Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Down memory lane again (and my confusion)

47 Devon Road, Whitehall, Bristol 5 is an address which is lodged deeply in my memories and of those of my siblings.  That’s where we were raised.

#47 was in a row of five terraced (row) houses just by a railway bridge which crossed over the old London, Midland and Scottish railway line which came down into Bristol from Birmingham. By the time we were born the “LMS” was no more.  After Railway nationalisation, the line had become  a part of the Midland Region of British Railways.

The Halletts lived at #45 and worked from there. Old Mr. Hallett was a jobbing builder. His builder’s yard adjoined our back garden on two sides. 

He and his wife were pleasant enough.  They had one daughter, Phyllis,  who never married.  She was a bit stand-offish, but not unkind.

The Hallets’ son “Don” was a “piece of work”.  In truth he was but a small businessman (having inherited the business from his Dad), but he had a strutting arrogance and disrespect for my Mum and Dad.  His wife (Joyce?) was a lovely but sad woman.

“Uncle and Auntie” Charlton lived at # 49.  They were sweet and caring working class folks, and they were always kind to my family.  They were devoted old fashioned Methodists, members of the long defunct Easton Road Methodist Church.

Mr. and Mrs. Charlton (always “Uncle and Auntie” Charlton to me) had but one son, whose name was Claude. He had been engaged to be married to Elsie Lawes who hailed from Bournemouth in Dorset shire. He died before they were married.  Dear Elsie Lawes remained faithful to her potential in-laws, and lived with them until they died.  We all know her as Auntie Elsie. She was a constant guest in our home.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox lived at #51.    They were a childless couple.  His first name was Len, and he was of the blue overalls and cloth-capped generation of Englishmen; marked by his attire as firmly working class.

I never knew Mrs. Fox’s first name. She was considered to be shrewish, and she was wonderfully house-proud.  She was shunned by her neighbors (including my parents).  I sometimes think that this was for no other reason than she was Welsh  (my dear English-folk can be very provincial!)

#53 was owned by the Elders at the local Chelsea Gospel Hall.  They used it as a respite dwelling for missionaries and evangelists on furlough.

I remember Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Norton who lived there with their daughter Ivy. They were retired missionaries to India. 

I adored Ralph Norton and “wanted to be like him” when I grew up.

Ivy Norton tried, without success, to teach me piano.  She was not a bad teacher, but I was a lousy student who would not practice his scales!

The Nortons had a spare and unused bedroom. It was, of course, unheated. There they had a bed spring on which they stored apples which had been harvested in the autumn. (This was long before the days of year round refrigeration, and the importation of fruits from all over the globe). Ivy Norton led me to that room one day so that I could pick out a winter stored Coxes Orange Pippin apple.

Later residents of that home included the Moores (Missionaries to the Caribbean), and the Hislops (Evangelists in England).

The north wall of # 53 was un-windowed  It overlooked the LMS/Midland Region Railway line.  The devout elders from Chelsea Gospel Hall had arranged for this biblical test to be painted on that wall.   

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5 v8)

Who knows if the text ever moved anyone to be “saved”.  

But it certainly confused me when I was a whipper-snapper.  For I did not know the word “commendeth”.  So I always read it as “condemneth”. 

I could not for the life of me understand why God “condemneth” his love!



  1. My daughter in North Carolina has sent me your blog of 9 February.Ralph Norton was my grandfather's brother and I knew him,Ginny,his wife and Ivy in the 50s and 60s.I passed along Devon Road many times often on the 83 bus after a school games afternoon at Packers sports field in Whitehall. I visited Chelsea Gospel Hall several times to speak at childrens meetings.If you ever went there you probably knew Eddie Iles and Keith and Alan Linton.As for the LMS I left considerable amounts of toecap leather on the walls of the long bridge in Barrow Road overlooking the railway sheds.

    I have lived 45 and more years away from Bristol--the last 20 in France so thanks for the reminder of a happy adolescence.

    Kind Regards

    John Norton.

  2. Well I never!

    This is a small internet world. I'll be interested to find out how your daughter came across my blog.

    Oddly enough, I was thinking about Ivy today. I had been meditating on "give us this day our daily bread" and I remembered that when we were very young bread, milks, eggs etc were indeed daily supplies - and that fresh fruits were unavailable in winter - and that Ivy had stored some autumnal "Coxes Orange Pippins" in the cold upstairs bedroom so that she and her parents could enjoy an apple "off season". Now we import fruits and vegetables from all over the world so that we can buy them "on demand"

    Of course I have very fond memories of the Nortons. As I wrote in my blog I "wanted to be like Mr. Norton when I grew up".

    Given the etiquette of those days, I never knew that Mrs. Norton's name was Ginny.

    Ivy Norton had a sister. Was her name Peggy?

    Gosh, it makes me feel so very old to remember that the Nortons gave us a "Magic Lantern" Show - more primitive even thanslides. Ivy taught us a version of "When he cometh" in the language they used in India. I recall that phonetically it started with words like "doori cuma, doori cuma".

    If you read more of my blog you will read how my family became involved at Chelsea Gospel Hall - see "memories". And of course I knew the Linton brothers (I think that they are still active at Speedwell Gospel Hall - the assembly which moved into Speedwell from Charlton Gospel Hall in Lawrence Hill).

    Eddie Iles died a few years ago. He was the man who persuaded me to move to Abingdon Road Gospel Hall (off Lodge Causeway) when things got difficult at Chelsea. I would walk from Devon Rd to Abingdon Gospel Hall, and after the morning meeting I would walk home with Eddie and his first wife - they lived on Elstree Road - off Gordon Avenue in Whitehall.

    When Eddie's first wife died her married a younger woman named Ruth Batt. (She had been a member at Chelsea and was a District Nurse who was often assigned to my home after my 5 younger siblings were born).

    Now Ruth Iles has re-married a man named Graham Spencer who had been active at Totterdown Gospel Hall. I saw them in 2009 when I was back in Bristol for my 65th birthday celebration.

    Back to Ivy Norton. I seem to remember that she married in mid-life, and that her husband was from the Gospel Hall on St. Nicholas Street in the St. Paul's area of Bristol.

    I wonder which assembly was yours?

    There are so few left in Bristol: Totterdown, Abingdon, Bishopston, Knowle West and many others have folded.

    I have not been associated with the Brethren in more than 50 years. They taught me to love the scriptures and the breaking of bread. But their sectarian instincts were too narrow for me, and I came to understand that "dispensationalism" was at the least heterodox, and at the worst heretical.

    Now you are in France. La Belle France! In what town and department do you live?

    Are there still Darbyistes ( the common name for Peebs) in France?

    (JND did a lot of missionary work in France).

    Did you know the Pavey (not Povey) brother from Etloe Road Gospel Hall who worked for L'Eau Vive in Lille?

    Thank you so much for being in touch. I was glad to hear from someone who is related to Ralph Norton, and who remembers the 83 bus, Packer's Field, Devon Road, Chelsea Gospel Hall, and the LMS railway.


    J. Michael Povey

  3. Mr Povey,
    I am on my way to visit my father in France over the next couple of days and will make sure he sees your response - which, though 3 or 4 years old I am sure he has never seen - and which I only just came across!
    I came across your blog & mention of Ralph Norton merely by chance. My father & I have both done considerable family history research and, as someone who left England to move to America in the ease of the late 20th century, have always been interested in the lives of those who left to live abroad when things were more challenging. Ralph Norton & his going to India has always fascinated me - hence the Google search which lead me to you!
    Sadly I know nothing much of Bristol and the places you mention. My parents were members at Ebenezer on Filton Avenue but left Bristol for Stockport before I was born.
    I trust you are well - thank you so much for sharing your memories of Ralph & his family.
    Louise Norton