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Memories of St Margaret's - Two Very Memorable Churchwardens

When I was a teenager, I played the harmonium for the Evensong Services on a Sunday night at 6:30 pm.  I had a school friend, Meryl, who lived at Limbury.  She would come on her bicycle to have tea at our house, and we would then catch the 5:45 pm Bedford bus from town, to get off at the top of the cutting and walk up Church Road. 

Inevitably, as we walked up the road, an elderly gentleman with a stick and a cheery smile on his face, dressed in a brown suit and pork-pie hat, would come out of the middle cottage and walk up with us.  He was Charles Woodward, the Grandfather of Barbara (Roe) and Phyllis (Smith).  He lived next door to his daughter and son-in-law, Mr and Mrs Fred Nicholls, the parents of Barbara and Phyllis, and members of my Adult Church Choir.  He was Churchwarden for 25 years from 1938, and an ardent patron of the Church.  In those days, Churchwardens ‘knew their place’ in Church and always sat at the end of the pew where the Churchwardens wands are placed!  (Mrs Burrows, also an elderly parishioner and Verger, would stand in the doorway of the vestry and toll our one and only bell before the service until she was red in the face!)

He was a very lovable soul, with lots of patience and always called whoever was with him, albeit his daughter, his grand-daughters, or Meryl and me ‘His Girls’.  This ritual lasted for a long time until one day, Charles said to Meryl and me: “You must come to tea one day.”  We politely said: “Yes, that would be very nice,” but didn’t really think it would happen.  However, he really meant it, and duly arranged for his daughter, who looked after him, to make sure there would be enough extra bread for our bread and jam and cake.  We did, in fact, go several times, which was very kind of both Charles and his daughter.

However, that was not the end of it.  He had a pony called Bob, who lived in the field opposite, and he told us that he used to take Bob out with the trap, etc. “In fact,” he said, “I could take you both out for a ride one day!”  Now was this ‘pie-in-the-sky’ or was it really going to happen?  However, he was a gentleman of his word, and Bob was duly shooed by George Kingham, the village blacksmith (Sharpenhoe Road), and made ready for the outing.  One Saturday afternoon he took us down to the A6 and turned towards town.  He then turned off into Icknield Way to the end and back.  We were worried to death, because we were not too sure how Bob would react to the traffic on the narrow road; it did tend to speed along and there was not much room to overtake, neither did traffic like waiting behind something not going so quickly.  However, all was well and Charles was so thrilled to have achieved what he had set out to do.  Lovely memories.  He was like a surrogate Grandfather to us, and was ‘the Church‘.  He was sorely missed by so many when he died.

Mrs Francis Lane of Barton Road was another Churchwarden with whom I had a lot of contact.  She was a widow who lived on her own in a very large house, although her son Fred and wife lived next door to my parents further up Barton Road.  She was stone deaf and if she wore a hearing aid it was certainly never in or on at home.  She was a Churchwarden for many years, and worked extremely hard for the Church to make money at the fetes, etc.  She walked with a stick, was bow-legged, well endowed, but upright, and a very doughty lady who called ‘a spade a spade’ and no messing.  She had an ancient iron supported treadle sewing machine in her huge kitchen, which she used to great purpose by making so many garments and articles for sale at the fetes.  It was she who took the old black-out curtains, which were used in the Church during the war, and made cassocks for the small boys who had joined my Church choir.

Latterly, when she was no longer able to attend Church, but wanted to carry on keeping the records of the monies paid into the FWO envelopes, by which time I was Treasurer, it was my job to take the FWO envelopes from the Sunday services to her house.  This was all very well, but how to make her hear that I was at the back door?  (One did not use the front door!)  The only way to make her aware was that hopefully she would be in her kitchen, in which she virtually lived.  This had a front facing window, and I would jump up and down outside it gesticulating for all I was worth to make her see me!  And that was only the half of it, because each month I needed to know how much she had paid into the bank.  Sometimes, I could not make her understand what I wanted to know, especially if there was a query, and I would have to leave and call again another time hoping that she would be in a better ‘hearing’ mood.  Again however, her life had enhanced and contributed towards the continuance and well-being of our Church.

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