Mention model railways, the church and local history and you can only be talking about one man – Canon Rev Ron Greenall.
The Anglican church has been his calling, but words were his first love.
He’s enthralled Courier readers for some 22 years with his weekly Reverent Reflections. It’s an informative and always entertaining lookback at local history, accompanied by carefully selected photos from yesteryear.
The veteran writer’s first appearance in print was more than 60 years ago.
He recalls with a smile: “I first wrote for the (Preston) Harris Library’s children’s magazine in 1951 when I was 10!”
From that Preston childhood – he was a war baby, born in January 1941 next door to the then Catterall and Swarbrick’s Brewery on Victoria Street – to becoming a Honorary Canon and later Canon Emeriti of Blackburn Cathedral, it’s been quite a journey.
His father was a RAF policeman, at times stationed in Blackpool. Ron recalls: “Everything was rationed ..... expect beer and bread....We didn’t have a cooker, just a fireside oven and one gas ring.
“The coalman and the dustman had to come through the living room to do their jobs – we had nothing but we owed nothing.”
He failed his 11+ but passed a 13+ scholarship to attend Harris Technical College in Preston, gaining a first class leaving certificate. His first job at 15 and a half was as a solicitors’ clerk. Within a year he had moved to Preston Corporation Transport: “It taught me figures, filing and in the vacations from Durham and tehological college I always had a job to return to.”
Whilst at the bus company he studied for O- and A-levels through night and correspondence courses. The relative poverty of his background meant that the church did not throw down a red carpet for him when he sought ordination: “Three times I was told by those in authority in the church that ‘ordination is not normally for people from your background or lack of funds’. Each time it made me more determined to pursue my calling.”
His determination paid off – in 1960 at a special selection conference he was “unconditionally approved for training”.
There followed a year in Durham on a pre-theological course in philosophy, sociology and the humanities. He notes: “On acceptance the archdeacon had written to say how amazed the diocese were that I had been accepted for training.”
Ron gained top marks for all three terms at Durham and embarked on three years at theology college in Birkenhead, recalling that, not the best of singers, he once upset the solemnity of a service by inadvertently pitching his singing to the accompanying sound of a Mersey ferry foghorn.
A curacy in Adlington followed, a second as first priest in charge at St Annes Church Centre on Preston’s Moor Nook estate. His next move was to become vicar at St John the Divine, Coppull where he stayed for 15 years.
Garstang was he says, “a baptism of fire” when he arrived to be vicar of St Thomas’s just two days after the Abbeystead disaster. One of the victims, Geoff Seed was a St Thomas’ churchwarden and his wife Pat, a cancer sufferer had become an inspirational fund-raiser for cancer care with her One in a Million appeal.
Pat insisted that full coverage rights were given to all the media for Geoff’s funeral and Ron recalls: “Britain’s first full inside church coverage of a funeral, except for a royal or state occasion, was at St Thomas’s Garstang.”
A vicar’s lot is a mixed one, sharing the griefs and the joys of the local community and he says the tragedy meant he got to know local people very well indeed.
At his side throughout his many postings has been his wife Beryl, not quite the girl next door, but almost: “My mum had been Beryl’s Sudnay school teacher, we lived less than 500 yards from one another, went to the same church, fell in love, courted and married just before I was ordained in 1964.”
The couple have a daughter Allison, son-in-law Aled and two grandchildren Catrine and Sarah. He pays particular tribute to Beryl and others who supported him when illness forced an earlier retirement than planned from St Thomas’s, at the age of 59.
He counted up and realised he was chairman of or involved with some nine different organisations and committees in the town. If history has been a passion, so too are model trains and he’s shared this love too: “When Churchtown Festival was on every year I ran model trains around the outside of Lady Chapel at St Helen’s, Churchtown.”
Now home is in Catterall and he and Beryl have spent 29 happy years in Garstang and district. Thankfully for Courier readers the Reverent Reflections continue: “I enjoy the research, I enjoy meeting people and listening to their stories and being able to go into print. It’s a labour of love.”