Our Parish Magazine Fifty Years Ago

Posted by Admin on Wednesday, 26th August 2009, 02:00

Our Parish Magazine fifty years ago
by Jacquie Pearce

The Northwood, I.W. Parish Magazine was the precursor of Northwood News.  Having been kindly given the opportunity of looking through some issues dating from 1955 to 1961, I was struck both by the similarities and differences with today’s publication.

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Unlike Northwood News, the Parish magazine was not free :  it cost 3d in old money – just over 1p.  However, according to Saga Magazine (May 09 p. 116) because of inflation, in those days, £1 then would actually be worth £17 today.  So the true equivalent price would have been 22p.

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The light turquoise cover of the 1950s always featured the same engraving of a view of the churchyard and church.  The magazine was published monthly without summer holiday or Christmas breaks.  Before desk-top publishing it had to be professionally printed,  by Blake and Sons of 4 Town Lane, Newport.  In 1961 the cover was now cream with a photograph of the church, proudly described as  “The 12th Century Parish Church of Northwood, Isle of Wight, dedicated to St John the Baptist. The Senior Parish Church of Cowes and Gurnard”.

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Like Northwood News, the magazine included advertisements for local businesses :

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• G. Hobby, Northwood Stores – family grocer, newsagent, tobacconist and confectioner, offering home deliveries on request.
• Beken & Sons, Chemists to His Late Majesty and Portrait Studios :  “We use only British sterilised bottles for all mixtures” ;  “fortify the system against winter chills with our Phosphorised Orange Quinine Tonic, price two shillings [equivalent to £1.70 today]”
• H. M. Cheek,  Wyatts Lane Nurseries [presumably on the site of the present Harry Cheek Gardens] “If you want the Best…We have it!  Specialities – Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Dahlias, Chrysanthemums, Bedding Plants”
• H. Scovell & Son, Builders, of Kesvell, Wyatts Lane
• Wadham & Sons, Newport “for reliable furnishings”
• Jordan & Stanley, Wray & Sons of St James’ Square, Newport :  “Tea and Coffee Warehouse”, established 1861, Wholesale and Family Grocers “Noted for High Quality and Personal Attention”.
• S. Guy Ltd,  Pyle Street, Newport :  “Corn and Flour Merchants, Dog Food, Bird Seed, Garden Seeds Etc.”
• H. Lower & Sons, 56 High Street, Newport  “Noted for Bacon, Butter, Eggs, Pork and Beef Sausages, Also a large selection of Tinned Goods and Potted Meats”.
• “Smart Clothes for Mother and Daughter.  You and your children will always be well dressed because you deal at SPANNERS, 144 High Street Newport”
• Stiby & Elderfield, Ltd.  Men’s and Boys’ Outfitters 117 St James’ Street, 107 High Street, Newport
• Neat Bros,  Furnishing & General Ironmongers, Oil Merchants etc St James’ St, Newport.  Weekly Deliveries.  “Best brands Paraffin, lamps, stoves, tin and enamel ware of every description.”

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There were, however, also advertisements for national items.  The number of health products suggests the manufacturers regarded parish magazine readers as a rather sickly bunch of insomniacs :
• Ovaltine “The World’s most popular Food Beverage.  Often Imitated – Never Equalled”
•  Allenburys Diet “The Good Good-Night Drink.  Dozing instead of darning? Sleep soundly at night….”  3s 3d (16p equivalent to £2.76 today)
• Dr Shuessler’s Biochemic Tissue-Salts  (“Bring Health into Your Home … You are cordially invited to send for a copy of “What is Biochemistry?” … post free but potentially worth pounds to you”  from New Era Laboratories of Holborn Viaduct, London.
• Beecham’s Pills (“the eyes show it :  bright eyes are an outward sign of inner health…the health that comes with Beecham’s Pills”)
• A free trial supply of the Stafford All-Herbal Remedy “for fibrositis, lumbago, gout, neuritis, sciatica, myalgia etc. Put Nature to work on your Rheumatism!”
•  “There’s always time for Nescafé. Another of Nestlé’s good things”.

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There were also advertisements for charities :  Dr Barnardo’s Homes, the Children’s Society (“formerly WAIFS & STRAYS”),  Missions to Seamen, the Shaftesbury Society.  One for the Fairbridge Society invited donations to enable them to give “a neglected or unwanted child”  “a chance of life in the British Commonwealth” by sending them out on a so-called “ship of happiness”.   This last advertisement rather makes one’s flesh creep in retrospect given what we now know of the harrowing experiences suffered by some of the children who were shipped out to Australia and New Zealand by charities.

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Unsurprisingly there were various advertisements for ecclesiastical items : religious books (On Wings of Prayer,  Highway to Healing “through alert bookshops or by return post” from the publishers in Evesham), stained glass windows (the Church Craft Studios (founded 1785) in the Euston Road, London), a Garden of Remembrance and the Protestant Reformation Society, whose articles often featured in the magazine itself.  Ecumenical the Parish Magazine certainly wasn’t.

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Other advertisements included :
• Osram “the wonderful lamp – I’m tired of long dark nights of gloom/ I’m putting an Osram in every room”.
•  a Remington typewriter  “with new beauty and styling…the real all-family gift for an all-family celebration” (the mind boggles). It cost a staggering £36 10s “(with Miracle Tab)”  -  equivalent to over £600.  That is a lot of money even considering that machines then were built to last, but was available “on easy H.P. terms, if you prefer”.

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I was intrigued to note that the organist in April 1961 was still Miss Gaster, L.T.C.L., who lived in Drake Road, Newport.  My father remembers her as an intimidating figure in the 1930s when as a small boy he was occasionally pressed into service to pump the organ bellows.  She was also the Parish Magazine Secretary.

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There were far more church services than today.  Every Sunday there was a Holy Communion service at 8.00 a.m., Morning Prayer at 11.00 a.m.  (“Just one hour” according to the May 1961 issue, perhaps to reassure housewives worried about the prospect for the Sunday roast), Evening Prayer at 6.30 p.m. plus a Service for Children and Young People at 2.30 p.m.  There were also Communion Services after the second Sunday Morning Prayer, the fourth Sunday Evening Prayer, 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday and on Saints Days.   Choir practice was at 7 p.m. every Wednesday evening.  The Ladies Working Party met on the first Tuesday in the month at 3 p.m. at Crockers Farm, home of Mrs Drudge of the Sanctuary Flower Rota (see below).  Tuesday and the Mothers’ Union Service was held on the third Thursday in the month also at 3 p.m.

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It should be remembered that in those days most married women stayed at home.  The Rector of Northwood, the Rev. H.E. Strudwick,  was responsible only for St John the Baptist church unlike today where our Rector has to split her time between three churches.   Between March 2nd and April 27th 1957 there were six weddings, three of them on 2nd March.  (This may well have had something to do with the tax regime in those days whereby a married couple could claim a whole year’s allowance if they married before the end of the tax year.)

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Every year in October there was an annual Animal Service at three o’clock in the afternoon :   “we shall welcome you and your Dumb Friends”.   The November 1956 issue includes a number of letters from RSPCA representatives thanking Mr Strudwick for a collection of £12 5s 2d (over £200 in present money).   The church had been filled to capacity. His inspiring sermon was described as being “a great comfort to many of those present who had lost their beloved pets”.  The RSPCA thanked him for “giving one the opportunity of joining others in thanking God for all the love and companionship of our animal friends and of praying for those that are ill-treated….Your action of conveying God’s blessing on our pets will always remain a most precious memory.”

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In June 1957 the Children’s Service outing was to Ventnor (“yet another visit to Ventnor”).  Two coaches were filled with “scholars”, parents and junior members of the choir.  Only two showers compared with 1956 when it had rained all the time.

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There was an impressive army of church officers and helpers.  As at present there were two churchwardens (Captain Woodroffe of Hope Cottage and Mr A.B. Shaw, MBE, of Parkhurst Road), a Hon. Treasurer (Mrs Witham of Embleon, Cowes Road, Newport) and Secretaries to the Church Council (Mr Hunt of Forest Row, Newport and Mr Elliott of Henley, Wyatts Lane).  But in addition to these there were two deputy wardens, one described as “Rector’s” warden, the other as “People’s” warden, a Senior Sidesman, Sacristan (Nigel Furnell – still very active in supporting our  church), Verger,  the Missionary, Scripture Union and Parish Magazine Secretaries, leaders of the Mothers’ Union and Ladies’ Working Party (dressmaking), and members in charge of Care of the Churchyard and the Sanctuary Flower Rota (Mrs Drudge of Crockers Farm).

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Church collection figures were published.  In October 1955 the average weekly collection amounted to £8.37, the equivalent of £142 today, the sort of sum raised at our present Coffee Mornings.  The Mothers’ Union Bring and Buy Sale raised £5 17s 3d (nearly £100 in present money).  In November there was an Annual Bazaar to “provide[] funds for the maintenance of our ancient Church and its ministry” – I have no record of the amount raised but no doubt it was equally impressive.  Tax on gifts was not refundable.  In May 1957 Mr Strudwick railed against the injustice :  “an utter shame and disgrace that a proportion of your gift should be grabbed by the tentacles of State, simply because the donation is “put-on-the-plate” during Easter Sunday! ! !”  (he was much given to inverted commas and exclamation marks).

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The contents of the magazine differ quite considerably from the present Northwood News.   There were just a couple of pages of notes on church affairs, the Rector’s letter, reports of the various groups and activities (Ladies’ Working Party, Scripture Union, the Churchyard flowers) and the Register of baptisms, weddings and funerals.   These local notes were very personalised filled with references to named individuals – marriages, bereavements, illness and recovery, welcoming Nigel back safely from his National Service, a thank you letter for wedding presents from a lady chorister etc.  It was during this time that the Old Rectory was sold (1955) to Mrs Booth of Chawton Farm for £850 and funding raised to build the new i.e. current Rectory built on land bought from Mr Moody of Werrar Farm. The conveyance was signed in August 1955.  There are virtually no references to any non-church local events or activities.

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The bulk of the magazine was taken up with material which appears to have been syndicated nationally.  This included :
• some quite serious theological articles courtesy of the Protestant Reformation Society on the Apostles’ Creed, Confession and Absolution, the English Bible.
• articles on church architecture and furniture (Norman doorways (sadly no mention of Northwood), some “champion” church chairs, the Swaffham tinker, All Sorts of Spoons (one for Private Eye magazine).
• Church News and Views.  A collection of snippets of interesting or amusing items apparently sent in by people from all over the country :  Patricia Bawles, aged ten, appointed organist of the parish church of Curry Mallett, near Taunton ; a church chancel bending towards the left to reflect the position of the penitent thief on the cross, a carved Anglo-Saxon cross at Cropthorne, Worcestershire) ; the font in which Shakespeare was christened was thrown out (rather like Northwood’s), used by a blacksmith to straighten iron bars and as a water cistern before being restored to the church ;  a baptism where the godfathers were named Messrs Sparrow, Wren and Chick.
• Weekday Pages for Women with Homes containing an amazing number of household hints for washing, sewing, cooking etc, also contributed by individuals : . save the snippings from knitting and crochet to make stuffing for home-made dolls ;  patch coloured towels with sixpenny face flannels from Woolworth ; use silver coins to rub off scorch marks when ironing.
• An episode of a serial.  In the 1960s this seems to have replaced by a short story.  The 1956 serial was The Healer by Hoole Jackson, set on Dartmoor, about the relationship of a doctor with a young woman with mysterious healing powers.  The 1957 issue serial, Hope On, Hope Ever by Esme Brompton was set in Latvia very much in the atmosphere of the Cold War and dealt with the suffering of victims of both German and Soviet persecution.  Given the resolute Protestantism, it is perhaps surprising that one character was a sympathetically portrayed Russian Orthodox priest.

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Some contents of the parish section would sound very familiar today : Mr Strudwick’s remark that “There is no doubt that many church-people do get utterly sick of being constantly asked for “money” – and that from the Pulpit ! ! !”  In May 1957 he lamented that the services during Holy Week were “so poorly attended by our regular congregation.” However, he was pleased to note that the Easter Services “proved a real “spiritual tonic” ”.

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Another familiar theme is an article in April 1961 by the Archdeacon of Newark, the Ven. Frank West, the first of two articles on the subject of “The Country Parish Today”. He reflected on the impact of changes in village life on the life of the village church and the “daunting and discouraging…modern social trends for the country priest and his congregation” which made necessary a “new attitude to the church in the countryside”.   He noted that after the agricultural depression of the 1870s the authorities “were rather too ready to use a country benefice as a place of retreat for elderly and infirm clergymen who had spent their best days in the towns.  The clergy suffered from a sense of isolation and neglect”.

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Now, however, “there are …fewer clergy in the rural areas than once there were.”  Controversially (“But I am a heretic”) the Archdeacon believed that there “used to be too many parsons in the country; with the result that church people got into the habit of leaving everything to the incumbent and his wife and began to regard the church as “The Vicar’s Show””.  Now, however, “a parson can visit two or even three small villages quite easily”  (!)  “Of course parishioners in the village where the parson doesn’t live always feel that they have been deprived of part of their birthright.”  He argued that “The reduction in the number of clergy in the countryside should not be regarded as an occasion for despair but as a challenge to the laity to play their rightful part in the life of the Church.”  This debate is still very much alive and well in 2009!  It would be interesting to know what solutions he proposed in his second article.

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Jacquie Pearce
August 2009

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