“A visit to St Silas church, long-locked since 2000, the Millennium year.
‘Quite recently then’, I said. ‘No, it’s been shut a long time’, came the reply, ‘or seems like it. Nearly 14 years.
I’ve often passed it, walking quickly on my way to work. Tall, brown ecclesiastical walls, like an aged cassock, the church seemed bleak and ghostly from the outside.
When I heard there was a proposal for it to be converted to a Mosque, I was glad. Thank goodness, a use for this grand old monster, crouching in our tight packed Broomhall streets. Now it’s to be flats – the latest planned conversion – and I welcome that too. Better a use than to leave St Silas to disintegrate and decay.
Inside, on the Open Day, spectacularly light. The stained glass alive with colour still.
I was handed a piece of paper and a powerful torch – sent off alone into a porch-way to record the names of the soldiers of the Parish killed in World War One.
The names were etched in gold, according to their regiment. Many far-flung regiments, surprisingly, not just the York and Lancs, but these lads fought with the likes of the Scottish Fusiliers. Were they understood – with their broad South Yorkshire slang, the thee’s and thou’s – when they journeyed north to Scotland? How come they were so scattered, these lads from Hodgson Street, Broomhall Street and Hanover Square?
I’ve read my Siegfried Sassoon and remember how regiments decimated after major battles, regrouped. Then, when still too few remained alive, they disbanded and survivors sent to fight again with other regiments.
So perhaps these sons of Broomhall and communicants of St Silas church, dispersed, like refugees, and emigrated across the border to the Welsh Fusiliers or to the regiment named so glorious in abbreviation it would overwhelm a cap badge – The King’s Own Royal Light Infantry.
I reached up on tiptoe, shone my torch, and recorded their names in the damp alcove. Someone had come, earlier that day, to search out a distant uncle’s name and having found it, returned home to gather flowers then to place them in a vase underneath the roll of honour.
Many people came to chat whilst I copied down the names. They were looking for an echo of their own name, a distant relative, perhaps: five Jones, four Thompson’s and six Bailey’s, Repeats within families, brothers, an uncle or first cousins who lived down the road.
Old residents told me stories too about old Broomhall. The best from Laurie, 83 years old. The best remembered: the shops and where the old houses had been, the neighbours, pious or drunkards, tales of church celebrations, festivals, weddings and of brides, shy virgins, who had passed through this very porch.
Past these golden names of young old men.”