My Memories of Growing up near Truro – Part 3: Shortlanesend Chapel

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Susan Coney (née Phillips) is a prolific researcher and recorder of local history, especially about Truro. Here, she shares with us part three of her memories of growing up during the 1940s to the 1960s, recalled and recorded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.


Now, where was I?


Most of the village children went to Sunday school in the old Wesleyan chapel on a Sunday morning. The chapel always smelt a bit musty. The main chapel itself was quite big, with high windows, a polished wooden pulpit with steps up either side and a wooden communion ‘rail’ along the front. There were wooden pews in three rows, one at either side and one in the middle with a passageway down either side. It was very plain as it would be for an older traditional Wesleyan chapel – ‘no graven images’ as my grandmother would say (she knew her bible), so no cross or other paraphernalia. I remember a grill in the floor but I don’t remember what it was for.

1904 with the then new Sunday school next to the road, the stables underneath and the chapel to the rear of the building

The pews had no cushions, only plain wood so were not at all comfortable especially so if the sermon lasted a long time – 30 minutes was the norm but they were sometimes longer. I think the pews were made such that the congregation could not have a nap if the sermon was boring. The lay preachers were the worst – they would often suddenly raise their voice and thump the front of the pulpit, probably when they noticed someone dropping off! I remember certain lay preachers who tended to have ‘a lot to say’ and dreaded them being on the circuit notice of who was going to preach there. I do remember the worst offenders, but I will be discrete and not name them here.

The chapel interior in 1950 as I remember it

My favourite preacher was the Rev. Ian Haile who was a very young man then, in his early twenties, I would think. I remember my cousin and I having a conversation with him once about ‘living in sin’, as my Mum would say. I said I didn’t think it was necessary to get married until a couple wanted to have children – I can’t remember his reply – poor young man having to deal with two very young naive teenagers, especially me being a bit cheeky.

The organ was on the left, It was quite tall with the keyboard facing the pulpit. I think it was originally powered by hand, but it had an electric pump when I was young. When the pump was switched on there was a bit of a racket.

To enter the chapel building you went up some steps leading to the double door. The chapel itself was on the right and to the left there were more stairs leading up to the school rooms. There were three rooms – the main room which was used for the Sunday school with a small foot-pumped harmonium in one corner, then two smaller rooms – one often used by the Sunday school and the other where there was a big cupboard in which all the crockery was kept. It smelt very musty indeed.

Inside the main door and straight ahead was a staircase leading down to the old stables and the boiler house, I think. It always looked very dark and scary so I never went down there.

The names of the families who were regulars at the chapel included the Tinney and the Tripp families – those are the family names that I remember but I am sure there were others so please forgive me if your family also attended.

We often had combined services with Allet Chapel – a much smaller and brighter chapel. Allet Chapel was always well-attended and the family names I remember mostly are Vincent and Keast who are distantly related to me.

The stalwart and superintendent of Shortlanesend Chapel was Miss Northey (bless her) who lived at Dorvella – the house behind the trees at the junction of the main road and the lane to Boscolla. Miss Northey used to walk to chapel twice every Sunday – for the service in the morning and to take the Sunday school, then back home for dinner and back again for the evening service. I can see her now, all dressed in brown, walking briskly, come rain, snow or shine, along the side of the main road with her brown lace-up shoes down to one side on the heels. Such an incredible lady.

I spent many a Sunday morning at Shortlanesend Chapel and became a Sunday school teacher in my early teens as did my sister after me. We would collect the younger children from the estate to walk them up the hill and cross over the main road. We sang a hymn or two with Miss Northey playing the harmonium – she had to pedal like mad to get some air to make it work. She often forgot the words to a hymn or missed out a verse which got us children confused and made us giggle – then Miss Northey would stop peddling to collect her thoughts then carry on again.

I looked after the little children mostly doing crafts in the smaller room – drawing or making things like an Easter-garden on a tray and Christmas decorations.

At Christmas, the Sunday school children would put on a tableau for the main morning service. I have photographs of me as the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel! The costumes were made by my Mum, Dad and Grandmother – Dad made the wings. I obviously had ideas well above my station!

We had Sunday school prizes every year and two of my most precious books are the prizes that Miss Northey gave to me with a note in her own handwriting on the inside.

The event I remember most was Harvest Festival. We helped Miss Northey decorate the chapel windows with the fruit, vegetables and flowers that people had donated. Sometime during the week after the service, an auction was held in the Sunday school room. Some of the congregation from Allet Chapel came to the auction too so the room was full. An auctioneer was appointed who used a parsnip or turnip as a gavel. It was great fun and some of the ‘lots’ were just a couple of apples which the children could bid for and buy for a penny or two. The proceeds went to chapel funds or other Christian causes. We had cups of tea and maybe a few biscuits.

One year, when I was about 13, a boyfriend of mine, a Cathedral School boy, who lived on a farm a mile or two away towards Truro, was helping to carry in some gifts for the Harvest Festival service and was ‘collared’ by my Dad – ‘you can just clear off son and leave my daughter alone!’ That boyfriend has never forgotten that! My Dad was a lovely gentle man, ‘a gentle giant’ but he was very protective of his children. That boyfriend is now my partner – I wonder what Dad would say!

I did want to get married at Shortlanesend Chapel but my request was refused as there were not enough members so I was married at St Clement’s Street Chapel (St Mary’s was a bit too ‘high church’ for me). The ceremony was officiated by the Rev. Ian Haile and the marriage itself was performed by the Rev. Thomas Shaw who was my best school friend’s father.

There is much more to follow about the schools and Truro itself.

Susan Alecia Coney (nee Phillips)

Although I was never very interested in history at school, it is now a big part of my life. I enjoy both the research and writing about it. Initially, it was about my family and their involvement in the community but this sparked a more general interest in Cornish history, of its people and places. I have been involved in a number of projects relating to Truro and have enjoyed this opportunity to record the results for future generations.


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