When I was maybe 10 or 11 Mum would take me to the “Women’s Meeting” at the local Gospel Hall.
This meeting, on a weekday afternoon, was presided over by Bessie Cox, the rather bossy wife of a leading Elder, Ernie Cox.
Women were forbidden leadership in Plymouth Brethren Assemblies (the Gospel Hall was home to one of those Assemblies), with one exception: they could lead other women. Bessie Cox relished her leadership of these women.
The Women’s Meetings would include hymn singing, prayer, an inspirational talk, and solo music.
At one of the meetings which I attended, a young girl, aged maybe 10 or 11 sang a hymn. She’d memorised it, and sang it perfectly with a pure soprano voice. I can yet “see and hear” her.
She sang “Listen to the voice of Jesus,
Oh so sweet
As the little children gather
Round his feet.
Young ones to his knees are climbing
There to rest.
Older ones stand near him waiting
To be blessed”.
This young soloist did so very well. But I was consumed with a passionate jealousy. Jealous I was of the attention paid to her.
I wanted to be the “star young soprano” on that podium. I briefly hated her.
‘Round about that time a Mr. Eddie Iles was the leader of ministries to children and youth. He was self-confident and a bit arrogant.
He was a draughtsman at the local Bristol Aeroplane Company, but would have us believe that the entire “B.A.C” enterprise depended on him.
Eddie Iles would lead us in the singing of “choruses”, the staple musical diet of children in Gospel Halls.
To his credit, he would challenge us by asking if we knew the meaning of the words we had sung.
Once we sang “Jesus my Lord will love me for ever”. That song ended with the words
“Not for the years of time alone, but for eternity”.
“What does that mean?” he asked. Quick as a flash Gillian Mansfield raised her hand, with a “trying to be humble” look on her face.
Eddie Iles called upon Gillian, and of course she had the correct answer.
Again, I was filled with jealousy. Jealous of Gillian and her self-assured smile. Wanting to metaphorically “slap her” since she was so bright.
The girl who sang that solo is probably know about my age (64). Gillian Mansfield would be a few years older.
I wonder if they ever remember their triumphs in the Gospel Hall.
And I wonder why I, 54 years later, still remember them!