When I heard that the Parish Council (now Town Council) were asking for donations of new trees to replace the diseased trees removed from Banks Park, it gave me the opportunity to acknowledge the influence that Father Matthews and the Finedon Star Boys Club had on the lives of myself and other “war babies” in our teenage years.
In the early 1950s there was very little to do in Finedon although there was a cinema showing 4 different films a week and the Wesleyan Chapel ran “The Stute” an institute for men, the lack of money did not allow us to frequent these places too often. Evenings were spent “up the rec.” playing football often with as many as 25 a side. You were allocated a side as and when you arrived, so often you had no idea who else was on your side but, as in the Olympics, the result didn’t matter it was the taking part that counted.
As the evenings got darker and football wasn’t possible gangs of youths would roam the streets playing games such as Hide and Seek, Bedlam and Hi- acky the rules of which I did not understand then or now.
I am told that the “Elders” of the village were unhappy with this and Bishop Vernon, the Vicar of Finedon at the time, agreed to bring in a curate who had had previous experience in the running of a Boys Club in Brighton. The Rev Brian Mathews arrived in the spring of 1955. Officially we called him Fr Matthews but soon reverted to his nickname, Matty.
The Church made available the Star Hall Buildings on Laws Lane for the clubs use. A number of us were already in a group that met at the vicarage every Sunday morning where we made purses and wallets from scraps of leather, of which of course there were plenty, and we were all let loose to decorate the insides of the Star Hall as it was in a very poor state.
These buildings were absolutely perfect for our needs. The room overlooking Dolben Square was the canteen where snacks and drinks could be purchased for pennies, and tables and chairs provided where one could sit and chat or play cards etc. whilst listening to the pop songs of the day. This was pre rock and roll with artists such as Guy Mitchell, Nat King Cole and Doris Day, but Elvis and Bill Haley were just starting in America and would soon take over. One wall of this room was covered by a mural painted by Noel Pearson depicting various larger than life field sports such as the Javelin and high jump the latter depicting the athlete just clearing the bar, in a classic Western Roll.
There was a small office off the entrance hall besides the stairs that led up to the snooker room with three full sized tables, where at that time billiards was still preferred to snooker. Leading off to the right was “The Long Room” which contained two full sized table tennis tables and access to the main hall where badminton could be played or skiffle sessions with a guitar, wash board and a tea chest base performed on the stage by Keith Thompson and others.
The front door was painted in a standard green and the song ”What goes on behind the green door” sung by Frankie Vaughan was to top the charts with all proceeds donated to The National Association of Boys Clubs.
In the autumn of 1955 he and Christopher Chataway, a world record middle distance runner and the first Sportview Personality of the Year winner, came to Finedon and officially opened the club. Finedon Star Boys Club as it was known went from strength to strength running a football team which won the Grant Cup the top competition for youth football in the county, a table tennis side which won the local league and represented the county in cross country running and at many functions such as The Cinema Ball and Clubs are Trumps a national show held annually in London.
Fr. Mathews never learnt to drive and went everywhere on his bicycle and one of his first adventures was to take a dozen boys on a cycle tour of Cornwall. None of these boys had cycled more than a few miles from home but early one morning they all rode their assortment of bikes to Wellingborough Station, caught the train to London St Pancrass, cycled across London to Paddington station, crossing Trafalgar Square on the way, before catching the train to Truro.
In glorious sunshine they then cycled around the Cornish coast, via Lands End, stopping in barns and huts and the odd B&B before returning a week later tired sunburnt and proud. The following year we cycled from Brussels to Luxemburg across the Ardennes catching the boat train from London to Brussels via Dover and Ostend. No tunnel in those days. The County association arranged several weekend retreats either at Grendon or Hothorpe Hall and many of the boys attended. On a Grendon weekend, groups were taken in lorries and dropped off at around 11pm at various points in the county with a mystery map to help them home. We all made it but with tales to tell when we returned.
With assistance from Frank Binley and his wife and others the seniors club was able to open twice a week, the juniors and girls (run by “Auntie Rose” Richardson) met once a week with a mixed evening on Thursday, which is where I met my wife. With some form of sport on a Saturday, Bible class on a Sunday and the week was filled.
How did this affect me? Firstly there was a strong feeling of belonging, a legacy that still holds. It was our club and we ran it! (I think). I got to see parts of the world outside of Finedon and it satisfied my love of sport, playing not watching. It also gave me an insight how committees work with agendas, minutes, officers and responsibilities and the democratic way of voting for committees all of which I found valuable in later life.
Father Mathews left in the spring of 1958 to become the full time vicar of Rushton where he opened another youth club staying for 23 years before marrying and returning to his roots in Sussex.
It is absolutely amazing when looking back at the tremendous amount of things that were done in his three years at Finedon and my biggest regret is that I never thanked him or told him what it had meant to me and I hope that the planting of this tree in his memory will go some way to rectify this.
The tree is to be a Red Oak and as an import of something representing strength seems to me to be quite appropriate.