|Article by Phil Mason, transcibed by Margaret Craddock
It always seems that things were so much better years ago. Or perhaps we just remember the happier times? The following memories are of church as seen by a small boy just before and during the Second World War.
We used to attend Sunday School morning and afternoon at the old Infant School. The superintendent was a maiden lady, Miss Violet Haddon. I can’t remember the names of the other teachers but I do remember we had a stamp album. Every time you attended, you were given a stamp and the prize at the Annual Sunday School tea depended quite a lot on how many stamps you had. Inside the cover of the album were the words:
EVERY STAMP SAYS DUTY DONE
EVERY BLANK CRIES SHAME
FINISH WHAT YOU HAVE BEGUN
IN THE SAVIOUR’S NAME
I think that I had quite a few ‘blanks’.
The highlight of the Sunday School year was the ‘Summer Treat’. On a weekday after school, we used to process behind the Sunday School banner through the town. It was quite an occasion and the factory workers used to come outside to watch us pass. Starting from the church, we went via Church Street High Street Finedon Road Finedon Street Alexandra Street Duke Street High Street and Kettering Road to the Hall Field, better known as the Cricket Field. Here we were given a picnic tea of various sandwiches (the favourite being egg and cress), iced buns and lemonade. Races and sports, followed this and later in the evening we were joined by parents and friends.
At the age of eight I was delegated to join the choir. I think they must have been desperate at the time because I never had a very good voice. However, in those days when you were told you were going to do something you didn’t argue.
Nevertheless, my boyhood years as a chorister were enjoyable, although we always seemed to be in trouble with someone or other. The choirmen constantly reprimanded us for talking during the sermon although they made far more noise sucking sweets. The rector was good to us boys and always took our side.
At the time I joined we usually had a full contingent of sixteen boys and around a dozen men. The top two boys were Ivor Whiteman and Charlie Tilley. Norman Dacre was also in the choir and had a fine treble voice and often sang a solo in the various anthems. Roger Dacre was also a fellow choirboy.
The boys were paid the princely sum of half-a-crown each quarter (twelve and a half old pence for three months) and this entailed attending two services every Sunday, plus a children’s service once a month and of course a weeknight choir practice.
Weddings were better paid. The fee for having the choirboys was £1 regardless of how many were there. So if some boys were otherwise engaged with Saturday jobs or ill! we sometimes came away with two shillings or even half-a-crown (20p or 25p), which was wealth indeed. The rector was kind and generous but there was little to interest young people during the week. Sunday services were 8 am Holy Communion, 10.30 am Matins and 6 pm Evensong. This latter service was the best-attended of the day to which most people came.
The ‘living’ of Burton Latimer was regarded as one of the best in the area. The rector lived the life of a gentleman and ranked in the community with the squire and the doctor. Life still followed a set pattern and nowhere more so than in the Church of England. We knew Sunday by Sunday what hymns and psalms we would be singing and roughly who would be in church. For most of my younger life we had the same rector, churchwardens, verger, organist and, I believe, most people liked it that way.
Every Sunday we lustily sang:
“As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen”.
And we meant every word of it. Not that we minded change as long as it didn’t make any difference!
Then at the age of fourteen, things did change. My voice broke and I left the choir. Very often when boys left the choir they left the church as well but in my case I became a server and attended the early communion services. Life in the congregation was a much different world to that of a choirboy and a few years later I returned to the choir to join the men’s section.