In July, 2013, an enquiry ended up on the editor's computer from Mr Graham Barry, in distant Australia. He was a choirboy at St Faith's between 1946-1952, and is in the process of writing a memoir for his children. Through the extensive archive material on our website, he had read much of interest, and he was anxious to get hold of some of the photographs on the site to illustrate his memoir, and if possible any other photos from around his time at St Faith's.

Subsequently I was able to send him much of what he was seeking, as well as a few other pictures of the church; at my request he has provided the names of a good many of the St Faith's people featured on the early group photos.  He also was happy to send me relevant chapters of his substantial memoir, as a result of which both this website and the church magazine will be carrying instalments in future months, beginning with the opening piece below. Those of us with deep roots in St Faith's will be familiar with a few of the names he quotes, as they survived into the 1960s and 1970s - notably George Houldin, Ken Clawson and George Goodwin, all of blessed memory.

Graham tells us that he has edited out passages in his family memoir in order not to offend anyone living or dead, and the editor has done likewise! The text below,  (in words and pictures), is a lively and detailed recollection of what already seems an almost forgotten age. It is very good to be able to add it to our church archive, and to dip into an account that brings the church, its characters and our neighbourhood to vivid and entertaining life sixty years on. It goes without saying that these are Graham's recollections and character analyses, with apologies if they do not always coincide with the memories and views of others.

Graham would be more than happy to hear from anyone who might remember the events he is chronicling - or even remember him! His email address is


Click on the Chapter links

Part One
Part Two

Cubs on parade in 1950
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

One final bit to come....

Chronicles of a Choirboy

ST FAITH’S 1946-1955

Part One

I was about nine when I joined St Faith’s Wolf Cubs. It was the tip of the iceberg. Along with it came the church, the choir, the Scouts, my entire social life. St Faith’s defined my existence for most of the next decade. It stopped me from ever taking Merchant Taylors’ too seriously and always gave me an alternative to the hothouse of public school life.


Life in the St Faith’s community was magic to me – and it was an aspect of my life that my family played no part in. Mum was a Roman Catholic, from a big family of Roman Catholics. But my Dad was a Protestant, officially an unacceptable match in a city still riven by sectarianism. I don’t know the details too well, but they were allowed to marry in the vestry. Was it at the Catholic or the Protestant church? I don’t know, but I do know the priests harassed her to have the kids brought up Catholic until she chased them away and vowed never to go near a Catholic church again.

She was quite hot on our going to Sunday School, however: Christ Church, where my brother Frank went to school and attended the Boy Scouts. But it was boring as hell and we used to try and drop off at my cousin's in Sandringham Road to avoid going.


I’d always instinctively admired this big church with its big grounds at the College Road roundabout, diagonally opposite Merchant Taylors’, both of which I would pass on my way home from Crosby Road School if I went the long way round. So it didn’t take much to persuade me to front up at the Parish Hall, also in the grounds, one Monday night at 6pm.

I was hooked from the word go. It was like two hours of team games, interspersed with some training (though I didn’t realise it), with a large enthusiastic group of noisy boys between eight and 11, several of whom I knew, including George Pass, who was also starting that night. It was run by this kindly older man with grey hair in a scout uniform who rejoiced in the name of Akela, assisted by a handsome younger man, also in uniform, called Baloo.

As the weeks progressed I got more and more into it. It seemed to be a condition of membership that you attended Sunday School, which I was very happy to do: the church was light and airy and a nice old lady called Miss Mountfield told us bible stories. Soon Kenny Charnock was co-opting me into joining the choir and I fronted up on Friday night at 7pm to be given an audition by the small fussy organist, Mr Pratt, who was positioned in the centre of the chancel in front of a small instrument like a stand-up piano with wind pedals creating an organ sound, which he tapped with the same metal propelling pencil to get our attention for as long as I knew him. I still don’t know what it was called (euphonium?  harmonium. Ed.), but they laughed at me when I referred to it as an organ.


Somehow I passed muster and they fitted me out with a cassock and a surplice, and I joined my pals: Kenny, Stan Spencer, Dave Mawdsley, the four Voyseys and George Pass (who was there for the first time too), together with miscellaneous others whom I forget, making up around 20 in all. Indeed Akela and Baloo were there as well, members of the adult choir, but now Akela was Mr Houldin, the choirmaster.

Then five minutes before the service was due to start, Jim Burgess, who’d been verger forever (at least since 1928) started to toll the church bell in that imposing tower, a double ring for the first four minutes. Then he took it down to a single note for the final minute, so latecomers knew they’d better get a move on. As his last dings donged, I was walking in procession with all the other little angels, led by Baloo (Ken Clawson) looking very holy and carrying a crucifix on a pole out of the vestry through the nave and up into the choir stalls.

That first ceremony, Sung Eucharist, kicking off at 10.45am, was overwhelming: the chancel was full of males (all males) in full regalia with different coloured cassocks and long surplices and a priest going through his stuff at the altar, and then virtually the whole congregation filed up from the nave, up the steps through the chancel to the altar rail, where they knelt to receive communion: a swig of wine from a chalice and a wafer biscuit. Then a quick sign of the cross and they’d file out the two side passages and back to their seats. All very High Church, did I but know it.


I nearly screwed the whole thing up on my second appearance when there were maybe 21 or 23 of us choirboys in pews only meant for 20 and I misunderstood the instructions about which side to go and crossed in front of Ken Clawson, while he hissed “Other side!” and I just kept on going. We were jammed in like nobody’s business and I was in a total daze, so when Kenny Charnock whispered: “It’s okay, ‘Sir’ [Akela] understands,” I didn’t really comprehend any of it. I know Ken Clawson never had much time for me anyway, and I’m not sure if that didn’t colour his views.

Then it was home for Sunday dinner (lunch) and Family Favourites on the radio, then back for Sunday School at 3, then home for Tommy Handley and ITMA on the radio and Sunday tea, then back for the much more leisurely Evensong at 6.30, when they turned the lights down as the priest gave his sermon and some of the unwary would nod off. On one memorable occasion David Mawdsley involuntarily let off this enormous fart, which reverberated round the whole church and which he never owned up to for years, but which he’s now quite proud of. No one dared laugh.

The choir was more full on, but Wolf Cubs, for very different reasons, was irresistible. It was all loosely based on Rudyard Kipling and The Jungle Book, which I’d seen more times than I can remember at the pictures. You played, but you also passed tests, and got your first star and your second star (each representing one eye open in the jungle) and various proficiency badges, of which there were 12 all told. I loved all that stuff, passing the tests, getting the badges. I managed to get about four badges where most kids got fed up after a couple. It was fascinating when Akela confided he’d had two boys who’d got all 12. I can remember their names to this day. Peter Welch was in fact head choirboy when I first started, but God knows what happened to Michael Whitehead.


Akela also took us to a swimming pool deep in the heart of Liverpool (unbelievably, Crosby considered itself too posh for a swimming pool until many years later, the powers-that-be reckoning it would attract bad elements from Bootle – so we had to go to Bootle instead!) and gave us lessons – that’s how I learned to swim. He had a belt, just a rubber loop really, on the end of a rope and he’d haul you in from the middle of the pool calling out instructions. We had a changing room all to ourselves (maybe 8-10 of us).

And there was a train-spotting club and Meccano, and he’d take us for cycling expeditions. And after Evensong he’d let the choir have the run of the Parish Hall for games like Sardines, where one kid would go out and hide in the dark and we’d all try to find him, and when you found him, you didn’t let on, you joined him quietly, until in the end one hapless kid was left wandering round in the dark wondering where the hell we were! It was great.

I really consider George Houldin one of the best, most honourable and sincere people of either sex I’ve ever encountered, but people must have talked. The only criticism I ever heard of him was about how High Church he was, and how he might go into holy orders and turn St Faith’s into a Roman Catholic church. But the church hierarchy was always very firm that we were a Catholic church, just not Roman Catholic, part of one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church, a denomination the wicked Romans had tried to steal from us. Mr Houldin used to define it for us in those terms. According to “Sir” the only difference between a high church like St Faith’s and the Romans (apart from the fact they did it all in Latin and no one had a clue what was being said) was that they believed the wafers and the wine actually physically turned into the body and blood of Jesus during the sacrament: the difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation or some such!


Part Two

The sheer excitement of Cubs reached its peak at camp. Just one night away from home and under canvas, but it was probably the first night most of us had spent away from our mothers. I didn’t know anything about it (aged 9 or 10) until I was offered a place because someone else couldn’t go. Of course I was grossly ill-equipped, I whose mother had to be dragged kicking and screaming to buy my uniform, and who got the wrong type of cap because John Manners Emporium in South Road didn’t have the full gear and there was no way she was going into Liverpool to the Scout Shop. So I grabbed a coloured blanket I thought was suitable and ignored the warnings of one of the others about how cold it got at nights and headed off.

It seemed that Akela - Mr Houldin - Sir - was the director of a timber firm in Liverpool in his other life. He was evidently pretty well off, living apparently alone in a big house in a posh road until he took in a niece and her son when her marriage broke up. But he used to load us on to the back of one of the timber trucks with all the gear and off we went to an outer rural area of Liverpool known only for being close to Rainhill, where there was reputed to be a lunatic asylum, as they were still called, at least by us.

We were in our element. This was what it was all about, running wild in a gang out in the country, albeit for just 24 hours or so. Kenny Charnock was full of his wonderful sleeping bag – “made of real goose feathers!” – and I think it was he who warned me how cold I was going to be, and sure enough he was right: I hardly got a wink of sleep, quite apart from the fact we all couldn’t stop talking for sheer excitement of being under canvas. There’d been a camp fire, over which something or other was cooked, and lots of campfire songs. We had a whale of a time, but I was sure glad when the sun came up and I could get some heat back into my bones. At some point, either that camp or the next one, Kenny rather foolishly stored a big bottle of lemonade in his goosefeather sleeping bag and of course it broke: no more skitting about goose feathers for Kenny.

A funny thing happened on that first camp away from home, which I’ve only just remembered. I took some of our Fairy Soap with me, but as soon as he saw it, Kenny Charnock let out a whoop of laughter, and said, “You’ve brought kitchen soap!” I didn’t know what he was talking about. As a matter of fact we used an industrial strength yellowy soap for household things at home. But the fact was I didn’t know anything about toilet soap, it was all one to me. Now Kenny wouldn’t knowingly hurt anyone’s feelings for the world and immediately glossed it over when he saw my incomprehension, quickly saying, “Oh actually it’s good for you . . .” It was another of those tiny moments when the gradual transition from working class to middle class makes itself apparent.

I was hooked on camping from then on. I loved methodically putting up tents and lighting fires the right way, and as time went on those camps got progressively more exciting, especially when, aged 12, we progressed to the Scouts. Again a lot of the glamour of that was sparked by Kenny Charnock progressing to the scouts a year ahead of us and going to his first week-long camp at Coniston Water, as it was known locally. Lake Coniston was part of the Lake District, and it just so happened that Sir Malcolm Campbell was going for the world water speed record there that summer. Kenny came back flourishing his autograph, full of tales of all the dirty songs he’d learned, or half learned, round the camp fire or on the lorry, like ‘The Good Ship Venus’.

We – that was, from memory, me, Stan Spencer, George Pass and Dave Mawdsley, who’d all progressed more or less together – were a bit disappointed not to go to Coniston in our first year ourselves, but in fact we went to somewhere equally exciting, the Isle of Anglesey. I suppose I was a bit blasé because I’d been there a couple of times in the family car, visiting my brother when he was on HMS Conway, and based in the Menai Straits, but this turned out to be very different, with a crowd (troop) of largely older boys and a company of Girl Guides in an adjoining field! The farmer must have let them out as a business arrangement. There was instant electricity between the older boys and girls, and the younger ones too, though not quite the same. My patrol leader, Peter Howarth, who was supposed to be madly in love with buxom Barbara Skinner back home, was immediately taken with one of the more nubile Guides and between them they cooked up a plan to all meet at night in the barn that the lucky Guides had to sleep in.

While the overall memories of that Anglesey camp are enchanted, the things that stick in my mind are, first, that Peter Howarth, who was actually our head choirboy and the first kid I ever knew to have appendicitis, turned out to be a sadistic bully who bashed me around at every opportunity; second, just after we’d all bedded down at night, the seniors would bring round a big dixie of cocoa, and Stan Spencer managed to inveigle his way into their numbers doling it out; and thirdly being scared shitless by a weird insect in the woods, poetic justice since Kenny Charnock had managed to slice a dragonfly in half in our first half hour there, lashing out with his sheath knife.
Quite out of the blue my mother appeared half way through the week, having driven a carload of Mrs Mawdsley, Mrs Spencer, Mrs Howarth and somebody else to make sure their little darlings were all right. I had no idea this was going to happen. My mother was the life and soul of the party, joking and clowning around, so out of character as far as I was concerned, a side I’d never seen. They were laden up with tins of fruit and evaporated milk that we all made ourselves sick with that night.
Oh, and Steve Cook, son of the church’s cleaning lady, came down with inflamed kidneys on the first night, presumably from the hard cold ground, and was laid out for the rest of the time.

No, maybe that was the next year, in Wales? That year (1951) I’d just been for a fortnight’s youth hostelling through Germany with a school group and was scheduled to arrive back the day after they’d left. So Mum and Harry dutifully drove me there – I wasn’t prepared to miss out – and we arrived in pouring rain to be greeted by the terminally weird Dave White, the deputy scout leader who was running things.

As luck would have it, it poured down the entire week. It really is very hard to sustain the euphoria of the experience when you’re largely stuck inside the tents and if you touch the sides it causes a drip, and the whole site is a mud-bath. It was not a success.

In between times we would go for individual weekend patrol camps at a place called Tawd Vale, somewhere near Ormskirk, on the bus. It must have been owned collectively by the Scout movement, because it was a mecca for different troops through the whole district. We were called the 10th Crosby. Tawd Vale was actually a great place. I remember going one weekend with our scoutmaster, a guy called George Goodwin who had a glass eye. There was a creek there where it was just about deep enough to splash around in a pool, no matter how cold or rainy, but the most memorable part was that George’s glass eye went out of kilter at one point and no one dared tell him – it looked really spooky – and he didn’t realise until he came to shave the next morning. He was not happy.

Another time I went in a group that included the odious Bruce Moffitt and a kid called something like David Johnson, a none-too-clean kid who lived in Jubilee Road, one of Crosby’s few remaining slums (even if it was parallel and next to Sunnyside Road). During the night he started vomiting copiously, and there was no doubt in his mind and experience that he had a migraine, something I’d never heard of. But all Bruce Moffitt could go on about was that his clothes stank, something that wasn’t as obvious to me with my background.

There was one year when the annual camp was at Tawd Vale which I thought was a bit of a cop-out and wouldn’t go – after all I had to extract the cost of going from my Mum; not an easy task at the best of times. By the time I went again we must have been seniors, i.e. over 15, because by then Tom Pincock had left the school troop and joined ours, possibly because his older brother James had begun to take a role as a scout leader. I was never sure why he did, but Jimmy was a good guy, a Sixth former at Merchants on the science side, and an Armour prize winning pianist/organist, under the tutelage of St Faith’s organist  Mr Pratt I think.

To be continued...

  Cubs on Parade

St Faith's Cubs on Parade in 1950
Graham Barry has provided this illuminating and frank commentary on this picture, unearthed recently among the church archives.

By 1950 I was 13 and in the Scouts and this lot are Wolf Cubs of the time, though a couple or three are younger brothers of my gang. Crucially this picture shows the church grounds as they were before the building of the dreaded residence, and is taken from the entrance to the Parish Hall. I admit the turf looks a bit bedraggled, but trust me, it weren't no cricket pitch but it was our own!

First for the powers-that-were: I don't remember the lady looking like something out of Charles Dickens apart from showing too much ankle, but if I remember right she was a long-running Lady Mayor. She seems to be talking to Ken Clawson, who was still Baloo at the time, but just to her right in the background is George Houldin himself, still Akela. What confuses me a bit is the guy leering at the camera in the front who is, I am sure, Geoff Stop, who I always thought of/knew as Assistant Scoutmaster, but maybe he was learning the ropes at the time.

That said, the guy to his right staring fixedly ahead, looks suspiciously like Ron Smith, the Scoutmaster who famously clashed with Willie Hassall and led the Senior Scouts away en masse to another congregation. Interesting times! In among the cubs you can see Ken's younger brother and helper Derek, looking, as always, off with the fairies.

But as to the boys themselves, the ones whose faces you can see are: Richard Norton (younger brother of one of our gang, Sarah); just behind him is John McCormick, then Billie Mulligan, then Ronnie Charnock, younger brother of the great Kenny, to whom I give all credit in my epic; in direct line behind him is one David Organ, notable only for always earning the most in the pack during Bob-A-Job Week!

Next, on the front row, is Brian Pass, little brother of one of my best mates George, who had shot up to about 6'3" the last time I saw him. Don't know the next lad but them it's Michael Goodwin, nephew of George Goodwin, my scoutmaster and your eventual long time sacristan I believe. Then David Johnson in civilian clothes, whose migraines I wrote about. Then a little lad I don't recognise, but behind him is Billy Jump wearing his cap like a demented rapper.

A brilliant pic, so vivid, but I've no idea of the occasion. It looks to me like there's another Wolf Cub pack in the background, so it's even more mysterious.

Part Three

Jimmy Pincock took us on a couple of really inventive camps, just a few of us. One of these involved pushing a trek cart carrying all our belongings and camping gear around. It belonged to the troop but I’d never seen it used and I can’t remember how we got it to where we wanted it to go, but I know we went by train before reassembling it and pushing it along the lanes of North Wales. (How did we get to the railway station?) I think this was that one I left early because I wanted to get my A level results and managed to lose my train ticket at Mold and had to pay for a replacement.

Another time he took us on a week-long bike tour, with panniers on the back carrying our gear. After an initial mishap with the back wheel of my Raleigh Lenton coming out of its forks as we bumped down the ramp to the ferry it all went like a dream, doing about 50 miles a day without any perceivable effort. We visited some of the great cathedral cities of the Midlands.

There was another straightforward hike we did when I was younger and the others were mostly older when I can remember messing my pants, literally, at breakfast, and trying desperately to cover the accident. Jimmy Pincock asked if I was okay, and I assured him I was as I disappeared and tried to destroy the evidence, only to be discovered by George Pass and having to fess up. He made me confess again when we got home, to Stan Spenser.

But by the time of the final annual camp that I remember, at Anglesey again, we must have been well and truly teenagers, because I remember receiving a couple of doubtful books by post from a girl I’d met through Kenny Charnock again, whom I had a kind of sisterly but flirty relationship with. She worked in a post office/general store that stocked them and they were the nearest things to dirty books we got to read.

George Goodwin didn’t know whether to be amused or embarrassed and thought I was a real outlaw. He gave me a well-meaning moral lecture and then semi-humiliated me by discovering a whole nest of blackheads on my nose which he publicly squeezed for me. There was a frankly unbelievable number, and I complained bitterly to my mother when I got home for letting me go around like that. She said she’d hesitated to squeeze them for me since she blamed my brother’s awful teenage acne on her having done just that to him.

George Goodwin, meanwhile, had actually brought his new girlfriend with him, along with her young niece as chaperone. They shared a separate tent (the girls, not George).

Another aspect of Scouts was the annual Scout Fair at Hall Road, when a field was taken over by the district and each Scout Troop would have a stall of some kind. I think we had some half-arsed thing where you tried to get some doofahs from one end of a live wire to the other without making a buzz.

But the strong point of our lot (the 10th Crosby) was the gym team. They’d wheel on (cart on) our sturdy gym horses, all two of them I think, and the mattresses and the spring board, and a group of 10 or so doughty lads would launch themselves at them one after another doing various amazing antics. When our gang had reached the age we started doing some practice during the normal scout meeting and it was clear to everyone including me that there was no way I was going to cut the mustard.

I was somewhat humiliated, so a group of us started to do some informal gym practice in the church grounds during the holidays, with the benevolent connivance of Jim Burgess, the long time verger, and gradually all of us, including me, became quite crash hot at it, doing things I’d never have thought possible before. Fortunately there were no accidents because some of it was quite daring, and it stood me in good stead in PE at school.

In the event we, or at least I, never did perform at the scout fair. The most eventful thing that happened was that a couple of the younger Guides, Merchant Taylors' girls, fronted up and flirted with us rather outrageously. It was odd to find ourselves the target of their approaches, a year or so younger than us, but quite flattering.

A word or two about Jim Burgess. Photographs on the website show him already the verger in 1928, then again in 1932, and finally in 1962, always looking virtually exactly the same! All those years tolling the great bell . . . He was one of those people I always got on with, like Mr Houldin, unfailingly helpful and kind, always dressed in the same heavy gown on duty, when he’d take up his position at the end of the last pew near the door. He rode from his home on an ancient push-bike, which he lent to me at one point when I needed to get somewhere in a hurry. I’d have been quicker walking, and probably a lot safer. I don’t know how he did it.

When I did my National Service in Cyprus he was very attentive in asking my mother how I was getting on, but when I came home on leave in 1957 I was staggered to find he’d left St Faith’s – Dave Mawdsley and I bumped into him when we went to a dance at another church, where he was now the verger. I don’t know what the internal politics of this was, but for him it was a simple matter of pay, which St Faith’s was not keeping in line with other parishes. However a couple of years later I was gladdened to see he’d returned to his spiritual home. I assume they’d relented on pay, but he made no bones about the fact that St Faith’s was in his blood after all those years!

Another thing that impressed me about Jim was he listened attentively to the sermons and had firm views on the qualities of individual preachers; I whose brain switched into neutral as soon as anyone ascended the pulpit steps (with the exception of Mr Houldin). 

Somehow or other, though, I never seemed to go down all that well with the hierarchy at St Faith’s – apart from Mr Houldin, with whom I seemed to be a particular favourite. As I said, Ken Clawson (Baloo) never took to me, which was sad, given my secret crush on his sister. Mr Singer, the curate and acting priest when I started, wasn’t there too long before we got a real vicar, William Hassall, whom we all cordially disliked. A large, youngish man, but bald as a coot for some clinical reason, he was clearly gay, even to us, but not a nice man like George Houldin; he was a loud-mouthed, opinionated authoritarian. A lot of what went on we were never truly aware of, but soon after he arrived we were required to sew little yellow crosses onto our myrtle green neckerchiefs to show we were strictly attached to St Faith’s. Not that it meant too much to choir members, but church attendance became mandatory and those who didn’t front up regularly were in trouble; and this was apparently a big issue for the Scouts, and especially the Senior Scouts, because suddenly we didn’t have any!

We admired a lot of these guys inordinately – they were a lot of fun – and now suddenly they and the Scout leader Ron Smith had detached themselves from St Faith’s and attached themselves to another church with a less draconian regime, though Ron Smith (“Skip” as he was known) remained a bass voice in our choir. It would appear “Skip” regarded the social welfare of his scouts as more important than their spiritual salvation, for which one can’t help but admire him. Only Jimmy Pincock, men’s choir member, part time organist, host to Mr Pratt for his Sunday dinner, son of Mrs Pincock who never came to church but kept her kids loyal, brother to Tom, remained – and Jimmy’d never been much of a Scout before. Now, as we progressed toward senior scoutdom, he became the prime mover for all those great camping ideas I was a beneficiary of.

I was once foolish enough to march up to Mr Hassall after Evensong with a small group of other choristers I’d managed to dominate, and said, half tongue in cheek, that we were a deputation from the choir to request that the final hymn be not quite so long (already the trade unionist). He told us in no uncertain terms that we didn’t get to ask things like that and if there were any more deputations from the choir he’d dock our choir pay. (Choir pay was something I didn’t know existed when I joined but it became a very welcome addition to my meagre pocket money once a month!) He and I had never got on, so he certainly had me picked as a troublemaker after that.

He had a notorious predilection for Ken Clawson, and the pair of them were known to go away for the weekend with the vicar mounted on the pillion of Ken Clawson’s motorbike. This was even more ironic, given that there was clearly something going on between Ken and Beryl Brinton, one of three girls in their early twenties we used to hang out with after Evensong when we got to be 16, but were still attending church by the skin of our teeth, almost out of sheer habit after our voices broke.

Part Four

Why these three hung out with us I’ll never know, but they were great, mature age company. Maybe it was because most of the boys their age had moved on? Beryl was the obvious glamour puss, though her forehead was too broad. Doreen Dawson was cute as hell but really skinny, though she became engaged to this very handsome George Clooney-like merchant seaman while we knew her – by the time they married and he was settled in Crosby he was keeping goal for Marine! And there was plump Maeve Owen, kittenishly pretty and sexy and fun, but battling her weight and her image. We became such good friends, we’d exchange postcards when we went on holidays, stand around for ages after Evensong having giggly conversations, and exchange hugs. I saw Maeve a couple of years after we’d all moved away (ie after National Service) and she’d shed all her weight and frankly didn’t look too well.

And of course we’d tease them about boyfriends and vice-versa. We felt it a personal triumph when Beryl announced she and Ken were engaged, though I didn’t like him any more than he liked me, and it probably broke Willy Hassall’s heart. I certainly had no sympathy for Willy Hassall. We cheered silently at a scout camp that he insisted on attending when he tried to chase away some village lads, who then stood at the fence by the end of the field chanting: “Yuh baldy bugger!”

And when we’d have the joint Scout-Guide Christmas party, the highlight of which was Spin the Plate (where you trod on the plate if you were keen to kiss a particular Guide), he played the total spoilsport, indignantly stopping us from cheating to enjoy the sins of the flesh. In the end we jointly decided to play Wink as well, where you got to kiss each other anyway.

Still, I shouldn’t be too hard on him. We really behaved very disruptively as we got older. We’d go to Scouts on Tuesday, there was youth club on Thursday and choir practice on Friday, but we’d stay after that and make a nuisance of ourselves at the Guide meeting, despite their earnest pleas for us to go away. In the end we were chased away for good and all by one of Willy’s acolytes, Gerry Laybourne, the sacristan, who trapped us as we tried to escape round the back of the church.

The church was truly magnificent, or at least I thought so, and we were very proud of it. And the church grounds were marvellous, a medium sized playing field all of our own, an arena for all our activities on warm and not so warm evenings. But the real communal centre was the Parish Hall, with a generous auditorium and a stage, where all the social activities took place. There was a rope hanging from the central beam, up which we all learned to swarm, all the way up to the beam, until some well meaning sod decided it was too dangerous. On really exciting scout nights, when we played Pirates, the chief pirate would get to swing from that rope, knocking the rest of us off various items of gym equipment assembled in a circle, as we clambered from one to the other without letting your feet touch the floor, ie the sea.

At one end of the hall, double doors disgorged onto the street, or would have if they’d been open; they never were, probably because on one side was the choir change room where we assembled to don cassocks and surplices, and on the other side a kind of cloakroom. Once assembled in our regalia, we would clasp our hands reverentially in front of us and proceed solemnly across the hall and out the other end, and into the church through the vestry, to form up behind the crucifer. At the far end, contiguous to the church there was a kitchen, a Scout green room and a Guide store room, and stairs up to what the vicar called with due reverence the Upper Room, but which actually contained a billiard table (or was it a table tennis table?) which tended to be covered. That was allocated for Bible Class too when we eventually started being holy in mixed groups. (How did Baldy come to accept that?)

There were Scout and Guide parties, primitive amateur dramatics (not least the Barrow-O’Connor production of Everyman on one occasion, for which I made myself scarce), Square Dances where they waxed the floor and I tripped up Maeve Owen, causing skinned knees, tears and dreadful embarrassment. And most of all it was where I got my first real kiss, recorded elsewhere more times than I care to remember, that’s how important it was. 

At one point I became obsessed with the idea that we should build a scout hut on a piece of ground round the back of the church. It was one of those dumb, impractical notions that someone should have squashed right away but I managed to persuade everyone to go along with it, including my mother, who I made lean on my stepfather to give me some spare timber he had in his shed. He was furious, but he grudgingly came to the party. Some workmen gave us some moist cement we were going to keep moist and use for the floor. We didn’t have enough of anything so Tom Pincock suggested we dig a hole so that we wouldn’t need such high walls!

But the crucial thing was that Willy Hassall went along with it. He said we’d never do it, but he went along with it. So we started digging; in fact I think we spent the entire summer holidays digging this blessed hole and what’s more we had a whale of a time doing it, until eventually we got fed up with it and the whole thing ended, and I guess someone – not us – filled the hole in: my first failure to follow through. Normally I finish things, no matter how stupid, once I start, but that was just too outlandish.

But let’s get back to what alienated people. First off, at some point Mr Pratt (whose name, by the way, was Ernest) told us he’d heard someone singing flat during the service and he was going to listen out to find out who it was. I was petrified! What if it were me? I didn’t sing out loud again for months, maybe even years, I simply opened my mouth and pretended, in case I sang flat. Walter Holmes, a snooty monitor from Merchant's who was a tenor or bass in the grown-up choir, made a point of buttonholing me in the vestry and telling me to sing up. During a procession Eve Clark turned round from her pew and hissed at me to sing up. Brian Williams standing next to me in choir told me to sing up. No way!

Eventually I started to sing again in choir practice. But it was ages before I tentatively started singing again in the services. Maybe it was when we started singing in choirs at school. I think there was some new music I was inspired by. What a strange child I was! Eventually I became a head choirboy anyway by sheer dint of seniority. I wonder why Mr Houldin never took me to task.

The morning mass in a High Church like ours was called Sung Eucharist, logically, because the form of service was sung, ie Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and a whole lot of other things that had been dropped or were sung by the priest, and it all finished up with a rousing Te Deum. By and large we stuck with the one version, but now and again we broke out with something that might be sung by a soloist, eg Jimmy Pincock, who had a lovely voice (though he’s listed as an alto in George Houldin’s history), would sing Stanford’s Magnificat: My Soul doth magnify the Lord.

David Mawdsley had a great soprano too, and would do solos. He reckoned approaches were made for him to join the Cathedral choir, but George Houldin apparently came round to his house to warn his mother about letting him go, with dark warnings about little lads being corrupted in certain circumstances. I was gobsmacked when he told me this, just a few years ago, but when I mentioned it to cousins Noni and Bill, Bill became quite indignant, claiming to have known the people involved as honourable men. Who knows?

Also Raymond Clark had a good voice for solos and sang at his sister’s wedding to John Gerard, where some sentimental old dear swore he’d never sung so beautifully. But Jimmy Pincock’s voice remained my favourite: it seemed to me to be pure and unemotional, which was my ideal for a boy soprano.

The problems usually started with tenor solos. Some of those old guys like Mr Betts and little Mr Clawson, the Clawson patriarch, had a very shaky, nervous pitch. At one point we rehearsed a new version of the Eucharist that I thought was wonderful. I dreamed of being asked to sing solo. Ha! Me as avoided singing for years in case anyone said I was flat! Dreaming.

I must say though, when we did a procession and sang “The God of Abram praise . . .”, one of the more archaic hymns, I would get quite inspired and glad I’d started singing again.

Part Five

David Mawdsley had a great soprano too, and would do solos. He reckoned approaches were made for him to join the Cathedral choir, but George Houldin apparently came round to his house to warn his mother about letting him go, with dark warnings about little lads being corrupted in certain circumstances. I was gobsmacked when he told me this, just a few years ago, but when I mentioned it to cousins Noni and Bill, Bill became quite indignant, claiming to have known the people involved as honourable men. Who knows?

Also Raymond Clark had a good voice for solos and sang at his sister’s wedding to John Gerard, where some sentimental old dear swore he’d never sung so beautifully. But Jimmy Pincock’s voice remained my favourite: it seemed to me to be pure and unemotional, which was my ideal for a boy soprano.

The problems usually started with tenor solos. Some of those old guys like Mr Betts and little Mr Clawson, the Clawson patriarch, had a very shaky, nervous pitch.
At one point we rehearsed a new version of the Eucharist that I thought was wonderful. I dreamed of being asked to sing solo. Ha! Me as avoided singing for years in case anyone said I was flat! Dreaming.

I must say though, when we did a procession and sang “The God of Abram praise . . .”, one of the more archaic hymns, I would get quite inspired and glad I’d started singing again.

One of the brilliant things the choir did was to put on a show based on songs Mr Houldin had apparently composed and sketches he had written. He nicked the tunes, or some of them I guess. I was in maybe four of them. I reckoned I had a real gift for acting, so why I never did it again I don’t know, but I was really proud of it. We only did one show in the parish hall but it was packed to the rafters and everybody came, including my Mum and one of my aunties.

This must have stirred things up a bit because suddenly (or was it the following year?) a group at church was putting on a pantomime that was very much for the girls, while the choir was relegated to doing a chorale performance as a prologue.

This in itself was a really good thing, because historically girls had always just been the handmaidens in the hierarchy. One of Baldy’s most memorable lines was to the effect that there would never be girls in the choir while he was alive! He obviously had great problems with the female sex, as evidenced by his horror at the scout-guide kissing game; I think the only time a female entered the vestry was to collect surplices for the laundry – or to sign the marriage register – or the cleaning lady. Things must have been moving somewhere though, under the surface: eventually there were mixed bible classes, and the boys club became the youth club (which made the organiser leave!); but predating them all was the panto, drilled to perfection, of a sort, by one Miss Pickup (Mabel?), with all the chicks in our gang providing the chorus, and Molly Simmons as Prince Charming.

I guess I (we) was (were) just jealous at not being included, because we made ourselves as pestiferous as earlier we’d done on Guide nights. Miss Pickup and I cordially loathed each other, and I’m sure her acolytes weren’t all that happy with me either. Mind you, John Gerard (nice looking little man with a mo, bass voice in the choir, husband to Eve Clark, and now in charge of the youth club) was always quite cool. There was, however, an area of church society to which our gang just wasn’t privy, in which these guys were all involved, and which Stan Spencer found out about, called something ludicrous like The Magpies. It was a kind of parallel social universe that I’m sure wouldn’t have suited me at all and gave me the idea it was probably time to move on, as my friends seemed to be doing for one reason or another as life itself was moving on.

I know fragile little Ann Dickinson was involved, ace piano player, and also Ena Chadwick, her mate, who I tended to link up with at parties, and dated a few times and would have liked to have seen more of, except I went to London. And John and Eve and Miss Pickup and God knows who else.

I’m sure they’d have loved to have had George Pass involved but he’d gone away to sea and we rarely saw him, though he always got in touch with me when he came home. However the photo of one of the pantomimes clearly shows George in a weird wig, next to Margaret McDonald, so my timeline is confused somewhere, 60 years down the track.

George recounted going back to St Faith’s at one point and bumping into three be-cassocked young men who turned out to be our erstwhile fellow choristers Derek Clawson, Raymond Clark and Frank Lee, now all trainee priests.

These three guys were just part of an opt-out group who decided they didn’t fit into the normal Scout group but took up supervising the Wolf Cubs. I never could work out where they were in the scheme of things.

Oddly enough, I remember being rung up by Frank Lee’s father once to ask if he was with me. Now I’d never even hung out with Frank Lee. He just wasn’t one of us. But I wondered at being checked up on by a parent after a certain age. This Mr Lee rang up and asked for Mr Barry. We were old enough for me to say, “Speaking”. After all, my father was Mr Whitby. Then I realised he was hoping to speak to a parent figure, Frank Lee having used my name as an alibi!

Alas, tragedy was round the corner: tiny Eve Clark had leukaemia and all of a sudden she died. I remember we (the choir) had sung at her wedding to John Gerard.

When we quit the choir, when our voices broke, the norm was to be asked to become a server, young men who’d stand around in long surplices looking holy, helping the Vicar in and out of his vestments. I vowed I’d never do such a thing, especially for old Baldy. But when I approached Mr Pratt to tell him I thought my time had come to exit the choir, he took it without demur. Was he glad to get rid of me? And sure enough, no one asked me to be a server. The bastards!

I was still quite holy, as it happened, and I even got up voluntarily for one of those special 6.30am weekday services to take communion, for which you always got paid extra in the choir (no wonder). This impressed the powers-that-be and someone approached me (probably my friend Mr Houldin) to say the vicar had graciously invited me to become a server – as though they were doing me a favour, after having initially passed me over!

I took great pleasure in drawing myself up to the height of my dignity and just as graciously declining. Or at least that’s how I remember it . . .

Like I say, church social life kept me immersed for the best part of a decade, during which I became quite holy, or at least involved in religion, even though, recalling it now, I must have put an awful lot of people offside while waltzing along, convinced I was the centre of the universe. I got confirmed, took communion, said my prayers! But what gave it all its savour, what I haven’t mentioned but what I’ve written about elsewhere was our group of girls.

I was fixated on Pat Clawson for years, little sister of Ken and Derek, and the reason I’d try to ingratiate myself with them. It never went anywhere with her, though ironically she was the first girl I ever kissed and it was marvellous. She was always the charismatic centre, despite not being particularly bright (Streatham House) or blessed with style or dress sense or whatever, but she always had a boyfriend, and usually someone who was someone. Even more ironically she eventually married a kid, a couple of years younger than us, whom we hardly knew.

Part Six

Pat Clawson’s original offsiders were Wendy Sainty, a somewhat uninhibited Park School girl; Dorothy James, a central school girl; and Sarah Norton, Seafield Convent, who sent me my first Valentine (first and only one for a long time). Their group expanded with another Streatham House girl, Pat Davis, who annoyed me by telling Pat Clawson I was staring at her (Pat Davis) (of course I was actually staring at Pat Clawson); and yet another Streatham House girl (Streatham House was a private school where you sent your daughters who weren’t bright enough for grammar schools), Margaret MacDonald, a year or so older than us who suddenly took a shine to George Pass and, bingo! she was one of us. She was tall, at least a head taller than George, and had a long plait at first, till she had it bobbed. She liked me and I liked her and she told us dirty jokes and lent me The Crowthers Of Bankdam (hard cover) from her parents’ collection.

She looked so grown-up, she’d been pursued by an older guy at church, and he even asked her mum if he could take her out. She preferred our George, even writing him young girl love letters beginning Dearest Darling Gorgeous George . . . which he proudly showed us, needless to say.

And there was tall, slim Jill Davidson (Merchant Taylors'). Her family used to own the Clavier Café until her little brother died (leukaemia, I think).  I liked her and she liked me, but I never forgave her for expressing a liking for Stan Spencer (never mind that he was one of my best mates) at a church pantomime outing we went to in Southport.

I guess by this time I’d more or less got over Pat Clawson. Another Merchant's girl, Pat Amery, who I made vague overtures to when we had a Sunday School outing/coach trip, took the bait and joined a group visiting me with a sprained ankle, and suddenly by default I had a girlfriend.

This was not easy. It’s not like at parties where you put the lights out and start necking, you’ve got to make the moves and most of the time you’re either in the movies or in public, and I was never comfortable with including my family in my affairs. I could count on one hand the number of kisses and there was zero fumbling. And she wasn’t part of the gang. In the end I lost interest and so did she.

After we left the choir we used to attend Evensong and sit in the back with the girls. It wasn’t so automatic to attend church when you weren’t a member of the choir and the Sunnyside Road crew were a bit sporadic. I suppose I felt very daring not going to Mass, but I’d enjoy the laid-back feeling of Evensong. However, sitting there with someone like Margaret McDonald I’d tend to be whispering and giggling, anathema to the sidesmen who were actually sitting in the same row most of the time, and doing their best to add a touch of decorum to the occasion. I can even remember sitting reading S.J. Perelman’s Crazy Like A Fox and impressing Margaret with my tittering. Maybe that was why she lent me The Crowthers of Bankdam. But after one especially disturbing session which got up the nose of one George Pratt, he approached me afterwards and told me if I couldn’t behave myself he’d get the sidesmen to throw me out.

Quite right too – but I exploded with indignation. How dare this person whose sole claim to fame was that he was Mr Pratt’s son tell me what to do? He didn’t normally come to our church anyway, since they lived in Wallasey somewhere.

Worse, he was going out with buxom Barbara Skinner, after her previous relationships with Peter Howarth and Jimmy Pincock. It was almost like accusing immigrants of taking our jobs and raping our women. Somehow my heart was no longer in the whole thing.

(Playing cello, but only like some dilettante in my comparative dotage, I seem to concentrate, naturally enough, on Bach’s Cello Suites. The version I use is edited by one George Pratt. I’ve googled him, and the timing seems right and the age, but there’s no clear link. From that family, though, it’s not unlikely. Funny, that.)

As our interests in girls moved away from the church, so did everything else. Gradually the guys were drifting into the workforce, and my interests were being diverted beyond A levels and the Upper VI to taking exams for the Civil Service, not to mention Tony Barrow’s shenanigans with Everyman.

At one point Mr Houldin tried to remount the choir’s review, with me and my guys taking the roles previously filled by Peter Howarth and his ilk, but we only convened once. We were no longer in the choir – though we were still in the Scouts – so there was no direct link. I remember asking him several weeks later what was happening with it and he said the idea lapsed because none of us turned up again. I guess we needed wet-nursing. I think maybe our voices didn’t crack it.

By then even Scouts had lost its appeal. I’d been working toward achieving the Queen’s Scout award, the ultimate status, and I was just one badge off, as was George Pass, as always my competitive partner, but now he’d joined the Merchant Navy. I asked him if he wanted me to wait and go for it with him, and he said yes. But in the end that idea lapsed too.

A levels were intervening, life was intervening, Stan had long given up, as had Dave Mawdsley. I could barely be bothered donning the uniform any more and I’d largely arrive late in civvies.

Not with a bang but a whimper . . .

A few years later a group of us was walking down College Road and we passed a much older Mr Houldin strolling along slowly. The others hardly took any notice of him, but I slowed down to chat, genuinely pleased to see him, as he was to see me. He told me that our lot were the most loyal group he ever had. I was impressed. I’d never thought of it like that. When I caught up with the others I told Dave Mawdsley and he said, ungraciously, he probably says that to everybody.

I don’t think so.


In 1994, 40 years down the track, I was in England on long service leave, and attended Sunday Eucharist on impulse, now a confirmed agnostic. The altar had been brought down into the nave! There was a preponderance of girls in the choir! Worst of all, at a certain point you had to shake hands with the people round you! Whatever happened to dignity and decorum?

Well, to be fair, what an improvement on all counts . . .

But all that was as nothing compared to the fact that there was not a single face I recognised. Most out of character, I spoke to the priest as he farewelled everybody at the door and introduced myself. He didn’t seem impressed; even less so when I mentioned Willy Hassall (who I knew had had a stroke or something similar many years before), but he called over one of the sidesmen who’d been there forever, but who turned out to be someone who never even joined the Cubs.  There was an after-service tea and coffee gathering in the parish hall run by someone from way back when, but I didn’t recognise the name so I didn’t go. Apparently Pat Clawson still attended, but not that week.

So it had taken just 40 years for an entire, thriving church community to turn over approaching the turn of the century.

Plonked in the centre of those wonderful grounds, completely overwhelming them, they’d built a house, maybe a curate house (the vicarage! Ed). It was a particularly vile suburban house, totally destroying the ambience, completely out of character. Before, the curate had lived in one of the mansions like the vicarage in College Road, the house next to George Pass, whose mum rather improbably owned it. Couldn’t they simply have shared? Those wonderful church grounds besmirched, the centre of all our activities, not least a whole summer of practising gym on the Scouts’ wooden horse with Jim Burgess’s connivance, until we were masters of the flying half-arm (even me).

All fallen, alas, to the Philistines.

Here endeth, as they say, the Chronicles of a Choirboy. The final entry in this entertaining blast from the past will appear in due course, consisting of a large group photograph with annotations. Watch this space, just one more time. Ed.