Saturday, December 10, 2011

The reality of class

St Mary's Parish Church n Cheadle, Cheshire, is a beautiful, old English Church which is listed as a historic building of note by English Heritage. It was built in the early 16th. century although a church existed on the site from at least the 12th. century.

The parish church was run by a minister, known as a Rector, assisted by a junior minister, or curate. It had  two daughter churches both run by curates. These were the nineteenth century St. Cuthbert's and the newer St. Phillips which was built after the war on a 1930's housing estate.
Cheadle Parish Church of St. Mary

When we moved to Cheadle in 1958 we lived on the housing estate close to St. Phillips. Most of the people living around us were either upper working class or at the lower end of the lower middle class and owned their own homes. Overall the area itself was one or two notches up the social scale from places like Salford’s Coronation Street of television fame.

Although there were a number of people of my age in the immediate neighborhood they all went to the local grammar school where they studied for the English General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations. These exams prepared the way for a white collar career or, if they went on to the advanced level GCE, and university. Those who took the ordinary level exams left school at sixteen the others at eighteen.

In our neighborhood I was the only one to attend what was known as a Secondary Modern School. To put this in perspective 5% of the entire teenage population of England went to grammar, or the even more elite public schools. Of these about half, or 2.5%, went on to university. The rest of us went to Secondary Mods. Anyone interested in more information about this ridged and highly elitist educational system should read Anthony Sampson’s excellent Anatomy of Britain (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1962).

Since I had failed my eleven-plus examination when I was twelve I was expected to leave school at 15 which I did a few months after arriving in Cheadle. At that time I began my apprenticeship and settled down to a working class existence.

Then as explained in an earlier blog, when I was eighteen, I got converted and began attending church. Only one other person I knew at the Gas Board in Stockport, a Roman Catholic, admitted to going to church. All the others thought religion was dying out.

Because I was converted through the efforts of St. Mary’s youth group, which regularly ran an open air evangelistic services usually led by a young lawyer, Val Grieve, I began attending Cheadle Parish Church. The congregation was definitely upper middle class in its social composition. At the same time because I lived on the estate near St. Philips I was encouraged to go there

St. Mary's congregation today

So I ended up attending both churches by going to St. Philips on Sunday mornings and some evenings and attending a mid-week Bible study organized by Peter Downing the curate at St. Mary’s. I also went to St. Mary’s excellent youth group of Saturday evenings and to the occasional evening service at the parish church.

To their credit most of the people of my age who attended St. Mary's welcomed me even though I was a worker and didn't go to grammar school. In particular Peter Hayman and his girlfriend Judy were especially encouraging. Only occasionally did I meet someone who make it clear that I belonged to the “lower classes” because I did not speak correct, or BBC, English. Such people thought that I ought not to attend the Parish Church and occasionally said so.

 Christmas in Cheadle Parish Church

1 comment:

Graham Lowcock said...

Greetings from Cheadle - I was interested to read your article - I think the curate would have been Peter Downham not Downing - interestingly enough the YF of the day around 1962'ish along with Peter Downham celebrated their Golden jubilee with a weekend of events at St Mary's this Autumn. I remember you helping out leading the Youth work during my time in it - I am still connected and am part of the Leadership team now.