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Meet the Godfreys: Diaries reveal how wealthy Carlton family helped set up new church in town


Angie Keyworth continues to share treasures and memories found in the archives of her relatives – the Godfreys, who were a hugely-influential family from Carlton…


John and Emma’s days consisted of family life, business and chapel on Sundays. in John’s case, meetings on many weekday evenings. They also holidayed on the east coast several times a year and enjoyed hosting teas with their extended family.

Emma was extremely good at entertaining and with the help of her live-in maid Lizzie,  provided excellent teas both at home and chapel. 

When Emma moved to The Willows on Conway Road in 1929, Lizzie moved with her and became her companion in later years.

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John and Emma played a large part in the running of Main Street Methodist Church on Carlton Hill,  although they married in All Hallows Church Gedling in 1880.  Marriages couldn’t take place in non-conformist chapels in 1880.  My grandparents’ Harold Godfrey and Helen Underwood were the first of my direct Godfrey ancestors to marry in Main Street Chapel in 1906.

There was a previous church on the site of the Methodist church, built around 1853/54, where John and his siblings would have attended as children. 

John mentions in his diary taking part in Sunday school anniversaries as a small child and wearing a ‘frock’ made by his mother for the occasion. 

PICTURED: Carlton Methodist church Sunday School

I too have memories of a couple of anniversaries at Main Street wearing very pretty dresses, but I found the occasion rather daunting having to recite my ‘piece’ on the platform – although I did enjoy the singing. 

A Sunday morning sermon was slightly less tedious for me if Dad had been to watch Nottingham Forest the day before as he would still have a bag of Nuttall’s Mintoes in his overcoat pocket. Playing hangman in the back of Mum’s diary was another diversion.  From the little I remember of Mum’s memories of my great-grandmother Emma, she would have been appalled at mint eating and hangman playing in chapel! 

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The congregation at the old church had to save hard for a new and larger chapel in Main Street.  I have found photos of the interior of the old chapel in our archive.

A committee of church trustees had been looking around the area and further afield for ideas and designs for the new chapel. One trip took the gentleman to Gainsborough and John says this in his diary.

“Myself and committee members along with Mr Sutton went to Gainsborough to see the John Robinson Memorial Chapel which Mr Sutton (architect) is building and we would like ours to be similar, ” he wrote.

“We did enjoy ourselves. One gentleman said he had never enjoyed a day like it in his life, something of a holiday atmosphere. We came back via Lincoln where we visited the Cathedral.” 

The gentlemen also visited the prison – surely that was not included in the holiday atmosphere!

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The best of times

In the 25 years that John’s diaries cover, it is quite obvious the gentlemen had the best of times.  In 1913 John, with sons Harold and Donald and nephew Wilfred Godfrey, holidayed in Italy for three weeks and in later years John travelled with his son Cecil to Canada for six weeks.  Both trips were supposedly for ‘theological’ research. In fact, the Canada trip was taken with other Methodist gentlemen but they clearly enjoyed it all immensely.

In Italy, Wilfred took the photos which I still have and grandpa Harold filled out a daily diary entry in a Marks and Spencer’s jotter. 

PICTURED: Members of The Godfrey family at Hadrian’s Wall

On their return Harold and Wilfred put on a lantern lecture of the slides at Main Street Church. 

I do have some keepsakes from these trips.  A lovely photo of John and Cecil on a mountain top in Canada, letters written from Harold in Italy to my Aunt Margaret, who was six at the time, the programme from the Lantern show and also jewellery from Italy.

There is one outing that was recorded in the diary and also a local newspaper back in June 1910. Emma, John’s mother, Ann Maria; Emma’s sister-in-law and Emma’s little daughter Emma all featured in the article.  The party had driven to Colwick Hall in a horse and carriage.  After tea at the Hall, the party continued home, when the horse became upset by a bicycle, and pitched the occupants down the bank and into the river. With the exception of little Emma, the ladies were all left soaked but unhurt.  For me this conjures up a great image of the three ladies, with their bedraggled flowery hats and dripping wet ankle length skirts, trying to step elegantly out of the River Trent.

Diary entries covering the building of the new chapel

July 4th, 1897:  Sunday School anniversary. The last services in the old chapel.  Mr J Lewin preached in the afternoon and Mr Wheat in the evening.  At night service, many eyes were wet with tears.  Mr W Brettle had composed a special piece to be recited and finished up with Old Lang Syne.

July 6th, 1897:  Mr J Lewin commenced to pull down the old chapel and school.

August 19th, 1897: A memorable day. Stone laying of new chapel that we have talked about and worked for, for so long; thankful we are spared to see it.  Had my father been alive he would have been delighted.

May 5th, 1898: New chapel – 3 pm – preacher J H Hart. JP Birmingham made his home with us and we enjoyed his stay very much.

The pulpit for the new chapel cost £60 and was chosen and paid for by John’s mother, Ann Maria Godfrey. There is an inscription on the pulpit in memory of her husband, my great-great grandfather John Godfrey.  Ann Maria joined the Wesleyan Church in 1849 but left with the other ‘reformers’ and formed what is now the United Methodist Church of Carlton.

A couple of years ago I visited the chapel and was pleased to see a much brighter and lighter church than I remembered from childhood. I was also shown two lovely stained glass windows in the front vestibule.  The first was given by Samuel and his sisters in memory of their mother Ann Maria and the second is in memory of my great-grandfather John.

Ann Maria died in 1918 and John died in 1920.

I’m quite sure I would have been told about the pulpit and the stained glass as a child, but obviously the Nuttall’s Mintoes were far more to my taste!

As a young adult, Mum was a Sunday School teacher at our church on Main Street.  I have taken three rather apt verses from a poem she wrote for the church centenary…

Anniversaries were special occasions,
for the girls a new dress was a must.
Adults brought their best out of mothballs,
flowery hats were all given a dust.

I remember up there on the platform,
my knees would be knocking with fright.
In case all the words I’d forgotten,
when my time came to stand and recite.

The Sunday School treat was on Monday
we sang round the streets, then had tea.
Then down to the field at my Grandma’s,
for games and lots of sweets, free.”

‘Grandma’s’ referred to in the poem was Park House. 

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  1. Great read about a truly influential family from years ago. I know/ read of the family houses at Parks Corner, it’s a real shame that they were redeveloped,

  2. Great read about a truly influential family from years ago. I know/ read of the family houses at Parks Corner, it’s a real shame that they were redeveloped,


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