The Churches at this time had their hands full, the wounded filled the hospitals to where many of them had to stay for some years, and were regularly visited. There were always good works to be done, money to be raised for the many charities that sprung up. London was a pitiful sight in those days and once again there were the ones that had and the ones that had not. Church attendance was very strong and in London many held services during the week for people whose work brought them to London daily. Sundays now had become not so much of a day of rest but a day for sport and recreation. Cinemas and Dance Halls were now opening in the afternoons and evenings in the larger towns and “The Tea Dance” on Sunday afternoon became the rage.
Cars and motor bikes were becoming very popular, and it was a common sight to see a “flapper” the name for a teenager in the twenties, hanging on to her boy friend’s waist, sitting on the carrier above the back wheel, whilst the bike was travelling at the great speed of 25 mph! This seemed to take the place of the afternoon walk with tea at a tea-shop. Another quieter craze was knitting, this started during the war when we knitted balaclavas, socks, gloves, mittens for the forces, but now there were patterns for jumpers, cardigans even coats and skirts for those who were clever enough to knit them, also scarves which got longer and longer to wind round your neck and making you look like the advertisement for Michelin Tyres. There also were knitted squares for blankets, and other things the Church missionaries took with them when they bravely faced the rigours of the work of carrying the scriptures to the heathen of far away places as they were before the age of air travel. The churches were well supported as the war had left many widows and I think soon after the war it was reckoned that there were four women to one man, and to many the church was the mainstay of their lives, although it still was a man’s world.
The emancipation of women went on, some worked in offices, mainly as shorthand typists, clerks, some as secretaries, lady doctors were soon accepted by most people and later the female of the species was slowly welcomed by all the professions. But still the church was wary and kept the door closed. They were very welcome to do flowers to add a female touch to a rather cold building relying on stained glass windows to dispel the gloom. Churches were notably cold in the winter with little heating and what there was went up to the roof. Some had hot pipes running along the sides of the aisles under a grating but unless you sat at that end of the pew you had little benefit. I don't think it worried people very much as most only had open fires and kitchen ranges to heat their own houses, but kept warm with muffs which were still in fashion and in a full church it got quite cosy.
The church for the Anglicans varied a great deal, some of the country ones were very small, some very large for the size of the village at that time. Very often the music came from a harmonium but the Cathedrals and larger ones in the towns had their organs, the power for which to play them was hand pumped, a very hard job, which made them a bit wheezy at times. A good story about these days was of a Sunday Harvest Service when the ladies had decorated the church with vegetables as well as flowers and some dear soul had built a beautiful arrangement along the top of the organ pipes and when the first arousing notes of the processional hymn rent the air, the congregation seated near the organ were pelted with carrots, turnips, onions and cabbages - so the story goes!
Another thing I would mention of churches of those days, big and small, was the difficulty of seeing much of what was going on, especially at the altar and to understand the services, especially at a Roman Catholic Church as the prayer book for them was in Latin. The Anglo-Catholics did use the translated prayer book but as the altar was always at the East end of the Church very little could be seen by most of the congregation, especially at “The Mass”, when you might get a glimpse of a figure by the altar robed in white, as he lifted up “the Host” high above his head speaking words you could not hear, also there was often a reredos or screen built between the nave and the transept blocking out the choir stalls completely. It seemed to me when young all very mysterious. I wonder now if we are all allowed to know too much?
This series is taken from the St George’s News archives, and was first published in 1999.
To be continued.
The Church in the Twenties
After the excitement at the end of the war, the Peace treaty finally settled and all the thanksgivings for peace being over, the people relaxed and their hopes for no more wars were sincere and so we would get back to where we were before. The church became alive again, the bells rang out, the men in the forces slowly returned to civilian life, everyone rejoiced and prayed for a better life for all. There was much to be done, times had changed, the young had got tired of restrictions and wanted a fling so for them it was off with the old and on with the new. Fashions were changing quickly, long skirts, as had been worn for years, by girls in their teens, when they put their hair up to show they were really grown up now, made away with black stockings for lighter colours, short hair called “The Shingle” and strap shoes instead of boots and laces, and men wore their “civvies” instead of uniform. Food became a little more plentiful but prices were rising although milk and bread were still only a few pennies. There were a lot of unemployed, beggars on the streets grew in numbers and there was little help from the State, it was to be another twenty years before the “Welfare State” was introduced.