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1958 meant farewells and celebrations

Looking back 50 years (with my diary and scrapbook) I find that 1958 was full of religion! I was 18, and office boy at the bus company's Main Works. I belonged to Thorpe Road Methodist Church and was busy as a local preacher on trial; but my outlook was catholic.

Fr Claude Palfrey, vicar of Bawburgh and Little Melton was installed by Dean Hook as Precentor of Norwich Cathedral - the first priest connected with the order of St Benedict to become a member of the Cathedral staff since the Dissolution of the Priory. Fr Palfrey - whose parents attended Chapel-in-the-Field Congregational church - laid foundations which helped make possible the rich quality of worship the Cathedral offers today.

February was marred by the tragedy of Munich. I was distressed also by the death of old Last Youngs, society steward at Lingwood chapel, who was hit by one of the new diesel trains as he crossed the railway line.

I biked to Lingwood on St. Valentine's Day for his funeral. Then, in the evening, I heard Pastor Martin Niemoeller, a courageous opponent of the Nazis in Germany during the war, who spoke at an inspiring rally.

Nearly 2,000 people packed St Andrew's Hall and the overflow meeting in Blackfriars Hall, and 100 were turned away. Supporting speakers included the Bishop, Dr PM Herbert, and the Lord Mayor, Tom Eaton, who still watches benignly over the affairs of the city.

On Ash Wednesday a coach-load from Thorpe Road went to Surlingham chapel - a wonderful old thatched building - for a united service with the Anglicans.

We returned, a month later, to a crowded parish church. These services were an early expression of the Anglican-Methodist unity moves and were considered novel enough o be reported in the press.

A third service was to involve the Methodists of Rosebery Road. These united events were the suggestion of the rector, the Rev. Basil Maine, musician and music critic for this newspaper.

As a youth he had played the piano at Rosebery Road, and taken part in plays there - notably, an open-air As You Like It. While still only in his teens, he formed his own Shakespearean company which presented scenes from Macbeth at Thorpe Road.

In 1958, both these city churches were 'on a high'. The organ at Thorpe Road - originally from St. John's College, Cambridge - had just been rebuilt, and reopened with a recital by Rev Gordon Paget (deputy organist at the Cathedral; later rector of St. Clements). Rosebery Road was poised to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, and had produced a commemorative booklet.

Fifty years on, Thorpe Road has become an office block; I preached the last sermon there in 1985. But Rosebery Road is celebrating its centenary. (The figure becomes 190 years when its adjacent forebear, the famous Sun Lane Sunday School, is included). An attractive handbook, entitled 'So Great a Cloud of Witnesses', has been written by Ursula Franklin (whose wedding, at Rosebery Road, I helped to conduct almost 30 years ago).

For Rosebery Road, 1958 held a cruel twist. On Sunday March 23, an electrical fault in the organ caused a disastrous fire. After great efforts, the church re-opened one year later. May the drama of this centenary year be confined to the wonders of renewal and revival!

Sidney Grapes died. Humorist, philosopher, churchwarden at Potter Heigham, he was one of the best-loved contributors to this newspaper (as The Boy John). I thought Jonathan Mardle's tribute, 'A Country Funeral', one of his finest pieces - and, long afterwards, told him so.

Later that year, a silent throng lined the streets of Swaffham and packed the Methodist chapel for the funeral of Sidney Dye, the much-loved Labour MP for South-West Norfolk, who died in a road accident.

In May I took part in the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs' annual display in the Royal Albert Hall. As the history of Norwich was recounted in a series of spot-lit tableaux (I was one of Wesley's preachers) a large model of the Cathedral was being assembled with astonishing speed and efficiency in the centre of the arena. The lights went up to reveal its impressive splendour. We stole the show!

1958! A coin hoard was uncovered at Morley St Peter, and an ichthyosaurus at Stow Bridge. Having preached at the old, I attended the opening of the new Sprowston chapel at Wroxham Road. John XXIII became Pope.

The first diesel-electric locomotives began trials on the London line; 'Oliver Cromwell's days were numbered! We sang Freight Train, Peggy Sue, Magic Moments, and Put a Light in the Window.

Then, in December, the circuit Quarterly Meeting unanimously endorsed my decision to offer as a candidate for the Methodist ministry. Suddenly, the future looked exciting - and scary!



By courtesy of the EDP24