Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

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Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by charles » Thu Jul 26, 2018 1:37 pm

Some private memories of growing up in the 1950s/1960s with particular reference to Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner. I stayed with the Taylor / Symington group of brethren until 1975. Any critical comments I make concerning Exclusive Brethren refer to the brethren I left, who now follow Bruce D Hales.

Percy Lyon (PL) and Alfred Gardiner (AJG) were important members of the Exclusive Brethren, local in London. The Brethren had no fixed way of becoming an important member, there was no Bible college or course of study you had to pass. You were supposed to do it by being devoted to reading the Bible and ministry, prayer, and going to meetings. I grew up attending meetings where both PL and AJG had quite a lot to say, they were self-made ministering brothers. As the 1960s progressed changes happened in the Exclusive Brethren so those two, PL and AJG, had to change too, to keep in line. But they were basically people who had imbibed Christian principles when they were young, and they tried to live and behave like Christians. They both died over 40 years ago, regarded now as gone and forgotten, but I have wanted to attempt to write about what they were like as two men in real life, getting behind their spiritual halos. I found this couldn't be done unless I also included some of my own life experiences, and contacts with them, in the first 30 years of my life.

When you make such a momentous decision as leaving the Brethren it is helpful to analyse and write down why you did it. In my case it was a ten year process (1965 - 1975) of increasing uneasiness about the way brethren members were treated. By 1975 as a family we feared for our future and the future of our children, so we left. Those three words, 'so we left', might make it look as if it was an easy thing to do, but it wasn't. PL and AJG did not treat their brethren harshly, they taught that our fellow brethren deserved to be respected. By the end of their lives both these men had been eminent 'ministering brothers' for some 50 years. PL died aged 84 and was given a large funeral in Valence, France, to which some 80 brethren from the UK travelled in a specially chartered plane. Whereas AJG was demoted in approximately 1975 when he was in advanced age and poor health, in effect, thrown on the scrap heap, which is truly amazing considering the service he had given the brethren during his lifetime.

In writing down personal memories about Percy Lyon and Alfred J Gardiner, I have to take account of the fact that over forty years have elapsed since I left the Symington/Hales Exclusive brethren, and therefore my mind has changed concerning the doctrine of separation. I was brought up cradled in the idea of separation; my mother used to tell me, 'We are the only Christians that keep separate from other Christians; that is what makes us different'. Both PL and AJG held rigidly to this belief - the doctrine of separation - , but now I reject it.

During the last 40 years I have been in close contact with relatives and friends who have been withdrawn from for insignificant offences and as a consequence they had their families/children torn from them. In a couple of cases it was their wives who, with the brethren's support, initiated the separation from their husbands, and they ensured the children went with them. In the other case the parents were put out and the grandparents (my in-laws) stepped in and effectively took over the responsibility for the five children, the parents being tricked into believing that they would be restored to fellowship if they agreed to these arrangements. One child returned to his parents after about 18 months. Seeing the anguish these people experienced showed me that the doctrine of separation was dangerous, wrong and mis-applied. Their anguish doesn't get any less as time elapses.

It is not the idea of 'separation' that bothers me (in our personal lives we all steer clear of certain people and situations) but the brethren's interpretation of what is 'evil', or 'iniquitous'. PL and AJG went to their graves still believing that the doctrine of separation was right, as taught by JN Darby, FE Raven, J Taylor, and J Taylor Jnr. It was enshrined in both their ministries. They would say, 'anything that makes us more separate from the world must be right.' Whilst growing up I listened a lot to PL and AJG in the meetings and they had much to do with my understanding of what Christianity is. Sixty years ago I agreed with most of what was said in the meetings.

Percy Lyon

It is said that there was friendship between Mr F E Raven's family and the Lyon family. In the early 1900s when Percy Lyon was about 20 years old he accompanied Mr Raven when he visited the brethren in France, having meetings with them. Some of the time they travelled on horseback, particularly in the plateau area in the Haute Loire, near Valence. In fact in 1966, at PL's funeral in Valence, when the service was over, a little old lady approached his coffin, touched his hand, and said, 'O monsieur Lyon, monsieur Lyon ...' in a high voice, audible to everyone. She remembered him from his visits to France with FER.

I do believe that Percy Lyon was a frustrated comedian. He liked to make the brethren laugh, without them knowing he was doing it on purpose. My father came into fellowship in 1934 breaking bread for the first time at the Rochford Street meeting room in North London, the same meeting as Mr Lyon. We will never know how much PL had to do with my dad joining the Exclusive Brethren but he held Mr Lyon in high regard, respecting his knowledge of the Bible and his ministry and also PL as a person. Percy Lyon was born on 7th December 1881 in 164 Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, North London. He lived at this address for the whole of his life. He put the house up for sale just before he left for France on what proved to be his final journey. He died in Valence in February 1966 aged 84.

My own memories of PL begin with a hazy recollection of him staying at our house in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in 1948. He had visited the IOW to take fellowship meetings at Ryde; a lot of brethren used to come to his meetings as he was a popular speaker. On the Sunday he said to my father, 'would you preach the gospel tonight, and I'll stay in and look after the children'. My dad had to agree but he said afterwards that he will never forget the disappointed looks of the brethren who had come to hear PL, when my dad made his entrance at the meeting room, and they realised PL was not coming. This must have been one of PL's jokes.

In 1949 we moved to North London to be local at the Rochford Street gathering where Mr Lyon used to go, so my memories of him really begin then. Some fifty brethren attended this local meeting including Mr. Philip Haddad and his mother, Mrs Haddad, Dr Arthur and Mrs Morford, Mr and Mrs George Brown and family, Mr and Mrs Cook and grown up daughters Emily, Grace and Ethel, Mr and Mrs Albert Bennett, Mr and Mrs David Napthine and two children, Mr and Mrs Johansson, Mr and Mrs James and Miss Cole, the two Miss Salisburys and Clem who sat at the back not breaking bread, Mr and Mrs Michael Harris and infant daughter Ruth, Mr and Mrs Ransom Morford and two little girls, Rachel and Eva, and Mr Lyon's housekeeper, Mrs Stiles, and Mr William Tucker. There were also several single ladies, Miss Lilian Jackson, Miss Ablitt, Miss Harding, the two Miss Holdoms, Miss Florence Waltham, Miss Ruth Garvey, Miss Manton, Miss Harmsworth and Miss May Tulloch who worked for the BBC. Several young men also attended; they had left home and were working or studying in London: Bryan Edmondson, David Boyt, Paul Taylor, Francis Everitt, Graham Anderson, and Tommie Garvey. For a short time W Bruce Hales from Australia also attended there being in lodgings with Dr. Morford.

I have memories during the 1950s (when I was 7 - 16 years old) of going to the Rochford Street meeting room Sunday after Sunday and sitting, waiting for the meeting to begin at 11am. In the summer the sun would be streaming into the room and the silence would be broken by a horse and cart trudging up the road with the rag and bone man calling out, 'any old lumberrrr'. The people in the meeting room were friendly and would smile back at you if you looked at them, catching their eye. Often a steam train would thunder by on the railway which ran by the Room. I discovered that there was a warning of an approaching train - something behind the curtain at the back of the room would start to vibrate, then stop - then about one minute later the train would come pass. Those years were good times and I enjoy thinking back to them.

In the winter heating for the room was by two coke stoves and there was a rota amongst the men to get them going for Sundays. They usually worked all right but sometimes they would make the room temperature too high so that brethren took off their overcoats. On windy days smoke and fumes could be blown into the room so that we sat in a fog of smoke. The other extreme was that they wouldn't light at all and the brethren huddled together trying to keep warm.

The Rochford Street meeting room was a railway property situated next to the main line into St Pancras station. The railway line was some twenty feet below the level of the road. This meant that when an express train went past at speed the steam would rise blotting out the light. In the 1860s a man called William Ellis established what was called 'Gospel Oak Schools' in Rochford Street, off Lismore Circus, but a couple of years later the Midland Railway acquired the property. The Rochford Street room was a large space, I would say seventy feet long by thirty feet wide and thirty five feet high. The part that the brethren used was curtained off by means of brown/grey army blankets sewed together and hung from poles that were strung from wall to wall some fifteen feet above the floor. There were three slits in the blankets where you could gain admittance to the seating area with the table in the middle. Finding the blanket openings could be a problem. If you happened to get to the meeting ten minutes early you could sit quietly watching others arrive but you would only see them when they came through the blankets. It was possible to guess who was arriving as each individual had their own footsteps and usually came as quietly as possible, creeping up to the blanket partition.

PL married Miss Ruth Bodman in the end of 1951, as he reached the age of 71, the marriage formalities taking place in South Africa. I can well remember the first occasion that Mrs Lyon came to the local meeting, she was friendly to us children and was always cheerful. She had a small car, a Standard 8, engine size 800/1000cc, and this became PL's transport for the next 12 years. It was when W Bruce Hales advised them to get a larger vehicle in the early 60s that they changed it to either a Wolseley 15/60 or an Austin A55 Cambridge, with a 1500cc engine, but I believe it was a Wolseley.

Percy Lyon's arrival at the meeting was unmistakeable. You would hear the car draw up outside the Room, then the car door would slam. The outer door on to the street always squeaked when opened so you knew when he was in the building. PL walked with a scurrying kind of gait so the next thing you could hear was his quick footsteps across the floor. Then a pause as he divested himself of his heavy overcoat, scarf and hat, then the rapid steps up to the curtains. The blankets went into paroxysms as Mr Lyon desperately tried to find the opening; having found the entrance he would reach his seat, panting. As he settled himself down he would say in an audible whisper, 'O Lord help us, O Lord come in for us'. Mrs Lyon would follow him in, the picture of calmness.

I can remember a Sunday preaching in the Rochford Street room in the summer during the late 1950s when the preacher paused to ask if a window could be opened to let in some air. Someone duly obliged by unfastening the window not far from where PL was sitting with Mrs Lyon. The preacher resumed his preaching. After a short time PL sneezed, not a restrained, polite, quiet sound, but a loud roar making some people jump; about half a minute later he sneezed again, another enormous noise. Over the next five minutes he made this explosive sound about every half minute. Someone counted up to fifteen sneezes. The result of this was that the old ladies who were regular attendees at the gospel got the giggles, one of them audibly struggling to keep her composure. Looking back on this episode I am certain PL was not genuinely sneezing but making a loud noise just to get a reaction from people, making them laugh. When a brother closed the window he stopped.

For someone in their eighth decade he was reasonably healthy but he did suffer from coughs and his chest. He had a Vick pencil in his jacket pocket which he would use particularly when in his local meeting, but not in larger occasions. In the local meetings I would often be sitting next to him and it was an experience to be there when he had a fit of coughing. He would start off coughing slowly and quietly then gather pace and volume until the climax was a huge noise. I would just have to look straight ahead, ignoring what was happening next to me. Mrs Lyon sat opposite and she had an unconcerned smile on her face.

Mr Lyon lived in an imposing semi-detached house which had four floors and I think there were attics as well; it had a good sized garden. For many years he would regularly invite brethren there for meals, or to stay, and he was an attentive host, always most polite and you really felt looked after. In the 1920s and 1930s when his sister, May, was alive, he would invite the local brethren children there for a party and then there would be games in the garden. In the 1950s he would invite the local brethren up for supper on a Sunday evening after the gospel preaching and I often went with my parents. We would sit round the large table in his front room and eat bread and butter and cakes; if anyone's plate was empty he would encourage them to have something else. PL was in charge of the conversation so that it was like a mini meeting, an extension of the meeting room. He often used to say, 'no gossip or table talk, we want heavenly conversation'. I can remember one Sunday evening when the meal was over PL sat there talking about Job and his place in the Old Testament, contemporary with Abraham etc. It was actually quite interesting.

During the 50s decade the brethren in London held important conference type three day meetings and brethren from all over the world would be invited to attend. In 1952 the London conference took place in the Royal Horticultural Hall led by Charles Ivory of New Zealand. These big occasions were held in the summer months and from 1953 to 1959 they were in Westminster Methodist Central Hall on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Mr and Mrs Lyon were extremely busy around this time with people staying with them and coming in for meals, and of course everyone would all turn up at the local Rochford Street prayer meeting or reading.

I think Mr Lyon tried to put into practice that verse in the Bible James 1: 27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction ..." In August 1957 Mr and Mrs Lyon asked if I would like to go with them to Bicester where PL was taking a fellowship meeting. We went in their small Standard 8 car and on the way passed through a Hertfordshire town, Tring. At that time there was a brethren meeting near there and PL stopped to visit a sister who had recently been widowed and she had teenage children. Her name was Mrs McGhee, (mother of Martin McGhee who distinguished himself in the 1990s among the Hales brethren by getting his name in the national press). I have never forgotten the fact that they took the trouble to do this. What he would do is make sure she had a bit of cash - the money he received in gifts from the brethren was given away to the needy and other worthy brethren causes.

PL was fond of little children and I can remember being in Wuppertal in Germany in 1959 when PL was there. We were having a meal in the house of Thilo Heuke who had two children under five. I can remember seeing Mr Lyon and his wife sitting down with PL having one child on each knee, feeding them a boiled egg. As he did so he would say: 'Ein wenig Ei ? More Ei ?' The toddlers obliged and ate the food offered. He was obviously enjoying himself.

Being a gifted speaker PL was frequently asked to visit localities to take fellowship meetings. Out of the fifty two weeks in a year he could be away for forty weekends, but was usually back for the prayer meeting on Monday, unless he was out of the country. I am sure that if he had married earlier in life and had a family and children the experience of a family would have changed him. In the 1950s I was growing up and at school and when I met him he would say, 'School ? Cowper Street ? Keep the flag flying.' He would not make the usual comments or enquiries that a normal person would make, consequently I did not enter into conversation with him about what I was doing. He was anxious though that I would not get too involved with education at school, or particular activities that I might enjoy so much that my interest in the Brethren would grow cold and I would not go to the meetings. I took my O levels in 1959 and I had decided at the start of my final year at school that I would attempt to pass every subject that I sat. As far as I knew the O levels would complete my education. With this in mind I would stay home in the evenings to study. Even though PL knew this he would say to me, 'don't miss the meetings'. Fortunately I ignored him; my parents encouraged me to do this, and I stayed home to work and my efforts paid off.

He was concerned that I enjoyed music and spent time at it, too much time he thought. He once said to me, "Music doesn't do anything for me, but the danger sign is when you go into a room and there is a piano, you feel you have got to play it." Actually he was spot on there as I loved to try out pianos, always asking the owner's permission first. I used to accompany the school in the school assembly playing the hymns once a week; PL told me to keep off the organ stool. Again I thought this shouldn't concern him and carried on but was influenced to give up music lessons and music as an O level subject. What was the use of working at something which could only turn out to be a dead end and an embarrassment amongst the brethren. When I told the form teacher I was giving up I was called to the head teacher's office and found the deputy head there as well and they said, 'don't give up, you could do music as a career.' I told them that a music career was out of the question, although I was pleased they made that comment. Since leaving the EBs over forty years ago I have enjoyed music as a hobby. I am currently on the rota for playing the organ at our local C of E church. I have no regrets in this regard.

Another idea that Percy Lyon had was that the younger people should keep close to those who are older, and not have special friendships with those of their own age group. In one way it is not a bad idea to encourage friendship with older people because the elderly are often a mine of information, experience, and a good influence and a younger person could gain from talking to them. I personally gained from having elderly people near me because they told me things about their youth and their lives, but to exclude people of your own age group can be detrimental to the social development of a young person. No, I think PL's concern here, that someone of your own age might be a bad influence, is misguided, and probably rooted in old ministry. A young person needs to gain experience in relationships with those of their own age.

When I was quite young I asked Percy Lyon if I could break bread, that is the equivalent of taking Holy Communion in the Church of England. I had no particular reason for asking, but one of my friends had asked, and quickly became the object of brethren's interest and encouragement. Of course I had to think it through and be able to give solid reasons for I would be questioned. PL said he was pleased that I had asked, but after that, for the next two years, whenever I saw him, he would say, 'has our young brother still got his desire ?' (he sometimes had a quaint way of speaking). For those two years I always answered yes, assuming he meant: 'did I still want to break bread,' until it dawned on me that for some reason there was a snag causing this long wait. Maybe I was too quiet, not vocal enough. So the next time he asked me I answered, No. This seemed to stir something as things became serious and a brother came to the house to interview me. This was when you had to face questioning such as, "Have you confessed the Lord yet ?" and "Have you received the Holy Spirit yet ?" You were expected to pray aloud in front of the interviewer. I believe I made it by the skin of my teeth, becoming a fully fledged brethren member in 1954.

Throughout the time of Mr Taylor Senior's leadership of the brethren which was from about 1908 to 1953 Percy Lyon was a supporter of JT. He followed JT Snr's ministry closely, he travelled round the world by ship often accompanying Mr Taylor. When JT Sr visited England he would stay at PL's house in Haverstock Hill. On JT's last visit to this country which I believe was in 1950 when I was 7/8 years old, he stayed with PL and came to the Rochford Street breaking of bread. I remember that meeting as JT broke the bread and there were many people present who would not normally be there, our usual family places were occupied by visitors. After the meeting I remember shaking hands with JT. On the day before (Saturday) he had taken a fellowship meeting in the Park Street Room and I remember him walking to his seat in the middle of the raised platform, shaking hands with each brother as he went.

Mr Lyon was a 'ministering brother' and travelled widely, in the 1950s he spent most winters abroad, often going right round the world visiting brethren in Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada, on the same trip. I still have the post cards either he or Mrs Lyon sent me from Barbados and Canada. He always let a couple of floors in his house to tenants while he was away. Whatever Mr Taylor Sr said in his ministry Mr Lyon would support and include in his own ministry.

He supported the doctrines of what was the basis of the brethren's beliefs as to separation, he encouraged brethren to only miss a meeting if they had to and he was anti education. He didn't buy newspapers but kept up with the news by visiting the Hampstead library which was near his house to read the broadsheets.

What I have noticed as the years have passed is that although the Exclusive Brethren say they go by Scripture, and have Scripture to support their every belief, some of their major rules or principles are maxims which are not in the Bible, but the sayings of respected brothers.

1. JND said, 'Separation from evil is God's principle of unity' - this is not from the Bible. It is the reason for all the extreme separation from family members that is common in these times. It has been used by successive universal leaders to support any developments in the practice of separation.

2. PL used to say, 'Keep current, you cannot set ministry given in the 1930s against ministry given in the 1960s.' This comment probably helped brethren give in to the new 'not eating' rule which was imposed on everyone in 1960.

3. Mr A J Gardiner used to say, 'The movements of the Lord are discerned in the ministry He gives.' Again this is not a quotation from the Bible but brethren would understand it to mean that the universal leader would minister the Lord's word, therefore it should be followed.

4. A further example of a brethren 'formula ' is a comment by F E Raven, 'look after the principles and God will look after the persons,' this is not a verse of scripture but brethren use it to justify their actions when withdrawing from persons, ostracising them.

PL had spent the Second World War years in Australia where he came across two young men, John and Bruce Hales. They apparently enjoyed PL's ministry and decided to commit themselves to becoming spiritual young men who knew the scriptures. In the 1950s they made a point of visiting Mr Lyon at his home and showed respect for him in the meetings. At one stage in the early 1950s, about 1952, Bruce Hales was local at PL's meeting in Rochford Street. PL exhibited a fatherly interest in them and encouraged them in their ministry. Who knows, perhaps the two Hales brothers made use of their supposed connection with him in their climb up the brethren heirarchy; he was sometimes referred to as 'their spiritual father'.

It is over fifty years since Mr Lyon died and I still retain a lot of respect for him. He was a staunch supporter and eloquent exponent of the ministries of JN Darby, JB Stoney, FE Raven and J Taylor Sr. He was unfailing in his respect for the brethren. I remember him saying, 'saints up there, servants down there' making gestures with his hands to drive the point home. He meant by that, of course, that ministering brothers should not lord it over the brethren but realise that as servants they have taken a lower place than the brethren they are serving. It was in 1964/1965 that the so called 'servants' began to ridicule and speak insultingly to ordinary brethren. Percy Lyon himself was on the receiving end of a vehement public dressing down at a fellowship meeting in Park Street, by a supporter of the 'commerce in the assembly' ministry in 1965. He was accused of dragging his feet and not supporting it. He was very upset by this as I discovered when I went to see him a couple of days later at his house. He was slumped in his armchair and hardly spoke. I had never seen him in such a state before.

After the collapse of the commerce system in October 1965 JTJnr visited the brethren in London and his comment about PL was, 'they beat him publicly uncondemned and no one spoke a word in his defence.' What I learned from observing PL during the seventeen years 1949 - 1966 that I knew him made me uneasy about whether the J T Jr Exclusive brethren had lost their way. What was being taught from 1966 onwards was a different gospel. My unsettledness grew in strength from about 1968 and by this time PL had died. I felt that they were becoming set in a direction where control of brethren, in every aspect of their lives, was considered acceptable. Alan Price often used to say to us in the meeting in Barnet, 'What is required is instant, unquestioning obedience.' To me that was foreign to the sort of Christianity I had been brought up to believe in. PL's example was one of grace, respect and forbearance to others.

If Percy Lyon were alive today, would he be with the Hales Exclusive Brethren ? PL had been a close companion of James Taylor Snr for most of the time that JT was the brethren leader so it would be inaccurate to suggest that PL had reservations about any aspect of JT's ministry. In the same way that Margaret Thatcher would speak of a cabinet colleague, 'he is one of us', if he supported her, so James Taylor Snr would say of PL, 'he is one of us.' PL reserved his most scathing comments for the world and what was considered by the brethren as worldliness. Worldliness included such things as reading novels, reading newspapers, being educated beyond the age of 16-18, learning music to a high standard, keeping Christmas, and acquiring wealth. Regarding the subject of wealth PL enjoyed the luxuries that wealth brought, he enjoyed staying with brethren who had comfortable houses, but I remember him being concerned about a brother in Germany when PL was staying there, who made ribbon, and who had his factory operating on Sundays. PL made a point of mentioning it in the meeting - why have the business working on a Sunday ?

In a way (except for his views on 'acquiring wealth') PL would not be completely out of place in the Hales Exclusives of the twenty first century. What he would not agree with, however, is the apparent emphasis on being successful in business, a brother with money being given a more prominent seat on the platform than one who was poor but well read in the Bible and 'the three great ministries'. JTJnr said in New York 29th September 1965 when he denounced the 'Commercial System' "you do not make any distinction in the assembly between a man that has got money and a man that has not got any. It is the same thing in the assembly, he is just in the assembly like anybody else."

But what about the callous separation enforced by this Hales EB group, splitting up families, children enticed away from parents perhaps to be looked after by close blood relatives such as grandparents, where the parents have been withdrawn from? What about a husband being put out of fellowship and as a consequence his wife leaves him taking the children ? PL died before the worst of the cases of family breakdown occurred due to brethren practices, and I cannot believe he would have been happy about the break up of family units. He would not have fitted into the heartless Jim Symington regime. JHS would probably have found a way to get rid of him, as he apparently did to AJG. One change that PL would have found difficult to swallow was the encouragement of business money-making ideas being brought into the meetings. On one occasion he insisted the London brethren gave away substantial balances of money which were surplus to requirements after holding the annual London Conference at Westminster Central Hall. He said, 'the assembly does not hoard.' (This surely is how a charitable organisation should operate.)

The question could be raised as to why Mr Lyon supported JTJnr in 1959 over the eating matter and the enforcement of stricter rules regarding separation. If PL and AJG could have foreseen that the EBs would develop into a strident, litigious, extreme group of people within fifteen years of 1959, would they have gone along with it? PL liked to see which way the wind was blowing before jumping in with his support. Just after the 1959 London meetings I was at one of PL's teas at his house and amongst the guests was Mr Ephgrave who was known to speak his mind. He was blind. (Mr Ephgrave's daughter lived in PL's top flat). After the meal was over and everyone was still sitting down relaxing PL said , 'Now, Mr Ephgrave, what is your opinion of the London meetings with Mr Cowell ?' Mr Ephgrave's answer was something like this, 'I would rank the addresses in the order they were given. I would put Mr Taylor's address first and call it 'The King is coming' , next would come Mr Young's and I would name it 'The way forward to glory', I would place Mr Cowell's last and its title would be, 'We must go into the attack'. For the first time I realised there was a real difference of opinion amongst the brethren, there were GR Cowell supporters and J Taylor Jnr supporters. To support GRC meant you wanted things to be easier, to support JTJnr meant that life could be harder.

In the winter of 1959 - 1960 Mr and Mrs Lyon went abroad for some months and returned to Europe in February 1960 visiting Germany. These trips abroad gave Mrs PL some respite and she would return looking rested. I went across to Germany on holiday and met PL at Gummersbach. After the meeting he said, 'Let's go for a walk'. So we went up the lane (he would hang on to your arm) and he wanted to know what had been happening in London while they had been away, asking mainly which brothers supported GRC and which JTJnr. He went through the brethren by name in the local Rochford Street meeting asking where their allegiance lay, were they for JTJnr or Gerald Cowell. He was also interested in who, in the London meetings, was supporting who. PL kept his thoughts to himself generally but when he had decided that the new 'not eating' ministry was right he travelled all round the country working hard trying to convince brethren that it was a step forward in separation from the world. He obviously didn't want the Brethren to split or break up.

After 1959 brethren justified the new separation rules that Mr Taylor Jnr invented by saying that JTJnr was only making everyone do in practice what his father had said in ministry over the years up to 1953. I think there is some truth in this. Percy Lyon was close to Mr Taylor Snr and PL was against 1) keeping Christmas; 2) going to university and being educated; 3) having holidays, PL used to say 'let your holidays be holy days'; 4) spending time with music, learning how to play. PL was always saying that attendance at meetings was beneficial so brethren should be there if possible, breathing in the fresh air of being amongst the brethren. Under JTJnr these guidelines became rules and you could get into trouble if you disobeyed them. Before 1959 we always felt we had liberty to walk our own pathway, keep Christmas if we wished, go away for holidays even to places where there was no brethren meeting. Brothers would not raise concerns with you if you did these things - you went on trust. One old lady we knew, her name was Miss Flint (she spent the last five years of her life living with us, being cared for), who lived in the London suburb of Streatham, spent three years in Mauritius during the 1920s visiting a personal friend who had no connection with brethren at all. In 1959 when visiting Germany, I met a brethren couple, Mr and Mrs Sinclair from New Zealand, who lived in Antwerp in Belgium where there was no brethren meeting. Their nearest meeting was in Holland so they went there as often as they could.

After Mr Lyon married Miss Ruth Bodman in 1951 he became more conventional. Mrs Lyon did appear to have a calming influence on him. Before he married he was seen as having eccentric mannerisms, after marriage these became less obvious. When he spoke in public his speech was faltering to start with and he would grimace often; this could last for the first ten minutes. As the hour went by his confidence would grow and he warmed to his subject and he became increasingly fluent in speaking. It was possible to be held spell-bound by his language. He was a word smith and in the past fifty years I have not come across anyone in a church who could use words the way he did. He used these skills to persuade brethren that all the restrictions we experienced through 'walking in separation' were worthwhile. In England brethren would laugh at his mannerisms and stories would circulate about him, for example one such tale was that six months after he had stayed with a brethren couple they came across one of his socks behind the wardrobe in the bedroom. Apparently some of these stories were true. It is difficult to know whether PL liked this sort of attention, or whether he wanted to be taken seriously. It appeared that he was less at home with the brethren in England than with brethren in France and Germany.

Also during the 1950s he embarked on frequent tours abroad where he would take meetings and he would be away for at least three months at a time. Every winter he would go to warmer countries, say Australia for three weeks, then on to New Zealand and somehow include Barbados in his itinerary. He would, of course, be 'serving the brethren, serving the Lord', taking meetings most days. But he was able to combine the visit with social contacts with old friends. Mrs Lyon told me that one of PL's earliest memories was visiting the Grugeon family who lived in Chalk Farm which is at the bottom of Haverstock Hill. One of the Grugeon family members emigrated to Australia and PL would stay with them when on his trips. As he was in his late seventies he could be allowed this luxury. He appeared to be very at home with the brethren in France where he spoke the language fluently. It is an interesting coincidence that he died and was buried in France, almost as if he had come home.

I went to Germany several times when PL was there taking meetings and I noticed that he was more free in the meetings in that country than he was at home. One particular trip I remember was to Leipzig in East Germany in September 1961 when PL took three day meetings there. It was the time when the United States and the Soviet Union were arguing with each other - the height of the Cold War - and the Deutsche Democratik Republic started building the Berlin Wall. I travelled to Leipzig by train overnight leaving from Wuppertal at 10pm with Werner Adrian (Dusseldorf) and Theo Pfeiffer (Mettmann), arriving at our destination at 6 the next morning. Mr and Mrs Lyon went via Berlin and had to walk through Checkpoint Charlie from West to East to get to the airport for the plane to Leipzig. I can best describe the authorities as being 'on edge' making the atmosphere tense. When we arrived in Leipzig we had to register our presence with the Town Hall who told us where we would be staying. My travelling companions told me that we would be billeted with trusted communists. If they asked me 'What do you think of the DDR (Deutsche Democratik Republic) ?' I was to say, 'Lovely place. I am enjoying my stay here.' Actually the town was very run down, women were employed mending the roads, and driving the trams. On the way back to Dusseldorf the three of us travelling together (ie Werner and Theo) brought back 6 year old Rolph Schubert who had been staying with his grandfather during the school holidays. Werner and Theo were so worried that the authorities would not allow Rolph out of the East Zone that we prayed together on the train. We all got through the checkpoints without any problem, the border station was Oebisfelde.

In 1962 the brethren in London decided to grant PL the ultimate honour of asking him to take three day meetings in his own local city, London. Apparently he had never been asked to do this before. So the Central Hall Westminster was booked in February 1963 for PL to take three day meetings. Anyone who has to take on this sort of task probably experiences stress anticipating the occasion in the couple of weeks beforehand, and PL was not immune from this. At that time my father, George, was in the habit of calling at PL's house in the morning and would have breakfast with them, PL having breakfast in bed. My dad had his own building business and would also get catering supplies for them. In the days before the February meetings over breakfast PL would discuss the subject he had in mind for the meetings, which was the seven signs in John's gospel. As the dates for the meetings grew nearer PL was becoming more and more under the weather until one morning he seemed really depressed. My dad and Mrs Lyon were sitting by the bed and PL was complaining of having a cold and was generally miserable. Mrs PL eventually said to him, 'Percy, you are in a bad way. Let me come and rub your back.' So she sat on the bed next to Percy; the combined weight of both of them suddenly sent the leg of the bed through the floorboards with a jolt. This made PL jump, 'Whatever's happened ?' he said. My father said, 'I have a piece of wood in the van which will replace your floorboard.' So quite quickly the problem was sorted, and they continued their breakfast together. Mr Lyon was now visibly cheerful, so much so that Mrs Lyon said, 'Look, how wonderful, he's like his old self again.' So the February meetings went ahead quite successfully, they were published in 1972.

Working as a unit Mr and Mrs Lyon were effective. Mrs Lyon worked really hard all the time; she drove PL in the car to the meetings, sometimes making longer journeys when he was taking fellowship meetings in the London area. She had to oversee all the catering requirements when they had brethren to stay or when they held meals for up to twenty brethren at a time. She was also a shorthand typist and used to type out notes of his meetings which she had taken down in shorthand. They lived in a very large house and I am sure Mrs PL would not have done the cleaning; their furniture was mostly Victorian. My memories of Mrs Lyon are that she was a lady who was consistently polite, discrete and cheerful. I grew up through my early teenage years during the 1950s and young people are astute when it comes to making a judgement of their elders. I could not imagine her telling tales about someone, getting them into trouble, so as to be 'being faithful to the position', yet this telling tales was the sort of behaviour that was endorsed, indeed encouraged during the late 1960s. I think Mrs Lyon was PL's spiritual equal, able to converse with him about the scriptures and ministry on his own level. On one occasion I was with them in the room (in Frau Erna Schmidt's house) in Dusseldorf when they were going through some ministry PL had given in South Africa, revising the manuscripts Mrs Lyon had typed up. It was an interesting experience listening to them discuss the various points, debating whether certain comments should be cut out or left in, and whether the sense was what PL wanted to convey. Mrs Lyon demonstrated how much she knew about biblical references, she was PL's equal.

In the last three years of his life Mr Lyon had to cope with the impending changes that were on the horizon due to the ministry of JTJnr and the Hales brothers from Australia, this was in the early 1960s. Although he tried to make everyone believe he didn't mind change (he was always saying 'keep current' and would never talk about his youth), when his local meeting, Rochford Street, was closed in 1964 he was faced with considering selling up and moving house. It was suggested to him that he get rid of some of his furniture including his brass bedstead, to which he replied, 'What, get rid of the bed where I had pillow fights with my brother Ernest, ... No.' In early 1966, he put his house on the market before he left to visit France on what proved to be his final journey. He never returned, he died February 1966. The things the antique dealers were most interested in when Mrs Lyon sold the house were the large mirrors, floor to ceiling, that were in the dining room. Mrs Lyon told my father that if there was anything we would like we could ask for it. My father and I discussed this and my dad would have asked for the barometer and I had always liked the large clock on the mantelpiece in their dining room. The clock case was in the Egyptian style with figures of 'Pharoahs' on each corner - it was probably in celebration of Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. We decided we couldn't possibly ask for them as they could be family heirlooms which would be passed on to relatives. Someone told us three months later that Mrs Lyon put them out with the rubbish at the front of the house; a tradesman saw them and asked if he could have them. Mrs Lyon moved house to be closer to the West Hampstead meeting room.

I am glad I knew them. They set a good standard of Christian behaviour. They actually cared about other brethren, the sick, widows with children and the elderly. I remember PL's frequent prayers under his breath when he was sitting in the meetings, 'Lord help us'. In April 1966 Charles Deayton wrote a poem about PL, one of the verses says the following:

Our brother here, throughout his days,
Was living in the world to come,
And in his walk, his word, his ways,
Truly reflected that bright home.

(From the 'My Brethren' website)

In conclusion, by way of an appendix, I am including below some of Mr Lyon's 'sayings' which he would often use and I leave you to make your own interpretation of some of the meanings:

1. You might make a list of 101 reasons why you should leave the brethren fellowship. Peter had one reason for staying, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"

2. It is ever the triumph of divine love that provides the brightest light in the darkest hour.

3. Play to the gallery. This is a theatrical term meaning to behave in a way intended to make people admire or support you.

4. Petty kinglets on their tottering thrones. This was referring to brothers, usually younger brothers, who wanted to be noticed, by giving much vocal support to J.T.Jnr.

5. The waves of the sea toss themselves in anger, as if they are trying to reach the sky. The sun comes out, draws them up, and sends them down in soft refreshing rain.

6. God doesn't tantalise us with splendid impossibilities.

7. If you miss the current and build a canal, you end up in dry dock.

8. Everyone has a hole in his boat. What you do is keep an eye on that hole, plugging it to keep the water out. If you don't, the water comes in, and you could sink in sight of port. (re personal failings)

9. You can't stop birds flying over your head, but you can stop them making a nest in your hat. This refers to unhelpful, wrong thoughts.

10. Satan engineers wrong things in this world, but they only provide a dark background to throw into lustre the glories of Christ.
Last edited by charles on Thu Jul 26, 2018 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by charles » Thu Jul 26, 2018 1:40 pm

Alfred J. Gardiner
I first remember seeing Mr Gardiner in the Park Street, London, meetings when I was about 7 years old , I would be looking at him from across rows of seats in the London city room. His local meeting was Streatham, south of the river, whereas the meeting we attended was north of the river. Over the next ten years the only time I remember speaking to him was to ask him to sign my autograph book. Mr Gardiner was an important person in the Exclusive Brethren hierarchy, if he was present at a meeting he always had something to say. At the local city readings he often gave out a hymn or prayed one of the two prayers, and because he was well read in the ministry and the Bible he invariably was deferred to with brothers asking him all the questions.

He was a family man, married with five daughters and was also a grandfather. I personally knew two of his daughters, Marjorie who married Ransom Morford and Dorothy, the youngest, who remained single. Another daughter married Mr David Markham and they had several children. I only mention this because later in this memoir I refer to a tragedy which happened to them. As is well known Mr Gardiner, known as AJG, was a Tax Inspector and he would have retired around the year 1950 when he would have been 65 (he was 26 in the 1911 census).

My judgement as to what kind of a man he was was formed by firstly 10 years of observing him, listening to him in meetings and secondly by coming in contact with him in the course of my work. From 1962 - 1965 I was employed at the Stow Hill Bible & Tract Depot where Mr Gardiner was the senior trustee of four, he therefore became my boss, after the manager. I could use one word, 'consistent', to begin to describe him. In the meetings he was consistently respectful and polite to all who addressed him. When walking around he always held himself very erect. He had an excellent memory and an alert mind. He was a good singer, often giving out hymns and starting the tunes. He would frequently sing the bass part of the tune. He also seemed to have sharp hearing. When meetings were held in large halls such as Westminster Central Hall the only microphones available for brothers to make contributions during the meeting were on the platform. If someone spoke from the middle of the hall without a microphone not everyone could hear what was said so an individual on the platform had to repeat it. I remember Mr Gardiner providing this service occasionally and he managed to repeat almost word for word what was said. His accent when speaking was the Queen's English, he did not speak with a regional accent. His brother, Aubrey, from Wallington, had a similar way of speaking.

When he walked into the Park Street meeting room he had quite a presence. The brethren from Streatham used to travel together by coach to the Wednesday City reading, and would occasionally be delayed by traffic. We used to wait for them to arrive, and they would enter the room in a line. AJG would take his place in the queue for entry, not expecting any special treatment. I can see him still in my mind, waiting to get to his seat, standing very erect with a half smile on his face. He would normally say quite a lot in the course of the city reading, yet despite his honoured position amongst the brethren he would always come across as a humble person. I never heard him answer any brother in an offhand way. 'Controlled' is another word that could describe AJG. If he gave an address the tone of his voice was always level, never raised or shouting, and his addresses were always structured, going from point to point. In 1953, the year that JT Snr died, Mr Gardiner was asked to take the London three day meeting conference at Central Hall Westminster. It was the year of the Coronation and the Coronation decorations were still in place. I remember going to the three evening addresses that year and it was my first experience at being present at such a large occasion, approx 2500 brethren would be there. AJG gave one of the addresses. The next year, 1954, Mr Gardiner again took the lead in the London three day meetings, and I went to all three days. The universal lead position, Man Of God, was vacant, maybe some were pushing AJG forward for the position, and he was certainly not publicising himself as being a candidate.

Mr Gardiner was one of the Exclusive Brethren leaders, but because the brethren had no formal organisation structure the meaning of 'being a leader' seemed to be different compared with leading in a business. Text books say that leaders have a leadership style, democratic or autocratic, most are a mixture of the two. To be a leader implies that you have followers, but people will not follow a person if he/she does not know what they are doing. If you have many followers who support you, then you have power. JTJnr only had power amongst the brethren because of the strength of his following, not because he had innate leadership qualities. The one advantage he did have over others was knowledge of his father's ministry and how JTSnr had operated. Mr Gardiner never tried to get people to follow himself, AJG. He was not a charismatic personality but very level headed. He enjoyed enormous respect from brethren members, earned over the years from being consistently reliable, not being side-tracked. Mr Gardiner became a widower in the late 1950s when his wife, Ellen Jane, died.

I imagine that only those close to Mr Gardiner would have known what he was really like. I can only ever remember him displaying any emotion in public once, and, being a young person, it disturbed me. In the summer of 1960 his granddaughter, Helen Markham, was sadly drowned in a swimming accident while on holiday. The City Reading in Park Street took place as usual and at the end Mr Gardiner picked up the microphone to make the announcement of his granddaughter's death. Before he had finished speaking he broke down and cried. I was only a teenager then, and I had not experienced bereavement of a close family member, so had limited understanding of the depth of feeling involved. It changed my perception of AJG. What happened next I remember was a brother immediately got up and prayed for AJG and the family in this dreadful tragedy.

It was also in 1960 that I bought myself a new camera and took it to a brethren wedding where Mr Gardiner was also present. After the meeting photos of the bride and groom were being taken when I saw Mr Gardiner standing nearby. Thinking I could take a good picture of him I got him in the view finder. He obviously didn't want to be photographed because when he saw what I was doing he turned his back. I got a blurred picture of him turning round. I was disappointed but got over it.

JTJnr's intervention at the 1959 London meetings would have constituted a 'crisis', new ideas coming in which had never been tested before. Mr Gardiner's suggested method of dealing with a 'crisis' amongst the brethren was this: 'you have to ignore what everyone else is saying, ignore all the letters that are being sent around, get into your room privately with God and find out for yourself what to do.'

AJG also went by what the brethren in 'temple enquiry' arrived at, almost like a majority vote. In the London meeting two 'temple enquiries' were held at Park Street, on 8th June 1960 to discuss the new idea that the public were to be shut out from all brethren meetings, and on 19th October 1960 to discuss the new ministry about not eating with anyone who was not a brethren member. At both these meetings there was not a general significant revolt against these proposals, they were rubber stamped, so it could be assumed that brethren should adopt the new practices. If you disagreed with them you would have to leave the fellowship to maintain your integrity, and a small number did leave. Both PL and AJG went along with the 'not eating' and supported it in their own ministry when they took meetings. I doubt whether it would have made any difference if they had disagreed with JTJnr. If they had, both PL and AJG would have left the fellowship, and some would have undoubtedly followed them. The only way to have killed off the 'no eating' ministry was for the New York brethren to have withdrawn from JTJnr, but then who knows how many would have followed JTJnr.

It was in 1959 that I became aware of how AJG used to visit the elderly and sick members of the brethren, in a manner that was almost secret and unannounced. An aged sister, Miss Marianne Victoire Jacot, had lived in our house for two years, being cared for by my mother. She had the distinction of having met John Nelson Darby in Switzerland, and would tell you of her memory of him when she was about 9 years old. When she reached the age of 94 she became ill and it was clear she would not recover, so she was taken into hospital in South London. I went across to the hospital to visit her and she was very ill, not able to communicate. As I left the Hospital I almost collided with Mr Gardiner who was coming into the Ward to sit with her. He may have known her in the past but Miss Jacot had never mentioned that she knew him. We briefly exchanged greetings and went our ways. I knew from this encounter that AJG performed this visiting service without telling anyone.

In writing some thoughts about Mr Gardiner I am including a few of my own experiences as an employee at Stow Hill Depot.

In 1962 my employment in the Bank where I had been for three years came to an end, (due to pension fund separation issues) and I found another job working at the Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, the forerunner of the Gospel Trust. My ultimate bosses were the four Trustees and A J Gardiner was the senior Trustee. The only time we saw the Trustees was at the trustee meetings held at 2, Upper Teddington Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, about four times a year. I never went to a Trustee meeting and only met the four if I passed them on the stairs, or they came into the general office. Mr Robert Stott was always cordial in his greeting if we met and was much appreciated for this. I don't think it is exaggerating to refer to the years 1962 - 1965 as a tumultuous time amongst the brethren. You certainly could arrive at this conclusion if you attended the many meetings held at Park Street, London. This climate was inclined to spill over into the Depot so that an air of uncertainty as to the future was present. During my first twelve months at the Depot the staff turnover was unusually high, culminating with the removal of the deputy manager, Mr Winston O'Prey, I never knew the reason why, but I could make a guess. In January 1963 came the untimely death of Mr Stuart Price, a trustee, and his replacement was Mr Ralph Ball, previously he had been one of four general managers at Barclays DCO, Foreign Branch. Mr William Henderson, a trustee, died and Mr AJE Welch stepped into his shoes. Then in late 1964 Mr Ball resigned for personal reasons and was replaced by Mr David Clapham, an ardent supporter of Mr Bruce Hales, Sydney. A high staff turnover can sometimes benefit those who remain and I found myself doing all the accounts and the wages.

One of the staff members at the Depot was Mr. Tommie Gratten who worked as a proof-reader. He went to the Putney meeting in London and lived in a rented house where he has been for many years, renting from a Mr Robbins, a brethren member. I worked alongside him for about two years at the Depot until he resigned in August 1964. When he was younger he had considered training to be a Roman Catholic priest but he married and at some stage before WW2 he joined the brethren. He lived in Putney and was in the bakery business and did not do any war service, living in London through the war. By the 1950s he was not in work but had the idea that he should be a ministering brother, living off the gifts that he received from the brethren, given for his services in taking fellowship meetings. He was a gifted speaker and preacher of the gospel and used to visit localities. He used to tell me he had never been unemployed. In 1960 the London brethren told him he should support himself by working, earning money from employment, so he took a job at Harrods store in Kensington. He then suffered a severe heart attack and had to leave, but secured employment at Stow Hill Depot as a proof reader of ministry that was being printed.

I started work at Stow Hill Depot in March 1962 and after about nine months of working on the accounts I also took on doing some proof reading, working with Mr Gratten in his room. I discovered he was well read in many subjects, with a detailed knowledge of the contents of the Bible. As proof readers we had to check all scripture references, and if a verse of the Bible was quoted and there was no chapter and verse reference, we had to find it. I can remember being unsuccessful in finding a particular reference for a quotation and asked TJG (Mr Gratten) and he said 'have you tried Psalm 69 ?' He didn't have much time for W Bruce Hales when he became really prominent in 1964, and I remember saying to him that I had heard Bruce Hales say, 'I can do anything.' Tommie Gratten answered, 'Can he make a banana?' He was one of a very few people who actually stood up to Bruce Hales publicly, challenging him. David Burgess, the manager, was another.

One of the meetings held during the three day occasion at Alexandra Palace with JTJnr was set aside to discuss printing the ministry at Stow Hill, 12th July 1962. Mr Bruce Hales, Sydney, put forward a plan whereby all the ministry of JND, FER, and JT could be available to buy, and it would be paid for in advance. 'Area agents' were to be appointed in every area of the world where brethren resided. About fifteen to twenty volumes of ministry would be printed every year and brethren were expected to buy them, the cost being about £10 per year. The orders would be funnelled to the area agents who would collate them and send the money with the orders to Stow Hill. The effect on the finances of the Depot was dramatic. The first year this idea was put into operation was 1963 and I remember going to the bank with large amounts, many tens of thousands of pounds on one occasion (about £83k). As a result the Depot had large cash balances which received significant bank interest. The workload at the Depot certainly increased, with extra proof reading required.

I remember about this time Stow Hill was burgled and the intruders didn't leave a stone unturned. Somehow they found the keys to the safe where any cash was kept but they missed finding quite a large wad of cash which I had stuffed in a folder. They opened cabinet drawers and scattered the contents over the floor. They escaped with very little. There was a real shambles to clear up. All this was discussed at the next Trustee meeting and Mr Gardiner made the comment, 'If I were a burglar, I think I would be a tidy burglar.' This is an example of his sense of humour, and it made everyone laugh.

I have made the point that Mr Gardiner was always measured in what he said in public ministry, but there was the rare exception. I remember on one occasion AJG was giving an address, reading from Matthew 14 verses 6 - 8 which describes how a dancer, the daughter of Herodias, danced before Herod and pleased him. He asked her what she would like and she requested the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Mr Gardiner pointed out that sometimes we ask for something we want, and when we get it we can see in full detail the result of what we have insisted on. AJG then went on to paint a gory picture of what it would be like to receive a human head on a plate, with all the blood running down. He did not often resort to a description of something as violent as this, but it was unforgettable.

1964 was another year of turmoil, mainly because the victims of Mr Taylor Jnr's ministry on stringent separation were fighting back, going to MPs, also the Press, and complaining. One of the loudest objectors was a Mrs Nightingale, who had married her Brethren husband years before, and she was not a brethren member. Mr Nightingale, a brethren member, put the new separation rules into practice, not eating meals with his wife etc, so his wife fought back. An MP, Mr Gresham Cooke, became interested and devised The Family Preservation Bill, a Private Member's Bill, which would have made it illegal to preach/teach from verses of the Bible, eg 2 Timothy 2: 19 - 22, using these verses to make husband and wife separate from each other. The Exclusive Brethren were also getting publicity as newspapers reported these events.

I have already said that the upheaval that was occurring among the Brethren generally, made waves into Stow Hill Depot. On 29th April 1964 I received a letter from Mr Ralph Ball, a Trustee, it was generally about work, and it said, 'I should also be glad to have a list of manuscripts of Mr Jim Taylor's ministry that is in the hands of the Depot and has not yet reached the printers. I specially would like to know how the 1964 programme of Mr Jim Taylor's ministry is going, i.e. what notes we have already received and what we have done with them. I trust you are being encouraged in your work and that you are not disturbed by recent happenings in the Depot.' I cannot remember what the 'recent happenings in the Depot' were exactly, undoubtedly it was to do with the firing of staff members.

The global Levites meeting, held at Dorking in 1964 and chaired by JTJnr, took place in August. The Sydney based commercial system was gaining momentum, with Messrs Bruce and John Hales, the architects of the 'system', having a lot to say in meetings. The Dorking meetings appeared to go pear shaped with Mr Jim Taylor going home early, on the Sunday. In a surprise move Mr Symington and not Mr John Hales was asked to stand in for JTJnr for the Sunday afternoon reading. Two ladies, the Miss Hawgoods, from Guildford, were invited to the Dorking Meetings, and they went to them, but they withdrew from the fellowship soon after returning home because they said there was too much whisky drinking at Dorking. As far as Stow Hill Depot was concerned, shortly after the Dorking meetings in August 1964 a Trustee meeting was arranged at Hampton Wick. I believe the date of the meeting was Monday 24 August, 1964. When the meeting was finished all staff were summoned into the general office on the first floor and Mr Gardiner appeared and said he had an announcement to make. He said that the Trustees had with regret decided to give the Manager, Mr David Burgess, notice because of his opposition to Mr W Bruce Hales, from Sydney.

He then asked to see Mr Tommie Gratten, in his room. Mr Gratten was interviewed but continued at work, he wasn't sacked - he was in the clear for the moment. Tommie Gratten lived in Putney and went to Park Street for the city meetings. He had recently confronted Bruce Hales publicly in a London meeting, saying he was wrong to set out to make lots of money, with the Lord's help. TJG said that Jesus had to ask for a penny when He needed it - He didn't have any money. He objected to Bruce Hales saying that the Lord would help us to make money. A few days later at the city reading in Park Street Mr Gardiner announced to the brethren that he had received a letter from Mr Gratten, and he read the letter out. The letter said briefly that 'I withdraw from all who regularly meet at 57 Park Street'. Mr Gardiner then quite quickly withdrew from TJG. I was surprised at the speed and decisiveness with which this was done. Back at work I was writing out the final salary cheques for two people I had worked with for over two years, suddenly removed. We never got a chance to say 'goodbye'. Mr George Hollington from the Croydon area, a current member of staff, was appointed manager. But more turbulence was to come. Towards the end of the year Mr Ralph Ball, trustee, was forced into resigning for personal reasons. His replacement was Mr David Clapham, a landscape gardener from Manchester; so now the Australian-commerce-in-the-assembly group had their man amongst the trustees.

After David Burgess, the manager, left there was a brief period when AJG was the only one available to sign cheques. So he would come to The Depot, and into my office, and I would get him to sign any cheques that needed to be sent out as payment for bills. He did not have any small talk, he was business-like and didn't exactly put you at your ease. I think I was in awe of him. On one occasion I had to add up a few invoices to reach a total figure to be put on the cheque while he was sitting in front of me. I had a manual adding up machine with an abbreviated keyboard, and I could operate this quickly and accurately, without looking, having practised this. With AJG watching me I proceeded to show off, adding up at break neck speed. When I had finished he said, "I could add that up in my head quicker than you do on that machine." Bless him !

The Exclusive Brethren leaders had a strategy of making everyone feel they were not making the grade, were not good enough, there was always room for improvement. Suggestions were made in ministry that underneath the facade of brethren sitting quietly in the meeting was a depth of unconfessed sin. This unconfessed sin was holding the London brethren back. Mr Winston O'Prey had a lot to say at this time in the meetings and on Thursday 1st October 1964 he managed at a Park Street city meeting to get brethren confessing things openly that they had done in the past. The confessions gathered momentum, people were queuing to get hold of a microphone, it was like a frenzy of confession. And it went on until past 11pm. At 11.10pm Mr Gardiner said 'It is getting late, some people have got to get home on public transport.' Mr O'Prey retorted, 'Let the Lord do His work !' It continued for a few minutes more, but the spell was broken, and the meeting closed at about 11.20pm.

When David Clapham made his first visit to the Depot after being appointed as a Trustee, he came into my office and said, 'How long do you expect to stay here ?' In February 1965 I handed in my notice, having decided to leave. I had spent three interesting and fruitful years at the depot, and learned many useful skills. I had started as a sales ledger clerk working on the Kalamazoo system of accounting. I had gained useful experience in bookkeeping, accounting and wages. I then started proof reading the ministry, then collating the proofs of other proof readers. Mr Walter Brown (Harrow meeting) was in charge of editing JTJnr's ministry and JTJnr had full confidence in him, having delegated this duty to him. We used to have to check all scripture references for accuracy, and I became better at spelling, particularly spelling the word 'separation'. We had to correct wrong spelling. These duties gave me an insight into the printing industry and how the ministry books were produced in thirty two page sections, sixteen pages on each side. These were folded so that the page numbers were consecutive. I began to appreciate what is a good book binding; books whose pages are stuck together with glue do not stay intact as long as a book bound in sections. I visited with Tommie Gratten the factory (Dorstel Press) in Harlow, Essex where the Bibles and Hymn Books were bound, and some of the ministry. It was fascinating to see how the Bibles and Hymns Books were given the gold edging on the pages - it was with 24 carat gold leaf. My time there was not wasted.

Mr Gardiner did not have an easy time during 1965. Mr Taylor Jnr was out of the picture, we heard nothing from him, and W Bruce Hales, with supporters, was spreading his own gospel of making as much money as possible from business. Brothers who had retired from work were told to find employment again. People who were in employment were told to ask their employers for more money. About the month of May 1965 the two London leaders, PL and AJG came under attack publicly in Park Street, PL on one occasion and AJG on another. AJG was accused of not being with the current mind of the Lord; he was denounced for not pushing forward the Hales commerce ministry. Moreover Mr Gardiner was reminded that he was a single man, a widower; then an astonishing, humiliating accusation was made: hadn't he been demonstrating pride in the fact that he thought he could live in all purity without a wife. I was there when this took place. He was also asked in private why he didn't drink whisky. A young brother asked, "Mr Gardiner, why don't you exercise your christian liberty by having a drink of whisky ?" His reply was, "I exercise my christian liberty in saying no."

On Tuesday 27th July 1965 the marriage took place of Mr AJ Gardiner and Miss Nancy Harkness, and a meeting was held in Park Street to mark the occasion. Miss Harkness had been local at the same meeting we went to, Rochford Street, for several years. She shared a flat with two other ladies, Miss Joy Wickens and Miss Pack, Joy's companion. She worked in the Civil Service and earlier in her career had been secretary to Harold Wilson, who later became the Labour Prime Minister. We knew her quite well and held her in high esteem. She was several years younger than AJG and brought with her a nearly new, blue, Morris Minor car. With his new wife Mr Gardiner took on a new lease of life and started to go further afield, even abroad, taking more fellowship meetings. His daughter, Dorothy, who had lived with her father for years, left the house and also withdrew from fellowship.

After the collapse of 'the system' in October 1965 we left the London gathering, not being part of it any more. JTJnr had said that the London gathering of some thirty sub-divisions was too large so some of the meetings re-grouped into smaller working units. We found ourselves part of the brethren city of Barnet. We now rarely saw AJG, but Mr and Mrs Gardiner would occasionally come across to our house to visit an old friend who lived with us, Miss Flint. She had lived in Streatham since 1866 (since birth) and it was memorable to hear AJG pray with her.

In 1967 I embarked on a two and a half year course of study as a full time student, which would qualify me to enter the accountancy profession if I wished (the exams of what is now called CIMA). I found a college in South London, Tooting, where student union membership was not compulsory so I travelled every day down the Northern Line from Finchley Central to Tooting Broadway. I had to attend some evening classes as part of the course and also had to attend as many meetings in Barnet as I could. I was receiving a government grant as a full time student which would cease if I failed any of the exams. We had to sit three or four papers at a time, every six months, and if one paper was failed all subjects had to be re-sat. A year into the course I became concerned at the pressure brethren were putting on young people to give up courses of study. I wondered if I should give up. I was worried. If I had asked certain brothers who were committed to putting the latest thoughts of JTJnr into practice, the advice would have been, 'listen to the Lord's word in the ministry; give up.' So I avoided going to those brothers for advice. I chose instead to visit Mr Gardiner at his home to see what he thought. He said, 'the exams you pass are in the will of God.' I was interested in this observation as he had effectively told me to make up my own mind. I decided to continue the studies and, despite feeling unbearably pressurised by the brethren, completed the course, passing the Final four papers in June 1969. I have always been thankful to my parents, now deceased, and sister, who is in the Hales EBs, for their support and encouragement in that two and a half years.

By 1970 AJG was well over 80 years old and his mind was not as alert as it used to be. The Aberdeen affair happened in July 1970 and the supporters of JTJnr walked out of the Park Street room; Mr Gardiner stayed in his seat, appearing to be anti-JTJnr. Mrs Gardiner made sure that AJG stayed with the brethren who supported Mr Taylor Jnr.

Mr Jim Taylor died in October 1970 and Mr Jim Symington assumed the universal leader role within about eighteen months. In 1972 the brethren in London held three day meetings where Mr J H Symington would take the lead and Mrs Gardiner asked me if I would stay with them for the weekend providing transport for them and Mr and Mrs Symington. I had a Mini Traveller, a small car, with double doors at the back. It was an interesting experience. After the meetings JHS and his wife would clamber into the back of the car and AJG would sit in the front. That weekend I was able to observe JHS closely; at mealtimes he was rather quiet. It was whilst sitting waiting for the meal one day that Mr Gardiner said to JHS, 'Isn't it sad that now Mr Jim Taylor has gone we do not have a universal leader.' Mr Symington answered, 'yes, I agree, it is a pity.' AJG's short-term memory was not as good as it was and he repeated the observation, 'Mr Jim Taylor has gone so sadly we have no universal leader.' Again JHS agreed with him. Perhaps JHS made a mental note of this comment.

I don't know what finally happened to Mr Gardiner, he died in 1976. Was he withdrawn from at JHS's instigation and if so why ? It was suggested that he had been involved with changing the ministry before it was printed. In my view this is total moonshine, AJG was far too honest, and so were the other proof readers. He was surely beyond criticism in his life style so any case against him must have been a trumped up charge. Perhaps they thought his was a rival ministry.

Finally, I think Mr Gardiner was a good example to the younger people. He was unfailingly courteous to his fellow brethren. What I observed and learned from him is still with me today. Like PL he cared about other brethren, he paid the elderly people visits and prayed with them. And what is impressive is a lot of this kind of activity was done secretly, out of sight, and he never wanted any pats on the back for doing it. I didn't get to know him well as a person. I came to the conclusion that he was quite shy, but for 20 years in my early life I listened in the meetings to what he had to say.

Charles Barrett 2018

Gal 5.1
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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by Gal 5.1 » Fri Jul 27, 2018 9:06 am

A most interesting insight, Charles into two leaders in the Exclusive Brethren. Thank you for telling us of your memories of these men.
Even though they were around in the 1960s they seemed to belong to an earlier era. I only heard PL once or twice, the last occasion being in 1963 when as I recall he had to be propped up on cushions to take an address! However once he got going he was like a steam train gradually building up momentum and difficult to stop!
AJG was a thoughtful and careful man who seemed to weigh up his words carefully. In my experience he spoke with respect to everyone both in the meetings and privately. He was a quiet unassuming gentle man who would I think have found it difficult to deal with the brash characters whose bluster characterised the mid 1960s. We left in 1970 and I understand the way AJG was treated in his declining years was quite disgraceful. I have heard an account of his funeral that seemed unbelievable but you may have more accurate information.
Both PL and AJG knew the bible well and their teaching although "exclusive" in character conveyed their understanding and detailed knowledge of the scriptures in a way that contrasted with the superficiality of JT junior's rhetoric.

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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by charles » Fri Jul 27, 2018 1:13 pm

The last 3 day meeting I went to was in June 1975 at Coventry which JHS took. A friend from London told me that the London brethren had raised the changing of ministry with AJG but he couldn't remember anything about that. That is all I know for certain. I have wanted to write down what I know of both PL and AJG because I found it difficult to reconcile their ministry which was supportive of JT Senior and JT Junior with the harsh spirit that appeared 1967 - 1975. I would not entertain criticism of JTJnr until 1970. There was a lull of about 2 years after JTJnr died before J H Symington got himself established, and started really throwing his weight around and people were withdrawn from right, left and centre. At those Coventry meetings they started at 6am, so we all got up at 4.30am to get there in time, only to find that Jim Symington walked into the meeting half an hour late at 6.30am, and he did this all through the weekend. I don't think PL or AJG would have done this.
Last edited by charles on Fri Jul 27, 2018 5:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Ian McKay
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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by Ian McKay » Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:38 pm

The only Brethren ministry I ever bought was by these two old worthies, AJG and PL. Among the Brethren whose ministry was being recorded and printed, these two were in a class of their own. I would have bought ministry by A. J. E. Welch and the Mason brothers too if these have been available, because they had a valuable message too. They had absorbed and expressed the spirit of Christianity, they understood something of the meaning of the scriptures and they had convincing and inspirational things to say, especially in their early ministry, and they could express themselves clearly.

It is a great pity that AJG and PL were both eventually persuaded, I suspect reluctantly, to accept the utterly evil teachings and immoral practices of Jim Taylor. In effect, it meant that they abandoned the Christian gospel that they had once preached and exemplified.

Your reminiscences, Charles, are a valuable contribution to the social history of Brethrenism. I am glad to see them being put on permanent record.

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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by Humbled » Fri Jul 27, 2018 6:03 pm


I wish to add to other members thanks for these beautifully written articles. Although I only knew these two men as a result of attending meetings when they came to Scotland and therefore very much less than yourself I feel as if I can see them plainly almost like a 3D film. These men were quite different from each other and both highly respected in my family circles.

PL was a great character. Occasionally when meeting friends the subject of lack of characters being around nowadays is discussed. Men like Churchill are mentioned and of course old PL in the same conversation.

AJG seemed to me to be a very courteous and serious man. I cannot imagine him seeing the funny side of life. If he was humorous could it be the type of humour enjoyed by Tax men but not understood by others?

These two men seem to be examples of the end of an era marked by old fashioned dignity and trustworthiness. I heard in the news today that Prince Charles was duped by a Bishop and said in the 80’ there was a presumption that Bishops could be trusted. In that sense both of these men would certainly fall into that category.

I am relieved that you didn’t find the need to explain that their judgement was infalliable otherwise I would need to check out that I had done the best thing in leaving Brethren weeks after Aberdeen. These were two godly men who were enthusiastic bible students and given to prayer who must have decided that the Exclusive doctrine was right. Other eminent Christian men like Luther , Spurgeon or in present times Dr Sinclair Ferguson came to other conclusions ,ones which I favour.

Perhaps what happened to them at the end of their days is a lesson to be learned. Could you remind us the details of the funeral of AJG.

Thank you again

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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by charles » Sat Jul 28, 2018 7:45 pm

Ian, Gal 5.1 and Humbled,

Thank you for your comments and encouragement. I am grateful, Ian, for your recent advice and reassurance when I was undecided on whether to place these written thoughts in public. In the long time that we have been out of the EBs I have listened to all manner of sermons in the C of E, ex-EB meetings but only for a short time, and more modern churches like Hillsong. PL and AJG stand out in my life as being the ones who have had the greatest influence. In fact I could have stopped going to any place of worship for good at times, but PL and AJG gave me reasons to continue.

Gal 5.1, and Humbled, I really don't know what happened at AJG's funeral in 1976, or indeed whether he was eventually withdrawn from. Someone wrote on one of the websites that he had been to AJG's funeral when he was young, about 10 years old, and that his daughter, Dorothy, was there. She had left the brethren. Stories of a 'burial of an ass' are discounted and probably not true, but I honestly don't know.

Mrs Lyon's job was similar to that of a vicar's wife where people would tell you their problems and you would get to know information that should be confidential. During the 30 years that we went to the same C of E church we were in contact with two vicar's wives, but neither of them came up to Mrs PL. To be a vicar's wife must be like walking a tightrope, but one of them made me feel that she was expert at keeping you at arm's length. She so deftly and definitely did it and that was her way of coping. Mrs Lyon, on the other hand, was consistently helpful, welcoming and cheerful. I don't know how she managed it.

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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by The Erect Vessel » Sun Jul 29, 2018 6:36 am

Very interesting memories! My one and only memory of P.L. was in 1963 at Portobello Town Hall in Edinburgh and as mentioned above he was propped up on a bunch of cushions and seemed to get very comfortable there; the mic looked like an ice cream cone, albeit a grey one, and his mouth was so close to it, accompanied by his gruff voice and thick moustache - hey it was a great piece of theatre although it got to the stage, (pardon the pun) - as I was a young boy of getting to be very boring, and thankfully was spared most of the meetings - a kind - I think a bit naughty sister in her twenties 'offered to look after me' and we enjoyed a real ice cream and wandering round a museum pressing buttons to make the exhibits work,and climbing Scott's monument instead.

A.J.G. was the very essence of an English gentleman - and very boring to me as a young boy - a source of intrigue as to who of us could mimic his accent - I can't say I remember anything about his meetings.

(It confirmed my thinking which started when I was 4 years old that brethren stuff and boring meetings were not for me). You don't have much option at that age, and do exactly as Mum and Dad say eh!

I often wonder why it took me so long to get out of Peebdom!

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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by Humbled » Sun Jul 29, 2018 8:36 pm

Lovely memory of PL and Portobello town hall. I think
that locality must have been a bit loose to allow you
Erect Vessel to skip the meetings and enjoy real ice cream
With a young sister. I can only remember one visit to
Portobello fellowship meetings . I think it was with the
‘Boys’ engaged on a check out of the local talent I vaguely remember there was a Tally shop of some repute across
the road.

Boredom is an other subject. If you had lived in the West
there were care meetings and plenty of issues. In between
I developed for myself a method of sleep keeping my
eyes open .

You lost your way with such laxity. May I enquire what
Happened to the young sister who took you up Scott’s

The Erect Vessel
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Re: Comments on Percy Lyon and Alfred Gardiner, London

Post by The Erect Vessel » Mon Jul 30, 2018 4:31 am

Mm well the Priest's lips keep knowledge young brother Mr Humbled One is sure you understand so will have to cover the matter privately with you mm.

I think she was pretty squared off with the brethren too, and was glad of the fresh air away from the stuffiness of boring meetings. She took me to the zoo as well, and I remember looking at the monkeys in the zoo and seeing the resemblance to a certain well known accountant from Edinburgh - and confirmed by a workman who was shifting tables ( a 'worldly') who exclaimed much to everyone's amusement as they were preparing cups of tea, 'Well, I'll be blowed if that isn't Monkey Stewart!' he said in a loud voice. . 'W.Leslie's bald head went red, and everyone laughed. He was one of Leslie's old school classmates!

Strange the things you remember eh!

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