Archive for November, 2008

Park Terrace Methodist Sunday School, Pontypool

November 9, 2008

Park Terrace Methodist Church is one of those places I cannot remember not attending; it impinged on so many facets of my life, and there are so many loved characters who attended the place who are permanently engraved on my memory. Sometimes, much later, as a fortunate stroke of serendipity, I have met some of these friends in other places as I shall recount below.

The church building was well constructed of stone in the Gothic style being built in 1877 at a cost of £2,200. Alas, the building no longer exists but my memories about it most certainly do.

I clearly remember being in the infants’ section of the Sunday School which was overseen by Miss Alice Mosely. They always met in the schoolroom whereas the older children and the adults’ class met in the church. I can still visualise the picture of several small circles of young children – each about seven or eight in number – scattered around the schoolroom. My teacher was Jim Hamer’s eldest daughter whose name, I believe, was Kathleen. We were taught with the aid of a small folded sheet with stories and pictures on it which we were able to take home afterwards. I was most impressed by this.

My most vivid memories are of the senior section which was divided into boys’ and girls’ sections. I well remember some of the staff, some of whom taught me; people like Herbert Mosely, Bert Hamer, Harold Tanner and Jim Cleaves who was Superintendent for some years. Harold Tanner was a West Mon boy who stayed there until he was nineteen as he wasn’t certain what career he wanted to follow. In the  end he decided to become a Methodist Minister. Strangely enough, after I had qualified as a teacher, my first post was at Durham Road Boys’ school in Newport where I was living. Naturally, on my first day I arrived bright and early. None of the other staff had arrived but who should walk into the school but Harold Tanner whom I had not seen for some years. He had just been appointed as minister of St Julians Methodist Church, a couple of hundred yards from the school, and he wanted to arrange for the admission of his son.

HAROLD TANNER
Rev. Harold Tanner. Photograph kindly supplied by John Davies

Some time later I met Bert Hamer at the Dolman Theatre in Newport where his young daughter was dancing in a show. We had a very pleasant chat about old times. If his daughter – who probably by now has childten of her own – ever reads this, I’d like to say I really enjoyed your dancing.

Before my wife and I went out to Nigeria to work on the Methodist mission field, we visited all our old friends and relatives to say goodbye; one such visit naturally included our Pontypool family and friends. We explained that we would be sailing out to the west coast of Africa on a merchant vessel, the Mary Holt, and that the journey would take four weeks. Someone then told us that Herbert Mosely was on a Mediterranean cruise and that, when we were on our way out, he would be returning. They gave us the name of his cruise ship so we were able to work out the day we would probably pass each other. With some help from the crew of the Mary Holt we were able to make an accurate assessment of the day we would see Herbert Mosely’s boat. When we saw it coming into view we arranged with our wireless operator to send our greetings to Herbert which he did.

We heard nothing more about this until about a year later when we were home on our first leave from Nigeria. Naturally we visited Park Terrace Methodist Church and, on that day, Herbert Mosely, who was one of the stewards of the church, gave out the notices. He  welcomed us as visitors and thanked us for the greetings telegraph we had sent him; but he added that it had caused him some concern. Apparently a message was left for him saying that the wireless operator had received a message for him and that they would let him have it after dinner. Unbeknown to us, Herbert’s sister, Alice, was not very well when he left home and he was worried that the message might have been concerning her. He was quite relieved when he discovered it was merely our greeting.

I am writing this on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday so I suppose it’s appropriate for me to remember those from Park Terrace who served in the forces during the war. My two brothers, John and Garyth served in the Royal Navy, Glyn Cleaves joined the Royal Air Force and I think Charlie Morgan was in the Army. There were others but, sadly, I can’t recall their names. Fortunately they all returned safely. The church kept in constant touch with those concerned and I remember on one occasion when all the servicemen had been asked to request their favourite hymn for a service.  A special service was arranged and we sang all the hymns, each being introduced by naming the serviceman who had requested it. When they were on leave and attended the service they were always given a huge welcome.

The Boys’ Brigade, which I’ve written about previously, was an integral part of the church. It was a BB rule that every company must be attached to a church. You could not run an independent Boys’ Brigade company, though this was possible with the Boy Scouts.

In later years when Nicholas Street Methodist Church and Park Terrace amalgamated for some of their activities, they ran a very active youth club. It was quite large and had a very successful table tennis team. Jim Cleaves also encouraged small teams within the club to lead some of the services in the church. He was ably supported in this by his wife. The young girl, Kath, who was church organist, was also a member of the youth club.

The organist at Park Terrace was Ada Lawrence, who also ran the adults’ Bible class at the Sunday School. She lived just a few houses down from the church and was a real stalwart on the organ hardly ever missing a service. She also helped to maintain a strong musical tradition at the Sunday School anniversary services when we were ably trained by Horace Webb, conductor of the church choir, for many weeks prior to the event. Practices were held during the week and also on Sunday afternoons.

Harvest festival was another special occasion when we all trooped out the front of the church carrying our fruit and vegetables etc. which would be used to decorate the church. Later in the week the harvest social would be held and all the produce would be auctioned, often with considerable hilarity.

For many years my Aunt Eve, who lived in Osborne Cottage, was secretary of the Sunday School, a job which she carried out with great efficiency. She always did her work in a corner pew and window sill on the right side of the church at the front. She generally remained in the background until it was time for the announcements; after the Superintendent had dealt with these he always called on Miss Hughes to give the attendance figures That was her public spot when she gave the number of boys, girls, male and female teachers and the total number in school, which usually hovered about the one hundred mark. She also dealt with the “foot of pennies”; these were strips of twelve tiny envelopes which were large enough to hold a coin. We were all given one of these so that we could ask all our family, friends and neighbours to  put a coin in one of the envelopes. When we had filled all the envelopes we could have another strip. In this way we helped to raise much needed funds to help to cover Sunday School expenses.

Some of this money would be needed to fund Prize Giving. This was a special service when most of us would receive a book as our prize for regular attendance, the price of the book depending on just how regular our attendance had been. It was always a crowded event when some important person would be asked along to give out the prizes. In this way we were enabled to build up a small library of our own.

I suppose that the wonderful, dedicated band of people who helped to run the Sunday School were under the impression that they were just running a small section of the church at Park Terrace, an unimportant church in a small valley town. But, to my own certain knowledge, their influence went much further. When I was appointed as Sunday School Superintendent at Victoria Avenue Methodist Church in Newport, some seven years after leaving Pontypool, I was in charge of over one-hundred-and-seventy children and thirty-two staff. Some of the “new” ideas I introduced into the Sunday School were those I’d known at Park Terrace; and another eight years on, in far-away Africa, Park Terrace Sunday School was having an influence on the Methodist mission field.