The Local Methodist Church

Memories of Mervyn Upton

28th August, 1930 ~ 29th November, 2012


The Local Methodist Church

Eastville United Methodist Free Church was founded in 1837 in Freeland Buildings. It moved to its main site, opposite the top of Muller Road, in 1872.

My Grandmother, Annie Upton, became a member in about 1898 when she and Grandfather moved into the Park House. The church building was completed in 1902, the year of Father’s birth. He and his brothers and sisters became associated in various ways. Father attended the Young Men’s Guild and the Men’s Bright Hour. He, Reg and Percy played for the football team and won two medals in 1926-27. On 24th June 1928, my parents were married in the building by Rev Charles Penrose who christened me in 1930.

At about the age of three, I became a member of the Beginners’ Department of the Sunday School. The leader was Miss Eileen Jarratt, later to become Mrs Way, a lady I came to know well until her death, aged 98. Like her, the staff were kindly ladies ~ Elsie Burrell, Lily Belsten, Mona Scourse, Doris Boult (later May) and Evelyn Bywater.

The three big events of the year were Sunday School Anniversary, Harvest Festival and Christmas. At one Christmas party, I remember cousin Marion Wall screaming when Father Christmas arrived and having to be carried out, still yelling, facing backwards to receive her present. However, her hand was held out for the gift! One year the boy next to me received a toy trumpet when I was given a rotten book!!

At the age of about 5, an insolvable mystery was encountered…

In the Beginners’ Department of the Sunday School at EPMC we were told that the pennies we brought for collection were for Jesus. After the service they were placed in a cloth bag marked ‘B’ and taken to a small room and handed to a man with a moustache (Archie Warwick). How did he get them to Jesus and what did Jesus do with them? Did he store them in a large cupboard? Other bags taken to the room were inscribed P, J, I, S. Were they put on separate cupboard shelves? What did Jesus do with them?

In the mid-thirties, shops were allowed to open on Sundays and the small shop at the junction of Herbert Street (now Crescent) and Gloucester Road must have done well from the pennies of Eastville Park Methodist’s Sunday School pupils. How could this loss of collection money be prevented? Someone had a bright idea…monthly receipts were to be issued and parents were informed. Dennis Fry (he of the Blitz caning) knew what could be done with the receipts. “Take ‘em to the cop shop and they’ll give thee yer money back.” I wonder if he made a visit to Eastville Police Station?

The Primary Department was different. The leader was Enid White (later Mrs Penrose) but the staff were teenagers – although they appeared to us to be adults. It was less formal but well run. Teachers remembered were Arthur Lewtas, Edna Lewtas, Kathleen Poole, Alan Deighton, Alan Lowe, Vera Potter, Joan Mackan and Joan Williams.

I did not like performing at the Anniversary. I was asked to attend mid-week rehearsals but did not tell my parents. On the big day Mother inquired why I did not participate. She was not pleased when she heard the facts.

Christmas Day 1938 fell on a Sunday and, on arrival, we discovered part of the room was screened off. We thought we knew why and we were correct. Behind was Father Christmas. Later in the afternoon we were to see him and receive a present. Edna White reminded us that we should thank Father Christmas. A brief glance revealed which unfortunate was playing the part so we all politely said “Thank you Mr Lewtas”!!

The next department, The Juniors, was upstairs in a large hall. Ethel Vrake was the leader assisted by Doreen Feltham, John Honeybourne, Ron Winter, Clarrie Fursman (pianist), Doug Shipton plus others. In this department hymns were printed on white sheets to enable those of us who could read to extend our knowledge. We all received an exercise book for expression work – writing and drawing about the weekly story.

During 1940, for a short while, meetings were held at Eastville Junior School because air raid shelters were available. At one Christmas party, a lout approached me and, without cause, punched me in the eye. What hurt most was that no action was taken against him, not even a reprimand.

The next department, The Seniors, was again very different. Its leader, Wilf Grove, was a charismatic character with many good points Classes were single sexed. My first teacher, Dennis Taylor, later became Sunday School Superintendent.

Next was Doug Shipton, a lively, humorous man who was very popular. He was an excellent table tennis player who was in the Bristol team.

Dennis Kingston was only in his late teens but was a fine games player with a sense of fair-play, He was a fine example and we enjoyed his leadership. During class sessions he divided it in two ~ general talk to which he added his mature comments and the scheduled lesson ~ I suspect we gained more from the former.

Finally we went to Wilf Grove’s class where we stayed for two years. From him we learned about music and theatre and for those interested there was tennis. Being the only Grammar School boy, I was the odd one out but I had a skill that the others did not – the ability to record and look after money. Wilf would talk about his plans for a post-war Youth Club.

After the two years we were told we must leave as we had already stayed for an extra year. We did not wish to join the Young People’s Department as we didn’t like the boys there. It was not unknown for them to pelt us with objects during the service ranging from berries to staples fired from elastic bands.

Six of us decided to return to the Primary Department as teachers. Dennis Atwill, Graham Reynolds, David Mitchell, Maurice Rogers, Ken Wall and me. Never had so many young men made such a decision together. Little did I know then the effect this would have on my future career. We were welcomed by the able and kindly Mrs Maud Taylor. Initially we were placed with experienced teachers and I was with Margaret Lyne, a blonde young lady some five years older than me.

I received my first class – Joan Porter is the only one remembered.

Two curious incidents come to mind ~

Mrs Taylor asked the children for what we should pray and received an answer from one boy “Mice” so mice had to be included somehow.

A regular feature was the “news” from the children. One boy, from a leading church family, told how his father was clearing soot from the chimney when the b_____ brush caught fire!!

I left the Sunay School in 1950, not returning until 1953 after National Service and College. Then I became a teacher in the Senior Department when Sister Gwen Oddy was an able, devoted leader. The Church was fortunate to receive the services of such a lady who was so much appreciated by the congregation. I left in 1958 when I transferred to Secondary Education.

The first Youth Organisation joined was a Boys’ Guild that met on Monday evenings. There was little to do so I left after a year.

In September 1946, came Wilf Grove’s long promised Youth Club. At 16 I was one of the oldest members. The youngest were about 12 and it was a mixed club. Naturally, I was made treasurer, a post I held until I left in 1949. It was my duty to collect the 1d per week fees but later was responsible for the Guernsey holiday payments of several hundred pounds.

There were talks, games and craftwork, an activity in which I did not participate.

Frank New, newly demobilised from the RAF, became Assistant and then Joint Leader. Some of us were encouraged to purchase season tickets for the Theatre Royal where the Bristol Old Vic Company was achieving success and many famous performers were starting their careers. It was a pity that we were not taken only to suitable plays instead of everything.

During the Club’s first year we received, for a short while, visits from German prisoners-of-war. This was shortly before their release and return to Germany. Some we liked very much but in a few the Nazi ideology was not too low beneath the surface.

Bank Holidays were used for Club rambles and a large group of us would set out for the day. Doddington Park and Kings Weston Downs were favourites.

Once, at Doddington, a stray dog joined the party and was very friendly and joined us as we left. The Taylor sisters claimed it because their father had talked about obtaining a dog. Frank accompanied the girls home to explain the situation and when Mr Taylor saw it he said it was a valuable thorough-bred and Frank should take it to the Police Station. The nearest one was then at Eastville and when he appeared with it he had a very frosty reception. The dog was very valuable and belonged to Lady Codrington. Half the police in South Gloucestershire were looking for it.

The event of the year, as we children saw it, was the Sunday School Outing.

A chartered train took us from Stapleton Road Station to Weston-super-Mare, terminating at the Excursion Station, Locking Road (now the site of a Tesco store). Often the train used the loop line around Temple Meads Station, sometimes halting near the odorous fertilizer factory. Usually, Mother and I travelled with Aunt Jin and Bert. The sequence of events was always the same…first to the beach near the Grand Pier for sand play and a picnic lunch, sometimes supplemented by chips from Coffin’s. Donkey rides were forbidden, Mother was convinced the animals would give their riders ringworm (Weymouth donkeys were safe and there was always a ride on them during the annual holiday). Ladies from the church and the Sunday School worked hard during the day preparing tea at the hall of one of the local free churches. We always went to the second session and, as they emerged, the first session people always seemed to make the same comment “Worse than last year”!

After tea the Grand Pier was visited. In those days an admission charge was made. Finally, before boarding the train home, everyone was given a bun. Archie Warwick was there to supervise the distribution and to wave us farewell. I used to wonder how he returned home as it was obvious he was not on the train.

One year I was selected to represent the Bristol District at the YMA (Youth Missionary Association of the Methodist Church) annual conference in Didsbury Teacher Training College. I was accompanied by two young ladies. The conference was a surprise to us – perhaps a shock would be a better word. Most of us attending were keen fund raisers for the Missionary Cause but the Methodist staff had different ideas – they wished to make us into missionaries to serve overseas. Most of the young men staged a revolt against this. One character thought he was there to ‘chat up’ all the attractive young ladies (not all were in this category!!) He had to have a ‘chat’ with the staff to moderate his conduct. Also present was a keen, earnest, conforming Irishman. He was ‘sorted out’. Everyone slept in individual study bedrooms, one corridor for the girls and another for the boys. In the early hours of the morning the Irishman was ‘sorted out’. Someone crept into his room and tied a rope to his bed. Others pulled his bed into the corridor and he woke up screaming.

One evening we were having an impromptu game of rugby in the corridor when the accident happened…a fire extinguisher was dislodged off the wall and fell on its plunger. We quickly moved away and none of the players were affected…but…the Irishman’s bedroom door was open and, although not ablaze, his bed received the contents of the extinguisher.

On the Sunday morning we attended a service at the local Methodist Church where, usually, the Book of Common Prayer was used. The final conference session was disturbing, rather like a fascist or communist brain-washing. Every possible method was employed to make the delegates commit themselves to become missionaries. Sadly, some of the younger and more gullible responded positively. I wonder how many later changed their mind?

From March 1950 to August 1953, I was away from home in the RAF and at King Alfred’s College so I had very little contact with the church.

When I returned, a new ministry was commencing, that of Rev G Sidney Freeman, an excellent preacher and a socially active, approachable man who was a sports enthusiast. He founded a branch of The Wesley Guild, a weekday evening gathering with four sections – Devotion, Christian Citizenship, Culture and Social.

I was appointed secretary of the Church Christian Citizenship. It proved to be popular until, in a later ministry, it combined with a group from St Thomas Church and membership declined. It was surprising that some of the members of a society that required total abstinence were regular drinkers!

I became a teacher in the Senior Department of the Sunday School from 1953 until I taught in Secondary School (1958). The leader was Sister Gwen Oddy, a lady whose devotion to the church was appreciated by many. In later years she would have become a very good minister as would her successor, Sister Phyllis Williams, a lady equally effective and liked.

The senior member of staff was Annette Way. Reg was still Sunday School Secretary and Eileen was Cradle Roll Secretary.

One Sunday, Annette invited me to tea at her home so that family photographs could be taken. This was the first time I had close contact with Janys, Viv and Nigel.

The next encounter with Nigel was when he commenced membership of EPMC Youth Club. I was the only one present who could discuss rugby with him and, despite the difference in years and political opinions (he was very Right Wing) friendship developed that lasted until his, regrettably early, death.

For one Easter Sunday evening service at EPMC, Frank New directed a play (title not remembered) performed by Youth Club members. Nigel was persuaded to take the part of a fascist dictator. Frank stressed that the character should resemble no current or previous tyrant. Come dress rehearsal and Nigel turned up without costume explaining that his mother had not quite finished its construction but all would be completed in time. All the other characters had to enter by the choir doorway near the organ.

Nigel came in through the main entrance and walked down one of the aisles. The play proceeded and, at the appropriate time, there was a shout of ‘Zeig Heile’ and Nigel appeared in a brown uniform complete with swastika armband, his hair slicked over his left eye and sporting a small black moustache. He paraded down the aisle giving Nazi salutes. Reception varied – the older members of the congregation were displeased and those of us ‘in the know’ could scarcely contain our laughter. The play was not one of Frank’s best productions as AB completely forgot the words of the vital last speech!

Mr Freeman’s successful ministry came to an end and he was replaced by Robert Salmon. At the welcoming evening, he said he would be the minister of the whole church. Indeed he was and he took care to know everyone from teenagers of the Youth Club to the pensioners if the Friendship Club. Although possessing a different personality from Mr Freeman he, also, gave the church a successful, devoted ministry.

The Youth Club, led by Wilf Grove, was getting too large and unruly so the top portion was creamed off and was led by Frank New aided by Martyn Bywater and me. It proved to be a thankless task and one felt sorry for the decent, reliable members. It was obvious that some sort of reorganisation was needed. Dave Elsbury was nominated as Wilf’s replacement. Frank and I were invited to assist him and I think we made a good team employing our varying personalities and talents.

The new club proved to be a great success providing a variety of activities for its members. A coffee bar was built in a spare room, entertainments were staged annually at the Colston Hall during the MAYC celebration. We performed in the Albert Hall and raised large sums from the sale of hot cross buns.

One evening at EPMC Youth Club, I was the only leader present. Two unsavoury characters entered and began to make a nuisance of themselves.

I was having a word with them when DM joined us. He was a loyal, pleasant lad but was tough and looked it. Hearing the conversation he began to prod the infiltrators saying “We comes ‘ere to enjoy ourselves, we ain’t goin’ to ‘ave the likes of you spoiling things. This club is to keep yobs like you off the streets. You do what Merv says or clear off.” Not liking the look of DM they rapidly vanished.

I had intended to leave at 40 but, the presence of Janet led to me leaving at 39 in 1969. Dave also left at the same time and the Club went into decline until it was closed in 1974.

I was given Circuit office as Missionary Treasurer and member of the Circuit Advance Committee. I continued as Missionary Treasurer until the Bristol East Circuit was disbanded and my services were no longer required.

At Eastville Park I was appointed Class teacher and Communion Steward. However, another more important office was awaiting me – porch Steward – to greet the worshippers when they arrived for services. I succeeded Don White, a difficult act to follow as he had been excellent in the task and gave me a good model to copy. There were two very reliable associates to assist me – Hettie Carter and Bert Mountford. They were excellent back-ups and ensured no one entered the building without a greeting and handshake. My successor felt that ladies required a hug and a kiss so that Janet’s friend Peggy always entered through the side door in Gloucester Street. He once said to Janet “Hello stranger” after she had missed a couple of weeks. I was delighted with the way she sorted him out!!!

After Robert Salmon, came Walter Thorus. At the end of his ministry, he went to the USA on a month’s exchange visit. We didn’t know what to expect in return, perhaps a Billy Graham type hot-gospeller? Instead we had Don and Mary-Lou Woodward, a pair that transformed the church ~ lively, active, socially aware, good in the pulpit ~ they were just what Eastville Park needed! (forty years on, I still hear from them). Don even tried his hand a cricket!

The final minister during my membership at EPMC was a new, young, handsome minister, John Curnow. I left the church not long after he took over.

Janet joined Women’s Fellowship (Sisterhood) some time afterwards and made two good friends, Joyce Foord and Peggy Muszynski. Nell Sledge asked me if I could give a slide show to the meeting and for many years I gave them two per year. I enjoyed the invitation to their Christmas parties. Peggy, Joyce and Janet prepared the meal which everyone (except Bessie Wright) greatly enjoyed.

Later, the church had three further ministers and then the excellent Ruth Carter before it transferred its premises to the old Co-op Grocery Shop on Fishponds Road. Virtually all the old members found other places to worship.

Youth Club in Guernsey 1949

Wilf Grove usually took a group of EPMC Youth Club boys on a cycling holiday. In 1939, he heard there was a Methodist Youth Hostel in Guernsey so he decided to take a larger, mixed group there. I, as club treasurer, was responsible for collecting all the money ~ several hundred pounds ~ a considerable amount in those days. After a while it became clear that we had booked more places than we could fill with Youth Club members so we invited friends to join us and make up the numbers. Two Cotham School friends, Ennis Bosworth and Digby Turner, joined the party.

The holiday commenced on Saturday 27th August and the party set out from Stapleton Road Station on board a train to Weymouth. Here I joined them as, the two previous weeks. I had been on holiday there with my parents and sister. We boarded one of the British Rail Steamers that sailed from Weymouth to Jersey via Guernsey. Several of us were apprehensive on the subject of seasickness but the channel was calm and we had each other’s company to occupy us. Besides Wilf, the other adults were Frank New and Mrs Elsbury, mother of Brian and David, who acted as mother to us all and was always willing to sew on buttons for us. Mervyn (Boozy) Bawn discovered cigarettes were slightly cheaper on board so bought a supply…he should have waited - they were much cheaper in Guernsey. In those days, there were three adults in the party. Now, when the age for adult status is 18, there would have been about eleven.

As we landed at Guernsey and prepared to board the coach for Morley, a BEA Dakota, G-AJIA flew low overhead, an indication of things to come. Curiously, I never saw this particular aircraft again. We arrived at Morley and found that it was a converted Methodist Church. I wondered how much of its equipment was of German origin? Three other organisations were also represented…Queens 44Walthamstow Methodist Youth Club (mainly males), Hythe Girl Guidry and 2nd Bournemouth GLB (most attractive girls). There were two large dormitories. A severe water shortage in the island prevented the use of showers. One of our group made his own special contribution…he didn’t wash for 3 or 4 days until his older brother marched him into the washroom and stood over him while he performed his ablutions.

When we ventured into St Peter Port, we were surprised to find the shops supplied with items that were scarce in England or impossible to find. Films were fairly freely available ~ those manufactured by Kodak and Ilford, not the dubious ex-RAF material that English shops sold ~ and also, new cameras of types we had not seen before. Goods were cheaper too.

There was evidence of the German Occupation. Not only the various coastal defences, most of which still exist 65 years later, but painted signs on the walls. Of course, the occupation had ended four years before ~ a long time when one is young but a brief period when one ages

Some days we were left to our own devices and, on others, coaches were hired to take us to various parts of the island. On the Saturday, most of the party used the rest of their boat tickets to visit Jersey. I chose not to go and lent my ticket to Boozy Bawn as his RAF travel pass terminated at Guernsey. Instead, I made my way to the airport to log the assortment of BEA and charter aeroplanes that arrived ~ a very interesting collection. At this time, no light aircraft were based in Guernsey and none arrived that day.

Instead of a normal mattress, our beds contained three ‘biscuits’. One night, the whole dormitory had a fight with them, flinging them across the room at each other. It was just for fun, not a serious encounter. When it ended, we collected our biscuits and remade our beds. Visibility across the room was reduced by the dust we had produced.

While we were on the island, one of its major events took place, The Battle of the Flowers at Saumarez Park. It was an agricultural show and various organisations built floats with flowers. At the end the flowers were used for a battle royal. We arrived early and obtained good viewing positions. About 1pm, there was an announcement from the loudspeakers “Will all those staying at Morley Methodist Youth Hostel report immediately to the announcer’s tent.” With worried faces, we left our places and made our way to the tent. There was a laughing Bawn ~ he had given his lunch to one of the girls to carry for him and he had lost her in the crowd. He asked for her to be summoned but the announcer said he could not call for an individual, it had to be everyone. Bawn’s laugh vanished when the London boys arrived…a couple of them grabbed hold of him and had to be restrained from shoving him through the side of the tent. We all then had to find the best viewing spots that were still available. When we returned to Morley, Bawn found his bed filled with all the available rubbish. At bedtime, Bawn asked me to move my bed close to his so the London boys would not tip him out. When they came in they pointed to him saying “Any more from you, Bawn, and you’re really for it.”

One night, Boozy Bawn took a party to the local hostelry for a drink. Many were not used to alcohol. One girl returned staggering, clutching the walls for support. ‘X’ was really drunk, laughing, staggering and shouting. Somehow we got him to bed and, at last, things were quiet. In the middle of the night, I was awoken by the sound of running water. Bawn was also awakened and we realised it was the sound of someone being sick. It was ‘X’ in the bed on the other side of Bawn, who had strewn his clothes on the floor between the two beds. Luckily for Bawn, ‘X’ had been sick on the other side, filling Tony Brown’s shoes. ‘X’ staggered to the toilet and we filled his bed with rubbish.

Bawn warned me “Look out for ‘Z’, she’s after you.” I was aware of this but, a piece of advice she had given was a sufficient warning. She had told me that I should start smoking as it would be good for me. Little did she know that smoking was anathema to me. One evening we did have a walk along the cliff path and she wanted to sit on a seat above Fermain Bay ~ probably for a cuddle and snog….I kept walking! Very many years later, she related her version of the incident to Janet who appeared to know nothing about it but had been informed when we were walking the path and did sit on the seat!

Cousin Marion could only come for a week and, after her arrival, I talked her and her friend, Mary Savage, into joining me in a great adventure…to fly to Jersey…our first trip by air. We booked to fly by Air Transport Charter (CI) Ltd and, on the appropriate morning, went to the town terminal to travel by coach to the airport. Here occurred an embarrassing incident for the girls ~ they were weighed! We were taken to a Dragon Rapide G-AIUL (it still exists being rebuilt at Chirk) where I sat at the portside seat, next to the operator, and the girls sat behind. In those days, one seat in the eight-seater aircraft was taken up by a radio operator using Morse Code with cumbersome apparatus. Nowadays, the pilot uses his voice with modern equipment. We took off on the short, cross runway (that no longer exists) and climbed our way to Jersey. Air conditions were good with fine visibility and, 14 minutes later, we landed in Jersey. A coach was waiting to take us to St Helier. This was much larger than St Peter Port with many large sophisticated shops. A visit to the market was interesting. Tomatoes were 1d per pound (in Guernsey 2d per pound). Returning, we travelled in Island Air Charters Dragon Rapide G-AJKF (sold to Pakistan) in 14 minutes.

The voyage home was also smooth. We sailed in the other steamer this time and Wilf asked the older members of the club to escort the younger ones through Customs which we did without problems. One of the London boys was caught smuggling a new camera. Mary, not understanding about Customs examinations, walked through the entrance, past the customs officer on duty there, without a chalk mark on her case but was not detected. Awaiting us was a train that brought us home to Stapleton Road Station.

One more curious tale ~ Janet and her family were also on holiday in Guernsey at this time. They stayed at a hotel in Forest Road and Janet learned to swim at Petit Bot.

Did I see the 17 year old Janet in Guernsey?

The Albert Hall 1968

David Elsbury, a very effective leader of Eastville Park Methodist Church Youth Club, was assisted by Frank New and me. Regularly, the club performed at the local gathering at The Colston hall but, David had ambitions to perform at the national gathering at The Albert Hall.

At last three clubs were found to join us in the enterprise. A Gloucester Club would stage a Roman sequence, a Welsh Club something representing their country, we would do John Wesley and Concorde and we would be linked by a lighted model of the Severn Bridge that would be assembled before the audience. It had been skilfully created by David’s brother Brian, leader of Made For Ever Youth Club.

Dave would be the producer, Frank the announcer and they felt that one of us should be on stage with the youngsters…looking at me…the one who had never performed in public. So, I made my stage debut at The Royal Albert Hall as an 18th century rabble rouser!

We practised regularly and then, one weekend shortly before the event, the four clubs met at Speedwell School to rehearse. Everything went well and we confidently looked forward to our next meeting in London.

On a Friday evening, a coach left Bristol to travel to a seemingly disused school somewhere in the London area where we would sleep during our stay. The next morning, we arrived at The Albert Hall for final rehearsals and the opportunity to learn the geography of the place ~ a maze of passages.

A party of parents and friends came from Bristol to support us in the afternoon performance. Janet was invited and she chose to bring her mother to the evening show. All seats were the same price and, being a club leader, I had the opportunity to have seats in a box.

Both performances went well and, in the evening interval, I ventured forth on the off chance that I might meet Janet – very unlikely in a large crowded building. I spotted a green tweed mackintosh and so found Janet. She suggested she took me to see her mother. Dressed as an 18th Century rabble rouser, I later found out that they were not the best clothes to meet my potential mother-in-law for the first time!

Satisfied but tired, we returned to the school for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, Bootie had other ideas and immaturely kept us awake with his antics. Revenge was sweet…I was one of the first to awaken the next morning and I got up, tipped out Bootie and made sure he got up. The other lads thought I might do the same to them but I assured them they were safe…they hadn’t kept me awake the previous day.

Sunday morning we returned to The Albert Hall for a service. After lunch, some of us visited ‘Speakers’ Corner’ in Hyde Park. We were intrigued by the many performers but one was outstanding ~ Rev Donald Soper.

We played a naughty trick on Frank ~ we surrounded him as if he was a speaker and, in no time at all, a crowd began to gather. Perhaps, for the only time in his life, Frank was speechless and quickly moved away!