There were just two places in every Westmorland town and village where almost every adult or child spent time together some sixty or seventy years ago. One was the school, and the other was church.
Children of whatever denomination had absolutely no choice in the matter; they were compelled to go to church on Sunday, often twice. It was the one place where different social classes met, heads bent low together in a common ideal, though not necessarily in the same pews; from the lowliest cottager to the most exalted land owner, all met on bended knees, though some might be in reserved, even locked family pews while others went where they were told. Many employers insisted that even though Sunday might be a day off, church attendance was obligatory for their employees.
This month, "The Way We Were" examines how elderly people remember those long hours spent in church, and how the church itself played an important role in every town, providing clubs, entertainment, choral music and even a meeting place for young couples; they also tell us how different denominations including the Anglicans and Non-Conformist churches all flourished despite their unresolved differences; and how, without church, some small towns would have had very little else to think about:
"We had to go to Church three times a day, morning, Sunday School in the afternoon when we were younger, and Church at night. But the older girls, they perhaps had a boy friend and they wouldn't go. But the Vicar used to come to my Dad and say, 'Your girls weren't in Church on Sunday night'. Of course, there was trouble then! It seemed to rule us a bit, what we had to do and what we hadn't to do, it was the boss...I think we were all pretty good churchgoers in the village, but you hadn't much else, had you, in those days? I mean, you couldn't fly off very far, could you? Only on foot."
Church attendance at the Anglican Parish Church for one little boy started as soon as he could walk there:
"We went every Sunday from the time I could walk, and Sunday School from the time I started school. They had Sunday School twice a day; you collected in your various schools, there was a few prayers said, then you processed to Church.
"Sunday School was very strongly adhered to by the church families; you had it to do and I think the same with all other religions, the Methodists had a Sunday School the same. Now they didn't keep you all of the service, but it seemed terribly long to us. It was a different form of service to what you have now and there were prayers, long prayers and that sort of thing, and you came out after the second hymn and there was quite a lot of canticles and prayers. They seemed ever so long then, and you met again in the afternoon, just about two o'clock and you had proper Sunday School then. They'd plenty of teachers then, and that's the way of life that went on until you were fourteen."
At fourteen, Sunday School was replaced for the next four years by a Bible class, which was extremely popular with youngsters, who enjoyed the occasional parties with games and hymn singing that their elderly lady teacher used to organise:
"People's ideas of a good time have altered a lot, but it was an accepted thing then, and everybody enjoyed it...even after we'd left school, we'd never miss going there, it was only half an hour, and you met together, then you'd probably split up or go in groups for walks round which was very nice. Sunday was Sunday and it isn't like it is today."
Wearing Sunday best clothes for church was memorable for one little girl over seventy years ago:
"My mother used to be very particular about my clothes, and being a little rough thing like I was, she used to set me out on a Sunday in this white broderie anglaise dress, and she starched it and we used to have two petticoats underneath and a liberty bodice, and a pair of knickers with lace on the bottom, white socks, and brown low shoes for Sunday."
Sunday best had to come off after church, though sometimes there was church in the afternoon at the old church of St Anne's in Ambleside. The Church, traditionally a mountain chapel which served Ambleside before the present Parish Church was built in 1854 , continued to hold services until during the last War, and will never be forgotten by those old enough to have worshipped in it:
"We had a service in the old church up here, and it had a bell which used to ring,and I'll tell you what my father used to say: 'Come George Brock, fetch Mary Ann, and let's have a tap at the old tin can.' And they always used to sing that when the old bell was going!
"I learnt my commandments there because I never was interested in the sermon! We used to learn our commandments because we were a Church of England School. We had religious instruction from nine to quarter to ten every day, and as we got older we had a collect to learn."
The Anglicans were not the only ones to expect strict religious observance and service from their young members. One elderly Roman Catholic recalled how as an eight-year-old he was expected to serve Mass daily for an old priest who had his own private chapel in a big house:
"Inside his house he used to have his chapel and he had Mass said there of a morning. When I was a boy I used to have to go up there for six o'clock of a morning. If I was not there at six o'clock of a morning, the cook used to come down on to The Green, throw a stone at the window and say, 'Father Dover's waiting for you on the altar', and when I got up there he was waiting, and I had to go through the whole in Latin. Sometimes there were mistakes but eventually I got through."
The end of Mass was just the beginning of this young altar boy's daily duties; his school day continued with a Catholic instruction before a quick dash to the village Church of England School to start his ordinary work:
"After I left Father Dover's, I used to go down to our old church in Wansfell Road, and we had to be there for nine o'clock and we had Catechism, and we left at half past nine to be at the other church and school by quarter to ten."