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High Street Methodist Chapel

Memories of George Bodman

With the kind permission of George Bodman.

High Street Methodist Chapel

 Our parents took us to Chapel from as early as I can remember. Mrs Bramwell Hill, a well known local preacher from Swindon, told us that High Street Chapel was built in 1887 by a builder from Swindon by the name of Collburn. He built several Chapels around the Swindon area, and High St, Lambourn became known as 'one of Collburn's Chapels'

One of our first 'jobs' was to 'take the collection'. This was done in two wooden red collecting boxes lined with red baize. In those days it was coppers, silver and 10/- notes (50p) and on special occasions such as Harvest Festival a £1.00 note or two.

Mother (Mrs Elsie Bodman) used to play the organ for years twice a Sunday. On hearing her play I then started taking Piano lessons with Miss Eileen Peters who herself was Organist of Lambourn Parish Church for some years. Miss Peters taught a lot of us youngsters at her home in Newbury Street, where her father ran a Boot and Shoe Shop.

 Just before and during the war Ernest Bowsher played the organ at Chapel. He was a gifted man who could play as well without music as he could with it! He was uncle to Bob and Leslie who lived in Bockhampton Road. He would stand up from the organ and tell each of us when to sing - men first, ladies second and altogether in the Choruses. We sang our hearts out for this!

 I remember the organ, which was really, a Harmonium made by Mason and Hamblin and having, I think 15 stops. It was quite a feat playing it, as one had to peddle with both feet to supply the wind, read the music and read the words all at the same time. I used to look to Dad to close his book and then I knew we were on the last verse! How I envied the larger Churches with their pipe organs and electric blowers.

 Tom Smith who lived in the High Street was Chapel Steward for 19years and used to care for the Chapel, locking and unlocking the building and also lighting the tortoise stove which kept the Chapel warm for services. Tom Smith worked for the Council keeping the verges tidy and was the only person in the village to ride a tricycle.

 One larger than life character who came to Lambourn for a while was a retired Naval Officer. He was around 15-16 stone in weight, compared to his wife who was a mere 9-10 stone and as slim as a lathe. He used to help take services at the Chapel. They lived up Sheepdrove. What fascinated me was - he never wore glasses, instead he wore a monocle! He looked very impressive wearing the monocle - and it never fell out of place once!

 Before I learnt to drive in the '40's', all four of us used to walk to Chapel. As we passed College House, Major Macnee used to stand at his front door smoking his pipe and we waved at each other. Little did we know that his son Patrick would become a famous TV star - 'Steed' in 'The Avengers'! Another character at the Chapel was the Rev. Le Bas who would take services sometimes. He had a walrus moustache and during the later part of his life he would slip out of the Chapel as the sermon was about to begin and go down to Lambourn market place and stand underneath the big tree opposite what is now the Estate Agents, and start to preach to the village! Many a stable lad's mouth dropped as they shuffled by nervously to see and hear this man with the walrus moustache preaching at them!

 Talking about memories to the late John Penfold, who was Parish Clerk for years and whos knowledge of Lambourn was unrivalled, told me that Frank Dudley was baptised in 1879. Frank Dudley was a man, small in stature, but big in heart. He used to attend services at High Street Chapel sitting just behind Dad and Mum six seats back from the front. His 100th birthday was coming up, excitement mounting, the Memorial Hall was booked, a party arranged and a letter about the Royal Telegram all laid on. But no, it was not to be. A few weeks before his 100th birthday he died aged 99 on 7th August 1978. Nevertheless, he had a full life fathering 7 children. Certainly Chapel going never did him any harm!

 During the War year's services were held morning and afternoon because of the blackout when lights were not allowed in the evenings. Because of lighting restrictions a preacher coming from a distance would have dinner with our family. It amused us once when the preacher fell asleep after a good roast dinner and Mum had to wake him to remind him about preaching for the afternoon service!

 When the American servicemen came to Membury aerodrome during the war, a lot used to come to the Chapel for services. I plainly remember having to go to the front to show the soldiers when to 'stand up' and when to 'sit down'! also there were RAF personnel stationed at Membury and some of them used to attend Prayer meetings held in the Chapel schoolroom on a Wednesday evening. There was also a Naval Officer staying at Brightwalton who used to attend our services and his surname was RIGGER!

 Concerning the soldiers and airmen stationed at Membury during the war, it became a regular Sunday evening practice after Service for various ones to go to the Methodist Minister's house for a sing song around the piano and for others to come to 'the Haven' for a sing song and sandwiches and cakes. This helped take off the loneliness the troops felt being many miles away from their homes and loved ones.

 When Harvest Festival came round Mother used to write out notices about it and I used to have to ask the local shopkeepers to display them in their windows. We used to tie sheaves of corn to the altar especially for the occasion. On the Monday evening after a short service all the produce would be sold by auction. I remember well when Dad (Louis Bodman) was singing during the service he reached a high note - and out came his top false teeth and rattled along the pew! There was much amusement and a red face! The produce was sold by Dad being an auctioneer and we used the red collection boxes again to collect the money. In later years Don Thomas - a very fine man and a local preacher - did the auctioneering. He was a man who, when preaching, could bring tears to one's eyes and also when he smiled we all smiled with him. His daughter, Doris, lived in Newbury Road, always made a sponge cake and sent it for the Harvest Festival.

 We would like to thank George for sharing his memories with us.

 Liz Beard