Sunday Sermon – 17 November 2019

Memorial Service for Mrs. Eleanor Rhodes

Mrs. Rhodes, a farmer’s daughter and one of three children, was born in Abney, not far from where we now assemble. The 20th century had not long opened when she entered this world. She left it just a year or two before its end. The century is one of great change. During it, on the roads the petrol engine largely displaced the horse; Mrs. Rhodes was born as the first flying machine was invented; she died as millions of people every day fly across the world. As a child she saw the Man in the Moon as a figment of the imagination. She died having seen television images of men actually walking over the moon’s surface.

To her family and those she grew up with she was known as Nellie – Nellie Redfern – though more recent acquaintances called her Eleanor. I met her only in the last of her life, but was struck by her warmth and friendship – an impression confirmed by the opinion of others. As Eleanor has a much colder sound than Nellie, it is as the familiar sounding, cosier Nellie that maybe we should think of her.

Because my acquaintance with her was slight, I have turned to others for help in building up a picture of her. I am indebted to Eva Brightmore’s reminiscences in this respect. Eva and Billy Bagshaw (now I understand to live in Scotland) are perhaps the only two survivors of an Infant class taught (as a pupil teacher) by Nellie Redfern back in the first World War. Nellie was only a girl herself at the time, but it was the start of a teaching career which was to end with her as head-mistress.

Nellie Redfern went to Sheffield to train, almost certainly to the Pupil Teacher Centre in Holly Street, situated in what is now a part of the Education Offices. When I came to Sheffield after the second World War where I taught for nearly forty years, I met many fine teachers who got their grounding in that institution. Miss Redfern, as perhaps we ought now to call her, taught for some time in Sheffield in either Firs Hill School or Pye Bank School (I forget which, though she did once tell me). This was in the days of Elementary Schools, teaching pupils from Infant age to leaving age at 14 years, as they progressed from standard to standard.

Miss Redfern lodged in Sheffield throughout the week, returning home at week-ends, travelling on the bus. The bus passed the bottom of the lane at Abney, a mile or more from the farm. I am told that more often than not, Nellie and her sister Dorothy covered the distance at a run. I picture them climbing breathless on to the bus, to be met with banter from the regular passengers and the driver, warning them that one of these days they would cut it too fine and be left behind!

But many in the village and around recall Eleanor (or Nellie) as head-mistress of the local school. Oliver Goldsmith in his oft-quoted poem of village life, wrote of villagers regarding the village school-master with awe.

” …….. and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

Was the local head-mistress so regarded? Perhaps not. But that she rightly earned respect and affection is not in doubt.

Among the pleasures of village life in days gone by, were the dances here in Hucklow at Barleycrofts or in the village halls. Christmas and Easter were special occasions with dances at Ensor or the Maynard Arms. Buses of young men and woman, and some not quite so young, men in their best suits, ladies in long dresses, converged on the venue. The band played. No over-amplified groups thumping out raucous beats in those days, but piano and violin, drums and double bass, possibly a saxophone, provided tuneful melodies to which couples swayed in fox-trot and quickstep, Valletta and St. Bernard waltz, barn-dance and, for the fast and daring, the Tango.

Young men, sometimes shyly, occasionally brazenly, but always politely, requested of a lady the “pleasure of the next dance”. A ladies invitation dance evened up the score. The evening ended with the last waltz, where matches were made and cemented, or maybe hopes dashed, or suspicions confirmed as hearts were broken (but surely not beyond repair).

This was a part of Nellie’s social life. She loved music, not only for dancing but in singing. I am told she was a one-time member of the Teachers’ Choir in Sheffield. To make music in the company of others, or to dance to it, is to rest awhile in paradise.

During summer days, she played tennis, and taught others to play.

But what of her other love – that of gardening. Like all true gardeners, she gardened not only for herself, but to share her joy with others. Plants and cuttings were exchanged, tips given and received, friends invited to view her garden as she was pleased to visit others. True gardeners are a sympathetic community, as quick to rejoice in the success of others, as they are to commiserate when pests or weather do their worst. Bounty is shared and the pleasure of one is the contentment of all.

I ought not to forget the Women’s League. It was through the Women’s League that Mrs. Rhodes was introduced to this ancient Chapel in Hucklow. Prior to that she had attended Bradwell Parish Church, then she became a worshipper here.

But we return to her contribution to that most frustrating, difficult, responsible yet gloriously satisfying of all professions – that of teaching. Living in the village in her lovely cottage with its beautiful garden, she saw her pupils grow up, and produce the next generation of scholars in their turn.

Did she occasionally chide a girl pupil by saying, “Your mother always sewed a straighter seam than that”? I expect so.
Did she praise a boy pupil by saying, “At least your writing’s neater than your father’s ever was”? Possibly so.

Did she feel pride in the way her boys and girls grew into manhood and womanhood? Undoubtedly.

Did she shed a tear when misfortune hit one of her ex-pupils? I believe that must be true.

Little Nellie Redfern – Derbyshire born, Derbyshire bred, Derbyshire dweller and Derbyshire lover, lived a full and rounded life. Friends and pupils, neighbours and family, acquaintances both casual and close, were beneficiaries of that full life.

There are memories galore, some public and shared, some secret and treasured, in this community. We come here to give thanks together for a rich life, which is the genesis of those memories.

Nellie Redfern, Eleanor Rhodes, was blest with many years. Perhaps her longevity was inherited in her genes, for her mother lived to be over 90 years of age.

Perhaps it was good farm food in her youth, coupled with healthy Derbyshire air throughout her life, which gave her so many years.

Perhaps it was the contentment which comes from living among friends and seeing young things, whether plants or people, grow to maturity which prolonged her life span.

Whatever the secret, the days were not merely long, but full. I am reminded of those lines from one of our hymns which go,

“She liveth longest who can tell
Of true things truly done each day.”

Many were the days, and true things done were bountiful. In the words of the New Testament, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

C.J. Rosling
Hucklow 14 April 1996

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