Golden Bells in Poplar

When I was seven years old or so and my parents wanted to spend some time together in our small maisonette above the Home and Colonial shop in Chrisp Street Market, they would send their three children to Sunday School.
We walked though to the eastern part of Poplar to the London City Mission at Fiveways.

Fiveways was a convergence of five streets and one of the corners of the convergence was a building that housed the London City Mission’s Poplar Sunday School. I do not remember (consciously at least) what I was taught at Sunday School; I do remember who taught us.
There were three people; at that time I thought them very old people. They were much older than my parents and were people who were dedicated to bring the gospel to the poor of Poplar. The poor of Poplar were not heathens and knew the gospel but it did them no harm to be reminded of it from time to time and it did no harm to provide a free babysitting service so that the parents could spend an hour alone together.
There were three people teaching Sunday School and they all worked together, like a team. The leader was Mr J Bonney. I remember his name only because he signed it on a prize I was given. The prize was a book – there were few books around in those days and those that were around were expensive. Rge book was a red covered small book that contained the words of 738 hymns for young people, under the name of “Golden Bells” published in 1925. Mr J Bonney certified that my book was awarded to me for “Regular Attendance and good conduct” and Mr J Bonney described himself as “missionary”. Sooner or later everyone was awarded “Golden Bells”. My older sister managed to get a Bible as well, no doubt for even more regular attendance and better conduct.
Mr Bonney was supported in his missionary work practised upon me by two sisters, the Misses Sweet. They seemed very old to me at the time, but they had a sense of the exotic. One of the Misses Sweet played an old battered harmonium to which we sang hymns from Golden Bells. Her feet would pump at the pedals which operated the bellows to push and pull air through the harmonium as Ms Sweet played the keyboard. The harmonium is an old instrument to find these days and the battered harmonium played by Ms Sweet seemed to have a life of its own. It was old – perhaps as old as the Misses Sweet or Mr Bonney – and I wondered if it could tell stories of its own. Of course children were not allowed to touch or play the harmonium; that would have been such pleasure.
I looked through my edition of “Golden Bells”. The pages are yellowed but the print is clear. The small book of so many hymns for young people fell open at page 75 and my eyes searched the page to see what hymn had been sung so often that opening the book would cause a preference for page 75 as opposed to any of the other 211 pages. In the top right hand corner of the page in the book’s very small print were the words, or some of the words that had inspired Mr Bonney and the Misses Sweet to do their work in Poplar.
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee

4 Responses

  1. I also remember my Sunday school outings, we used to go to the local Pentecostal hall, where Ms Hesmonhaulgh would recite from the bible stories, then ask questions later, if we got them right she would throw us sweets for answering correctly.
    That was until my sister who got bored and went home early and told mother what they were doing, shortly after the hall was in complete silence after she stormed in very angry, dragging us out by the collar.

    Afterwards there were no more sweet rocks thrown for ages after she had finished with the leaders there.

    • It sounds more rewarding than my Sunday School

  2. I remember attending Sunday School at St Agnes Church of England Church, Longsight Manchester in the early 1950’s. It was run by Mr Anthony, a kindly man who was in his mid 70’s. His gentle manner provided me with a template of what a “good” christian should be and how to deal with the world.

    • I do not remember much about what I was taught as Sunday School except (and I think that these were the wrods that we sang)
      “Jesus loves the precious children
      All the children in the world
      Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight
      Jesus loves the precious children of the world”

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