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Alan Burrows Baptismal Certificate
Alan Burrows Baptismal Certificate
Alan Burrows, left, and Billy Moores, Francis

Alan Burrows, left, and Billy Moores

Francis Street Congregational Church Rose Queen pages, 1949

The Rose Queen entourage in the church courtyard

The Rose Queen entourage in the church courtyard

Francis Street social gathering:

Francis Street social gathering:

Left to right (rear) Jim Waters, Jimmy Farrow, Jack and Betty Sykes, Stephen Burrows, Elsie and George Moores, Vera and Herbert Bithell, Unknown. Front row: Frances Waters, Unknown, Florrie Burrows, Norman Nuttall, Unknown, Nora TootallArmistice Day 1944

The Church Men's Class outing to Pilling and Fleetwood, 1949: The Rev E.J. Howells is kneeling (centre, front row)

The Church Men's Class outing to
Pilling and Fleetwood, 1949:

The Rev E.J. Howells is kneeling (centre, front row)

Memories of Francis Street Congregational Church, Farnworth

by Alan Burrows

Like most Lancashire towns, Farnworth had a smorgasbord of pubs and churches. In the hope that the analogy does not spark a Darwinists versus Creationists debate I have to record that sadly, many might say, social evolution thinned out the latter.

I only ever attended one church and Sunday school ... Francis Street Congregational Church that was nestled in its little cosy street between busy Egerton Street and the arterial Bolton Road, connecting Farnworth to both Bolton and Manchester.

I was a regular from the age of about five until 13 or 14 and still have several book prizes awarded to me for attendance and, I recently re-discovered a tiny document that shows I was Baptised there in 1944 by, as far as I can transcribe, the Rev Herbert R. Neale.

I used to walk to Sunday school or church almost every week from my home in Campbell Street, about half a mile away, sometimes meeting up with one or more of the three Moores brothers, Ian, Michael and Billy, who lived on Harper Green Road.

Even as a boy I always wondered why the congregation was gradually getting smaller. One of the saddest memories I have of Whit Walking Day was the year our church was unable to afford its customary pipe band to lead it on the procession route up Market Street, along Longcauseway and back down Albert Road to Francis Street. With our church banner flapping gently in the Saturday afternoon breeze our handful of witnesses set off in silence to join the walks, marshalled by a pillar of our church, Jim Waters. It had been years since we had been able to afford a minister - the Rev E.J. Howells having moved on to pastures new.

I have to confess that as I grew older the call of distractions to a teenaged boy outdid the church bells' toll. Another deserter helped speed the church's demise. A crying shame because it was a splendid building with choir stalls and magnificent organ, its separate church hall, cobbled courtyard and a wing in which the Men's Institute catered for generations of billiards and snooker players, and table tennis enthusiasts. In the 1960s a thriving youth club took over on Saturday and Sunday nights, with the sounds of Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard records.

There were happy times. Walking Day was not always muted. In its heyday, Francis Street Cong was a force to be reckoned with; 50, 60 or even a hundred ranked behind the kilted pipers and drummers as they made the shop windows along the route rattle in their frames with `Scotland The Brave', `Highland Laddie' and `The Black Bear'. I always secretly urged our band to play louder and drown out the oncoming brass bands of churches with names such as New Jerusalem and St James's as they processed in the opposite direction. I hope we won.

The Saturday before Walking Day, mums would take their children `up Farnworth' or `down Bolton' for new shoes, or even a new suit or dress. ``Yer not walkin' like a sloven,'' was the heartcry from many a proud Mam. It was often worth getting `done up' because one excellent tradition was that friends and relatives would dash out from the crowd along the procession route and give children money - a penny, threepenny bit, a tanner (sixpence), a bob (shilling) or even half a crown. Your new shoes made your feet ache, especially on a hot day when the tar bubbles sucked at their soles, but you were rich!!

Then, afterwards there was the field-day on the football pitch at Doe Hey at the end of Cawdor Street. Games for the kids and buttered tea-cakes and drinks for all. I had my first cup of coffee at one such gathering. Bliss! The taste of tea-cake washed down with probably Camp or similar essence has stayed with me.

Sunday School was playtime really. After a Bible story of Gentle Jesus read falteringly by a nervous child, a little hymn and prayer it was who could slide the farthest along the church hall's highly-polished floor, kept pristine for Wednesday nights' dancing to `The Gay Gordons', `The Veleta', and `The Dashing White Sergeant'. Mr Morris glided glacefully in highly-polished patent-leather shoes while his wife wore sticky-out dresses of yellows and mauves. Sometimes they did solos and received warm applause. But I just wanted to slide.

I was taken along to one or two dance nights but the twirling couples didn't appreciate having to sidestep or jump over me or my good mate Billy Moores as our slides went askew. The invitations began to dry up.
At the side of the hall was a set of double doors which led up to, apparently, a first-floor storeroom. What was kept there is unknown to most because I, like all the other children, firmly believed the stories that ghosts lurked there. None of the adults ever confirmed or denied the rumour.

Looking back, it was a cunning ploy to keep rascals off the wooden staircase which had succumbed to dry rot and was well beyond the means of the church to repair.

Whist nights and Beetle drives were great. I could actually understand the game of Beetle and those whist pies that were served warm with cups of tea were heavenly. No pun intended!

Bring and Buy Sales, were popular in the 1950s and early `60s. The money raised went towards repairing the church roof or to other pressing needs. Sunday collections were woefully inadequate and I was never sure how the church managed to attract visiting ministers every couple of weeks. I'm sure many did it out of the goodness of their hearts. One of my favourites was a Scotsman named Mr Brown. He always made a point of finding something in his sermon to interest the young 'uns like me.

Then there were the Bazaars - the posh version of Bring and Buy Sales to which the womenfolk in particular contributed with cakes, scones, knitted and sewn items and toys. The stalls set out were like an Aladdin's Cave and the bustle lasted all afternoon after the sale had formally been declared open by a local `celebrity'.

Two of my proudest moments were the day I was asked to be the Bazaar chairman and take the stage to invite the opener to perform her task and the second when I was sent by the editor of the Farnworth and Worsley Journal, where I landed a job as a reporter in 1961, to cover the bazaar. I was a bag of nerves on both occasions.

I had to delicately explain to Mrs Rachel Harvey, who lived next door to the church, when she said `Can you go and help yer Mam to butter the bread for the sandwiches' that I was there on business.

Rose Queen ceremonies were big too in the 1940s and 1950s and I remember Billy Moores and I had to dress as heralds, complete with horns, and, for some unknown reason, had to sing `The Skye Boat Song' on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the church courtyard.

Plays and concerts were fairly regular events and I hope there is room enough here for a few photos I have tried to preserve over the years.

Alas, the church building outlasted its congregation and the shell has probably undergone several transformations. The last I remember, it was a carpet warehouse, but probably now houses computer technicians. Who knows?

Stop press: Vera Berry, who has written articles for this website, has just informed me that Francis Street Cong now houses a local Masonic Lodge. Perhaps the Great Architect has not left the building after all.