Stonehouse Friendly Circle

Stonehouse Friendly Circle

38 years of happy memories and friendship
(from Stroud News and Journal September 1985)

When Stonehouse Friendly Circle celebrates its 38th birthday in September, it will also mark 38 years of very happy memories for one of its members.

For Mrs Victoria Gard of Cordwell Lane, Middleyard, King’s Stanley, was at the very first meeting and has been active in the club ever since. On the day of that first meeting in September 1947, Mrs Gard was asked to go along to accompany the singers – providing the entertainment on the piano. One of them, she remembers, was the late Mr Percy Blick, schoolmaster, from Leonard Stanley. She did like the old folk she was helping to entertain and carried on going. Today, a pensioner herself, she is still entertainments secretary and, together with her husband Eric, is one of the mainstays of the organisation.

In those early days there were only about 25 members. Today there is a maximum membership of 150 and a long waiting list to join. More than 125 members attend each regular Friday afternoon meeting.

Every week, Eric, who married Victoria, who was then a widow, in 1949, goes to the Stonehouse Community Centre with a couple of other male members to set out all the chairs. And then back the couple go in the afternoon to enjoy the entertainment organised by Mrs Gard, followed by a chat and a cup of tea.

Each week the entertainer is different, although favourites are asked back time and time again. The choir and orchestra of Wycliffe College go twice a year, and there are various guest singers and pianists as well as other musicians and speakers.

Occasionally there is a gap in the bookings, or a guest cannot make it at the last minute. Into the breach step Eric and Victoria Gard, always ready with their suitcase of costumes and props, and witty songs and sketches. The couple are no strangers to the world of entertainment. Mrs Gard used to accompany singer Mrs Dyson-Hughes, wife of the then managing director of Hoffmann’s, all over the County.

In 1952, for the Coronation the following year, the couple helped form a concert group – the Cropthorne Concert Party. It stayed together for more than five years and one of the most active members was John Cantwell, now Chairman of the Area Health Authority. Several members of the Cropthorne Concert Party were also members of the Friendly Circle, so naturally the Friendly Circle was one of the places where they took their particular brand of entertainment. But then they also travelled far and wide to other clubs and societies, often as far away as Chipping Sodbury.

The Gards readily admit that the Friendly Circle has made up 50 per cent of their lives over the last 30 plus years, the other 50 per cent surrounding their children.

Only one other current member of the Friendly Circle was at that very first meeting – Mrs Banks. She used to be one of the helpers with the teas. She left the club for some time but has become a member again in recent years. Recently the Gards and another regular for 22 years – Mrs Gwen Youlden of Queen’s Road, Stonehouse, were presented with long service medals by the WRVS to whom the Friendly Circle is affiliated.

The Gards pride themselves on arranging a programme for members which has never resorted to bingo or whist drives. “Our members don’t like that sort of thing,” said Mrs Gard. “Bingo makes it sound so second rate.”

The Friendly Circle also has many long standing traditions such as the services every year at Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival, the trips out and the annual holiday. This year 40 people are off the Blackpool. And at the end of this month more than 50 members will be making the trip to Malvern to see Arcadia at the Malvern Theatre.

But there is one person the Gards and the other members will sorely miss at this year’s 38th birthday celebrations – Mrs Gard’s dearest friend – the late Mildred Gwinnell. “She wasn’t at the first meeting,” said Mrs Gard, “but she was at the second. She was the most wonderful singer and regularly used to entertain members herself and was a member of our concert party. She was also in the Stonehouse Parish Church Choir for nearly 30 years and her husband was the organist.”

As the Gards looked at the photograph of that very first meeting back in 1947, they realised sadly that nearly all the original members are now dead. But they have left behind them a club very much alive and thriving.

Friendly Circle

At the start of last Friday’s Friendly Circle meeting a silence was observed to the memory of Mr C Chandler, a club member.

After three birthdays had been given musical honours, entertainment was provided by Mr Bassett, who showed slides of excellent quality of North Wales. He was thanked by Mrs D. Allen.

Cropthorne Concert Party
Top left to right: Eric Gard, Victoria May Gard, Nellie Miles, Betty Baker, Cyril Pegler, Edith Cantwell, John Cantwell
front left to right: Alice Young, Mildred Gwinnell, Lilla Baker