Treats & Traditions

Trying to create some order on our overcrowded bookshelves the other day I came across a small plain copy of the New Testament.  Inside the cover was an inscription; - AUDREY CHILTON – Prize for good attendance and conduct.  St. Luke’s Sunday School 1945 – 1946.  Geoffrey R. Bickerton.  As is often the case nowadays this discovery prompted me to reflect on times past and I decided to put pen to paper and share a few memories.

At that time a lot of children attended Sunday Schools and the Methodist chapels were particularly active in this field.  On Mow Cop each small village community had one of these establishments, and many families lived no more than a few hundred yards from its welcoming doors.  It is hardly surprising that most children went to their nearest venue for instruction on Sunday afternoons, and enjoyed a few “perks” into the bargain.  They had the excitement of going “on the stage” at the Sunday School anniversary, received book prizes with coloured pictures in them, and had an annual “treat” which took the form of a tea-party in the cosy schoolroom after a sports meeting on a nearby field.  The benefits were social as well as spiritual.

I was in a minority who belonged to the Anglican Church and went to St. Luke’s church, one of three which comprised the Parish of Odd Rode.  The other two were All Saints, Odd Rode, and Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Rode Heath.  St. Luke’s was in a relatively isolated position and you had to climb a steep hill to get there. On Sundays we attended a long morning service, but to have to trudge up the hill again after lunch was not an attractive proposition.  I don’t think there was a Sunday School until Geoffrey Bickerton was appointed as Curate.  He was an active and enthusiastic parish priest and prepared to open the church doors on Sunday afternoons to instruct us in spiritual matters.  For a number of years the children of St. Luke’s congregation enjoyed parity with the Methodists in having a Sunday School with its attendant rewards, although I must admit – looking at my austere little New Testament –that the prizes were not as big and colourful as those given out at Chapel.

However there were compensations.  For a while we had rather special Sunday School Treats where we rubbed shoulders with the landed gentry namely the Baker-Wilbrahams of Rode Hall.  I don’t think that as children we considered this to be of great significance, but it is an interesting snippet of social history and some readers may even be able to remember such occasions.

On a Saturday afternoon during the summer, one of Hollinsheads’ buses would take us down to the Parish Hall at Scholar Green where we sat at long tables along with children from All Saints and Chapel of the Good Shepherd and had a tea-party.  There were plates of enormous stodgy bath buns, which took a lot of getting down so we drank copious draughts of strong tea.  The teenage grandchildren of Sir Philip and Lady Baker-Wilbraham were in attendance.  Their names were Richard and Letitia and they had been detailed to look after us.  For them it may have been a duty, or a diversion during the school holidays, but whatever the case they kept smiling and saw to it that we had enough bath buns and cups of tea.

When tea was over we piled back into the bus for the short journey to Rode Hall, situated about a mile away in the middle of parkland.  In front of the house there were formal gardens where we were not allowed, and a boating lake which was a major attraction for us. The boys stayed up near the Hall and had outdoor sports while the girls and under fives went down to the lake for a mini-cruise.  There were two or three rowing boats with workers from the estate manning the oars.  Richard Baker-Wilbraham rowed one of the boats himself.  I remember on a particular occasion he was in charge of a group which included Terry, an engaging little four year old lad with a slight lisp, an amusing line in conversation and boundless curiosity.  Unaware of the identity of the oarsman he asked, “What’th your name?  Where do you live?  Are there any fith in thith lake?”  A ghost of a smile played on the lips of Richard Baker-Wibraham as he came up with the relevant information before going on to tell us that he had just returned from holiday fishing from an open boat off the West coast of Ireland.  This opened up fresh avenues of enquiry from young Terry.  He wanted to know every detail of the fishing expedition.  “Did you catch any?  How many?  Were they big ‘un’th?”  There was a  lot more.  The interrogation continued until we got safely back on dry land.  When undertaking to row a group of children on the lake at Rode Hall I doubt if Richard B.W. had expected such a searching cross-examination!After this diverting interlude the older boys came down to the lake to have their turn in the rowing boats and we went back up to the Hall for the rest of the races.  The names of the winners and runners-up were all recorded in a notebook.  When the entire company had re-assembled Sir Philip and Lady Baker-Wilbraham took their places for the award ceremony.  The prizes were threepence, twopence,and a penny for first second and third respectively.  Sir Philip shook hands with the victors and handed out the money personally from a big bag.  Lady Baker-Wilbraham, who always wore a large hat, gave everyone a packet of sweets as we departed for home. 

I doubt if such an event would ever happen now.  For one thing, boat trips might well be forbidden unless life jackets were supplied and a rescue launch standing by. The Baker-Wilbrahams would probably be accused of patronage, but for us as children there were no such concerns.  Our brief encounter with the local gentry had provided us with a very substantial tea, an entertaining boat trip and an athletics meeting.  What is more, some of us were a few pence richer and we’d all been given a bag of dolly mixtures.  There wasn’t much wrong with that!  It was worth going to Sunday School.