The History of Winlaton Carol Concert

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Written by Bob Archer and transcribed by Ron Stroud.
The back story

During the first week March 1960, as Honorary Secretary of the rugby section of Vickers Armstrong’s sports club at Benwell, I was requested to forward details of the 20 man party to represent the company in the forth coming rugby match against Vickers Barrow. The had been arranged in 1947 by the directors of Vickers Newcastle and Vickers Barrow, each taking turns at playing host to the visiting side on an annual basis, for which the costs were paid for by the company. In 1960 Vickers Barrow were the host side, with Vickers Newcastle travelling.

Despite successfully fielding four sides from a playing strength of upwards of 80 players, of the 15 players and 5 administrators to represent Newcastle, it was discovered that only 3 players and 2 administrators were currently employed by the company. Most of the players, myself included, having completed their apprenticeship at Vickers, had moved on to other companies in the furtherance of their careers, but continued playing alongside their friends as in a normal rugby club.

In order to overcome the problem, it was decided by the company that in future, the rugby section of the sports club were to be allowed a maximum of 10 outside ( non active employee) members only. At a meeting organised by the players to discuss the situation, it was agreed that such an arrangement would not only destroy a most successful senior side, but also destroy the friendships that had developed over the years, and it was the unanimous decision of the players, that unless the company withdrew their intention to limit the number of outside members, they would move en bloc to another rugby club or consider forming their own club.

I had been a member of the Vulcans when they disbanded in 1952, and was aware of the sum of £210 remaining in trust under the control of 12 elected trustees, headed by Mr Clifford Coulson. A meeting was arranged in the Green Tree public house Benwell, where along with a sub-committee comprising senior players, the trustees of the Vulcan’s trust fund had been invited, where it was decided to reform the Vulcans. A committee was elected comprising 5 members from the former Vulcan’s committee and 5 from Vickers. It was proposed by Clifford that I be Chairman of the new club, which I declined, preferring to run the club from the position  of Hon. Secretary, where my knowledge of the administration of the game together with my business knowledge, would be best utilised. This was accepted. I ran the club from that position for the following 43 years.

Having first informed Northumberland RFU of the situation, and applying to Durham for membership, which was granted for the 1962 season  the club commenced operating, having acquired the ready made fixture list of the now dissolved Vickers club. We used the Royal Oak (a public house in Back Street, commonly referred to as Carson’s) as our headquarters, where every Monday evening the committee met, and a field next to Norman’s Riding Hospital had been made available for a playing area. The stripping accommodation was an old farm on the Windy Fields that had originally been occupied by the Thornton family prior to being purchased by William Leech the builder, that was later to become part of the Hanover Estate.The architect for Mr Leech was Mr Jim Coulson, the nephew of Clifford, who being aware that the building programme was not to commence until the following year, arranged for us to use the farmhouse until then.

We built a three metre square bath in one of the outhouses, for which water was heated by an old wood fired boiler, that was affectionately named the Bessie Surtees, after an old boat operating on the Tyne. The newlyformed ladies committee for serving post match refreshments to our visiting teams. On the morning of home matches, crates of beer were purchased from the local cash and carry, to entertain guests in the third part of their visit for the traditional rugby sing song. As we didn’t have a licence for the sale of alcoholic beverages, this was overcome by selling raffle tickets to our visitors that were exchanged for refreshments.

Having been used to a clubhouse with proper changing rooms and bathing facilities as well as a proper bar for entertaining our guests, and carefully prepared pitches, where all we were required to do was turn up on match days, it was quite a challenge. Fortunately our visiting teams were well aware of the situation from the encouraging publicity we were receiving from JNP (Mr John Pargetter) the sports editor of the Newcastle Journal, who was aware of our ambitious challenge to reform the old Vulcans club, and the reason for it, which he admired.

The following year, when William Leech commenced his building programme, similar arrangements were made available by the Winlaton Hallgarth Social Club. An outhouse was made available, in which we installed a replica of our three metre bath heated by our old wood burning Bessie Surtees boiler. The teams were allowed to change in the existing club rooms, where the post match refreshments were later served, and the entertainment of our guests was carried out in surroundings on a much grander scale than those of the old farm. Because of the ongoing success of the club (we won the Durham Junior Cup at the first attempt), and in acknowledgement of our success, Gosforth RFC, the leading club in the area, offered us a mid week fixture against their 1st XV, which we gladly accepted.

The match was played on a Wednesday evening on the ground next to Norman’s Riding hospital, which was well supported following the publicity from JNP, as most of the Gosforth side were county players. Our visitors were worthy winners on the night, but the Vulcans were well praised by JNP the following day for their performance against such superior opposition!

The following year, at a meeting with Mr Jeff Bennett of Blaydon UDC, I was informed of the proposed development of the council allotments at Bleech Green, that was to include four sports playing pitches. At that time, we had successfully acquired a grant from the department of Science and Education in London for the building of a clubhouse, to be supported by an interest free loan from a brewery.(See appendix 1 for details) The fact that one of the directors of the Brewery was Mr Cliff Harrison, an ex England International player, who had played against the old Vulcans on two occasions in County Senior cup matched when with Hartlepool Rovers, had no bearing on the terms of the loan, suffice to say, that he was principle guest at the opening ceremony of the clubhouse!

The above information may seem totally irrelevant to the Carol Concert, but it is necessary in order to appreciate the full story, without which, what was to follow would be meaningless.

St Anne’s

During the committee meeting in “Carsons” on the first Monday in December 1960, we were in formed that the council had erected Christmas Trees in most of the surrounding villages, even Chopwell, but not Winlaton. As a thank you to the Village for their support in reforming the club, it was decided that we would arrange a Christmas tree for the Village.

It was established that there were a number of trees in the Brockwell, a wooded area adjacent to Philipson’s farm at Barlow, but were we to acquire one? I had attended school with the son Edward (Teddy) who during a telephone call, confirmed that there were two suitable trees that would meet our requirements, and when informed of the situation, kindly agreed the use of his tractor and trailer to transport the largest of them top the village. A working party was arranged for the following Saturday morning, that included Sgt, later to become Inspector Dennis White, the lawman of the village, who became an active member of the committee. On approaching the Brockwell, noises were heard, turned out to be the Christmas wreath berry collectors. Under the threat of unlawful trespass from Sgt White, they quickly retreated, abandoning their ill gotten gains, that were promptly loaded onto the trailer along with the largest of the two fir trees and transported to the village , where it was erected on what was then derelict land between “Carson’s” and the Front Street where it was decorated with lights, powered from the pub with the kind permission of the owner Mr Ronnie Hopper. The berry holly was place around the tree base, much to the delight of the village on having their first ever Christmas Tree.

Having achieved our object, it was then a question of how to put it to best use. The rugby fraternity are noted for their post match singing, and with this in mind, it was decided to arrange a carol singing evening around the tree, to which we invited the then six religious organisations in the village to join us. The response was overwhelming, to the extent that for the two hours during which the carol singing took place, the traffic was unable to enter or leave the village. I afterwards contacted the respective churches to thank them for their support in making the event such a success. During my conversation with Father Costar of St Anne’s church, he said “You lot, meaning the rugby club, have achieved something tonight that none of the churches in the village could have done on their own, that of introducing Christian Unity to the village, long may it continue”. this came as quite a surprise to me, as I had never considered it in this respect.
The event was repeated the following year, for which Father Costar offered the crib from his church to be displayed at the base of the tree on the night. That was gladly accepted, there being no holly, and the singing on that occasion was accompanied by the village Salvation Army, a foot pedal operated organ supported by a drum.

The following year it rained and last minute arrangements were made to have the carol singing in the Congregational on the Front Street. This proved to be totally inadequate for the numbers involved. For the following two years, the carol singing, now in the form of a concert with guests singers, was held in the Rex cinema, for which a nominal admission fee was made, the proceeds being equally distributed among the six churches, to be donated to a charity of their own choice. This arrangement unfortunately was short lived. The Cinema was transformed into a bingo hall, operating every night of the week.

The rugby club was now firmly established in their new clubhouse on the Axwell View playing fields, where a meeting was arranged to discuss the future of the concert. Representatives of all the churches were invited. It was there that Father Costar suggested the Hallgarth Social club be considered as they had the largest hall of any building in the village in which to hold such an event. Our request was accepted by the committee of the club, on the understanding that it be held on a Wednesday, which was normally their least supported night. (Appendix 2 shows details of the meeting) The conditions were gladly accepted, and the concert has been successfully held there ever since.

It was in its new Surroundings the Newcastle City Temple Salvation Army band were first introduced, and the popularity of the concert grew to become one of, if not the main event in the social calendar of the village. By trial and error a set programme for the concert was successfully arranged and the leader of each church delivered their Christmas message to the audience, after which the choir sang two items to their own accompaniment. Christmas carols were sung between each of the churches presentations, accompanied by the City Temple band with much gusto, together with a variation of numbers from the band. It was at the second concert in the social club that we were informed of the choir within the band members, who delighted the audience with their singing of “Who is he?” It was such a success, and so fitting for the occasion, it has been sung at every concert since.(Appendix 3 refers)

A nominal charge was made for admission, where the proceeds are allocated to the churches on a rota basis, to be donated to a charity of own choice.(Appendix 4 refers)

On the night of the concert, it has become practice to reserve the hall for the following year, in order to book the services of the City Temple band at what is their busiest time of the year. There is now only one of the original band members remaining who played at their first concert in the village. He always finds time to discuss his first introduction to the concert and its ongoing success.

The choirs commence their rehearsals months before the event, in order to achieve their very high standard on the night, much to the appreciation of the audience and quality of the concert.

Over the past near half century, there have been many changes. Church leaders have come and gone, some of the churches have amalgamated and even disappeared, for various reasons, and unfortunately, there are individuals who are no longer with us through the passing of time.(Appendix 5 refers)

It is now fifty years since a simple act of singing carols around a tree, brought Christian Unity to the churches in the village. If we are to continue this practice as recommended by the late Father Costar, we need to renew our administrative organisation within the village to replace Dr Jackson and I, who are the two remaining members of the original organising committee. Dr Jackson and his wife Margaret have now retired to the care home at Whickham and my ongoing age related health problems limit my physical activities these days, although I would always wish to be involved , even in an advisory capacity, as I have all the arrangements for the event on my computer.

In my February copy of the church magazine, I was pleasantly surprised to read an item by Terry Armstrong, on the Christmas Carol concert,(Appendix 6 refers) which sums up just what it has come to mean to the village3 after almost half a century. It would indicate we have indeed achieved our original objective as pointed out by Father Costar all those years ago!

In a letter to the Reverend Harper, thanking him for travelling up[ from his retirement home in Durham City to preside over the last event, I enclose a copy of Mr Armstrong’s report, as he fully appreciated the importance of this very special occasion, when he first became involved in 2001.

Christmas Concert.

Minutes of meeting held in Winlaton Vulcans R.F.C. on Friday, 6th November 1969

Mr R Archer was appointed chairman for the meeting.

In opening the meeting the chairman asked for any ideas to vary what had become a set programme for the concert over the years.

Father Costar felt that the entertainment should be supplied from the village and from bodies represented, felt that there was an abundance of talent which would be well supported not only by the various Churches, but also by the friends and families of those taking part.

Dr Jackson said that the programme should be varied, with more audience participation. He felt that rather than have carols sung at the end of the concert as in previous years, they should be spread out over the evening.

Mr. L. Archer said that this was also the opinon of his members, and in breaking up the concert in this form, would invite a more lively and attentive audience.

The chairman asked whether or not soloists should be considered or could each church supply a choir? St Anne’s, St Paul’s and the Presbyterian church agree to supply a choir, he could supply a children’s choir. It was agreed that the Salvation Army band once again be the main attraction and Captain Burn suggested that they could perhaps play some seasonal music in the modern idiom to add a lighter note to the proceedings.

At this stage, Mr Jackson said that better results would be obtained with more publicity and more time in which to sell tickets. In order to get the tickets and bills to print, the following was agreed.

The concert would be held on Tuesday 22nd December 1970, commencing 7:30p.m. for which a charge of 2/-d would be made. Unfortunately, it was not possible to finalise the venue, as the chairman informed the meeting of having spoken to Mr. Fisher of the Rex Cinema, who informed him that there was a likelihood of the cinema not being available due to alterations taking place. Father Costar suggested that the Hallgarth Social club be approached for the use of their concert room, or alternatively, one of the churched could be utilised. It was generally felt that the churches be used only as a last resort, as there would be a tendency for the audience to be less relaxed in those surroundings.

After further discussion on the proposed programme, it was agreed that each choir be asked to sing a piece of their own choice (soloists to be included if so desired).

The chairman said that he would require a list of the various pieces to be sung approximately two weeks before the night of the concert for the programme.

Dr. Jackson said that he felt the Christmas tree of past years had helped publicise the event. The chairman explained how the rugby club source of supply had dried up since the departure of Inspector White. Father Costar suggested that perhaps Ministeracres could possibly help out.

Father Costar felt that the proceeds would be more beneficial to one body, than being split up between the 5 churches, and suggested that each church could take a turn in nominating a charity or worthy cause each year. This was unanimously agreed, and on the suggestion of Father Costar, the proceeds to be given to Captain Burn to help his Dunston Youth Centre and would be referred to as the local Salvation Army Charity.