Tales from the Manse
Recollections of life as a Minister's wife in Woodstock soon after the Second World War
In 1949 my husband, Gordon Wakefield, was appointed to the Oxford Circuit and we moved in as newly-weds to the manse in Woodstock. We were pleased to be near Oxford so that Gordon could pursue his research into the Puritans which culminated in a B.Litt. I was only nineteen and very much in awe of the other more experienced Minister’s wives.
The Woodstock section of the Circuit consisted of seven Chapels (as they were invariably called then); Woodstock, Bladon, Wootton, Coombe, Tackley, Lower Heyford, Steeple Aston ,and the Chaplaincy of R.A.F. Kidlington. A car was obviously necessary to get round all the villages, so we bought a two-seater Morris from a friend for £40. It had a retractable top which flew back on its own if you approached 30 mph, unless your passenger held onto it with one hand! There was nowhere to keep it at the manse so the local baker gave it shelter in his bakery garage.
Fixtures and fittings
The manse was, in those days, supposed to be fully furnished and equipped, but wartime austerity had taken its toll. Among the cutlery supplied was but one teaspoon, and there were no tablecloths for the well-worn table. The Circuit Steward explained that they assumed we would have wedding presents (alas! Only fish knives and forks) but handed me a length of white cotton material and suggested “If you tear this in two you can make tablecloths.” Thank goodness for the sewing machine we had as a present from Mother-in-law. The sitting room was furnished only with two armchairs and a pouffe. We spent about £3 on an oak tea trolley that had side flaps you could raise to make a little table. The house was not well built and there were hazards to negotiate such as the step down into the bathroom!
Labour saving devices
Of course no one expected a washing machine, fridge, vacuum cleaner or central heating. There was an Ascot water heater over the sink and an ugly gas geyser over the bath. For washing clothes, there was a small wringer to clamp onto the side of the kitchen sink, and we had a Ewbank carpet sweeper for the few carpets. Housework took quite a lot of time and energy, especially when our first child arrived in 1952 and nappies had to be boiled in a pan on the gas stove.
The role of the Minister’s wife
Other duties loomed as well. I found that I was expected to take the Sunday School, help with the Youth Club and speak at women’s meetings in the afternoons. I found I spoke quite often about religion and poetry, calling on material from my Eng. Lit. paper for Higher School Certificate not much more than a year or so before! I cashed in by referring to a popular broadcaster of the time, Wilfred Pickles, who used to break into poetry sometimes in his radio programme.
Woodstock was just waking up after the war, and was dominated by Blenheim Palace and the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. The Palace was not open to the public but residents of the town were free to walk in the grounds. One was quite likely to meet the Duchess in the fishmongers, or collecting her rations in the butchers. Several of the shops were owned by local Methodists. I remember that my weekly bill in the grocers was about 30 shillings, and the meat ration was 1 shilling and nine pence per person. As soon as possible I started growing vegetables in the garden and my dear husband often returned from the villages with gifts of produce. Once it was Jerusalem artichokes which I had never heard of, never mind knowing how to cook them.
The incumbent of Woodstock Parish was a Canon Pickles, a genial man who took to the new Methodist minister. They rounded up the local clergy of all denominations and formed the Woodstock Christian Council. Gordon was chosen to preach at the first ever united service on Remembrance Day. Afterwards a wealthy Anglican dowager inquired who the preacher was, and was duly informed, “The Chapel Minister”.
She exclaimed “but he’s an educated man!”
How things have changed! Thank God.