How it all began ...
The Chancel in 1937
The green bibles that appeared in July 2008 have been given in memory of my Mum Edith Purssell, one of the very first members of the congregation of St. James’. When they were dedicated I was asked to write something about her and those early days, so here goes:
My parents moved into 3 Bladindon Drive on the day they were married, 3rd November 1935, 73 years ago to the day as I am writing this. Their house had been finished just in time but most of new the houses being built in the grounds of the old Blendon Hall were still in the process of being built, and there was no church on the corner of the road then. So a group of Christians who had moved into the newly built houses met in a tent for Sunday services, and raised money for a more substantial building that could be used for meetings and activities during the week and as a church on Sundays. This is how St. James the Great, Blendon, came to be built, and the church stands on the site of the original tent.
In 1935 women had to leave work when they married, and in those days when everything had to be washed by hand with a bar of soap and scrubbing board, homes were heated by coal fires, and almost all clothes were home-made, being a housewife was a full time job in itself. It could, however, be lonely, so the young mothers of St. James formed themselves into a club they called the Women’s Own, and they would meet every Thursday afternoon to sing a hymn and say a prayer, and chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit or listen to an invited speaker. Some of my earliest pre-school memories are of sitting in those meetings next to my Mum – crèches were unheard of in those days - and of the gentle accompanying click of knitting needles. Then, each Autumn needlework activity increased as members began to prepare for the Christmas Fayre, which was a magnificent event where each church associated group (Guides, Brownies, Choir, Sunday School, Players, Operatic Society, Women’s Own etc) had its own stall, while the under-stage area was transformed into a wonderland as Father Christmas’s grotto. It was the high spot of the year and everyone worked very hard in order to have a stall full of beautifully made Christmas gifts for sale. The idea was to raise money for the church so every-one did their best and the standard of workmanship was very high. The Women’s Own always had the needlework/fancy goods stall and I can remember Mum knitting, embroidering, sewing, and making little cane baskets for the plants she had been growing all year. Any spare time on the day would be used for last minute baking of butterfly cakes or iced cherry squares for the cake stall. One year the Pearly King and Queen came to open the Fayre and bought a jumper Mum had knitted and she was so proud.
We went to services twice every Sunday, to 9 am Communion and 6.30 pm Evensong, and 11.15 Matins once a month. We hadn’t far to go and Mum would get up when the bell started ringing at 8.55 am and still get to Communion be on time. Getting to Evensong was less of a rush! Leisure activities were very well catered for too with regular socials, performances by the Drama Society, outings, and Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Mum was in the Women’s Own, my elder brother and sister had their interests, and I, as I grew up, became a Sunday School teacher, and a member of the choir and of the Operatic Society. In those days St. James’ was the daughter church of St. John’s, Bexley, and most clubs and societies involved both congregations, so everything was performed in both locations to give everybody who wanted one the chance of a ticket.
In all this God was a reality in all our lives, and the twenty years I spent growing up in St. James’, before I married and moved away, have left me with a strong faith, lifelong friendships and some wonderful memories, so I will always be grateful to that group of Christians who met in a tent all those years ago and had the energy and vision to set about building a new church.
Mum was one of that group, and she was a member of the congregation of St. James’ for over forty years until, getting frailer in old age, she moved North to live near to us after she retired. Even then, and till the day she died, she still thought of St. James’ as her church, and we can think of no better place for her memorial.