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Morton Road Mission Hall - Rummage sale and new coats

Mam wanted to get me and Ronnie a better coat for the winter months that lay ahead and appealing to the old man was a waste of time!

They needed to be warm coats because with our diet we’d feel the cold something chronic! Some of the children in our area (although not all) were at an equal state of poverty to us, although I have to say from outward appearances you would never have guessed it! Sadly, so many children in those times were in such a sorry state because the father would booze his parish money or pittance of a war pension away. The whole state of these children would deteriorate; they would be lousy, dirty, snotty nosed, ragged arsed etc., etc. Now it was October and the first winter frosts were with us. What we had, although clean and neat, were threadbare, and so by practicing even stricter economies Mam managed to get a few coppers together. Then we did something we had never done before, and which afterwards we’d never do again. We went to a rummage sale. Oh, the shame of it all!

The rummage sale was held at the little Mission Hall at the bottom of our road. This was used for Magic Lantern shows, small concerts and, on Sundays, for the poorer children’s Sunday school. (After all, it wouldn’t do to mix our lot up with the more well to do parishioners!)

The Mission Hall was also used by St Barnabas Church, which lay some half a mile away, as an overflow building for events not suitable for the school hall at the side of the church itself: choir functions, Gilbert & Sullivan operas etc.

The Morton Road Mission Hall was my Sunday School and where, every Sunday afternoon, I, along with lots of other neighbourhood children, would walk around in a huge circle, holding hands and singing,

‘Over the seas there are little brown children, mothers and fathers and babies too.’

As we did so we would drop our halfpenny into the collecting plate to be spent on the church overseas missions. Now remember this was a very poor area and most parents had little enough to feed their own children, yet a mite would be found to put in that box, no question about it. Those halfpennies, freely given by our parents would, if it had been a bad week, drop to a farthing or worse, shame faced, nothing! But if it could be given, it was given. Today, when I hear people being accused of exploiting ‘the blacks’ (a term we all used in those days), I think back to our poverty stricken days when we who had nothing gave freely to those people overseas we didn’t even know!

But why did so many parents insist that their children went to Sunday school? The order of the day was that families were large and houses small, which meant children had to share the parents’ bed space… much for privacy!! It was quite the thing for parents to go to bed after the midday dinner on a Sunday, ‘for the lay down’ whilst the kids were at Sunday School! The old Mission Hall is still there, but no longer used for worship.

So, come Saturday afternoon and into the Mission Hall we went after paying the one penny admission fee! Even at that low price there were those who were so skint they used the push and shove tactic to get in without paying.

The Hall was large with bare floorboards and at the end, fixed high up on the wall, was a movable wooden screen behind which was a religious mural of Our Lord seated and surrounded by children of all colours and nationalities! I felt very much at home here even though it was being put to its present usage.

Out of the scrum around the ‘rags and tat’ the organisers had been landed with, Mam eventually emerged, hanging on like grim death to two coats which, even to my untutored eye must have come from a good home. Satisfied and having paid for the articles, home we went!

One coat was a navy blue gabardine mac with a belt….Wow! I had always wanted such a coat! The other coat was a thick Melton cloth material, quite bulky and from what I could see it was also in very good condition.

Now, before I go any further let me explain that because at some time our Ronnie had had pneumonia (and we were never allowed to forget it) he was considered something of a ‘Dillon’ of the family (after poor Mabel that is) and, as he was also, without any shadow of a doubt the favourite (I was bottom of the league being told constantly ‘you’re just like the old man’) Ronnie was usually given the first crack at anything going. For some reason though, this time I was told I could have the first choice of coats! Now, young as I was, I was well aware that size didn’t come into it for we were both the same size and build. So, would you believe that a seven year old would reason this way…….

‘That gabardine mac with the belt is super, it’s got pockets and isn’t faded or worn anywhere….but the overcoat looks thick and warm! But hang on, Mam says our Ronnie isn’t very strong and he feels the cold a lot…..but if he isn’t very strong why does he beat me in fighting?’

That did it. I went for the warmth of the overcoat!! Ron couldn’t wait to get his mac on and, as he pulled the belt tight, he looked smashing! Coming to just below his knees and promising protection from the icy blasts, for all the boys in those times wore short trousers. Ah well, I thought, his coat may look smashing but mine will be warmer! With this as consolation and trying not to feel too envious as to how well the by now parading Ronald looked, I put my coat on……..only to find that the previous owner had suffered, or so it would seem from the evidence presented, from a permanently runny nose, and it would also seem, he never carried a hanky!

There, for all the world to see, was the biggest, thickest, slickest SNOT smear, all the way down the right sleeve, 3 inches long by 2 inches wide! Oh well, these things happen, and so to hide the blighted sleeve I developed a walk when wearing the coat of carrying my arm twisted inwards to the back, this way hiding my own personal stigma.

Of course it drew many a pitying glance from passers-by, and muffled comments of,

‘Poor child must have been deformed from birth!’




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