded elderly woman I’ve ever known, who stood in the middle of the path, wagged her finger at me and said.”I KNOW what you have done!” As though I didn’t.


I think that put the real end to our friendship which ought to have come on moral rather than shameful grounds. To me, that was the end of my childhood and the beginning of growing up.


Fran and I continued our close relationship, in exploring the beauties of our neighbourhood during the long Summer evenings and on Saturdays, when once we had done the shopping for mother or anyone else who would reward us in some small way.


At that time, our weekly pocket money was a penny and our purpose in life was to find means of increasing that small amount. We had the bright idea that if we changed our pennies to halfpence and put them on to the rail line before the engine passed, it would enlarge them to the size of pennies. There was a place just out of town where the railway was level with the surrounding field, just over a low wall which bounded a little used path. Down this path we went with our four half pennies which we placed carefully on one of the rails. A train came but to no avail as the vibration shook off our money. Having tried this several times with the same result, we tried to prop up the coins with small stones but to no avail. Growing tired of these failures, we pocketed the coins in disappointment and then began piling stones on the line to see what happened to them when a train passed.


In the middle of this enterprise a loud voice called, “Follow me home”, the voice of our father; some miserable sneak must have told him of our place and occupation. We went home with some sense of foreboding, finding not merely father, but also a good hiding to teach us not to place others and ourselves in danger. This was the second of three hidings I received from my father. As we learned at the Calders’ School, discipline was the first step in training of character. The third good hiding came some time later and will be recalled in its proper time.


Choir and Serving

Let us now move on to a year that marked a new turn in my life, my seventh. It began on my sixth birthday, that is, the start of my seventh year. On that day I became a member of our Church Choir. Not a full member but a trainee, for six months I was allowed to wear a cassock only. If during that time one was proved worthy (and had a voice ‘In tune’), a terrible trial lay ahead for it was expected that the new member sing a solo during Mass. I chose one from the anthem we were singing during Communion, “Love one another with a pure heart fervently” from, I think, Wesley’s “Blessed be the God and Father.” I chose that piece not because I was very loving (I fear) but because I was thrilled by it and the horror of singing my first solo was mitigated by the whole choir coming in at the end of each solo part and the last part was a treble duet, of which my brother Francis sang the high line. All went well and I was duly made a full member of the choir (of which I am still a member though rarely attending) and was robed in a cotta over my cassock. Thus began one of the joys of my life, which has never faded and I hope will continue until I am voiceless in this life but may, by God’s Grace, join the Heavenly choir, “With Angels and Archangels”


That gave a pattern to my young life for on Tuesdays was a choirboys’ practice (and Thursdays also if we had some new anthem to learn) and on Fridays there was a practice for the full choir. One of the greatest pleasures to me was that being in the choir I escaped Miss Maggie’s Sunday School for we attended and sang for Matins at 10.30 (Sunday School time) and after a five minute break, sang for High Mass at 11.30. Sunday became the joy that it has always been since, for after dinner, we walked the mile to Children’s Church at 3.00pm and later, at 6.30pm the choir sang Evensong; a lovely day !


There came one Saturday morning shortly after my birthday when Fran and I were walking down King Street, shopping for the old dragon, Mrs Calder. We were stopped by our new black suited Assistant Priest, Fr Arnold, who greeted us by saying, “Are you Francis and David Neaum?”. In reply to our acceptance of those names he said, “Be at Church at 5.00pm and I’ll teach you how to ‘Serve’. Knowing that one didn’t disobey a Priest, we said we would be there and were. After a half hour instruction he told us that as from the following week we were to be Servers at the Anglican Convent Mass four times each week. Fran on Mondays and Fridays and I on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Mass was at 7.30am. This we did and found a small red cassock, a cotta (with lace!) and a pair of small slippers laid out for us.


This arrangement carried on for about a couple of months when Fran, who had more character than I, said that it was not his scene and he was not doing it after the present week. It seemed to me that there was only one thing to be done. I should have to serve for four and not two in the future. This I did and apart from holidays or illness continued the task until I was seventeen.


As I became more known to the dear Sisters, I would get permission to leave school for four weeks in the year, from 10am to 11am to Serve during their Retreats and whatnots. This led to one of my most embarrassing moments. I was brought a tray with a cup of tea and two slices of ‘Convent Cake’ after the Service, which I consumed in the Vestry. One day, when I had a bit of a cold and had come to dislike the convent cake (which was 3 inches high at the edge and 3/4 inches in the middle and with a 1/2 inch layer of large, seeded raisins as a foundation - as heavy as lead!) I wrapped the cake in my handkerchief to take for the birds and left the vestry. Outside the door stood the Reverend Mother, waiting to ask how my mother was as she had been sick. As I answered, my nose began to run and I instinctively took out my handkerchief causing the two pieces of cake to fall on the floor between us. What a gem she was! Looking first at the cake and then at me, she said “It is dreadful cake isn’t it David? Would you prefer to have bread and butter in its place ?” She gathered up the unbroken cake and with a smile let me leave. Ever after I had two slices of thinly cut bread and butter with my tea.


Allow me an interpolation here. Some thirty odd years later, when we returned from Tristan, the Vicar of Christ Church retired and for two months I took over the Parish. Part of my duties was to take the Convent Mass and it was a delight to me to have Andrew my son at eleven years of age and his younger brother Peter as Servers, wearing the same cassock, cotta and slippers that I had used so many years before. All the older Sisters who had been there in my young days were weeping (with joy I hope) at the end of the Mass. What my convent Serving eventually led to will come later, but now, as I was in my seventh year there is one other chore to mention. Fran and I became shoppers for the old dragon Mrs Calder, every Saturday morning from 9.00am to sometimes 2.00pm. For our reward we might get nothing but a thank you or sometimes a cardboard box which had held a pound of “Watsons Matchless Cleanser Soap”. with which we were told to make something.



Shopping! How different is the attitude of adults to children in these days from that of eighty odd years ago. If a child needed a haircut and the barber was half way through the task when an adult came in for any attention, the child would be hustled from the seat of operation in that state and made to wait until there were no adults unserved. On our three times a year trip to the barbers I remember waiting from 9am to 12.30pm before we were finished with. The same treatment was expected when shopping, children were the last to be served.


This was not quite always the case however. For when young people were recognised as shopping for some distinguished patron, they received the attention that would have been given to their patron. This was certainly so when shopping for old Mrs Calder who owned the school to which all genteel folk sent their children to be educated.


I cannot remember how Fran and I were inveigled into being Mrs Calder’s shoppers but so we were for about two years when I was six. We were expected to be at the schoolhouse at 8.45am on Saturdays. There in the drawing room would be the dragon holding in one hand the list of her needs and in the other a bulging purse. I often tried to peer into that purse but was thwarted by her holding it above the level of my head, while saying “You know, my dears, I’m as poor as a crow”. Certainly little of the purse’s contents came our way, for during the two years of our slavery I can recall receiving only two halfpennies for ourselves.


It would be tedious to spend a lot of time on our shopping, but here are a few regular occurrences worthy of note. The shopping list was never given to us and Mrs Calder was of the opinion that we were incapable of discharging more than one errand at a time. From her bulging purse she would extract a shilling and three pennies, hand them to Fran and say that her first need was a pound of butter. Now the butter shop, the “Maypole” was some half mile away, along the entire length of Bridge Street and half way up King Street. We duly received our pound of butter, after watching it patted into shape and wrapped and handing the money to the Manager (for it was for the noted Mrs Calder). He once told us that the price had risen and that it was now a halfpenny dearer, would we please tell Mrs Calder so. Giving that message when we returned we were given the halfpenny to take back to the Maypole. Our next errand was to Mr Rawlings’ Pork Shop for a ring of sausage. The snag was that Mr Rawlings’ shop was next door to the Maypole!. Thus it went on until about noon when we were bidden to go to the grocer for whom we were given a sealed envelope which contained the list of needs. No plastic in those days so all had to be weighed, put into bags or greased paper, as need be, before it was ready for us to load our bags. Heavy they were and we took a couple of rests on the way back though it was only half the previous distance. At about 1pm there came the last of that morning’s shopping, off to the Chemist for twenty four bottles of paraffin. This meant twelve journeys for Mrs Calder would not trust us to carry more than one bottle at a time. Fortunately, the Chemist was only about two hundred metres away. That ended the mornings drudgery and we went off, generally unrewarded except for a thank you, home for something to eat before we set off on our rambles.


When I was eight we escaped this chore for Mrs Calder but found that we had to take over Mothers shopping. Now Ma had a peculiar idea that shopkeepers who were struggling ought to be supported and there was a shop at the end of Cluster Road run by a widow, Mrs Gamble. We would arrive just before opening time and wait, and wait, until all adults were served first (Ma had not the “Pull” of Mrs Calder!) Mrs Gamble had an assistant/ maid, who was totally deaf, an infliction that her mistress never acknowledged. Her name was Pemmy. Needing her for some task, Mrs G would call in a loud voice, “Pemmy”. This she would try for three times and would then take the seven pound weight and bang it hard on the shop counter. Like all totally deaf folk. Pemmy could receive the vibrations and her face would be poked around the door, with the words,”Did you want me Mam?”. We lads enjoyed this no matter how many times it was repeated.


Because of our having to wait, it was sometimes almost 2pm before we set off home, laden with groceries and six loaves of bread. One day, being tired and hungry, Fran and I quarrelled over the heavy load. We were in George Street and sat down on a garden wall to rest but couldn’t agree on the distribution of the heavy parcels so we tore off the back of two loaves, ate them and stuck the six loaves on the spikes of the palings. Then hanging the bags beside them we set off for home, with the natural result that we were sent back to collect them. We did so and found them just as they’d been left and lugged them back. Nothing was said about the two loaves which had no back crust but we boys noticed that when the bread was sliced, we always were given the part where the rusty paling had left its mark.


Little wonder that I still don’t like shopping.



Of all the people who deserved honour for their services during the Second World War, apart from Churchill himself, was Lord Woolton, the Food Minister, for, to anyone who remembered the shambles of food distribution during the First World War, the rationing devised by him for the Second was magnificent, even if somewhat meagre. Being Rector of a country parish in Staffordshire, I was in Uttoxeter once and was able to observe an elderly widow buying her weekly rations: two ounces each of butter, fat, cheese, bacon and half a pound of sugar. I took note of the total cost: one shilling and fourpence halfpenny ! There were also ‘British Restaurants’ where if one had the small cost, a decent meal could be had without rationing.


As far as I am aware, there was no real system of rationing during the first war so that ‘Catch as catch can’ became the rule. One heard that the ‘Maypole’ had received a load of butter which would be sold the next day. At 8.00am there would be a half mile queue, which on joining, entailed a slow shuffle for the next two hours. On the one occasion I remember, Fran and I joined such a queue, but when we were some thirty yards from the shop a notice was put outside the shop door, “Sold Out” and we went away disappointed.


I suppose the scarcity and poor quality of the food supply, aided by our mother’s soft heartedness in allowing the tenants of her properties to fail to pay their rent, were the chief reasons for the biggest hic-cup in our young lives, for Fran and I were stricken with double pneumonia, a life threatening disease in those days of no penicillin nor antibiotics. The two of us lay together in a double bed for thirteen weeks, at death’s door to begin with and then slowly recovering. By that time we were like two little bags of bones so that it was another thirteen weeks before we were back at school. I have three memories of that period, one temporary, one that governed my way of life for some ten years and one just disgusting.


For the only time in my life I had nightmares. They came on a certain rhythm - like the noise a rail carriage wheels used to make when crossing the rail joints. I discovered later that the rhythm was the rasping breathing of either or both of us, and that knowledge ended the nightmares. The experience was terrifying for I was standing in the middle of a high tight-rope while approaching me, from both sides, were the most horrible and fierce wild animals. When I was almost within their grasp I woke, bathed in sweat. At this, mother would bathe my forehead with eau-de-cologne of which she had a good supply as Pa. on one of his leaves, had brought her two one litre bottles of that refreshing scent. These bottles were kept in our wardrobe to be handy and mother would come in on some afternoons to put a little on her handkerchief before going out.


We kids, when we were able to leave the bed, would help ourselves lavishly to the lovely scent. Indeed, we were so lavish that the day came when we noticed that the first of the bottles was nearly finished. Thinking that this would make Ma somewhat cross, we performed my second and disgusting memory, we decided we had better add to the remaining contents by ‘Peeing’ into the bottle to make it about a third full. That afternoon Ma came in to dose her handkerchief but, noticing something strange about the scent said,”This does smell peculiar”, and we had to confess. We were forgiven, but admonished for wasting what had been left in the bottle before we adulterated it.


As for the circumstances that affected the next ten years of my life, I was told that the disease had weakened my heart, so much so that I was not allowed to swim or play football and must be careful in all things I did. What an affliction to place on a growing young man !. But apart from the team sports I gradually forgot the advice, though still regretting that I never learned how to swim.


Here I might jump on some ten years before returning to childhood times. When I was about sixteen my choir-man friend was working for an Insurance Company of which I was well known to the Manager. Being tired of the constant reminders of my ‘weak’ heart by my loving Ma, I asked my manager friend if I would need to get a thorough medical exam if I wanted to insure myself for ten thousand pounds. He replied that I certainly would. Assuring him that I had no intention of acquiring such insurance I asked if I could nonetheless have the check with out. He being the good chap he was, and knowing my tale wrote a chit for me to take to their Doctor. This done I was delighted to be found well and my heart in excellent shape. Having felt for some years that this was so it was a relief to have it confirmed, but I never became a sportsman, never a team man and contented myself with such pastimes as lawn bowls (but only on ‘Crown’ greens!) croquet, darts and snooker.


With that digression I return to my fateful seventh year which brought me to angling with the Vicar and finding two of the greatest benefactors, next to my family, of my life. All these sprang from my start in ‘doing’ things in Church life and worship.


Angling and ‘The Joint’.

Beginning my sixteen years as an Altar Server I have little or no memory of Fr. Arnold as the Priest for whom I served. I think he must have been given ‘preferment’ from his work as an Assistant and left us soon after inveigling Fran and me into that task. Normally the younger Assistant Priest took the Masses at the Convent and so saved the older Vicar from a half mile return walk. But my first memory is of the Vicar, Fr Baldwin, arriving to take the Service.


Fr.Baldwin was what I would call one of the last of the ‘Gentlemen’ Clergy, a delightful friendly courteous man in his sixties. The choir lads called him, behind his back, ‘Nigger’ Baldwin. The reason for this I was never able to discover, for he was as truly English as any Pommy could be. Mrs Baldwin’s nickname was more understandable for we lads all called her ‘Sparrow’. Not because she had thin legs (‘tossed with a Sparrow and lost!’), nor because her nose resembled a beak, but because she twittered as she talked. I don’t remember if they had had any children, but in my day they were alone together and cared for by two elderly maids.


On the Monday of my second week of Serving, Fr.Baldwin, as we left the Convent, said “Your father is a keen angler isn’t he David ?”. On my agreeing he asked if I ever went fishing with him and I had to reply in the negative, explaining that Pa said we frightened the trout away with vibrations we made when walking by the river side. He then told me that on suitable Monday evenings he went down to the Mill Pond and would I care to join him there that day. I said I would and that I would walk down to the pond immediately after school.


The ‘Mill Pond’ was nothing to do with the huge Cotton Mill but was an acre large pond dug to provide water for a flour mill long since defunct. It was three quarters silted up but quite fishable at the dam end.


It was a lovely Spring evening as I walked down after school to find the Vicar “Dapping”, that is, not casting and using a live fly. On my arrival I was greeted and then handed a small butterfly net and asked to gather some ‘Cow-muck’ flies. I don’t know if such flies still exist (I don’t study cow droppings!) but they were large as blow-flies and red. To catch them, one had to find a fresh cow-pat which would be covered with these flies. Then came the swoop of the net and a wriggle of its top into the new pat until a half inch ‘Lid’ of muck sealed in the flies caught, usually a dozen or so. Taking this, as it was, back to the Vicar, I was asked to delve into the cover and bring out one fly, still holding the net over the hole and keeping the other flies imprisoned. A messy, smelly task! After some weeks I rebelled enough to pass the covered net to the angler himself. I need not have been bothered, for he dug in his fingers quite naturally, caught his fly, impaled it on the hook and continued with his dapping. I only remember him catching one during that season.


At about six o’clock he began packing up and, as we walked home, he asked me if I would care to come to the Vicarage for a bit of supper. I agreed willingly and this became the regular end to our angling.


The supper was always the same, the maid brought in the largest sirloin of beef I’d ever seen - even in our home with, at that time, five children! It had evidently been cooked for Sunday dinner for a few slices had been cut off. We had some with salad, followed by a sweet, after which it was time for my mile walk home. I walked with a vexing problem in my mind. What did those two old folk with the two old maids do with that tremendous joint, for if eaten hot on Sunday, cold on Monday, the custom was Shepherds, Cottage or Swineherd’s pie on Tuesday. But that joint would have made a Cottage pie for all the inhabitants of the ‘Workhouse’ let alone for four elderly people.


That problem stayed with me unanswered all my youth and indeed not only for my youth, but for upwards of seventy years. It was only in 1993 that I came out of my ‘Home of Faith’ Christ Church in company with a man who was a past choir boy of my youth, and standing outside we began talking of the past. Fr.Baldwin came into our conversation. That took me back to those Monday evening suppers and I told my companion about the huge sirloin and my failure to find out what happened to it - cottage pie without end! On hearing this he burst into a loud laugh and said ‘I can tell you the answer to your puzzle.’ He then reminded me that he was one of nine children whose father had been a clerk on the railways - a poorly paid job. Knowing their circumstances, every Tuesday morning, one of the Vicarage maids called at his parents home with the joint!!. Problem solved, and in what a fitting way for one of the last of the ‘Gentlemen’ Clergy. No wonder we all thought so highly of him.


The Dream

Writing about my young days makes me ponder on the time that the very close relationship between Fran and me came to an end. It must have been about when I took the 11plus examination which removed me from Primary to Grammar School. Fran was then 13 and ended his schooling as his only interest was in engineering. He then became a worker in the family Firm while I remained a school boy. But before that break we spent most of our spare time together and on clement Saturday afternoons explored the lovely surrounding countryside. It is not my intention to bore you with these rambles save for one which included two magic spots, both of which came into our heritage in later years.


Starting from the “Triangle’, just by the Church, we took the left road which was the road to Ashbourne, some twelve miles away. Passing Bridge House School, we always had the fear that one of the Calder family would spot us and find us something to do. Escaping that threat, we walked on, under the stone built passage which made a small tunnel and separated the old from the new mill, or rather, joined them.


On our left was a magnificent edifice called the ‘Jubilee Tower’ which housed the clock upon which all Belper folk relied for their time. I learned to tell the time by that clock despite, for some years, there being no numbers, for the five minutes were marked by bars only and not numbers. This tower was a perfect example of Victorian flamboyance. In later years and to their shame, the Town Council had it removed with the excuse that it would have been too expensive to restore. It did, however, become such a land mark in our minds that even now, after almost eighty years, I look up to see what time it is when driving past.


But there it was, in all its glory as we two lads passed. From there it was only a few hundred yards to the beautiful stone bridge over the Derwent, below the two weirs; the high tide overflowing when the mill was not working and the lower one taking the normal flow of the river. Having stayed a while to watch the water, we were faced with five choices which spread out before us like the fingers of a hand. Immediately beside the river the lane known as ‘The Meadows’ which promised a lovely walk by the river, or further to Hazlewood and ‘The depths of Lum’ - a deep rift in the hillside, well treed, steep and mysterious.


The next finger was a raised walkway, built by the squire to save walking down and round the bottom of the hill. Not using this, one could walk round the corner and up Bridge Hill. The fourth finger was a steep, long, hill called Belper Lane which led to Wirksworth some eight miles away. The last finger was Wyver Lane, housed at the towns end, but then becoming a mere cart track leading to the riverside farms between Belper and Ambergate, some three miles away.


But knowing all these ways well it was Bridge Hill that drew us most often. On the left were the fields sloping down to the river and on the right the high wall of the squires domain, trees on both sides of the road. Fran and I would climb over the farm gate at the bottom of the hill and then creep up, hidden by the hedge, to the first of the two magic places which was a spring flowing from under the road, running down the field into the river. To us it was a magic spring with water-cress growing in profusion, and nothing breaking the peace. We would make small dams with overflows that drove our home made water wheels. It seemed to fascinate Fran, who would linger so long there that I would get impatient for us to move on to my magic spot. One day, as we left the spring, I heard Fran say, “One of these days I shall buy that field and the spring, build my home in the field and use the water for a lovely garden”. I didn’t take much notice for my heart was set on a spinney which clothed the brow of the hill and was part of the squire’s domain. We used to see into the spinney through the slatted, locked, gate on the path, always wishing we could find a way in. This we did when walking from the spring, we continued up, under the shelter of the hedge and found a place in the spinney’s hedge through which we could enter. It didn’t seem to bother us that we were trespassing for we had no intention of doing any damage.


There were magnificent tall trees in that one and a half acre wood, oak, beech and ash and in the middle, where there was a patch of sunshine, we saw what we thought was a flat stretch of grass. On approaching, we found it was a huge bed of white violets. I fell in love with the place, but, unlike Fran and his Spring, I had no hope or thought of owning it. All I wished was that I could stay there.


Then, as youth changed into manhood, the squire died and later his wife also. Their son had no intention of staying in Belper and the family domain was sold. That brought to light my father’s intention to leave Albert Street and build a house outside the town. He bought, of all places, the spinney and built there a fine stone house. The only snag was that the house had to be built over the magic spot where the white violets grew. That house became my home until my parents died and is now occupied by a niece and her family.


After the second world war the field with the spring, along with its neighbouring fields came up for sale. Fran bought them and built his dream house and dream garden there and gave it a truly apposite name, “Tranquil House”, where the spring and stream became the glory of all. Who says that dreams don’t come true?.


The time came when Fran ceased to be “A Little Gentleman” able to be educated at “Bridge House School” and so departed to be a scholar at the Church Primary School at the other end of the town. This meant that my walk to school became solitary but that did not end our close companionship, either in the evenings or during weekends.


There was one shop in King Street that always drew our attention for it was the only toy shop in town, and the window display was full of interest, so much so, that it was the cause of our third, and last, good hiding from our father.


There, in the centre of the displayed delights was a toy, whose nature I cannot now remember, which made us break the tenth Commandment - we became full of covetousness, but with little hope of fulfilment for its price was marked as two shillings - a florin. Though our pocket money had risen to twopence a week we felt that such a high price was unattainable, but we decided to try to save to buy it. Day after day we went to see if the desired toy was still unsold, being sure that it was the only one made and so if sold to someone else, then we had lost hope of ever owning it.


We saved hard and had reached the huge sum of tenpence when the annual trip, by private carriage, with two horses, was taken to Gala Day at Matlock Bath. The place was crowded with visitors, one didn’t call them ‘tourists’ in that day, and there were constant delights for children, all of them costing money. On our return we knew that our hard saved tenpence had vanished and all thought of the florin toy was a dream.


There was, however, one bright spot at the beginning of the trip, not concerned with money or toy. Eldest brother, Malcolm, who was a bit of a bully, always demanded the outside seat on the carriage, sitting by the driver. On that particular day it was raining as we set off and Malcolm decided it would be more comfortable in the carriage rather than in the rain and told one of us to take that place. My father, hearing this said, “No, Malc, you have always insisted on taking that seat and you can have it as usual today”. That gave Fran and I great pleasure.


On the Monday evening after the trip we walked down to the shop to see if our expensive toy was still on display. It was!


Next evening, Pa asked Fran and I to go to the tobacconist to buy an ounce of a newly advertised tobacco, and handed Fran a pound note. What happened after we had left the house ought to have warned us against evil temptations, for it was a wet, windy night and Fran, clasping the unaccustomed large note in his hand, slipped and let go of the note which blew away in a trice. We ran after it but to no avail. What were we to do ? We searched everywhere in the wind’s direction and, just as we were giving up hope, we found the note blown against one of the posts of the Station gates. But even that good chance did not save us from evil.


We bought the tobacco, which cost eight pence halfpenny and were given the change in silver and copper. I can see it in my mind’s eye as I write this: nine florins, three pennies and a halfpenny. Walking home, some evil spirit suggested to one of us, that Pa never looked at his change and we could filch a florin, one out of nine and remain undetected. This we did and when we reached home, handed the tobacco to Pa and then the change (minus the one florin). Pa put it straight into his pocket and we hung around for some minutes until Fran looked at me and we went to the door. As my hand was on the door knob, Pa spoke, “Where is my florin?” We found it impossible to believe, but there was the question which needed an answer. The answer was given and the result, our third good hiding and my memory tells me that it was an extra good one.


Thus then, the three hidings I received from my father in my youth: all three to good purpose and all necessary if we were to grow up as good citizens and even more importantly good Christians. Taught not to play tricks harmful to others, not to put ourselves or others in danger and not to steal, even from one’s parents. In these days of lack of discipline or corporal punishment I’m delighted to say that I am pleased I had parents who brought up their children in the right way!


Later in life I always intended asking Pa how he knew it was a florin we pinched. I never remembered to ask him and now will have to wait until we meet up again in the next life. I picture Angels looking on with surprise at the first question a risen son asks of his risen father, “How did you know, Pa, that we had stolen the florin?” But perhaps such questioning won’t be necessary in that life for it is the good result only that will have mattered.


By the way, we never saw that expensive toy again and never knew what became of it. We had learned that to covet was an evil and tried to escape it in our future dealings. Pa’s punishment was for our good. I had to get to the Primary School before I learnt that the punishments of others could be evil and harmful.


The Den

  At the beginning of the first World War there was a greenhouse attached to the south wall of Number 17 Albert St, for Pa was a keen gardener. By the end of that war, there were all the struts and lower walls of the greenhouse but not a sherd of glass either in walls or roof. So it remained until Pa was de-mobbed, when sharing in a partnership in a timber and furniture warehouse, he had little time, or inclination for intensive gardening so that the shell remained as an eyesore behind the house.


One day, the idea struck Fran and me that if properly seen to, it would make an ideal ‘Den’ for us. After some persuasion, Pa roofed the wreck with iron, put enough glass to make a window, bought us a wood burning stove and left us to do what we could with it. We decided to line the entire interior with wood, but where was the wood to be found? It was then our shopping for Mrs Calder came to our rescue for we were well known to the manager of the ‘Maypole’ and, about that time, butter was imported from Australia and New Zealand packed in wooden boxes. We asked if we could have some of these boxes and were told to take as many as we needed. The sides and bottoms were made up of nine equal quarter inch planks, nailed to thicker end pieces.


It was our good fortune that the planks were just the right size to reach from the centre of the struts in both walls and roof so that all that was necessary were enough of the boxes and plenty of one inch nails. This task took us all the spare time we had for a month or more before the den was fully covered, then, with a coat of paint, all was as tidy as possible. The thick ends of the boxes became our firewood, a couple of old chairs our comfort and we were as happy as a pair of larks with a place of our own.


Came the Saturday afternoon when rambling round the district, we found, in the bottom of a hedge, a hen’s nest in which were four eggs. There being no houses near and with no idea to whom the stray hen belonged, we took the eggs. Fortunately we broke the eggs into a cup: two of them were stinking rotten but two appeared quite fresh enough to eat. We begged two slices of bacon from Ma, the frying pan and some slices of bread and retreated to the den, where a hot fire was quickly lit in the little stove until the top was hot enough to cook. All went well until the bacon was ready, the bread being fried and the eggs just right.


At that moment, brother Malcolm and a friend appeared. They demanded to share in the meagre feast which (as he was a bit of a bully at that time) meant them scoffing the lot. Fran and I grabbed the pan, contents and extra bread and made a dash into the house, leaving the two in the den with its now red-hot stove.


Knowing they couldn’t molest us in the house, we ate our repast with pleasure and, this done, looked to see if the two had gone away. There being no sign of them we decided it was safe to return and relax in our own place but, opening the door, the atmosphere was totally impossible and the stink indescribable. We left the door open and retuned to the house for the rest of the evening.


Next day when we went into our Den, the stink had almost disappeared but the top of the iron stove had a crack right across it. Having been disappointed in their desire to deprive us of our supper, they had pissed (to use theOld Bible’s word!) on the hot stove before departing!


After this great insult we two decided that we must cure brother Malcolm’s bullying as a team and the opportunity came later in the week. I cannot remember the occasion but Fran and I were so incensed that I took hold of the yard broom and swung it head first at Malc’s head and hit him behind the ear. He fell like a dead man. Out rushed the maid, then came Ma, both crying, “You’ve killed him”. Fortunately I hadn’t and he came round in a few moments. That ended the bullying and the three of us became good friends as well as brothers.


This stood me in good stead while I was at school for Malc was known as the best fighter and with Fran in between, there was no one who dared put on the younger one - “A threefold cord is not quickly (easily) broken” as Solomon is credited with saying.


With that I turn to the event in my 7th and 8th years that changed my life in significant ways. But, don’t get me wrong, I was never a sweet tempered, quiet, peaceful lad who couldn’t say boo to a goose. Let us say rather that my life took a different turning during those formative years and led, by natural force, to me knowing my ‘Call’ to the Ministry


My eighth year started while I was Altar Server for the Vicar at the Convent and began learning the art of angling, or should I say, catching red cow-muck flies, and having Monday evening supper with him and Mrs Baldwin. When the weather was inclement I still went to the Vicarage for supper and a game or chat. Then came the Sunday when there was a new, young Priest in the Sanctuary and pulpit. He was introduced to choir and congregation as the new Assistant Fr. Mellor, and we were told that he and his wife would be greeting us all at the door as we left the Church. Being a Convent Server and not yet elevated to Serving at the Church, I was never the less called into the Priests’ Vestry to meet the new Priest before the general meeting at the door. He was a tall, dark haired, slim, man to whom I took immediately. Later, with the others, I met his wife, medium sized and pleasant. Little did I realise then what a tremendous part they would play in my life.


Came the Monday and my first ‘Serving’ with the new Priest. He was friendly and had a few minutes talk with me after Mass. On the Wednesday he asked me if I would like to call in at the Parsonage for tea on my way from school. I accepted gladly having seen the house regularly, for it was on Cluster Road, opposite the Drill Hall, but behind a high stone wall.


School ended I walked to the gate, somewhat gingerly for I was shy and found a large lawn across from which stood the stone built house, the end one of three. Beside the lawn Fr. Mellor and his wife were there to greet me. Staying there until about 7.00pm I found out several things., they were a delightful, friendly couple, they had no children ( I didn’t know at that time that Mrs Mellor couldn’t have children) and they were in their early 30's. On leaving , I was told that they would be happy for me to call for tea on any day, but being shy I knew I should never go unless asked. On Friday morning, after Mass, Fr. Mellor said “You didn’t come for tea yesterday, would you like to call today ?” I gave a quick “Yes, please,” for on the first visit I had learned another thing, Mrs M was a magnificent cook!.


For the first two weeks I didn’t go unless asked, but after that it became a happy habit on all school days except Mondays when I was fly catching. My visits gradually lengthened until it was often 10pm when I left. My parents knew where I was and had been visited by the Mellors, so all was well. On Tuesdays and Fridays I would leave them for Choir practice but return afterwards for supper. They never seemed to tire of my presence and if they had to go out for other business, I was always invited to stay as long as I wanted or until they returned. If I wanted to leave, all I had to do was click the door lock and depart. These visits continued and lengthened during the four years or so that the Mellors were at Christ Church and had only one snag for it meant that Fran and I saw less of each other, for though Fran was in the choir, he was not a Server and saw much less of the Priests. It did not, however, hinder our Saturdays and Sundays together so that the “Den” was not entirely neglected and lonely, apart from my growing friendship with the Mellors, I still found my choir membership a joy. It was during this year that I learned how to sing the English chant to the Prayer Book Psalms. When I was six and newly joined, no one taught me that the bar lines in the tune, corresponded with the bar lines in the works. In my seventh year this hit me like a lightening bolt and started a joy in life that has never faded. This is one reason why I loathe new translations of the Psalms for though the meaning may be clearer, the poetry and beauty is taken from them. But then, I could say the same about new Prayer Books - I must be getting old


Two other memories of my early choir days stay with me. The ‘Union’ or ‘Workhouse’ as it was always called, was a place for vagrants to stay a night, or where old folk, too poor to live on their own were taken in ‘to die’, as those outside said. It used to hold a great Christmas feast for its inmates on Boxing Day. The particular day I remember was one upon which they were given a magnificent dinner of roast goose with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding. As the workhouse was in our parish, the choir went to this dinner, not to eat, but to sing carols and anthems. I needed to relieve myself and, not knowing where the toilets were, decided during the interval, to use one of the stone butresses of the building for the purpose. This done and not being disturbed, I was walking back in the dark only to find an old man being violently sick, or rather, poking his finger down his throat to make himself vomit. I stopped by him to ask if he needed help. His answer was terrible in its implication, “No sonny”, he gasped, “It’s only once a year we gets food like this, and the feeling of its going down is so lovely, that I vomit up the first lot so that I can go and enjoy a second.” To my young ears that sounded dreadful and to my older ones, even worse. Truly the days of Charles Dickens had not ended by the time I was a lad. One should thank God for the advent of Social Security for, if it is properly used it is a real God-send. Its bad side is that it can turn sinful humans into little more than beggars. Charity from individuals becomes hateful but from Governments, anything goes.


Life Sentence

Little did I think when I joined the choir at six that it was to be a life sentence, not one of incarceration in a closed cell but into an expanding universe of music which, through the ages, had been written to the praise of God. This knowledge of a life sentence was made apparent in my eighth year, on a cold winter’s night when practice was held in the choir vestry which could be heated. I had walked down with Fran, as the Mellors were away, a cold, mile long walk.


The choir vestry was attached to the west end of the church on its northern side and was entered by going down three steps covered by the stone porch. Over the door was a large printed notice thus: “The Vestry being part of the Church, silence and order must be observed therein.” How different were those days from today.


The vestry was large enough to house a choir of thirty as well as a grand piano. Sitting at the piano was Mr Kirkland, the organist and choirmaster, in his daily occupation, a saddler and rope-maker. He was a huge man weighing 22 stones, (Some 308lbs or 140kg). He was interesting to us lads for his habit of polishing his shoes with Lead - the polish used on the steel parts of stoves e.t.c. This meant that they didn’t shine but glittered, which fascinated us. We tried once to follow suit but were forbidden by Ma.


I was sitting in the front row, some two metres from Mr Kirkland and we had practised all the ordinary music for sung Matins and High Mass when the choirmaster produced a new setting to the Mass which we, in the junior choir had not yet seen. Losing interest, I talked quietly to my neighbour until I was almost stunned by a clout on the head from the organist’s large hymn book, which he had thrown at me with very good aim. He was too heavy to get to us quickly, hence the throw. Returning to my senses, nothing was said except a command from the pianist, “Bring that book back here David”. This I did, feeling somewhat mortified. So practice came to an end and as we faced the cold mile walk home I told Fran I was not coming to choir anymore. He wisely said nothing. We reached home at about 8.15pm to find a bright, warm sitting room with Ma and Pa by the fire reading. Now normally when we had something to grumble about we left it until Pa was not present, but this time, in the words of the Psalmist, “My heart was hot within me and I spoke with my tongue” - I blurted out that I was not going to choir any more. Mother looked concerned and would have calmed my troubled breast in no time, but Pa looked up from his book and asked “What’s that?” I repeated my statement and was asked why?. I then told of the book throwing. “What were you doing?” asked Pa. “Nothing,” lied little David. “What were you doing?” repeated Pa. “I was only talking,” I said. “Put on your coat and get off and apologise to Mr Kirkland,” ordered Pa. I saw a look of concern on Ma’s face ( a half mile walk each way and it was at 8.45pm on a winter’s night). She said that Fran must walk with me.


We walked down to the saddlers shop in Bridge Street, walked up to the side entry and knocked on the door. In a few moments the large man himself opened the door. “Hello, David” he said, “what can I do for you?”. I replied that my father had sent me to apologise for my behaviour at choir practice. “Oh he replied, that’s all right David, see you in the choir on Sunday and give my greetings to your father and thank him.”


It was a happier walk home than the going, but I then realised that being a choir member was a life sentence. So it has been, for over eighty years and its joys and pleasures have exceeded many others I might have undertaken. I might even have wasted my time kicking a blown up ball of leather about in company with twenty one others. What a waste that would have been. You will gather, that I have never been sports crazy. Let me end with a verse of a well known hymn: -


      Yea, we know that thou rejoicest

      o’er each work of thine,

      Thou didst ears and hands and voices

      for thy praise design.

      Craftman’s art and Music’s measure,

      for thy pleasure all combine.


Change for the Worse

The time came when this “Little Gentleman” reached his 8th birthday and had to leave the Calders’ School for the Church “National” School - a Primary School at the other end of the town. Here most of the folk were engaged in coal mining (the pits of Denby and Kilburn were only a few miles away) rather than in cotton making in the New Mill. It was a rougher part of Belper with “Chapel Hollow”, bordering on the school, being regarded as a bit of a slum.


The walk up to the school had its fascinations, as had the return, for walking up rather than down Albert Street, we passed into Green Lane, where there was “Toffee Walker’s” factory. In summer this was a most dangerous place as there were millions of wasps and the street was narrow. The workers would fill the window sills with large, glass toffee-jars, coated inside with syrup. In almost no time the jars would be solid with wasps and the jars would be shaken out over the fire thus incinerating them. Though this task happened all day the wasps never seemed to diminish and remained a threat to all passers by.


But wasps were of little concern to the Neaum lads for there was a tastier thrill. We could buy, for a penny, a bag of “rock-ends”, far better than “gob-stoppers”. At the school were some twenty lads from the Orphanage who were given a red apple to eat at “break”. We found that they never tasted sweets and soon learned that they were happy to swap an apple for two or three rock ends; a good swap for both sides.


Passing from the factory, we walked to the end of Green Lane into King Street and some two hundred yards up that street, came to the Market Place, a place of interest and fun on Saturday evenings when the sellers of fresh food had to sell off their wares cheaply as there were no fridges in those days.


Crossing the open space we came to “High Pavement”, a steep hill, so steep that a hand rail was fixed for elderly users. This led to “The Butts”, a large stretch of grass where, in days gone by, archery was practised. Behind this was the oldest Church building for miles round, dating back to pre-Norman times. In my young days it was still used for its proper purpose several times a year, but now, it has been taken over by the Town Council as an ancient monument. Then came the National School, stone built, two storied, plain and uninteresting. Of my time there I remember being put into Standard 1 for the 1st morning, put up to Standard 3 in the afternoon and moving up to Standard 4 at the end of the first term. Not because I was exceptionally bright, but due to the excellent foundation given to me by Miss Florence Calder!


My memory holds only two members of the Staff. One was the headmaster who was short, slightly bow-legged and a sadist. It still surprises me that in my youth all school children wore shorts, even through the coldest winters. It was the delight of our dear Mr Gee, who always had a handled cane dangling from his jacket pocket, to give boys with winter-chapped legs, a cut of the cane behind the knees if they were found, say, walking with their hands in their pockets. He truly was a nasty, cruel, little man, but once, shortly before my time came to go to the Grammar School, he had his “come-uppance” at the hands of an irate mother.


It happened like this: each of the “Floors” of the school was a large hall, a third of each forming a wide corridor and two-thirds made into classrooms by movable glass windowed partitions. Mr Gee had the habit, when punishing any larger boy,of putting his foot behind the foot of his victim, tripping him and then laying into him. One lad, bless him, was well aware of this trick and escaping, dashed off to fetch his mother - a large, powerful wife of a miner. Coming back with her, they met Mr Gee just outside my classroom. I saw Mrs Arnold grab the stick and set into the sadistic Head. Not content with that, she pushed him to the ground and did to him what he often did to his students. Leaving him a huddled body on the floor, she then departed with her son. We all were delighted! From that day, during the short time I was at that school, the cane was used only on the hand. I think the Head had learned his lesson.


That is the bad memory, except for the good hiding. Fortunately there was a wonderful teacher from Standard 4 onwards, a Miss Jackson, a teacher who had a “calling” to the task. I remember her, not only because she was a bright spot in a rather dark world, but also because in later years she had a house built near our own, so we never lost touch until she died.


The third and occasional teacher I remember was the Vicar of the main Parish Church who came to give us R.E.

St Peter’s Parish and Vicar

Changing from Bridge House School to the “National” Primary School brought differences, not merely in place but also in approach to doctrine and forms of worship, for whereas Christ Church was “High Catholic” Anglicanism , St Peter’s was “Low Evangelical”. This was shown from the first in the teaching given by the Rev. Mr (never ‘Father’) Cooper, the Vicar, on his daily visits to the school. No longer the crocodile to the Church for the ‘Angelus’, the emphasis on Church and Sacraments, but more on the Catechism, the Bible and the Prayer Book. In later years when I had at last accepted my ‘Vocation’, I found both of these teachings stood me in good stead, but also helped make me a priest without any definite ‘Churchmanship’ - an Evangelical Catholic or a Catholic Evangelical. During my ministry I have taken over the churchmanship of the parish to which I have been appointed unless there were customs at variance with the Gospel and decent order in worship.


At the time of which I’m writing, Mr Cooper was getting near to retirement, a tall and rather austere man, but with a twinkle in his eye that made him very acceptable to those he taught. On the few occasions when the whole school was marched to the Parish Church, I found the lack of ceremony quite astonishing, but the simplicity delightful. The Church building was huge to my eyes for, with the three sides of gallery, it could seat over one thousand two hundred folk, a veritable cathedral when compared with our lowlier Christ Church. It was, of course, stone built, with a high tower, no spire, but with four corner pinnacles and a peal of eight bells, and it had a magnificent and historic organ. When I was nine I was confirmed in that church as the Bishop alternated confirmation services between the two Churches annually.


My father, being a faithful and regular attender at St. Peter’s, we were known by Mr Cooper who, I must say, never tried to turn us from Christ Church and its ‘goings on’. Reading the local evening paper one day I was struck by the large headlines on the front page, “Vicar of Belper made a Canon”. That title struck me more in that day than it did in later years when it became mine!. Having finished with the paper, my father, who had been writing a letter, turned to me and asked if I would mind taking the letter to his Vicar. I was told that it must be handed to Mr Cooper himself, not just left in anyone’s hands. I took the half mile walk and rang the bell. Mrs Cooper answered it and, after greeting her, I asked if Mr Cooper was in. She looked at me with a rather haughty air and corrected me, “Canon Cooper, if you please!” I knew she was a bit ‘Uppish’, but I did think that was too quick a response to Canon Coopers elevation.


Time came when Canon Cooper retired and a new Vicar “Who knew not Joseph” i.e my Pa, and on his first Sunday after the Induction, stood in the church porch, with his Churchwarden, to greet his new flock. The Warden primed him with names and my father’s turn arrived. Shaking hands, the new Vicar said, “I’ve heard much about you Mr Neaum and I hope to visit you during this week”. Pa’s answer rather stymied him for it went something like this: “Good morning and welcome Mr Thompson, but let me say that the first time you visit me will be the last time you will see me in your church. I am always here on Sundays and am prepared to give a hand in any work necessary or in any financial difficulty, but there must be several thousand folk in the parish who don’t come to church. Spend your time visiting them and bring them into Church rather than wasting time visiting me whom you see every Sunday.” Mr Thompson never did visit our home and Pa continued with his presence and help as always.


One thing more about St. Peters and its Vicar and then I must move on, for it was never my ‘Home of Faith’. Mr Thompson took Monday as his day’s rest and, being a keen golfer, spent most of them on the golf course. On one Monday, a day with a stiff breeze, he had a funeral.. While he was at the grave side the wind blew open his cassock revealing underneath a pair of ‘Plus Fours’, the normal rig for golf. Shock waves went through Belper that a Priest should be wearing such attire even under his cassock when taking a funeral. How times and tastes have changed since then.


And here, a little ‘aside’ of later years. When my wife and I were working in an African mission. with me doing a sixteen hour day, seven days a week, Lent loomed ahead. My wife said to me, ‘I hope you are not intending reading out the Ten Commandments this Lent?”. “Of course I am” I replied, “Why not ?” “Because you don’t keep them yourself,” was her reply. “You don’t take your Sabbath (rest) day.” I had to admit the fault and so returned to keeping those wonderful guides to the good life.


The Salvos

During the decade from seven to seventeen years of age a great deal was happening. I was deepening my relationship with the godly Fr and Mrs Mellor, becoming a regular dogsbody in the Church, spending a lot of time at the furniture factory, messing about with cars and motor cycles, helping Pa at the trout farm, working at school and sharing in family life and music etc.....


There was, of course, no TV and until the early 20's no wireless except the Crystal Set. To my mind, TV especially has ruined conversation, spoiled family life and exchanged the active doing of things with a passive looking at things. There is too much fantasy - so much of it without any teaching of the goodness of right and the evil of wrong - murders, sex and villainy interspersed with a few programmes of beauty and interest.


At Christ Church there was a verger and general caretaker who was noted for two things in particular; his delight in punishing misdemeanours in young lads, and his ability to pour a quart of ale down his throat without disturbing his ‘Adams’ Apple’. When we misbehaved and were caught by him, we were given a sharp clip over the ears and what was worse, it was reported to our father who could be very stern over such behaviour.


There came the night when Malcolm told us he had had a good idea for a bit of fun. We were to get for ourselves two stout sticks and go with them to the Salvation Army Church. This was a corrugated iron building, standing on a lawn, without any fence. It was a plain oblong with a small porch at one end with three steps before the door. The plan was to run round the building with the sticks hard against the corrugations and thus make a fearful noise inside. Seeing that the coast was clear, we made a dash round the building and then ran to hide by the Post Office next door to see the result. But nothing happened and we felt let down. After some ten minutes, Malc said we must do the same thing, but this time twice round the Church. We did just that, and again, nothing happened. Again we waited until dare-devil Malc suggested we do it three times. I felt that this was tempting fate, but on being called ‘lily livered’ felt I should join the other two. We went round once, then twice and were finishing the third circle when the porch erupted and we were taken by ‘the enemy’. Fortunately for us, there was no Alonso Gaunt among the men, nor were we given clips over the ears. We were taken by the arm and led into the be punished? Not on your life! The folk inside were in the middle of a lecture, including lantern slides, of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. We were taken to vacant seats and told to watch and listen. We did just that and there were three pictures shown towards the end that have stayed in my mind’s eye for 78 years. The first showed Christian crawling up a steep hill with a load on his back as big as a wheely dustbin. He was looking up the hill to where three crosses stood with human figures fastened on them. The next picture showed him ready to fall on his knees before the central cross as the load fell from his back. The last and third of the remembered pictures showed Christian full face down before the cross and, in the distance, the load rolling away down the hill. I have never forgotten those pictures and never shall.


With that, the lecture came to its end and we were given a long period of extempore prayer, enlivened by ‘Alleluia’s’ and ‘Praise the Lord’s’ from the congregation. Then came a cry of ‘Amen’. Now Malc, being an Anglican, knew that ‘amen’ ended prayers, so thinking that the prayer-sayers had not heard the first, he chimed in with a truly loud ‘Amen’. It didn’t work! On the contrary, it seemed to spur on the prayer-sayer to greater lengths. But, as even good things come to an end, so did those prayers.


We wondered when our punishment was to come, but found the Salvo Ladies had been making cups of cocoa of which one was handed to each of us, plus a bun. This surprised us so much that we were almost struck dumb until the Captain came to talk to us. He asked if we went to any church. “Yes,” we said, “we are in the choir at Christ Church.” That being established he went on to say, “Next time you are down this way, don’t stay outside but come and join us.” Then he told us that it was getting late and time we were setting off home and asked us to give his greetings to Fr Baldwin, whom he knew. There was no punishment, merely a welcome. We did our best to apologise, saying we would not trouble them again in that way. “I know you won’t,” was his reply. “Goodnight and God bless you.” We walked home a chastened trio.


It is not only that early treatment that makes me admire the Salvos, for they gave me tremendous pleasure on Christmas and Easter mornings when, as I walked to church, there was not only the sound of St Peter’s Church bells, but also the Salvation Army band playing “O Come all ye Faithful” to welcome our Lord’s birthday, and “Jesus Christ is Risen today” to mark His Resurrection.


Since those long gone days I have always been fond of the Salvos and been prepared to help in any way possible their good work among the poor of this or any land.


An Eventful Year - 1921

My tenth year brought three changes that left marks in my life that still stay with me. I was ‘confirmed’, started learning cooking and housewifery under excellent tuition and I became (found myself) the owner of a third of a car! Of these three I would rate confirmation as the greatest gift of the three and I begin with that event.


I had been Altar Serving with Fr Mellor, four times a week for over a year, was almost a ‘son’ at his home and found in him the closest I have ever been to a saint. Mind you, despite having one and a half feet in Heaven he had a few earthly traits too: I noticed that when his wife asked for any money he always turned his back towards her as he took out his wallet! He also had a taste for detective novels and bought every one that was published. I took to these like an addict, so that Freeman Wills Croft and Edgar Wallace, etc were know to me quite as well as the Bible.


One morning, as we left the Convent together, he said to me, “don’t you think, David, that the time has come for you to be prepared for Confirmation? I’m starting an instruction class next week and would love to have you there.” The idea delighted me for I had felt for some

time that my Serving was only half the ‘Gift’ I ought to be receiving.


The classes were a joy for Fr Mellor was an excellent teacher as well as a priest and friend. He had infinite patience and never failed to answer any questions we asked. The instruction lasted from Epiphany to after Easter to have us ready for the great day on May 22nd, 1922. Unfortunately it was the turn of St Peter’s Church that year so that I missed the homeliness of the smaller Christ Church and had to make do with a crowded, almost foreign Church.


There came the day, and on returning home from school I found a note from my Mother telling me that though she would be out for tea, for she was giving some housebound old folk a trip in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside and a café tea at Matlock, she had put out my clothes on my bed and she would be back well before the Confirmation Service. After tea, I washed well, changed into the prepared clothes and, as Ma was not yet back, set off to the Church. As I left the house, I noticed that it was spotting with rain so, without a thought, I put on my old ‘mac’. When I say ‘old’ I mean truly old, for where the cut at its back ended, it was split, or torn, on both sides.


Getting to the church there seemed to be nowhere I could hang up my old mac and so I kept it on, was guided to my place and there I sat, new suit hidden by the old mac and totally unconcerned about my appearance. The church was crowded - some thousand or more folk and some forty to be confirmed. At that time there was no Diocese of Derby and we came under the care of the Bishop of Southwell, an elderly, benevolent Bishop without a mitre as he was courteous enough to realise that to wear one would offend the ‘evangelical’ principles of the St Peter’s folk.


Of his sermon I can remember but two things; his text, from the Book of proverbs, chapter 20 verse 27: “the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord,” which I have never forgotten and then one word in his address whose pronunciation was so old fashioned as to be memorable: why he used the word I have no idea, nor why it should come into his sermon, but he spoke of ‘Weskits” i.e. “Waistcoats”. Because one only heard that pronunciation from old and perhaps less educated folk, one didn’t expect to hear it from a Bishop. It struck the ear of a nine year old.


Then came the time for the candidates to walk up, two by two, to have the laying on of the Bishop’s hands. I went forward in my turn, my torn old mac covering my beautiful ‘underneath’, to my watching Mother’s horror! How could her dear little David so shame her? I was duly ticked off by her after the Service and made to remove it so as to lessen her shame. I am sure of one thing, God didn’t notice unless it was with a smile!


In those far off days, Confirmation was a Service on its own and did not include any celebration of Holy Communion (St Peter’s), or Mass (Christ Church). There would be some two weeks of preparation before one received first Communion. During that time we were taught the necessity of repentance, the behaviour expected when attending Mass, the practice of confession and the way to accept the Holy Mysteries.


One was taught that the chalice was touched only by the Priest. There was no wiping of the chalice between receivers, for faith was stronger than cares about health. How could the ‘Cup of the Lord’ bring anything but good to its receivers? One was also taught to hold the hands up high to receive the ‘Host’ so that the Priest would not have to bend his back unduly.


When this teaching was finished, then came the joy of one’s first Communion. From that day my Serving took on a new light for I felt that I was truly an essential part of the Mass and preparation for it became a necessity, no eating or drinking before Mass, and “High Church” members didn’t believe in evening Communions. One is tempted to say, “Them was the days!”


Bike and Car Days

Being the third boy in the family I suffered somewhat with what used to be called “Kaiser’s Pants cut down for Willie” i.e. I grew used to my older brother’s cast offs, not merely in clothes, but also with things like bicycles, which followed the age of scooters. Never having ridden a bicycle I was taught the art by my oldest brother upon receiving his cast off. It was a heavy machine and had, I later discovered, a small handle that locked the front wheel and the handlebars. I was taken by Malc to the level of Green Lane, sat on the seat, with Malc holding to the back frame, and set off. After a few yards I saw Malc some distance behind me: I was riding my first bicycle by myself! All went well until I decided to make the turn to receive Malc’s congratulations, the handle bars wouldn’t turn and so, as a consequence, I fell off. Thinking that I had done some damage to the machine, I found Malc had vanished and so I set to to examine the bicycle. It was then that I discovered the catch that locked the front part and which had caused me to fall off. As all was well I mounted again and with a few wobbles reached home safely. I then found that the locked front was one of Malc’s tricks; very typical of him at that time.


So began my bicycle time, but I never rode it to school as that meant missing the joy of trains dashing under the latticed bridge. It also would have deprived me of another pleasure. The Headmaster of the Grammar School, who lived on Green Lane and walked by our house, smoked a pipe. I would walk some yards behind him to smell the beautiful scent of his tobacco, best of all on still, frosty mornings.


The joy of having a bicycle was exceeded later in the year by the gift of a third share in the ownership of a small and real Car! Yes, at nine years old. One of my father’s first tasks after being ‘De-mobbed’ from the first World War, was to teach mother to drive. He bought a small, blue, open Peugeot. Few cars of that day were saloons, they are a blessing that I believe we owe to Mr Henry Ford and his later “Model T’s”. Our little Peugeot had a let-down canvas hood. It was fun to see Ma and Pa in that small machine for Pa was a huge man, over six foot, big and strong, while Ma was, as we used to say in Derbyshire, “No bigger than a pile of three coppers (pennies)” The sight reminded us irreverent lads of an elephant teaching a mouse to drive.


It was some two years before this exercise was satisfactorily completed and Ma thought it time then to be rid of the Peugeot and to buy another small car. I can’t remember what make she bought, but when “Austin 7's” were produced she drove one of them until too old to drive. When the time came for Ma to dispose of the Peugeot she decided to give it to my elder brothers who, even at that age, were employing the skills that would eventually lead to their life’s work and interest. But Ma had an instinct for equality and felt that she could not leave out one of the sons. It thus came about that I obtained a one third ownership of the Peugeot. I knew little of internal combustion engines at that age and had to confine my car interests to learning to drive. Albert Street was a ‘private’ road and so was not under the Police regulations as to age of driving. But how boring it would have been just driving up and down that short street. Fortunately, diagonally opposite the top of the street, across Green Lane, were the old stabling yards, left empty when the squire moved to the other side of the town. These yards were quite extensive and, with the advent of cars, were being changed into garages of which my parents had the first two.


Making sure that there was no policeman on Green Lane, I would slip across to enter the maze of the large stabling yards. It was there that I learned all the tricks of driving which have stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. At that time, I had the car on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Malc and Fran alternated with each other to give each other a Saturday. We were not allowed to mess about with cars on Sundays. My brothers did all sorts of things to the car, such as fixing a ‘straight-through’ exhaust with no silencer and thus making it as noisy as an aeroplane and taking off the body and fixing two box seats, in imitation of the Rolls-Royce test drivers who used to pass through Belper to try that car’s chassis and engine on a steep and stony “Holly Lane”. None of these messings-about bothered me, for my only interest was in driving.


There came a Monday, when I was about eleven years old, that I went up to the garage to have a bit of driving only to find no car there. In its place was a shining monster of a motor bike, the latest “Norton”. Then Malc joined me and I asked where the car was. He told me that it had been sold and in its place was the monstrous motor bike. “But I can’t drive that thing,” I said. “You are not going to,” he told me, “no one but me is touching it!” “But what of my share,” I asked. “You can say goodbye to that, as can Fran,” said this selfish brother. “I bought the bike with the cash I got for the car and that is that”. And indeed it was.


Thus ended my driving days except for the occasional borrowing of my Ma’s car and a potter around the garage grounds in it. I never dared try out my father’s car as that would have meant punishment, but I knew that if mother knew of my occasional borrowings she wouldn’t complain so long as no damage was done. Cars in those days had no locks, even on petrol tanks, so as I had no wish to rob my Ma of petrol, I used to syphon a little from Pa’s tank. What young villains children are!


1921 was indeed an eventful year It was also the year of the second ‘Flu’ epidemic; not as virulent as that in 1917, but wide spread enough to affect most families. Schools were closed and so because I did not catch the virus it was a time of holiday for me. I then found that my friends, Fr and Mrs Mellor both caught it and were bed-bound with no one to care for them. Having always had an interest in cookery and home care, I transferred my abode from Albert Street to Cluster Road for the four days the couple had to stay in bed.


What a pleasure it was to be ‘Gaffer” of the house with no one to boss me round and my patients not needing any elaborate meals, but simply tasty food and plenty of liquid. I was capable of this and to seeing to the cleaning necessary to keep the home nice and tidy.


On the fourth morning, Mrs Mellor told me that she would be getting up shortly before lunch so I set out to make everything spick and span; windows were cleaned, carpets gone over with the ‘Ewbank’, dusting done and a good fire lit in the sitting room. The kitchen had its floor mopped and its large iron stove black-leaded, while the polished edges were done over with emery cloth. I even swept the flagged back yard, that is, not the garden, as it is called in Australia, but the immediate vicinity by the back door. One room I never touched, leaving its door closed, for that was the scullery, where every surface was piled high with the used utensils which I had never thought of washing unless there was some dish or other I needed again.


Just before lunch I heard Mrs Mellor coming down the stairs, looking somewhat pale and wan. We walked into the sitting room where she sat by the fire, thanking me for everything I had done in caring for them and seeing to the house. She then went into the kitchen to give me a hand in getting lunch ready. As she glanced at the gleaming stove and the clean floor, I preened myself in her evident appreciation until she went over to the scullery, opened the door and looked paler and more wan than before. Without a word, she walked back into the sitting room and sat by the fire, followed by me, by now, not quite so pleased with myself as before.


Before her marriage she had been a domestic Science Teacher. She turned to me and said, “You are fond of cooking and house-wifery aren’t you David?” Though already fond of her I had a certain diffidence in my approach, so I answered, “Yes, Mrs Mellor.” She then said, “Would you like to learn the whole job thoroughly?” I gave the same answer. “Good,” she said, “I’ll teach you and we will start straight away.” With those words she rose from her seat and led me into the scullery. “Your first lesson will be learning how to wash up and to keep the scullery tidy and clean.”


All the used glasses, silver, china, pottery, pots and pans were sorted out, rinsed and put into a certain order. That done, the sink was filled with hot water and cleaning material was added, while I took a towel. The order of washing was thus: first glass, then silver (cutlery), next china, followed by pottery, then pans and baking dishes. The hot water was changed several times and, there being no double sink, a large bowl was filled with clean water and every item dipped in it before wiping. This water was also changed as necessary. I forgot to mention that when the scullery table had been cleared of used utensils, it was washed down so that it could receive the dried, clean, utensils.


Producing order out of chaos, the last two tasks were to clean down the sink and its surrounds, mop the floor and put away everything we had washed. That first lesson was given some 75 years ago and remains with me because I still follow the same routine.


From then on Fr Mellor became my spiritual guide and helper, while his wife taught me the joys of cookery. She was a Cornish lass and an excellent cook and teacher except for one thing, she could not make nice pastry. This was due, I think, to a fad of her husband who thought that lard made him ill, so that his wife’s pastry was made with margarine, a somewhat inferior product in those days, or sometimes with butter. Neither of these makes really good pastry, though a mixture of lard and butter can be used to make pastry which is to be eaten hot. But to me, the test of a good pastry is to try it when it has just been brought out of the deep freeze. If it is edible at that time, it is decent pastry. If not, it isn’t!


My lessons in cookery continued even after the Mellors left Belper, for I spent most of my holidays staying with them until my 21st birthday. Of all the benefactors that I have been blest with throughout my life, outside of my own family, Fr and Mrs Mellor count as one and two.


The Busy Years

Despite spending an ever increasing time with Fr and Mrs Mellor, I still found time to walk with Fran the three miles or so to the furniture factory. He was interested in the machines themselves, while I was interested in learning how to use them, both for fun and profit, for it was the age of whips and tops. The tops one could buy were dead things costing threepence, we lads called them ‘girls tops’ for it was impossible to move them more than a yard or so with the whip. We lads sought out ‘window breakers’ which, as their name suggests, were capable of just that, for they could be whipped for up to thirty yards.


Learning how to use the large lathe at the works I found I could make a dozen window breakers from a yard of 2 x 2 wood. Selling them at 2d apiece they added to our pocket money considerably.


Another task we undertook at about this time was carving. Those were the days when dining chairs had slats in the back with a carved top piece, curved and some five inches deep. We had three patterns for our work of which I can only remember one, which was two bunches of grapes surrounded by leaves. If we had the time, we could do a dozen of these in a week and earn the huge sum of 9d for the dozen, not sweated labour, but an enjoyable hobby which brought in a cash reward.


In the early days of “The Mill” as we kids called it, we would walk home from school, have some tea and set off on the three mile walk. If it was an evening that promised rain, mother would give us 2d each so that we could come back by the last train at 9.30pm. One such wet evening we were tempted to spend one fare on sweets. Knowing well that Pa would never help if you could do the job on your own, we nevertheless told him that we had ‘lost’ one twopence, and would he replace it for our fare back on the train. His reply was typical, for he knew we had ‘lost’ the 2d by spending it. He said, “then you will have to walk home.” Saying this, he went off to catch the train and left us two rogues to walk, which we did, after spending the remaining 2d. We reached home about an hour later and no one was worried.


Later on when I was at the Grammar School I derived a sort of painful pleasure when receiving six of the best from the headmaster, for he administered the punishment in his study with the recipient bending over one of the chairs . Despite the sting of six cuts, I always looked at the chair as I rose to my feet for the back had been carved by me!


One of the workmen at the factory lived in Belper and was a frequenter of the “Nag’s Head” pub which was the only pub Pa visited regularly as it had home brewed ale. One evening this workman brought the talk round to the distance a man could carry a nine inch brick, holding it between thumb and fingers of one hand. It was not long before all the talkers were outside, a brick was found and all were trying their skill and endurance. This became a regular feature during the following nights until the workman suggested that they should make a bet on it with the winner taking the proceeds. This was agreed, but the workman claimed the right, having introduced the plan, to be last.


All the men had been practising since the idea was first mooted and the tests began. Some could only manage about fifty yards, some up to half a mile, this being the best before the last man took the brick. They asked him how far he reckoned he could carry it and were staggered when he said, “three miles.” No one believed him, but it proved to be true, for he carried the brick one and a half miles and back again. He pocketed the cash.


Later on, Pa asked him how he did it for such a time. His answer was astonishing, because for the past three years he had started carrying a brick from his home, leaving it when his hand was tired and collecting it on his return home. Day by day the distance carried increased until the day came when he dropped the brick at the factory. It was after this that he turned the talk in the pub on to brick carrying and duly reaped his reward. In those days of low wages it was always worth making a few extra shillings to help out.


I have tried brick carrying. Have a go and see how far you can carry one.


A Man and his Dog

Let me take you with me for my last Primary School days’ memory, still clear in my mind’s eye. Walking to school we always took the shortest way, up King Street, across the Market space to the entrance of the short very steep hill called High Pavement. The entrance was marked by two shops, a butcher on the left and a rather ‘Posh’ greengrocer on the right. This latter was only occasionally visited by us lads as its produce was expensive and we couldn’t afford to waste our pocket money. The shop, however, had a fascination that we found hard to resist, for its owner, a Miss Lee, had a beard! It was not to be compared with a man’s beard for it grew only on the end of her chin, was composed of some 50-odd inch long hairs, each with a tight curl at its end. 1 think she must have been proud of it for it was never shaved and was, to us, worth the extra cost of an apple just to see it.


Miss Lee was the only daughter of old Lije Lee, for she had twenty-one brothers. Old Lije had been the local chimney sweep in the district until his sons grew up, and all followed the same trade, so much so that for a radius of some twenty miles round Belper, all buildings had their chimneys swept by a Mr. Lee.


Old Lije Lee looked and walked as one might imagine Old Farmer Giles did in children’s story books, stoutish and well built with slightly bowed legs, tweed suit with a matching ‘Roger’ hat, and wearing boots, not shoes. It was rare to see him without his dogs, not shepherds, great danes or spaniels, but always greyhounds, lurchers and the like.


Lije’s hounds were perfectly disciplined, needing but a word from their master to bring them to heel. Many folk doubted his love for them for he was thought of as a hard man, but all the animals he kept appeared to be fond of him. It was common knowledge that he kept them for breeding, racing and other more doubtful pursuits, for in his youth he had been a successful poacher. My story, true as it is, tells of a different side of his character.


Coming back from school one lovely, sunny, summer’s afternoon I decided to take a longer way, down a steep path from the Butts, which led, under shady trees, to the Coppice - a stretch of about four acres of flat land of rough grass, gravel and cinders. This was the place where the annual fair was held, as well as visiting circuses and other local events which needed room for marquees and for the parking of horse drawn vehicles of the day. As its main entrance was from the market place, the Saturday stalls would, at times, overflow into it. All the town children favoured it as a playground and no one ever grumbled at such usage when it was not needed for more important events.


Walking down that shady path I was about to enter the Coppice when I saw old Lije walking in from the other end. I stopped under the cover of an elderberry tree to watch, for he had with him an old shaggy lurcher attached to his walking stick by a piece of string. The only unusual thing about this was the one dog, for Lije normally had two or three with him. but it was not that which made me stay unseen, but the sight of Lije with a shot gun over his shoulder. It was interest, not fear, that kept me watching for guns fascinate young lads. I saw the slow progress, over the gravel and cinders until man and dog reached the rough grass with its softer ground. During this time I noticed Lije stop three or four times, bend down to pat the old dog’s head and speak to it.


They were much nearer to me now and I saw that it was not a walking stick to which the dog was attached, but a sharpened stake. Once again Lije stopped and petted the dog and I was near enough to hear the mumble of words spoken to it. Then, straightening up, Lije pushed the sharpened end of the stake into the turf. The dog sat quietly, tied by its string, looking up at its master who, after another pat, turned and walked away for some twenty paces.


With his back to the dog, Lije broke the gun, took from his pocket two cartridges, inserted them into the breach and turned to face the dog which still sat quietly looking at its master. Half raising the gun, Lije lowered it and walked slowly back to the dog, petted it again, talking to it and then returned to his original spot.


Now, I thought, he’s going to shoot the dog. I almost closed my eyes to hide from the sight for it was a hateful thing to happen, but the interest was too great. I waited for the crack of the shot, but it didn’t come! Instead, I saw the gun lowered and old Lije again walking to the dog, petting and speaking to it, then once more turning away and retracing his steps.


This time there seemed more determination in the lifting of the gun and the sighting with the finger on the trigger. For what seemed to me an interminable time, Lije kept this stance, as still as a war memorial or like a scene from a children’s game of ‘Statues’. I was getting impatient to get home for tea but I was held stiff by the impending horror, yet could not turn my eyes away. When would the shot come? Then I thought, “Not again!” as I saw the gun lowered, broken and the cartridges returned to the pocket. But this was the finale for Lije, returning to the dog and petting it, removed the stake, shouldered the gun and, led the dog back home.


It was unbelievable. In one way I felt disappointment that the excitement was over but, at the same time, delight that I had not witnessed a murder, even of an old dog. But how my opinion of old Lije was changed: no longer the tough keeper of working dogs to be shot when their usefulness was over, but a real softie - just like you and me.



How many different customs there are in families. One of the most common was rarely seen in the Neaum family. Kissing was not much practised among us despite our being a happy, united group. I have no memory at all of seeing my parents kissing each other, nor, during my early years, any of the children. Reading of this lack you may understand my bemused delight in seeing this form of salutation quite often practised between members of St John’s Wodonga parish family; some rare few even have the courage to do the same to this gruff old Parson and I thank them for the pleasure given.


If I dare give another digression, I remember the day when our daughter was about five years old and we were ready to return from a day spent at my old home. Pa was sitting reading and as we left the sitting room I said to daughter Sue, “Now, Susan, give your grandfather a kiss”. A peculiar shy look came over her face, (and the face of grandfather!) and Sue merely said “Goodbye Grandpa,” to the satisfaction of both.


But my topic is birthdays and one in particular, for it was but a few days before my eleventh. Having, up to ten, always been given tokens of love, I had a special hope for the same on my eleventh. The old, heavy, third hand bicycle I had had for some two years had almost come to its end for, despite constant repairs by my older brothers, the wheels were hopelessly buckled and the brakes were things of chance not safety. One of my choir friends had a new bike given him for his birthday, some weeks before mine, and had offered me his old one for one pound - a great bargain for it was in good nick. It was my intent to persuade Pa to give me the pound for my eleventh birthday.


The great time came. I had been shopping for Pa and brought back a handful of silver and two pound notes as change from a “fiver”. Now was the time to pop the question. I told Pa of the bike and its cost and asked if I could have it for my birthday present. To my utter amazement Pa said, “we don’t keep birthdays in this house after ten.” I thought for a moment that he was joking, but a glance at his face convinced me that he wasn’t. I then cast my mind back to realise that my memory of the older children’s birthday celebrations had all ended at ten years of age. I remained dumbfounded for some minutes and then, remembering the change I had lately given to Pa, said, “If I can’t have the pound, give me the sliver you have in your pocket.” Pa remained silent as I waited with diminishing hope. Getting no answer and in utmost despair, I said, “Then give the coppers you have.” Pa reached into his pocket and, sorting out the coppers, handed me fourpence halfpenny. Truly, little is better than no bread.


Hardly had I received the fourpence halfpenny when my mother came into the room, it was about 5.00pm and she asked me to go to the bakers before closing time to get a loaf. Asking her about the money necessary, she told me that my father would give it to me. I looked to him, thinking I might extract a few more coppers from the change; but the reality was far, far worse, for he said, “You’ve already got it!” A 2lb loaf, in those days cost fourpence halfpenny. I duly went for the loaf and spent my birthday present to get it.


There are two riders to that story. Mother knew of the bike I wanted and, like all good mothers, could wind Pa round her little finger. The next day I was handed a pound by her with the comment, “Say nothing about it.” I didn’t and got my newer bike. But it was true that in our family we did not keep birthdays after ten. Even today, I couldn’t tell you when my father’s birthday was and I am a bit doubtful of the true date of my Ma’s.


Moving on some ten years I was asked to spend some of the holidays with my old friends and benefactors, Fr and Mrs Mellor who were then living in Norwich. A day or two after arriving, Mrs Mellor told me that they had invited some friends for dinner that night and would I like to help with the cookery and preparation. Agreeing gladly, our first step was to go to a local farm for ELEVEN PINTS of cream! (She was Cornish and turned it into Cornish cream), and a large basket of mushrooms which we gathered. From then on we prepared for twenty one to sit round the dinner table. I knew most of the other guests so it was all fun and a magnificent feast. After dinner, Fr Mellor said he had a toast to give. He spoke shortly and then proposed the toast, “to David on his 21st birthday.” As the old saying says, “You could have knocked me down with a feather,” for I had no idea of the reason for the party and as little that it was my 21st.


What a blessing and joy are thoughtful, good friends. What? No birthdays after 10!


Needless to say, my wife, not being brought up under the same custom, always kept every birthday. My joy was that hers was a month after mine so I used to tell her that if she forgot mine, I should give her some pipe tobacco for hers. She never forgot and I never had to fulfil my threat.


Changing Scenes

How fortunate that I’m writing about incidents in my life before entering the Ministry and not my autobiography, for that would be a book and beyond my capabilities. Many things changed during my twelfth year: Fran had left school and started work, my great benefactors, the Mellors had had preferment and moved some twenty miles from Belper. I had started at the Grammar School without the safety of my eldest brother for at Senior School the lower form inmates were small fry and, as such, had to look after themselves.


The rumour of my supposed groggy heart had preceded me, so I was not allowed to play soccer and though playing a little cricket at primary school, being a left-hander, the only one, I was considered a nuisance and made to bat right handed. This ruined any hope I may have had, for my eyes were geared to being left handed and failed to give me the necessary quickness to see and anticipate the bowler’s wiles when batting. One thing I could do with my left arm though, and that was to send down, occasionally, a peculiar ball: a sort of ‘Yorker’ that didn’t bounce as it reached the batsman, but continued more or less on the ground.


My first day at senior school was accidentally fateful for I went into the large room full of pegs to hang up my coat. I took the first empty peg only to hear a loud voice shout at me, “that’s my peg”, while the owner of the voice made a dash at me, fists up. Having never been a boxer, I put up my fist against the sudden rush and, by the merest chance, hit my opponent on the nose, hard because of his own rush. His attack ended as a crimson stream ran down his face. I kept the peg! Later I found out that my opponent was the son of the Games Master and was known by the lower students as a bully. (So different from his father who was a gentleman). This one bit of luck gave me an undeserved reputation as a chap useful with his fists and I was never bullied from that day forward.


With the Mellors gone I was a bit lost, for I’d almost become part of their family, deepening my knowledge of cookery, house care and sewing, both hand and machine. One thing Mrs. Mellor did, or could, not teach me was knitting for my left handedness made me awkward. My spiritual life was fostered by Fr .Mellor. Their loss meant that I spent more time at the factory to escape the after school games periods. One such evening I was accosted by the games master who told me he expected to see me at the cricket nets in a few minutes. Regretfully I went down to the field and found him padding up. He tossed the ball to me and took his stance, saying to me, “You can leave when you get me out”. Disaster! A wasted night, I thought. By good chance, my first bowl was the occasional one, and hit his middle stump. His reaction was immediate, for he was a gentleman. He turned to me and said, “Goodnight, Neaum”, and off I went, very happily.


There came a Saturday when the junior team had a home match. My home was a small distance from where the Headmaster lived and in the morning of that day, the Head called, asked for me and told me that the team was a man short and I must take his place. Horrors!


The opposing captain won the toss and decided to bat. I was put on the boundary where I spent the time dreaming of what I might have been doing. The cut grass of the field ended some few yards from the longer grass where cows were quietly grazing. My dreams were shattered by a shout of “Stop it”, but too late, for I saw the ball racing past me, over the boundary and into the long grass. I went after it as another member of the team ran towards me so that he could relay the ball to the wicket keeper. When I saw the ball it lay just beside a new cow dropping. I found myself unable to resist the temptation and I dipped it in the soft dung and tossed it to the keen follower-up. I was never again asked to play in any match. What a twisted mind I must have had!


My school days were, on the whole, happy days, for the teaching was good and I liked learning. So much so that at the end of the year exam I came first in the class. The same happened in the second year and, foolishly now I think, I was moved from Form two to Form four. This did not hinder me in the subjects in which I was interested, all on the science side, but it left me with a gap in history (which, even with later reading, I’ve never made up), geography and languages. I still remember the Head’s written comment on my second year report, “Well done, Neaum, Splendid”, and the one on my 4th year’s “Unstable as water thou shalt not excel” (Jacob’s dying remarks to Reuben - in Gen:49 - just to save you the trouble in finding it!) My results were disappointing that year, but returned to normal the next year though I never mastered French. The best comment on the last came when I was reading some French prose in class and the Head entered. He stood for a short while and, when I stopped, he said, “Neaum, a Frenchman on the plains of Germany could tell you came from Derbyshire”. I fear he was right.


At school I did all my shared work with two of the brightest girls in the school. I mention this only because you will have difficulty in believing their names, which were, Kathleen Piggs, a curly haired lass, and Louise Hogg, a redhead. A delightful, clever couple of lasses.


Unanswered Call

I spent an increasing amount of time at the furniture factory and began to learn how to work the machines properly. I was drawn to the upholstery section and became quite expert at it (for a twelve year old). However, in the middle of one night we were all woken by a loud shout outside the bedroom windows, “The Mill’s on fire!” The voice was that of one of the railway porters who had heard the news through the rail telephone. In a moment we were all awake and got up. It was naturally the huge cotton mill we thought was on fire, but no, it was the furniture factory. Pa drove down immediately, but we were left to wait for his return. The news we received was bad, for the whole works had been destroyed. It seemed as though the bottom had fallen out of my life. No Mellors, no factory, nothing!


How wrong can one be for there was never a time when there was nothing to do. The church and all its works remained and from the choir a new friend was found to replace Fran, Eric Adams, God rest him, occupied that gap. He lived in a house on one of the main streets, not far from the Church and opposite the Doctor’s surgery. I remember one day waiting for him across the street, just by the door to the surgery. An elderly woman waited a few yards away turning her eyes to the surgery door whenever it opened. At last her friend came out and she walked up to her, which happened to be close to where I was standing, she said, “How did you get on Mabel?” (I ought to give you this story in Derbyshire dialect, but you wouldn’t understand it!) Mabel replied, “Oh, Elsie, I was put out.” “Why?” asked Elsie, “Didn’t you see the doctor?” “Oh yes,” said Mabel, “He said, ‘What’s the matter with you this morning?’ and I told him it was my leg. He told me to get on to the couch and take my stocking off. I did, and he prodded it for a bit and then said, ‘I’d better look at the other one while I am at it,’ and I were put out for I hadn’t washed that one.” I have never forgotten that overheard conversation which brings back the days when few houses had bathrooms and many were without running water laid on. Poor ashamed Mabel.


That story reminds me of another one concerning the same good Doctor, but some years later. The new Curate and his wife arrived and it was not long before I was spending as much time with them as I had with the Mellors, but our relationship was different for he never became my spiritual adviser. He was a bit of a hypochondriac and an addicted angler. His wife, a delightful lass whom I grew to love, but from whom I learned nothing more about cookery etc. One Sunday I had been with them for afternoon tea when, at about 5.45 he, Fr Watson, turned pale and said to his wife, “I’ve run out of my medicine.” “I can’t take Evensong without it.” I asked who was his doctor and found it my own Doctor and friend who had dealt with Mabel. I told the Watsons that I knew Dr Allen and would run down to get the medicine. The Doctor came to the door and I told him my errand. He took me into his dispensary and asked me to reach down a large bottle of red mixture. He, meanwhile had rinsed out a measure marked bottle and, handing it to me, told me to pour in two tablespoons of the red liquid. I had looked at the label which read “Raspberry flavouring”! He then told me to fill up the bottle with “Adam’s Ale”, that is, water. Somewhat surprised, I asked if that was all the medicine was. Saying yes he went on to say that there was nothing wrong with Fr Watson and he, the doctor, took it that I could keep the knowledge to myself. I ran back to the parsonage, saw Fr Watson take two spoonfuls of the raspberry syrup and then set off to Church as happy as could be.


I cannot say that the Watsons were the cause of my eventual change in life, but it was shortly after they came that we had a visiting preacher at the Church, the Bishop of the Windward Islands. I can’t remember his sermon but during its preaching, a voice spoke to me which told me that the Sacred Ministry was my calling. Whether or not it was a voice or merely in my mind, I don’t know, but its import astounded me by its certainty. Had the Mellors still been with us I would have spoken to Fr Mellor about it but, as it was, I kept it to myself. What 12 year old would want to be a Parson? I think my only reaction at the time was that I would not carry on my studies to University level for I was under the impression that no one could be Ordained who hadn’t a Degree. For ten years I neglected that ‘Voice’ and, as far as I am aware, never thought of it, except from that one intent not to go to University.


Despite almost living with Priests I had the idea that their main job was spending their mornings writing sermons and their afternoons visiting weeping women, while their evenings were filled with meetings; and I loved using my hands performing the necessary occupations of daily life. What I didn’t realise was that God, who gives us our talents, never calls us to waste them.


Passing Years

The following years of school bring me few memories worth the telling. What better to do than give you a quote from Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield” : “My school days! The silent gliding on of my existence - the unseen, unfelt progress of my life - from childhood to my youth! Let me think, as I look back upon that flowing water, now a dry channel overgrown with leaves, whether there are any marks along its narrow course, by which I can remember how it ran...”


So it seems to me, though they were full years marking the beginning of what I would call the electronic age, I have pictures of older brothers making Crystal wireless sets and the astonishment of hearing through the earphones, the voice of Stuart Hibburd calling, “This is 2LO” all the one hundred and thirty odd miles from London. It was truly ‘Wireless’ and not ‘Radio’ to us in those days. From those early days of tickling the crystal it was not long before we were making “Valve sets” and soon every house had a set, just, as many years later, house roofs became the necessary places for the eruption of “Telly Aerials”.


I do remember my 14th year for during those months I grew some four inches in height and was still wearing short trousers as my Ma said she didn’t want another man in the house and evidently thought keeping me so youthfully clad would avert that catastrophe. She was wrong for I was shamed by my bare knees. The day came when both parents were away and I was able to go to Pa’s tailor to order an adult Harris Tweed suit; long trousers, two pairs of them, costing in all five guineas (which, of course, I left Pa to pay). With that I decided that I had left youth behind and had become a man.


At this time my father, in partnership with a Mr. Flanders, started another factory, this time in Belper itself. It was a “Half-hose” or men’s sock factory. During its building I was always hanging round and because both my older brothers were to be employed there, saw much more of them. Once again the Neaum contingent was concerned with the mechanical side while the partner saw to the business and office part.


I was never much interested in metal working for wood was my delight, but one day my father thought I ought to know something of metal and its tools. This happened when the factory was in production and I was pottering round the workshop end. Pa handed me a piece of copper rod and told me to cut off an inch long piece and then file it into an octagon. I put the rod into the vice and taking the hacksaw, cut off an inch. The surface I made was terrible so my first job was to file the cut side smooth. This done, I carefully marked out the eight sides to be filed and then set down to it. I was quite proud of the result for it was truly a copper octagon some one & a half inches across. In due time Pa came to see how I was getting on and I handed him the result of my effort, expecting not praise for that was not Pa’s way, but, shall we say, satisfaction.


Without a word, Pa took the copper bar, looked at the end I had sawn, put it into the vice and, with a few strokes, erased my saw marks. He then cut off his inch and where the cut had been made there was no need for filing smooth. Then, without any marking at all, he filed his octagon taking a few minutes, not the hour or more it had taken me. When it was finished he put it and mine on the palm of his hand and held them both towards the light. The difference was shocking for his showed an entirely smooth face on every surface while mine had something like seven different sheens. There was no need for words for I realised that engineering was not my forte. I could take down and re-assemble a car or motor bike engine but would never be an engineer for when I had ‘de-coked’ a car engine I was never satisfied with the result until Fran had passed it, for he had magic fingers.


But those small things mentioned, let me come to the greatest event during the early days of my 14th year. Dear Fr. Baldwin had announced the time of his retirement and the days of Christ Church having an assistant Priest were drawing to an end. Shortly before that happened I was spending the evening with Fr. & Mrs. Watson when they asked me if I would like to spend the night at their home. Neither they nor we had telephones at that time and I said I would have to let my parents know I wouldn’t be home. I was told that they already knew of it and had agreed. I duly spent the night there and left early, with Fr. Watson, to serve at the Convent Mass and then returned home to be greeted by my elder sister with the request to go upstairs to see what Ma had got to show me. Mother was in bed and lying in her arms was a baby! I had had no idea that such a treat was even expected, for Ma didn’t ‘Show’ when pregnant.


The infant so born was a girl child who became my ‘Baby’ from her birth and right up to the time of writing when she is seventy three years of age. She and I are the final two of our generation, she being the last of our family’s six children.


Some twelve years later, we wanted my young sister, Anne, to be one of our bridesmaids but she, being something of a ‘Tom-boy’ refused. She didn’t even come to the wedding but, after the reception on our returning home, where we had hidden the car to save it being messed about by any of the younger guests, she sprang out from behind the garden gate, two pistols in her hands and shouted, “Stick ‘em up!” - a welcome we never expected!


By the way, let me say that of all the five weddings of his children, my Father never attended one! We didn’t expect him to!


Father Knows Best

About this time Fr. Baldwin decided that the time had come for his retirement. During the later years of his Ministry, we had had a yearly visit during a fortnight of the school Summer holidays, of a Priest with his Scout Group; a certain Fr. Gerald Walker who was a Vicar in St. Pancras parish in London. During this two week visit , Fr. Walker would be asked to preach as he always brought his Scouts to Christ Church from their camping ground a mile or so away. It was through these visits and by his preaching that he became known to the Squire in whose gift the ‘Living’ of Christ Church lay.


For some months we were left in doubt as to who our new Vicar would be, but it didn’t matter too much as we still had Fr. Watson, the Assistant Priest, to care for us. Then came the announcement, that Fr. G. Walker had been offered the living and had accepted. We knew little of him or his family and awaited in hope, knowing that upon his arrival, our Fr. Watson would himself be leaving us for new pastures and after his leaving there would no longer be an Assistant Priest as the cost was too great.


Our first intimation of the arrival of the new Vicar came from the presence of a three-wheeler Morgan car outside the Vicarage door and then came the Induction and the welcoming of both Vicar and family - a youngish wife and a baby daughter. Still being a 4 or 5 times a week server, I quickly grew to know and like the whole family, so much so, that with the Watson’s departure, my constant visits were transferred to the Vicarage.


During the long years of Fr. Baldwin’s Ministry the Church Services were moderately ‘High’, but with no incense. On his first Sunday with us Fr. Walker announced that we would find in our pews blue and red cards. He asked us to choose one and put it into the boxes provided. The purpose was to find out who, in the congregation, would like to have incense used at the Mass. He then went on to say that this would be introduced only if there were twice as many blue cards as red put into the boxes.


We choir lads had no interest in incense for the smoke hinders one’s singing, so we went round the whole church after the service and put every red card there was into the boxes and put any blue ones into our pockets to be thrown away. We knew very well that there would be very many more red cards than blue and felt we had done a good thing.


Came the following Sunday. There was never a mention of cards, either blue or red, but there was incense, clouds of it! Our new Vicar liked it strong and pungent. We then realised that we had a “Father Knows Best” Vicar; a Priest who knew what he wanted and got it because he caused it to happen.


It was not long before I was trained to be a thurifer and, as nobody grumbled, our High Mass included clouds of incense. From that first dictatorial move many more were added until I felt that we outdid the Romans in our ceremonial in worship. But what did that matter, for our new Priest had one gift that outshone all others, he was a musical genius who could train boys (no girls in those days) to sing like angels. In little time the choir at Christ Church became known throughout the district. Unfortunately by that time I was in the changing voice stage and, not wishing to leave the choir while my voice settled, kept as quiet as possible singing a little alto and a little rough bass. I was not noticed until one day the Vicar asked me to sing a solo in the Mass setting. I then had to confess that I had not been singing treble for the past year or so. I was allowed to stay, on condition that my presence was visible but not audible until my voice settled into either tenor or bass.


It must have been a year or so later that my friend Eric and I broke that rule. It happened that the organist was away and the Vicar was taking his place at the organ. It was sung Evensong and the Psalm tune had a delightful high base line. Eric and I, forgetting our instructions, let rip with a noise that only just breaking voices can make. How we enjoyed it, almost drowning out the rest of the choir. The Vicar (& choirmaster as he was) could do nothing about it as he could not leave us organ-less.


Next morning, being Monday, I was Altar Serving at the Convent with the Vicar as Celebrant. After the Mass, as we parted at the gate, he handed me a letter, telling me to read it when I got home. Turning the first corner I couldn’t wait to see its contents; I can give them to you verbatim for they are imprinted on to my memory. It ran thus: “Dear David, I want men in my choir who can sing, not those who take the bit between their teeth and bawl. You’re sacked. H. S. G. Walker.” My friend had an identical letter. But how different the reaction in those days, for we neither of us left the Church nor stopped doing for it what was necessary; I remained Serving, etc., but instead of sitting in the choir, we took our seats at the back of the Church and sang heartily.


Having reached my seventeenth year when Eric and I were sacked from the choir and each of us having brothers in the choir, we had seen copies of the music to be sung and so ‘lifted up our voices’. Then the whole choir went on strike, in sympathy, and joined us at the back of the church. Fr.Walker then filled the choir pews with what we called ‘Rubbish’, i.e., folk who couldn’t sing! It must have been a grievous time for such a master of music and it lasted for a month or so with beautiful voices at the back of the church and little of note from the front choir pews.


One morning, after Convent Mass, Fr. Walker said to me, “I think it’s about time you lot came back into the choir”. How can we, I asked, you’ve filled the choir with other folk. “Oh,” he said, “You’ll soon get rid of them!” I don’t know what he had told the interlopers, but we all turned up on practice night and the newcomers were not to be seen until Sunday came and they had rejoined the congregation. It was after this that the Vicar told me what had happened after the first Mass when Eric and I had sung at the back of the Church. Sitting a few rows in front of us was the Squire’s widow who was very poor sighted. She asked the verger to tell the Vicar she’d like a word with him. Going to her, she told him that she didn’t know who they were, but there were two men behind her that morning with good voices and she thought he ought to get them into the choir!


One other result of the strike was a deputation from the congregation asking if the choir could always be at the back as it helped the whole Church family to sing. This, however, went against the Vicar’s ideas for he liked to have the choir near to the Sanctuary ‘to keep his eyes on them’. We remained in the front choir pews.


Before I pass on, one last memory of school. It was the last year before our ‘A Level’ exam and I and two friends so annoyed the French Mistress that, in the first term, she refused to have us in her class. For a week or so we enjoyed the freedom and then remembered that French was the only subject in the exam that had to be passed as it was our only foreign language. I went to the library and took out all the French writers I could find and spent many hours on them, especially the set books. Came the exam and I was able to tackle all the questions. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I met the French Mistress as I left the exam room. With a somewhat satirical look she asked me how I’d gone on. I told her I thought I’d done quite well. Her reply was typical for she said “We shall see. Time will tell.” It did and I got a good credit of sixty seven percent.


That year, my last in school, I won the First prize. The Head called me in, to ask what book I’d like. It was the time of Edgar Wallace’s crime stories, so I asked for some of them. “We don’t give that sort of prize” was his reply. “In that case, I will have a Bible” I replied. I duly received it, took it home and found that the Head had played an excellent trick on me - the Bible was in French! I never managed to read it!


There were six weeks before the results of the exam were to be published and I couldn’t remain idle, despite the interest in motor bikes, angling and working with Pa on his hobby, the trout farm. My parents thought I might like to try the Law and I got a job with a Derby Solicitor at fourteen shillings a week. It took only a fortnight for me to realise that I had then, and would never have, any interest in that profession, so I left and got myself a temporary job in a coal office with its place of work at the large Goods Station in Belper.


Before starting that job, which I thought might be a bit dirty, I went to the “Thirty Shilling Tailors” (A normal suit cost about five pounds) and bought myself a pair of cheap trousers for ten shillings. On my first morning in the small office, I bent down to attend to the coal stove and the trousers split right across the seat! It was my good fortune to have taken my mac with me and was able to walk home at lunchtime without being arrested for indecency - but what a horrible feeling to have only one’s underpants to keep out the cold!


The tremendous joy of that job was that by about l0.30am I had seen to the loading of the coal drays - forty hundred-weight bags of coal - and, as there was no telephone, there was little or nothing more for me to do until lunchtime was over. I soon discovered a young man’s dream by getting pally with the driver of the shunt engine whose work was making up all the different trucks into a train for the same destination. This proved a fascinating job for I was allowed to be with the driver and fireman on the engine itself.


There was, however, one danger that I quickly discovered. The space between the engine and the tender was covered by a hinged plate which did not reach to the far end of the floor. As I was standing, looking out of the side, I must have had my heel in the space where the cover didn’t reach and as the engine changed lines with the necessary turn, the engine and tender drew together. Fortunately, it was the heel of my shoe and not my foot that suffered for, in a moment, it was shattered. That danger known, I enjoyed my shunting mornings to the full until the exam results came out and I left the job.


The results being satisfactory and having no intention of going on to University (a dim memory of my twelve year old “Call”) The question was - what was I to do?


It was the time of the Wall Street Crash and our ‘Half-hose’ Firm had a huge order from America for ten thousand dozen socks, made to an American pattern. Some fifth of this had been completed when the crash caused the cancellation of the whole order. My father thought this a good opportunity for me to show my skills and I was given the job of travelling salesman, to dispose of some two thousand dozen of these unusual socks. Back then, the general dress of such workers was pin-striped longs, black jacket and a bowler hat. As I wouldn’t have been seen dead in such attire, I donned a tweed plus-four suit and no hat.


I took on the job with some trepidation but the chance of visiting so many cities soon won my approval - London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, York and Norwich were my boundaries and I have always loved trains. I’ll not bore you with travellers’ tales, save two - one in Birmingham and the other in London. In the former, I walked into a long hall in which sat some fifty very properly dressed fellows. On my entry there was a sudden hush, for I think they all thought I was some visitor to one of them - but when they saw me take a seat by door nine, which had the notice ‘Half-hose’ on it, the hush turned into a quiet, astonished laughter at anyone daring to be so dressed for such an important job. Despite this, I did make a sale there!


I remember the London occasion because of the name of the Firm visited - ‘Shakespeare & Co.’ I duly saw the buyer, opened my case of samples, in those days the maker’s price for a dozen varied from five and ninepence to fifteen shillings, according to quality, which were taken by the buyer, examined and then thrown onto the floor. Having seen the lot, he said there was nothing that interested him and that I could leave. I sat still and waited. He repeated that I could leave but I told him that I wanted my samples returned to my case. Looking a bit astonished as I still waited, he rose, collected the socks and put them on to the desk. Satisfied with this, I put them into the case and left. A month later I revisited the man, was welcomed and made a sale!


It took me some six months to sell the 2,000 dozen but the great satisfaction to me was not in selling the socks but in visiting all the beautiful Cathedrals in the cities on my journeys. If the time was right I would arrange my business visits to make it possible for me to be at Evensong when, being weekdays, I could sit behind the choir. When in York I made up my mind that nothing would stop me from sharing in that most beautiful Service in the Minster. Sitting almost in the choir, I found that the musical setting to the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis was well known to me so I quietly joined in the singing (at that age I had a fairly decent baritone voice). On reaching the third verse of the Magnificat I felt a sharp jab in my back and, turning, saw the Verger who said, in a stage whisper, “Shut up! They’re broadcasting!” I replied - “Push off - I’m worshipping!” He pushed off and I continued to sing.


One other Cathedral memory I have is of the massive Norman building at Durham. It was some special Service and the long nave was packed so that I had to take a seat in the back row. Someone had forgotten to switch on the microphone and hardly anything of the beginning of the Service could be heard until a faint whisper of “O Lord, open thou our lips”, followed by the angelic sound of the choir singing, “And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise”. It truly was as though it had come from Heaven itself! And then the microphone was remembered and all returned to this earth and its praise.


But enough of that for life was not only work nor constant praise for I continued to help Pa at the trout farm, angling and quarrying and dressing stone to enlarge the cottage at the farm. But my chief interest at this time was motor bikes. I had a large 500cc B.S,A. and joined a team for dirt-track racing; a thrilling pastime which often led to broken limbs for the participants. I was lucky to remain uninjured whilst I participated in that sport.


It came into my mind that motor bikes were less interesting than aeroplanes and so decided to learn how to fly. There was a flying school just south of Derby so off I went to enrol. The price was a bit stiff for my means but even starting would be fun. Growing nearer to bankruptcy each week I reached the stage when I was due to make my first solo flight. With many butterflies in my stomach, I drove down to the airfield and, on drawing near, saw the plane I was hoping to fly, standing with its nose in a ditch and its tail in the air. I hope it was not that sight that ended my flying hopes but rather the lack of cash. In any case, I never got to solo flying. Perhaps it was as well for I might have been one of the glorious few who saved Britain in the early days of the war and thus missed my true Calling, which had slipped from my mind since I was 12.


One thing came out of my abortive flying experience. I met a sugar planter on holiday from the West Indies and became friendly with him. He liked to come to the trout farm when I was there, until the time came for him to return to work. He then offered me a job, with fares paid, and all equipment necessary AND my return fare put into my Bank if I didn’t care for the job. Unfortunately, my elder brother and sister had been married to their respective spouses that year and my mother didn’t want to lose her David! So I persuaded Pa to give me the trout farm and so keep me at home. It was a difficult decision but I chose the farm to the chagrin of my West Indian friend and my own delight.


Driving Instructor.

Sometime during the last year of our living in Albert Street I had a visitor. Early one evening Mr. A. Smedley the thrower of the Sunday joint, plus dish, through the front window, some ten years earlier called to see me. To all of us he was known as ‘The Drunk’ for he had kept up his evil habit and, to me, had added another for he always called me “Davie”, which diminutive I detested. To my surprise he said, “Davie, I’ve just bought a new car and I wondered if you would teach me how to drive?” My answer was a little sharp for I told him I didn’t teach people who drank to drive. Taking no offence, he told me that he had stopped drinking, hadn’t touched alcohol for the past six months and, when having to meet business associates in a hotel or pub, only drank ginger ale. Still doubtful, I told him I would need confirmation of that and he asked me to talk with his wife. I did, and she confirmed his conversion with great satisfaction. This done, I went into the street to see the car.


It was a new Alvis sedan which shone as if angels had polished it, totally spotless inside and out. After looking at its appointments, I arranged to give Albert, as I now was to call him, his first lesson the next day. I had noticed that the car had a radiator muff - a leather coat, the centre panel of which had to be rolled down when driving. This was before anti-freeze came on the market and it kept the water system from freezing in winter weather. The following day I spent the first half-hour telling and showing Albert what the many controls did, how they worked and the driver’s part as boss of the lot. As I have no intention of making this a driving lesson I will skim off a few incidents. On that first day I noticed that Albert constantly failed to take off the hand brake and so ended the lesson stressing the necessity of that single act.


When we went for the second lesson I noticed seven luggage labels tied all over the interior of the car with ‘remove handbrake’ printed on each. Our driving pitch was the street itself, a cul-de-sac. With me beside him, Albert drove up, turned round and returned and so on. Then I noticed that the engine was getting hot, so stopped to see why. I saw that the radiator muff was closed. Another repetition! Never drive unless you have uncovered that muff. On our third lesson I noticed that the handbrake labels had been replaced by seven bearing the words ‘turn up the muff’.


So it went on until Albert was a fairly competent driver, though too cautious for my taste. I drove him to meetings in Derby for a while and then dared to let him drive me until the day came when he was to drive alone into that city. It was a beautiful hot day and I went to see him off for what he said was to be an important meeting. To my surprise I found, in the early afternoon, my pupil busy cleaning and polishing the car and asked him if he had managed alright and was told the following tale.


Said Albert - “I was driving quietly through Milford and Duffield and had reached Burleigh Hill when a silly ass of a farmer drove about a hundred cows across the road. It was a hot day and I had all the windows down. I blew my horn, but the farmer took no notice, so I crept into the cattle, hoping they’d move aside. I was in the middle of them when one cow turned its rear to the car and ;et fly its bowels, covering the car inside and out and also me. Then, to make things worse, the farmer burst out laughing and said ‘The first time one of my cattle has revealed its feelings of you motorists.’” “So you didn’t get to your meeting” I said. “How could I?” he answered - “I was covered in shit and the car was the same - I came back to clean up the car”.


About that time the Daily Mail was offering one pound for any interesting tales from its readers. Albert came over to see me with the story he had written, with all its lurid language, to send to the newspaper. I told him they would never publish it but he insisted on sending it - needless to say it was not published and Albert didn’t get his pound.


Two last accounts to show how too much over-drinking had increased Albert’s simplicity. He was a fervent reader of his car’s book of instructions. This contained the advice that the engine oil should be changed when the car had been driven six hundred miles. As the odometer neared that total he looked at the numbers even more than he looked at the road. As he was driving up the hill on the main street in Belper he saw the required number come up, drove to the side of the road and, taking the necessary spanner, got under the car and removed the sump nut, beneath the engine. This action let a long stream of dirty oil run down the road. Uncaring, he replaced the nut, poured in new oil and was ready to drive off when he was stopped by the police and was later fined two pounds for fouling the street!


One day he asked me if I’d noticed that, when driving, there would be miles when no vehicles passed the other way but, when one wanted to pass a lorry, there was always a car coming to hinder one’s passing. I told him that it was only when one wanted to pass another vehicle that one noticed the cars going in the opposite direction. Not believing me, he told me a couple of days later that he had discovered how to overcome that obstacle - he started his intended journey a minute earlier! How daft can you get?



The Beard

Having now no assistant Priest in the parish the vicarage soon became my second home, that is, as a constant place to visit. Mrs. Walker was some fifteen years younger than her husband and was half French and delighted in having a young man in attendance. The chief three of these were myself and my two friends, Eric Adams and Jack Pepper. We were all members of the choir, altar servers and odd job men at any parish affairs. Jack was a son of the family to whom Fr. Baldwin had donated the Sunday sirloin each Tuesday morning.


It was as we were approaching the season of Lent that the Vicar’s wife asked the three of us what we were giving up for Lent. We were all giving up smoking, sweets and the cinema amongst other things. I said that I was thinking of growing a beard (at that time I had a small wart on my chin that always bled when shaving). To my surprise Mrs.W. then suggested that all three of us should grow beards and if we would do so right through until after Easter, she would give each of us a box of a hundred cigarettes. We accepted this offer and stopped shaving from that moment.


The first Sunday in Lent came and there was Jack, clean shaven as he came to don his robes. He told us that he had been so ribbed at the office where he worked that he couldn’t stand it and decided to drop out of the contest. On Lent two, Eric appeared with a similar bare chin and with the same reason. Fortunately for me, the only companions I had at work were trout and an elderly, retired stone mason as occasional assistant and he, having a beard some foot long, gave me encouragement rather than ridicule.


Came Easter with its rejoicing marked not only by the sweet smell of incense in our worship but also the delight at the thought of the sweet smell of tobacco on the way home. So it was, until my next visit to the Vicarage to claim my reward. Then came the shock, for she said she had made the bargain to all three of us and as two had dropped out the bargain was off. Somewhat incensed, I decided to keep the beard and have done so for the following seventy years apart from three short breaks of which one was when I was made a deacon and married three weeks after; another when I was priested, for a couple of weeks only, and finally when the children, while we were on Tristan da Cunha, wanted to see what Pa looked like without a beard. They were so disturbed that they wouldn’t give me a goodnight kiss, saying I was strange. That was my last time of shaving and just for the one day.


I’m sometimes tempted to shave it off but everyone to whom I say that says ‘no’. I think they are afraid of what might lie underneath - a chinless wonder?


The Anti Gooseberry

Eric, a little older than I, had fallen in love. His heart was set on the eldest of three of the prettiest sisters in Belper. He was having some trouble in getting anywhere with the lass as the parents wouldn’t let one of the daughters go out alone and Eric’s gooseberry was the middle daughter. Eventually he asked me if I would take this lass out of his way now and then so that he could at least have a few moments with the lass whom he eventually married.


Again fortune shined on me as Eric took me to the girls’ home to be introduced to the family. To my delight, the father was a keen angler and, knowing I had a trout farm, took to me so much that often, when the others wished to go walking, I was immersed in fishing talk with Pa.


But soon it was accepted that I was ‘Walking out’ with the middle daughter as Eric was with the eldest; the difference was that whereas he was looking for a wife, I had no such intent and though she was a charming girl, I never became anything but an anti-gooseberry.


This situation carried on for almost a year until two things brought it to an end. The first and most important being the acceptance of Molly and her family that Eric’s intentions and behaviour were good and the second an action of mine which I now think was a bit cruel to a young lass. If the younger sister was pretty she made the mistake of ruining her appearance by applying too much make up. In the Sunday paper on the last day of our mutual walks appeared an article on girls’ makeup with the heading ‘Face Powder like Flour’. I cut this out and gave it to the lass to read. Quite naturally there was little talk between us during the ensuing walk and we parted on our reaching her home with the only kiss I had ever imposed upon her.


Eventually she married an old school friend of mine and made him an excellent wife. My fate in that direction will come later and I can’t help thinking how unsuitable my ‘Anti-gooseberry’ lass would have been as a Parson’s spouse. God is good, for he found me the perfect wife when the right time came.


The Trout Farm

It would need an artist with a real gift of writing to describe the beauty of the situation in which the trout farm lay - a gift I don’t have but will do my best to give some idea of the place. It is not my idea to write a treatise on trout farming, but as it formed a large part in my early years and eventually led me to accept my calling to the Sacred Ministry, I can’t just pass it off as of little importance.


The trout farm itself was a strip of land some six hundred metres wide and a kilometre long, bounded by two streams which joined below the farm and after some mile and a half, fed the acre pond at the Toll Cottage which belonged to me. From that point the stream ran for a mile or so through four hundred acres of woodland, which I rented for a bit of shooting, and down to the River Derwent.


Many centuries ago the top stream had been used by the Monks from the local Monastery, now replaced by the Manor House, as their source of fish. For this purpose they had had three ponds constructed, one at the top end of the trout farm which was well wooded, and two which formed the north boundary of the farm. With necessary alterations and clearing, these three ponds formed the foundation of the farm for they were large enough to hold some five thousand fish of various sizes.


From the third pond the stream was diverted to feed a number of smaller ponds in which the newly hatched Fingerlings were reared. Beyond these, fed by the lower stream, were a series of larger ponds, some eight metres by forty, the digging of which was my job when other duties allowed. The whole place had been my father’s hobby for years; it was my task to turn a hobby into a business that would provide an income on which I, and my future wife, if any, could live in some comfort.


With this in mind, Pa and I spent two afternoons and evenings cutting out and dressing stone from the small quarry behind the cottage to enlarge it into a suitable home for a family. We also cleaned out the silted up acre pond and made it into a fisherman’s paradise; a small Eden even to the Snake to discourage poachers. This was a wall of the solid silt, left some half metre below the surface of the pond and some two metres from the banks, which we laced with six inch posts and barbed wire.


How beautiful was the road from Whatstandwell to Wirksworth; it was mostly wooded on both sides, a pleasantly steep hill for some three miles, past the Cottage, where a cart track provided an Angling walk that followed the stream to the trout farm, then through a hamlet of three houses before where the turn-off to the farm lay. Beyond that it continued to its highest point from which Wirksworth could be seen a mile away in the next valley.


Work at the farm was heavy during winter, the breeding season, but during summer, days could be taken off, as I had a retired stone mason living in one of the houses near the farm who, being interested in it, was prepared to feed the trout and be general caretaker when I was away. During the summer months from May to September, I camped at the farm but when seven blankets wouldn’t keep me warm I returned home for the night.


That brings to my memory a small incident over which I teased my mother many a time. Ma was very fond of dogs and we kept some two or three as part of the family. I had been up since four in the morning to see to the taking of a thousand trout to near Rutland, some hundred kilometres away. The buyers had eight miles of a stream which meandered a couple of fields away from the track where our lorry had to stop. They were so keen that they insisted on taking the fish two by two in buckets right down to the stream. Having had nothing but a sandwich and it being eight in the evening when I got home, my first call to Ma, who was in the back kitchen, was “Anything to eat Ma, I’m famished.” The reply came “You’ll have to wait until I’ve fed the dogs.”. I never let her forget that!


I fear all the above is merely a preamble or introduction to prepare you for one of the greatest moments of my life. It happened thus. A school friend came to visit me at the farm and after looking around asked me if I could find time to teach his father how to drive. It being summer and liking the family, I agreed but asked why his Pa needed this instruction. He told me that his father had worked for the same Chemist for over thirty years as a travelling, local salesman, using a pony and dray, but had just been told that if he wasn’t prepared to learn to drive they would dispense with his services. I duly arranged with my mason helper to keep Fridays free and told my friend that I would take his Pa on his Friday round until I’d taught him to drive himself. He was an intelligent father and, apart from one thing, had no difficulty. What he couldn’t understand was that to reverse round a bend the steering wheel was turned the same way as when taking the bend forwards. I cured this by making him reverse from one village to the next - a matter of four and a half miles. Next day he had a stiff neck but had learned the lesson. This brought us to the last Friday of instruction - a day that I shall never forget.


God’s Gift

 It was a lovely early Summer’s day. I set off in my car for the last driving lesson for my friend’s father. Arriving at his house I saw a car already standing at the kerbside, with my student sitting inside. I heard from him that the car belonged to a friend who wished to sell it and my job during the day was not only to oversee his driving but also to vet the car. We set off with the learner driving towards a village some six miles away. All went well for a couple of miles when he had a puncture, the roads those days had many nails dropped from the hooves of the horses, which gave me an opportunity to show my friend how to change a wheel and me the chance to remove the brake drum to see the condition of the brake lining. Like most cars back then, there were only brakes on the rear wheels.


At our first stop, while the driver was seeing his customer, I lifted the bonnet to inspect the engine. Everything appeared well, clean and in working order, except for drops of oil on the road. This meant I had to get under the car to find the cause of that. It appeared that, before handing over the car, the owner had not only drained the sump to add new oil, but had failed to tighten up the nuts which held up the sump cover! Having brought my own tools, I had the right spanner for this job and proceeded to do the job - it was a messy task and my white shirt was soon made filthy and my light grey slacks the same.


At every stop I carried on with my inspection, with nothing but a cloth to wipe my hands; so that when the time came to bid goodbye to my pupil and give him the go ahead in driving and in buying the car, I was in a very dirty condition indeed, refusing the offer to go into the house to clean up, as my home was only a mile or so away.


As I drove along Bridge Street and approached the church and vicarage, I suddenly remembered that I had a message to give to the Vicar. Forgetting my condition, I stopped, rang the vicarage bell as usual, and walked in. I wasn’t bothered about the Vicar seeing me in such a state, for he was a great Scout man and not always too tidy himself.


But, to my horror, as I entered the hall, the drawing room door opened and out came the Vicar’s wife. She seemed not to notice my filthy condition but greeted me by saying, “Oh David, I’m so pleased to see you for I want you to meet Dorothy, Father Irwin’s daughter”. We all knew that Dr. Irwin’s wife had died recently and that his daughter had had to break off her University course to come home to look after her father, for he was very learned and consequently useless in ordinary things. What I didn’t know was that Mrs. Walker had taken Dorothy under her wing. Before she had even heard my “I’m not fit .....” she had turned back into the room and I heard her say, “Here’s David, I want you to meet him”.


There were only two things I could do - back off through the front door, or advance. I did the second and, on entering the room saw the loveliest face I’d ever seen. It was truly love at first sight and I knew instantly that this was the lass I intended to marry, no matter what!


I never really found out what her thoughts of me on that day were; dirty-faced, with soiled clothes and young and shy - being introduced to her in a vicarage drawing room. She sat quietly as I was offered tea and spent my time admiring her quiet and lovely face. I left as soon as possible, hoping that the next time we met I could be at my best. I had good reason for this as Mrs. Walker asked if she and Dorothy could visit me at the trout farm during the next week. Being in a ‘love-daze’ I suggested a suitable day and was then told they would walk the eight miles and bring lunch with them. Taking the chance, I said I would walk with them and we fixed a time.


From that moment time seemed not to exist until the great day arrived. We walked along country paths to Ambergate, some three miles, crossed the river by the old bridge at that village and continued on the tow-path of the canal to Whatstandwell. Crossing the river again, we climbed the beautifully wooded hill to the Cottage then followed the stream to the farm where, after a rest and lunch, I showed them around the scene of my labours before setting off for the return walk. This time we went over the hills, rather than through the Derwent valley, and so home.


Having walked on solid ground they were duly tired but I, having walked on air, could have done another fifty miles, if in the same company! One great source of hope came before I left them at the vicarage for we decided that, weather permitting, we would have a day’s walk each week to show Dorothy the beauties of Derbyshire, as she had been brought up in Gloucestershire and had seen little of her new county. My heart rejoiced at the thought and continued the same during the following weeks and months. Such was the beginning of my courtship, but I had, as yet, no knowledge that my lady-love was of the same mind - time only would tell!


Living on Hope

 From the day I first met my Dorothy my life had two purposes; to win her as my wife and to make the trout farm viable enough to support a family in decent comfort. The first purpose was the more doubtful one because the farm was already producing a living and future prospects were excellent. As with land farming so too with trout, the quality of one’s stock was vital. It was useless to keep stock fish for spawning, so a source where wild fish could be caught while on their way to spawn had to be found.


Up to now I had two streams which ran into the Derwent, each with a pond and shuttle gate some kilometre from the river. With permission, I ran off some of the ponds each night and, in the morning, closed the shuttle, walked down the stream and collected the trout which had come up to spawn. Into a bowl of water two or three females were stripped - a flow of beautiful pink eggs would emerge, each as large as the nail on one’s little finger, anything from five hundred to a thousand, depending on the size of the mother. Then the milt of the male was stripped into the bowl, tossed gently around and put aside for another bowl. These were then taken back to the farm and put into the hatching boxes on trays made up of glass tubes about two millimetres apart. The hatching boxes were fed from a constant spring which (in England at least) emerged from the earth at 38degs. F.


Once the hatching boxes had their fill the main job was extracting with a bulb and tube any unfertilised eggs during the three weeks before hatching. But as this is not to be a tale of trout farming, I can leave it there - except to say that I needed more spawners and, if possible, larger ones. To try to explain what I got I should have to take you to my home town of Belper but, that being unlikely, I’ll have to put it into words. The huge New Mill was built on the side of the river and a deep cut taken from the river carried away the water to drive the turbines. To make this possible, a high and a low dam, each with shuttle gates had to be built; the former to take the full flow of the river when the mill was not working and the latter to keep a flow of water between the cut and its return some half mile lower.


My interest was the lower dam basin, which was attainable by spawning trout and could be drained. With the help of the angling society (which we supplied with trout) and with permission from the Mill, I was allowed to drain the basin, catch the trout, spawn them and return them to the river. The number and size of the fish so caught surprised the anglers, a hundred and ten the first time and some of them seventy five centimetres long! What beautiful, large, eggs they were and what a harvest they eventually reaped for me!


The twin partner in that second purpose was to see that Pa and I cut and dressed enough stone to ensure that the l8th century Toll Cottage could be enlarged into a house suitable for a newly married couple who hoped to have children. Both these projects proceeded according to plan - I had no worry about the situation of the cottage as it was surrounded in beauty and was only a mile or so from the main road. With those being seen to, my chief aim was to win the love of my life.


The Vicar’s wife seemed to have the same object, for she continued to encourage our long walks through the lovely dales of Derbyshire, after which we had the evening meal at the Vicarage, giving me the opportunity to drive Dorothy the three miles to her home. All went well, but I had no certain indication of my love being mutual until Boxing Day, when we were both invited to dinner at the Vicarage - and a fearful dinner it was! They had two rather silly young girls as cook and housemaid, neither of whom had been well trained - certainly not the one called cook. The main dish was a brace of well-hung pheasants, given by the squire. The Vicar, being no carver, asked me to do that job. Inserting the fork into one of the birds, I noticed a nasty looking juice seeping out and realised the cook had failed to ‘draw; the well-hung birds. I managed to let Dorothy refrain from having any gravy and took care, in carving the meat, not to cut through the inner coating which separated the meat from the ‘undrawn’ innards. Apart from that, all went well for us two, but the Vicar and his wife were in bed the next day with upset stomachs!. After the dinner Dorothy said she must be home early as she had promised her father that she would look in at a parish dance that evening. I dared to ask if she would like me to go with her. Getting a smile and a “Yes”, my hopes rose beyond belief, for here I must tell you that the folk of Duffield regarded those from Belper rather as the Jews of Jerusalem scorned the folk of Nazareth - so that the Vicar’s daughter taking a Belper youngster to the dance would be an enormous mark in my favour.


We walked to the car and, seeing her to her seat, I dared to give her my first kiss which, to my delight, was returned. From that moment I knew she was mine, though I must admit that I had taken a sprig of mistletoe to show if she slapped my face! It wasn’t necessary! We went to the dance and I danced only with my love and the Duffield folk knew that their Vicar’s daughter was hooked. But that was only the beginning of a long road for as a trout farmer I was acceptable - but I had often heard her say “I’ll never marry a Parson!”.


We met regularly at the Vicarage for an evening meal twice a week, and always on Sundays and I had the pleasure of driving my love home and receiving a parting kiss - but that was as far as it went.


I had, however, been introduced to her learned father and she to my family; I was welcomed by her father but, I think, as a prosperous trout farmer. Like most fathers, he wanted to see his only daughter well settled and I doubt he would have been as pleased had he known she was to become the wife of a poor Curate, living on starvation salary! Fortunately for me, he had no gift of fortune telling.


Dorothy’s welcome into my family was delightful for my siblings accepted her as a sister and my parents as a daughter, especially as my elder sister was away from home, on the long trail of training as a nurse - first in Sheffield and then at the famous ‘London Hospital’.


All was going well during the January after the dance until a heavy blow fell - when I was told my love was to make a visit to her uncle in Belfast for a month or even longer. I asked if I might write to her and if she would reply and her “yes” gave me much comfort. It being the busiest time at the trout farm time passed quickly and, while she was away I had an astonishing request from the Police Superintendent. His predecessor had been my Godfather but had retired and his replacement was a “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph” - except as one of a family who was always getting into motorbike trouble.


One of the high days in the social calendar of Belper was the annual Police Ball. I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies. For some two years I had played the clarinet in the best dance band - a proper ensemble of seven, not a rock group, and I suppose this was the source of the invitation. The ‘Ball’ was to last from 8pm to 2am but, with an extension, did not end until 3am. Throughout the proceedings I was regularly asked, by one of the Police, to go to the bar for a drink but, being too busy, asked for one to be put on the side for later. As it happened I never got to the bar until the end of the do and found the entire Force congregated there and, on a shelf, forty three bottles of beer - my unused gifts! I drank one, while the others were happy to share the remaining forty two.


My love’s stay in Belfast lasted for six weeks; weeks during which, when I had time from my labours, my mind pictured the host of prosperous, eligible young men in that city who would be thronging round my intended, for her uncle was a well-known linen merchant. I had written a weekly letter and received two replies, the second of which restored my hopes as it told of her impending return and the time she hoped to be at Derby Station - an invitation for me to collect her. How I longed for that day ! It came and was cold, damp and foggy.


Being at the Station a good half-hour before the train was due, I waited patiently but to no avail for as I scanned the passengers who alighted there was no Dorothy. Another train from Liverpool was due in an hour. I waited, but with the same disappointing result - not a sight of the one for whom I waited. I then had a word with the Station Manager and was told that the ship had been hindered by fog and he could give me information as to when its passengers would entrain. Having urgent work to do at the farm I reluctantly left Derby, knowing that it was easy to get to Duffield by train when necessary. But how disappointing a day!


From then on there was no doubt about our relationship. Fortunately, it was before the evil days of single mothers and unmarried couples living together so our courtship continued on its delightful way. The Vicarage remained the centre of our meetings and the extra pleasure of taking my love home and the goodnight kiss. We continued our long walks through the beautiful dales of Derbyshire, Dovedale, Lathkill and Beresford dales and over the Derbyshire moors.


What you need is discipline

When I was accompanying the lorry taking trout to stock streams, rivers, and lakes in my car, Dorothy would come with me and help make work into pleasure. Happy days they were with our commitment to each other deepening so that the stone quarrying and dressing increased apace so that when I popped the question I would have a home ready for my bride.


So it continued until a lovely early summer day in 1934. I had put my breakfast bacon to cook by the camp fire, the coffee pot sending out its fragrance as I walked down the wood, by the tinkling stream from the hatching shed to the farm proper, when my light went out. The bright sunshine seemed to vanish and all hopes I had of a happy future faded away, I continued down the path to my camping site, had my breakfast, without joy and going to my motorbike, set off as I was, jack boots, riding breeches, polo necked jumper and beard, to the nearest public phone, some three miles away. When there I phoned the Bishop of Derby, telling him that for ten years I had smothered a call to the Sacred Ministry and God had just kicked me. It still astonishes me that I took that step, for I had not consciously thought of that call for many years. The Bishop, bless him, asked me where I was, how long it would take to reach his office and promised to keep half an hour for me between eleven and eleven thirty.


I went as I was and, after some twenty minutes talk he accepted me for training. I asked which university I was to attend, Oxford or Cambridge. His reply shook me, for he said he was tired of degree men and so he would arrange for me to go to Lichfield for, “what you need is discipline”. So that was what the Bishop thought I needed, discipline! It took me some years to eradicate the sting and even then to realise that I was not amenable to externally, enforced discipline but that it had to become internal before I could accept it. Which, I suppose, ought to be the object of any external training, as it is with good parents and their children. But despite that rather cutting remark, I was pleased to escape the five years of training that three years at university would have imposed with the added two years of theological training.


College days

Returning from my interview with the Bishop I had to think about the cost. I intended paying my own way through College as I had no wish to be tied to any one Diocese. This meant the selling of the trout farm and the cottage; easily enough done, but what about my love who had been adamant that she would never marry a Parson. Here, I trusted in two aids: the first, that her learned father was pretty helpless in anything but his learning, whereas I had little learning but many other capabilities. The second was our love for each other. Was hers as strong as mine? It was, even to the thought of our marriage being delayed by three or more years - in those days wives of newly ordained members of the Ministry were frowned on.


All these problems were in hand by the time I was due to visit the Principal of the College. That interview turned a little sour from the start for the Principal began it with the mistaken idea that I was my father making a place for his son! It may have been the beard, or perhaps my six years in business made me seem older than lads straight from school, but for some time we were at odds and the realisation seemed to confound him somewhat. Overcoming that, we got down to the task in hand, the time of term beginning and a long list of books I needed to get and read in the meantime.


The College was in the Cathedral Close with a narrow road separating it from the venerable Lichfield Cathedral with its three spires. One thing concerning that situation stays in my mind for our official Time of Meditation was from 9.30 to 10.00 each morning. As this happened to be the time the Cathedral bells were rung for Morning Prayer I still find I miss that beautiful sound at my meditation time, but as I have been an amateur campanologist for many years, that may be just a peculiarity I suffer.


When I told my lass of God’s kick to make me answer my previous Call she didn’t seem at all surprised, merely saying that if that were so we had better enjoy it and be prepared to wait for our personal aspirations. What a wonderful lass she was! We did however, decide that we would not become officially engaged lest our three years should make either of us change our minds. Some hope!


How speedily those few weeks passed until I was due to enter College. Without direction, I found the books I had to read almost incomprehensible but I thought enlightenment might come when once I started schooling. I was a little wrong in the timing for it took my first year to change what had been double Dutch into some semblance of Theology.


In the meantime there was business to see to. My father’s friend, who had started the trout farm, had soon realised that it would never be more than a one man venture and having bigger hopes, had started a commercial trout farm some twenty miles away. Being uninterested in anything but taking over our customers and closing down the farm, he bought the Good Will and allowed the old farm to return to a wetland after he had taken away anything useful.


On my trips to England it has become a place of pilgrimage with all its happy memories, its beautiful bluebell woods and bird life. What a lovely background it was both for my sixty and more years in the Ministry and fifty three happy years of marriage.


The eve of my departure arrived and I had arranged a small family party at a pub some ten miles away. The publican’s wife had been cook at the local ‘Big’ house before her marriage and could produce a delightful meal. Arranging this with her I said there would be ten of us and roast chickens, real ones in those day, not like the present day counterfeits, being on the menu she asked how many. I suggested six. All went well and it came time to pay. The total cost, apart from drinks, was two pounds. Paying this, she told me there was one chicken untouched and what did I want to do with it. I suggested she should keep it but she said I’d paid for it, so I carried it home. We were due at the College, some forty miles away, in time for dinner, and so at English tea time I scoffed the whole chicken.


Came the sad journey and the parting and then the meeting for dinner with the Staff and some forty students, all but two well younger than me. Having eaten my chicken a mere two hours before, my appetite was small and a neighbouring fellow asked if I was homesick. I told him of my earlier tea but I could see he didn’t believe me, but he did within a few days! That next door sitter became one of my best friends and eventually acted as Best Man at my wedding.


I shall mention just a few important incidents during those three years at college, the happiest of which was the last day. After being my own boss for six years and working outdoors I found enclosed student days a bit difficult especially as the Principal tried to treat us all like naughty boys - how right the Bishop had been in his assessment of my needs!


In the days before business took over the Christmas Festival, Christmas began at 3.00pm on Christmas Eve and lasted until Twelfth Night - the Eve of Epiphany. Even schools called their parties End of the Year not Christmas parties. What greater fun it was to have those joyful twelve days rather than the interminable months before the Festival which drops dead on December 26th, Boxing Day.


Few ordinary homes had alcohol in the house except for special occasions, folk choosing to go to the Local to have a drink, though most made wine from the various fruits in season. In the year of my lapse from grace the common home-made wine was rhubarb - pleasant to taste and fairly innocuous.


On New Year’s Eve of that year I decided to visit seven friends whom I’d not seen since going to College. Of necessity the visits were short but at each I was offered a glass of rhubarb wine. Though driving, at that time an open Austin 12, I had no fears as the wine was known to be fairly harmless. What I did not know was that, being-Christmas, the wine was laced with whisky, little wonder I’m not fond of that spirit! At about 1.00am I set off home on a cold frosty night with the streets empty of other traffic. I had no trouble until I reached the bottom of the hill at the crown of which stood home. As I turned the corner I had the idea that I could drive better if standing up, which I proceeded to do, up the hill and round the sharp corner into the drive. Missing both stone gate posts I somehow managed to stop just before the eight foot drop on to the garden below.


All the family were in bed and going in through the unlocked door I began to realise that I didn’t feel too good: so much so that I knew that unless I found the lavatory quickly, I should make a horrible mess before getting there. I made it and, without any conscious effort, emptied my stomach into the lavatory bowl. Knowing that there was more to come I lay down on the lavatory floor and spent the rest of the night there, occasionally raising myself to eject further poison.


Next morning I felt like death warmed up and made a resolution that never again would I drink enough to affect my five senses. My memory tells me of only one occasion when I nearly slipped. We were going on the Lloyd Triestino Italian Shipping Line up the East Coast of Africa and leaving Mombasa the sea was calm as a mill pond as we went to the dining saloon. When seated I was tempted to order a bottle of what is to me the choicest of Italian wines, “Lachrimae Christi”. Usually my Dorothy drank glass by glass with me, but on this occasion she had only one glass and the wine was too good to leave, so I finished the bottle. Strangely enough, the sea which had been so still had turned into a terrible storm, or so it seemed to me, for I had great difficulty in walking steadily to our cabin. Once there I found there was no storm and the ship was as steady as a house.



Having wandered from my point let me return to better things. During my first term at College I saw little of Dorothy and we wrote “diary” letters sent weekly while I found out the circumstances and opportunities of my new life style. I discovered that on Sundays, after college Mass and breakfast, we were expected to attend the morning Service at one of the city churches or the Cathedral and were then free for the rest of the day. How relationships between the Christian Churches have improved since that day for, after some weeks, I went to the Principal to ask if we students could attend Services at other branches of the church to experience their approach to worship. The very request shocked him to such an extent as to cause him to threaten me with expulsion were I to do such a thing!


Visiting all the churches there were two at which we became regulars: the Cathedral and a small church attached to a Charity home for old folk. The latter was extremely High Church and the incense so thick that everything appeared to be in a thick fog, but the Priest was magnificent for he could say in five minutes what would take half an hour for many. I fear my intentions in using these two Services were not all they ought to have been for it was the short sermons that attracted me because from the start I had plans to meet my Dorothy every Sunday if possible. But that didn’t happen during those first months for plans for our meetings had to be laid.


One Cathedral Mattins stays in my memory. Normally we were given a short address which, with the excellent choir, of which I later became a member, made a beautiful time of praise. This Sunday the old Dean was the preacher and there was such a large congregation that I and my companions had to occupy the front row of seats which were but a few yards from the high wooden Mattins pulpit. The old Dean tottered up the steps and announced that he would be preaching on the Cosmogony of Genesis, chapters 1-11 of the Bible. After some ten minutes I fell asleep and on awaking saw that twenty minutes had passed and the Dean was looking at me. He continued and I again fell to sleep to find on waking that forty minutes had passed and the Dean was still talking and looking at me. Eventually my neighbour nudged me to stand when the sermon ended - it had lasted for an hour and ten minutes. No wonder I fell asleep!


Love Finds A Way


After that first term of separation, except for letters, my lass and I made arrangements for a weekly meeting. Sunday being the only day when I had sufficient freedom after the morning Service until 10.00pm, we sought a place to meet convenient to us both. I was still the owner of a clapped out Austin 12 car, which was falling apart as it had to be left in the open, but it made me mobile while Dorothy had a good bus route.


About equidistant from Lichfield and Duffield was the beer town of Burton on Trent and we agreed to meet there for the early afternoon and evening, Dorothy bringing a small meal as we were both strapped for cash. On horrible, wet days we drove a few miles to some local beauty spot and sat together in the car, but on good days we walked along the banks of the river, through Newton Solney and on to Repton, of school fame, a distance of some seven or eight miles. Getting tired of Thermos tea, we discovered in Repton, a delightful elderly lass who opened up her sitting room for us and made us a pot of tea for 3d. The memory of those joyful meetings stays with me as does the beauty of the surrounding countryside which we grew to know so well.


With that happy weekly break the second term passed like a flash and in no time it was the Spring vacation which brought with it a new experience, for we both were to sail across to Belfast to stay with Dorothy’s uncle and aunt for a week; the first time I had been on a ship and even if it were only to be for a night crossing of the Irish Sea, it was a new adventure.


As this was the uncle’s treat we had a magnificent dinner aboard and a cabin for each of us. On later trips and after we were married we were still strapped for cash and had to pay our own way, then we travelled ‘Steerage’ and had to take our own food - not nearly so thrilling!


Being met and introduced at the dock, we were driven to the large home part way up Cave Hill. When there I was shown to my bedroom where I opened my case, putting my pyjamas under the pillow, my slippers under the bed and my dressing gown behind the door before returning downstairs. We had a happy day meeting other members of the family and later partaking of an excellent dinner. I was introduced to Soda Bread, which I didn’t care for much, but seemed to be a regular part of the Ulster diet.


Time came to set off for bed and, the others having gone before, I said goodnight to Dorothy as she left me at my bedroom door. I didn’t notice where her room was. Entering my room I switched on the main light but with no result, so I stumbled over to the bedside lamp which gave such a dim glow that I thought it must have only a 20 watt bulb. I then turned towards the bed only to have the shock of my life for there, lying on her back, sound asleep, with the bed coverings exposing all her upper works, was a beautiful girl. I quickly put out the light and quietly going to the door, my foot hit my suitcase. I knew then that I had not come into the wrong room, but what was I to do? I had not seen the lass in my bed among the family members during the evening and so wondered who she was and where she had come from. I had two choices: to waken her and tip her out of my bed or, gently to extract my pyjamas from under her pillow and spend the night on the settee. I ventured to risk the low light of the bedside lamp to enable me to do the latter. I then noticed something my colour-blind eyes had previously missed: she had no nipples on her breasts and somehow seemed a dead thing. She was! For she was nothing more than a dressmaker’s dummy, placed in my bed as a joke. I gently picked her up, laid her down by the wall and went to bed. Next morning I was the butt for much joking. Two nights later, with Dorothy’s help, I got my revenge. While Uncle and Aunt were out, we made an ‘Apple Pie’ bed in their room (top sheet pulled up under the pillows and the bottom end turned up where the top should have been) and then sewed up the bottoms of uncle’s pyjama legs. Strangely enough, on rising the next morning, they didn’t seem to find this a joke!


Such things apart, I loved Ulster and Eire, for the latter reminded me of England when I was a boy; green and lush with many unpaved roads. Altogether a happy week with the returning sea trip as delightful as before.


But the end of the vacation drew near, made endurable by the thought of our Sunday meetings to brighten things up. But it was not to be for long, for some weeks after the Term started, I had a carbuncle on my leg just above the knee. A good dictionary will give you many meanings of carbuncle, but from my experience it was like a huge boil with a centre that had short strings which could be pulled when the horror was ripe, and the centre would come out with a ‘Plop’. Had it ended there all would have been well but it didn’t, for the next one appeared on my bottom - the first of thirty eight. I never knew what caused them - change of lifestyle or food or a bug. All I know is that for six weeks I could find only one place to be fairly comfortable - the loo seat. During those six weeks, one of the communal ones was set aside for my personal use.


The local doctor seemed to be unable to do anything except recommend many hot baths. I stood for everything, Chapel, lectures, meals with not a word of sympathy or hint of help from the college Principal. At last I phoned my father and asked him to take me home. I had to endure the drive with my calves on the front of the seat and my shoulders on the back as I couldn’t sit. Eventually a Specialist in Sheffield managed to cure me, but I had lost two and a half stone which I’ve never regained. So, if you want to lose weight, don’t diet but get carbuncles!


The carbuncle incident messed up the latter part of that Term and the ensuing vacation, but rather than hindering the relation between Dorothy and me, it prospered it, for sympathy and care are a part of true love. With the cure came also the return to ordinary living and the remainder of that vacation seeming, in my memory, to have been filled with halcyon days of delight.


Then came the bombshell: the good doctor Irwin, my future father-in-law, decided to remarry. Being enclosed in the College community I knew nothing of this until it happened. His love fell upon a brewer’s widow from Burton on Trent, a plumpish woman whom we named “Fat Anne” to distinguish her from my slim sister Anne. Quite naturally she was not entirely overjoyed to find a twenty four year old daughter in charge of the Vicarage and by her behaviour became to Dorothy what nurses used to call the hospital Matron, a “B with an itch”.


From our meetings together and her letters it was very evident that my lass was finding home life difficult. Having given up her University course to care for widowed father and parish, she found everything taken away and felt useless. I suggested that she should find a job, which she did and started working in the car licencing office. That gave her an interest and an income and got her out of an unhappy home during the working days.


Happily, fat Anne seemed to take to me; I think she saw in me some hope of eventually being rid of an unwanted step-daughter. By this time Dorothy had become like a daughter in my home and I discussed the situation at the Vicarage with my parents. With my leaving for College all the four elder children were away from home and my mother, missing them, suggested that if Dorothy was willing, she would be most welcome to stay in my home during Term times, returning to her own home during vacations lest scandal-mongers had a picnic. Dorothy jumped at the chance and my home became hers for the remaining Terms that I was at College.


One small thing I must mention: before moving to my home and after the arrival of fat Anne at the Vicarage, I noticed that the small meals brought to our meetings on Sundays had deteriorated somewhat. I didn’t realise that the “Fat Lady” made it almost impossible for Dorothy to prepare anything at all. One day, instead of the rich cake, Dorothy was an excellent cook, or tasty buns, there appeared “rock cakes”. My mind turned easily to those Sunday School parties just after the First World War, when the rock cakes were always left on the tables and the Vicar’s wife said, “the Neaum boys will finish them off.” That memory made me say, “What, rock buns! I hate them.” I saw a look of distress come over my companion’s face and not wishing to hurt her feelings, I told her the tale of my youth. That eased the distress and I must say that even without “Love’s caring” the rock cakes were delightful, entirely different from the sawdust ones of post-war youth.


But as these jottings are not supposed to be a romance, nor a version of “Tom Brown’s School Days,” I will leave that to your imagination and move on with the years. I had one other hic-cup during my third year at college, an attack of mumps. But that passed and did not hinder my final examinations, which were entirely successful and left me with the task of finding a priest who would employ me as an assistant, first as a deacon and then as a priest. As I had paid my own way through college I was not tied to any one Diocese, but it was my hope to start my life’s work in my own county of Derbyshire. Unfortunately the old Bishop who had accepted me had died and there arose in his place a school-master Bishop who “knew not Joseph”.


In those days, some sixty odd years ago, a budding priest had to find a vicar who would accept him before he could be made a deacon - we were not molly-coddled as in these days, with easy cash and Bishop’s appointments. There were three weeks left of the last term, after the exam results, in which to make the search.


I heard that the Vicar of Ripley, a small town some eight miles from my home town of Belper, needed an assistant. Getting in touch with him, I went over for lunch and was provisionally accepted by him depending on my seeing the Bishop for his approval. I hastened to get this done by phoning the Bishop and was invited to lunch, to be followed by the interview, at 1.00pm the next day. There seemed to be some emphasis on the 1.00pm so I made up my mind to be in good time.


It was a rainy day and I no longer had a car, merely a motor cycle, I decided to go by bus, first to Derby and then to Breadsall some two or three miles away. Not being familiar with the place I asked the conductor to tell me when I reached the Bishop’s home. “Oh,” he said, “You can’t miss it, it’s near the windmill.” I went to the top deck to make sure of seeing the windmill but never a glimpse did I catch. I knew Breadsall was not far and as the bus continued I went down to the conductor to ask about the windmill. In great surprise, he said we’d passed it some three miles back - it was a pub, not a mill.


Time was passing so I got off the bus, crossed the road intending to flag down the first car. It came, a Jaguar! The driver stopped and I explained my difficulty. He told me to jump in and he would get me there on time. We went like the wind and he, without asking, drove me up the drive to the door, waved and wished me luck and drove off. As I rang the bell the local Church clock chimed one.


I had made it on time, was greeted by the Bishop, introduced to his wife, but not to several elderly ladies present, very difficult for a shy young man, and we all processed in to the dining room for lunch.


Impossible Demands

I have only one memory of that lunch with the Bishop of Derby’s ‘family’. I was seated next to one of the unidentified elderly ladies and all went well until the fruit bowl was passed round at the end of the meal. I passed the bowl to my neighbour who very delicately extracted two solitary grapes. I took an apple and yobbishly held it in my hand while taking large bites. I then was fascinated by my neighbour’s genteel behaviour. Taking the small silver knife and fork, she used them first to skin both grapes, then cutting them in half, de-pipped them before eating the four halves from the fork. Seeing this delicate way of preparing grapes for eating made me feel my lack of manners in holding the apple in my hand and biting chunks off it. There was no comment and the meal ended with coffee after which the Bishop said, “Well Neaum, it’s time we had our chat. Will you come into my office?” The fateful moment had come.


The first quarter hour was spent with the Bishop quizzing me about my beliefs, habits of worship and my time at College. He then produced his first bombshell by saying that he hoped to have only ordinands with university degrees in his diocese. I retorted that it was his predecessor who had stopped me from that by saying that he was tired of degreed men and thus sending me off to Lichfield rather than to Oxford or Cambridge. His only comment to that was to say, “Yes! A peculiar man was old Dr Pearce.”


I thought that must be the end of the interview but how mistaken can one be for he had two, even worse, bombshells to set off. Turning to me he said, “There are two promises I demand from any man I ordain. First that they give me their solemn affirmation that they will not marry during the first seven years of their ministry and second, that they will make auricular confession (i.e. confession through a priest) at least twice a year.”


My response to both these demands was immediate. I told him that if I were foolish enough to make the first, I should break the promise when the necessity arose and as to the second I thought he was exceeding his authority to demand it for it was a matter for the person himself to decide (it was my habit in any case, but I didn’t tell him that!)


With such a blunt refusal to accede to his wishes there seemed no reason to prolong the meeting, so I stood up to bid him farewell and left.


That ended any hopes I had of working in my own County and I returned to College a little downcast, but continued a custom four of us students had started some three years before, namely, playing Bridge together. We had managed a game or two most weeks and, because we did not believe in swotting before exams, played morning, afternoon and evening the whole week before exams. It was not an expensive hobby for though we played for a penny a hundred, no money was passed until after our last game. We kept a record of wins and losses and at the end of three year’s play my partner and I were 3½d in debt!


Apart from Bridge those last few weeks after the exams were boring and worrisome for each had to find a Vicar to enable us to be Ordained. On the Monday of the last week I was summoned into the Principal’s room where I found the unpleasant man sitting at his desk reading a letter. On my entry he said, “I thought this might interest you” as he tossed the letter to me. It was a request from an Evangelical Vicar in Burton on Trent asking for a possible assistant. The Principal knew of my very “High Church” upbringing and his tossing of the letter to me was an act of scorn. I took up the letter, read it and said, “this looks like the place I would be interested in, may I keep the letter and reply?” He then said the last words we ever had together, “I couldn’t care less,” and I left his distasteful presence.


I then went to the phone to speak to the Vicar concerned, a Mr Slee, and we arranged for me to be at his vicarage on the following Friday at 11.00am ,the last day of College, and I was asked to stay for lunch. My next call was to Dorothy to tell her the news and ask if she could be in Burton on Friday, have lunch at Boots Café and wait for me there. One didn’t flaunt one’s lass before a prospective employer, especially after hearing the Bishop of Derby’s demand. Dorothy agreed and all was set for a doubtful future as to the hope of a speedy marriage.


The last night at College was a ball - every student went slightly mad as there were no rules about lights out or anything else. We went out to the local for a pint and then played any tricks we could on anyone outside our gang. I managed to get to bed by 2.00am and as I had no train or bus to catch, decided to rise late. This turned out to be 9.30 and I was enveloped in an eerie silence for all the others had left and I was the only one still remaining. After showering and dressing ready for my coming interview I reached the stage of putting on my shoes: but where were they? Some clown had evidently been playing tricks in my room after I had fallen asleep. I searched everywhere and at last found two shoes, unmatching for one was black and the other a brown brogue. No searching produced any other so I had to make do by blacking the brown shoe many times, a hopeless task, to give some air of decency. That done, I set off for Burton and the Vicarage of All Saints’ in hope, but feeling rather awkward about the feet.


I needn’t have been bothered for Mr Slee was a delightful elderly Parson: just the right one to train a new Deacon. We had our interview at the end of which he said I was just the man he wanted, but for one thing. What was that I wondered? After hearing the Bishop of Derby demand a seven years stay before marriage I could hardly believe my ears when Mr Slee said “You are not married!” Apparently his former Assistant had been engaged and the Churchwarden’s daughter had driven off the fiancee and married the chap to the detriment of the parish and particularly its Vicar - all this I learned later. My response to that impediment was swift and immediate for I told Mr Slee that I could change my single status in three weeks. Asking if I were engaged and if he knew the lass, I told him the circumstances and the name of my future father in law. When he heard the name of Mr Irwin, the most learned and well known Evangelical Priest in the district he said, “Could you really be married in so short a time ?” I answered, “Yes” and said that I would put in the Banns if he would accept their reading. He did and we went in to lunch.


I found that he had an excellent wife and two daughters a few years younger than me. The first thing I noticed about the girls was their liking of hard boiled egg, because remembering my manners, I passed the salad to them first. When it was returned I found most of the tasty bits had been chosen by them and all the egg. Despite this, they were a pleasant pair and we became friends , as I write this piece I am still in correspondence with the younger who is alive at 83 years of age.


Towards the end of lunch Mrs Slee apologised for her shoes which, on being shown, revealed one black and the other brown. I looked surprised and then asked if she was trying to make me feel at home and showing my unmatched footwear, I told them the tale. She insisted that hers was a genuine mistake and we had to accept the coincidence for she was not a teller of even white lies for one’s comfort.


Lunch being finished I made a quick getaway on the excuse that I must let Dorothy and Pa hear the good news. I promised to bring Dot to see them when I went for my interview with the Bishop of Lichfield hoping that his views were different from those of the Bishop of Derby.


Off I went to Boot’s Cafe where my intended sat with her coffee and a book. She looked up as I drew near asking, “Any good?”. I replied with an emphatic “No, he wants a married man!”. I am still convinced that a twinkle came in her eyes, though she always insisted that it didn’t and I went on to say “I’ve put in the Banns if that is OK.” Her answer was a strangled, “Yes” so I suggested we went straightaway to do the same with her father.


The good Dr Irwin seemed very happy at the news, first because I was starting my Ministry in an Evangelical parish and secondly because with his daughter happily married, life would be easier with his rather bossy wife. It was then early May and we decided to hold the marriage service on June 17th, because at that date, between June 9th and July 12th, my wife to be was only 1 year older than me!


Then the Rev. Doctor her father messed things up, for he was a stickler for doing things properly. He put notices in ‘The Times’ , ‘The Telegraph’ and the local paper, to this effect; “The engagement is announced between etc, and the wedding will be held in Duffield Church 2.00pm on June 17th”. I needn’t ask you what nasty minded folk thought and I had great fun in telling them so when they offered their congratulations. I must say that we both hoped we wouldn’t have a premature baby as no one would believe it was premature even if it had no finger nails at all!!.


I couldn’t see the Bishop at that time as he was away, but saw the Registrar and others who arranged for my presence at the Retreat on the Monday before Trinity and for my being made a Deacon on that Trinity Sunday in 1937. I duly introduced Dorothy to the Slee’s, to mutual satisfaction and we faced the double task of preparing for our marriage and my entry into the Ministry.


What I didn’t know at that time was that my old Vicar at Christ Church, being incensed at my going to an Evangelical parish in spite of all his training, as well as the speed of my marriage, wrote to the Bishop of Lichfield suggesting that my entering the Ministry should be postponed. The only result of that was an invitation by the Bishop, on the Friday evening of the Retreat, to walk around the palace grounds with him. What a magnificent drawer out he was, for before we had thrice rounded the extensive garden I think he knew everything about me, my earlier life and hopes. As we mounted the steps to re-enter the house, he turned to me saying, “May God bless you in both Ministry and Marriage, I also was married while I was a Deacon.”


Needless to say, both Dot and I were strapped for cash, for I had spent all I had to cover my three years training. My salary at All Saints was to be two hundred and ten pounds a year and the only house available was an eight roomed affair costing seventy five pounds a year. We thus started our married life on a hundred and thirty five pounds a year with an empty house to furnish. I had my own bedroom furniture for a guest room, but apart from that, we depended on gifts, lending and secondhand shops. But that was a small matter for all life lay before us. I was certain of my calling, our love was true and our faith firm - what more could we need?


And that brings me to the end of these short memoirs and up to the beginning of “Golden Bells and Pomegranates”.


      Tales if truly told,

      Recall good things of old;

      Evil is thrown away

      in memory’s happy sway.