Garrison Fields

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Chapter 24 - Watching from a distance

As soon as Jane was settled into her new accommodation, she began her quest in earnest, ensuring that she was as frugal as possible. She needed to save as much money as possible for the deposit required to rent a small house, she needed that stability. Her attention was to get her boys back as soon as possible.

Visiting was allowed once a month, on the last Sunday afternoon, the system of visiting could have been modelled on that of a penal institution. On certain rare instances, the boys might be allowed a day pass to spend the day with their family. These visits were discouraged, as she was told by one of the clerical staff at the mission, a rather officious middle-class woman of middling age, middling figure and middling appearance.

‘You gave up the boys as you were unsuitable to continue their upbringing. We at the orphanage are now the legal guardians and it is our duty to ensure that the boys are not upset.’ The words were spat like venom from the woman’s lips, her look of disdain at Jane could not have been more apparent. How could Jane respond, she knew that the best course of action was to say nothing. Why explain to this shrew of a woman her circumstances, it would have been to no benefit, this shrivelled up creature had already made her judgement on all who found themselves in this predicament, and why? Perhaps it was due to her bleak outcome on her own barren prospects, knowing that she would never find the satisfaction of being a mother. Her resentment therefore seemed to all those who had managed this feat.

It was such that Jane contrived any encounter with the boys that could be managed, more often than not these meetings would just be hers and Ted’s presence in the audience at the bandstand on a Sunday afternoon in the park at Roker or at winter carol services. The boys would always look intensely at the audience until they saw her and Ted and would gesture to each other her whereabouts. She was always sad on theses occasions but beamed with happiness at the boys and seeing what fine young men they were becoming. She was proud of them, as they were of her, and to see their mastery of the instruments they played she knew their father would have been proud of the way they had knuckled under and applied themselves to their situation. When she turned and left, she would always have a tear in her eye, but also the renewed determination, that no Matter how long it would take they would eventually be reunited as a family.

Each Sunday morning, she would make her way with Ted to the Seaman’s mission Chapel. This building was situated in Cheapside next to the docks and was by far the largest building in the surrounding area, it had two large halls, annexes that stood next to it which were over utilise as soup kitchens all to regularly. Although named a chapel, this building was the largest church in the town, having patrons from all the local shipping owners. The building had no graveyard being sat at the top of the hill overlooking the docks and surrounded by rows of two up two down terraced houses. It had no graveyard by design, being that the majority of its services were carried out at the water’s edge for those lost at sea.

The building itself was built in that utilitarian red brick that many buildings in the mid 1850′s were made of a creation of the industrial revolution. It had several adornments paid by subscription such as the steps and sandstone columned entrance, not quite in the palladium style, being that the vast decorated tops of the columns led to a flat roof with the sandstone frontage displaying in large carved characters was the nomenclature “Seaman’s Mission Chapel’.

On moving from the portico inside one was struck by the large scale of the building, the main isle leading down to the main pulpit which rose from the left like the bow of a ship. It had been constructed and carved when the church had first opened by the shipwrights of those wooden ships of the day. It was a masterpiece with the carved figurehead of Neptune at the front, on top of him a platform on which the great bible was placed for services.

All around the church each item had been fashioned with the mind of a sailor, lighting looked like buoys hanging and the pew backing had the look of mahogany lifeboats. The great windows were to the most part clear, those which had been changed to stained glass, were only to display the tragedies that had befell the local seafaring community. The walls held smaller plaques which had been placed to inform of other lives lost. At the tops of the walls ships pennants hung from ships that no longer existed and had now been mothballed to this place like regimental flags, gathering dust and eventually becoming threadbare so that in time these appeared but as ghosts, like there crews now gone before them.

The first pews in this church were for the local dignitaries to use and as such had had an obligatory sign reserving them. These were more spacious than those at the rear of the church where Jane would sit, they had hand embroidered cushions to sit on and also each of them a matching cushion to kneel on when praying. At the front of the pew, the shelf was wider than usual to accommodate prayer and hymn books and also under this a shelf so the gentlemen’s Sunday hat might remain unscuffed. There was also a notch cut into each, which allowed any canes or umbrellas to be placed. In the unallocated pews to the rear a simpler scheme was arranged, there were no cushions the pews were narrower and the hymn and prayer books were less ornate and showed the marks on their faux leather of several years use.

As Jane and Ted took their customary place in an aisle position behind the great and the good she always ensured that they were there early enough to get a prominent position where they could see her as they made their way down the aisle as part of the procession. This space also afforded her the luxury of knowing that she had a very good view of all proceedings, even if one of the more important ladies in the town, sat in front of her with the equivalent of a complete grouse shoot on her head. She could always move slightly into the aisle.

The boys always looked well-groomed when they entered. Most times now they carried their instruments. Many of the other boys in the procession were not orphanage boys and wore white ruffles around their necks and the black and white surpluses. They were in the choir and could have been mistaken for angels, but only here. Indeed, anything other than that would be true but youth always portrays a sign of innocence.

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