“The Glorious Fifties” by Tony Stevenson, January 2010
These are the personal recollections of Tony Stevenson who, from age seven until age eighteen, grew up in – and was part of – the Parish of St. Martin. “Glorious” because that’s how it seemed at the time !
I was born in 1941 and lived with my mother and elder brother and sister – Michael and Claire – in the Hyson Green area of Nottingham. My father was away in Burma for the Jap war and I did not meet him until I was just over four years old when he safely returned. I went to Berridge Road Infants School from age five and the family were able to obtain a move to a council owned pre-fab just before Christmas in 1948. This was in Monckton Drive, just off Bracebridge Drive, Bilborough. To a seven year old boy at the time bright clean housing, your own garden, and even a fridge, which I had never seen before, made this a sort of paradise. Michael went into the Senior Boys and Claire went into the Junior Girls at Player School on Denewood Crescent and I started in the first year of the Junior Boys. But as there were only two bedrooms we moved again the following Summer to Astwood Close, just off Chingford Road, where we lived for the next seven years. Some of the boys in my class were in the Wolf Cubs run in St Martin’s Church Hall and I was very interested to join – but was told that I had to go to the church service on Sundays. So it was that in 1949 I started my eleven year association with St. Martin’s church.
The Early Fifties
I do not know how long he had been Rector of St. Martins but in 1949 the Rector was the Reverend Fr. A.R.A. (Arthur Roy Atto) Lavender, who was probably in his sixties then. A really charming man who spent quite a bit of his time visiting parishioners, and I often saw him having a cup of tea with my mother and smoking his favourite “Senior Service”. He lived with his wife and housekeeper in the beautiful rectory some fifty yards from the church.
The cubs were run by his curate, a big jolly man we knew as Fr. Rennison, together with a nice lady we simply knew by the “Jungle Book” name of “Bargeira”. I really enjoyed going to the Cubs, where we learned useful things like how to tie a reef –knot and played great team games. It was no chore at all going the church on Sundays and not long passed before I joined the choir – even though my singing voice was rather poor.
Then – in 1950 – there started to be extra church services and we had to get ready for a visit from the bishop. It turned out that it was the Quincentenary of St. Martin’s church, which had been built in 1450 no less! I do not recall any special renovations at that time but I do remember the Scout troop bringing their flag on parade on several occasions. Meanwhile I would be assembled with the other boys changing into our cassocks and surpluses behind a curtain at the West end under the tower and some of us got the occasional go at pulling the one and only bell-rope.
It seemed that only a year or so passed and we were attending the Dedication ceremony of a new church – St Martha, Broxtowe. This was quite a big occasion as most of the congregation from St. Martins made the journey to Westleigh Road, where the new church was sited and of course the new Broxtowe congregation was there to see the Bishop of Southwell dedicate the church. Many people had to stand outside. In fact – in those days St Martins was always full for the Sunday services of Parish Eucharist at 9-15 am and Evensong at 7pm. I think there was also a service at around 8am but I never went to that one. I remember on one famous occasion I was two hours late for the service because my father had put the clock back instead of forward in late March ! In those days the glebe land extended as scrub and wooded areas from the church down to the church hall at the corner of Strelley Road and St Martins Lane – perfect for the Cubs and Scouts playing their “wide” games. The next major event at that time was the Coronation in June 1953, although I do not recall any special events connected with this at St. Martins. During this period – and throughout the fifties – the church door was left unlocked for anyone to go in at any time. It was a beautiful church, though small, neatly laid out in traditional style with wooden pews, ornate chorister stalls, stained glass windows and a lovely east window depicting many biblical scenes. Either side of the altar were two paintings depicting the Annunciation to Mary by Archangel Gabriel. The ambience and style in which the services were conducted was known at that time as Anglo-Catholic. All around the church were gravestones dating back several centuries and I recall spending quite a few spare moments trying to decipher the Roman numerals on the stones to try to fix a date on them.
The Mid Fifties
By this time I was going to High Pavement Grammar School and, in the course of meeting new friends, and joining the Scout Troop we spent more and more time on the glebe land playing cricket and rugby. Initially the scouts were run by a Mr. Fletcher who was very nice and taught us quite a lot of the scouting traditions. But soon after he was replaced by Ken Chambers whom all the boys treated like some sort of Olympic god as he was an excellent athlete and we would go to watch him run at the John Player Stadium, just off Western Boulevard. He was ably assisted by a senior boy named Charlie Hind. Around about 1956 Fr. Lavender retired and went off to live in a place called Attleborough in Norfolk. He was much respected and everyone wished him well. His replacement had already been with us for some time and had obviously had a military background. Fr. Christopher Mitchell lived with his daughter, Joy, and put his own special stamp on church life. I remember the Scout Camps were made more enjoyable by his military experience and organisation skills whereby one Patrol did all the cooking, one did all the cleaning, one did all the fuel collecting – and one had the day off ! When I was about fifteen years old I joined the Youth Fellowship which met at the Church Hall on Sunday and Monday evenings. At one stage there was a formal youth leader employed by the parish ,whose name I have forgotten but this did not last long and eventually the lead was taken by John Fletcher who was a talented musician, brilliant organist and organiser and all round good egg. He organised one or two shows known as revues and generally made the visits to this club an enjoyable experience. I became much more aware of the adults in the parish who did so much unsung work. Amongst others these were Mr. & Mrs Kyle – Lawrence and Joan Marson – George and Betty White. Mr. Kyle and George White were Churchwardens and George (who was a carpenter and I think, a teacher) had made the two wooden crucifix staffs which rested in the rear pews.
All the ladies helped to keep the church looking nice attending to the flowers and I dare say they did all sorts of things to help the parish that I was never aware of. By now I had been given the job of distributing the Parish Magazine each month around the Strelley area. Around late 1956 my family moved house again to Edge Way at Strelley – a continuation of Wigman Road and about the same distance from the church as I had previously lived. I took my “O” Levels a few months later and stayed on at school to do “A” Levels. A school friend of mine –Michael Wright – used to come to our church and youth club. This was unusual because his father was a Congregational Church Minister and was quite liberally minded. Eventually their family had to move to Kings Lynn where Dr. Wright took up another congregation.
I went to visit Michael and stay with the family for a couple of days and his father very kindly drove us across Norfolk in search of Fr. Lavender’s new home. My – was he surprised to see us! I imagine he thought he would never see anyone from Bilborough again.
The late fifties
By the time I was sixteen I had long ceased being in the choir but was now serving at the altar during main services. I was also on a rota for the 6-30am Holy Communion weekday services as the priest was not permitted to celebrate the Communion alone. Someone – I think perhaps John Fletcher – organised for the youth club to visit Kelham Theological College, near Newark. This was a very interesting day out and we toured the living premises of the would- be- deacons, who were obviously delighted to see all the girls who made the visit ! In the Summer of 1958 I left school and started work –as did most of my contemporary friends- but we continued our association with St. Martins. The friends I fondly recall were Michael White, June Dennis, Gordon Fletcher, Barbara Barrat, Malcolm Clarke, Joy Mitchell, Roger Clarke and Valerie Kitchener. In late 1959 the last three mentioned together with myself joined the Drama Group who were recruiting would be amateur actors.
It was run by Joan Marson who did the casting, some of the acting – and was also Producer/Director. She selected modern comedies and I recall that my three friends and I appeared in “Sailor Beware” and “Dear Delinquent”, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Roger and Joy were good enough actors to take on “character” parts – and Joy was also a talented singer. Around 1959 her father, Fr. Mitchell, retired as Rector and his place was taken by Fr. Wilkins, who had come to us from Solihull. I remember that he was interested to change the Youth Fellowship to the “Anglican Young People’s Association” but I did not remain long enough to know whether that came to fruition. At this time I was interested in so many activities connected with St. Martins that I only had a couple of free nights each week! Of course this was at that special carefree time when my friends and I had left behind us the disciplines of School and had not yet encountered the responsibilities of adulthood. The “Happy Days”!
Then – in the middle of Summer 1960 – I got a job as a Trainee Manager for a Cinema Chain, which involved working till late in the evening, on Saturdays and Sundays, and never knowing which days off I was going to have. So – overnight I ceased all my involvements in St. Martin’s activities, and within a year, had moved out of Nottingham, never to live there again.
I did visit St. Martin’s church once more – in the Spring of 1963- with my fiancée, Valerie, to hear the Banns read for our forthcoming marriage at Cleethorpes. At that stage everything seemed much the same as I had left it some three years earlier. In 1978 I returned to visit St. Martha’s church for the wedding of my younger brother, Christopher. As I am fortunate to still have my father – now 97 yrs old and still living in Edge Way- I make occasional visits and can see the changes that have taken place to the exterior of the church over the years. I count myself privileged to have spent my formative years in involvement with such a great community.
Tony Stevenson – January 2010.