I was Margaret Saville when I first heard of the Bahá’í Faith in Bradford in 1940. My husband, Cyril Jenkerson, is relying on me to relate our memories of those early days.
I am ever grateful to my parents, for they taught me about God and Christ and the Bible. When war came in 1939 I began to question and to seek the reason why so many had not believed and not followed the Christian teachings we all knew. One thing I did was to become a member of a club of those who believed in international fellowship, and there I met a friend who told me about the Bahá’í Faith. Her name was Joan Brown, who later married Brian Giddings. About this time I also met Cyril, who had heard of the Faith, so we both started to investigate together.
It is interesting to know that it was Mr Sugar from Manchester who brought the Faith to Bradford. He had learned of the Faith from Mr Hall, who had been one of the early Bahá’ís in Manchester at the time Shoghi Effendi was at Balliol College, Oxford. Mr Sugar came to Bradford on business and stayed with the Wilkinson family. Mrs Wilkinson was a widow with her daughter Joan and son Peter. This family became Bahá’ís and Joan (Giddings) had been taught by them.
Cyril and I became Bahá’ís in 1941. I had very strong pacifist feelings, having believed in what Christ had taught about turning the other cheek, so for me going to war was a barrier for a while. One event helped me to understand more regarding Bahá’ís and the question of joining the forces in time of war. This was when Philip Hainsworth had to state his beliefs when he was called to serve and how he was willing to obey the law, thus enabling him to serve in the Medical Corps.
Cyril and I studied the Faith for about eight months and we were greatly influenced by David Hofman and Hasan Balyuzi who at that time were serving on the National Teaching Committee and came to Bradford on teaching trips. We found no problems in accepting these wonderful teachings, but we investigated thoroughly and eagerly waited for publications and translations from the beloved Guardian. It was on reading the Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh that I became convinced this was of God. No ordinary man could have written these words; it was the language of God, the same language we find in the Bible.
We married on 12th May 1941 and Mr Sugar officiated, together with the members of the Bradford Local Spiritual Assembly. By that time we were both members of the Bradford Assembly.
Our families were pleased the Faith made us happy but never felt any urge to investigate for themselves. Some friends saw us as having become religious, which made me think “well, I thought you were too” and it was a surprise that they were not.
It was during our first year of marriage that we moved from Bradford to London where we lived and worked for a while. There we met Dorothy Cansdale who was serving as Secretary for the National Spiritual Assembly. John Ferraby lived near us and we visited his home; he was studying the Faith and his teacher was Dorothy. John soon became a Bahá’í and he and Dorothy married.
It was still war time and we moved back to Bradford when we knew our first child would be born the following year. London was not a good place at that time to have children. Duncan was born in 1942 and Stephen in 1944.
So, at the Centenary of the Bahá’í Faith on 23rd May, 1944 Cyril was the one to go to the meeting for the commemoration. This was held at Denison House, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Westminster, London SW1. Mrs Basil Hall was in the Chair, and among the speakers were Wellesley Tudor-Pole, Sir John Martin-Harvey, Geoffrey Mowatt, Shaw Desmond and Hannen Swaffer – all eminent people who knew of the Faith.
There were only five or six local spiritual assemblies in the whole of the British Isles at this time, so at the end of the War our beloved Guardian gave us plans. One was the Six Year Plan when appeals were made to the Bahá’ís who could move, to open unopened areas to the Faith. Peter and Margo Wilkinson moved to Leeds (Peter and Margo’s marriage took place shortly before ours). David Hofman was married to Marion Holley who had been serving in the USA on the National Teaching Committee. They both joined in serving in the UK and, by going to meet others in the community, were a great force in helping us to deepen in the Faith and especially in enabling us to understand that the Bahá’í Faith was not just something we had joined, but was a way of life.
In 1947 our third son, Paul, was born and from then until 1949 we gave thought to planning to pioneer. We tried to move to Blackpool where my mother and sister had moved to, so Cyril left his job and obtained work in Blackpool where he was able to stay with my mother, but for those ten weeks he had to sleep on the floor. It was impossible at that time to find a house to move into as there was a great shortage of housing after the War and no building of houses had begun. We then thought of trying to move to Oxford. Being practical, Cyril first moved to Oxford and obtained a job, but I stayed in Bradford for five months, waiting to find a house. Eventually we succeeded in pioneering there in July 1949. Mrs Constance Langdon-Davies was already resident in Oxford, and so also were David and Marion Hofman, Philip and Lizzie Hainsworth (Philip’s mother) and ‘Madame Charlot’ (Alma Gregory’s mother). We stayed in this pioneering post for twenty-eight years and in all that time we had some wonderful members of the community. At the time we moved to Oxford, Isobel Locke (from the U.S.A.) was in Oxford for a short time too. She helped Cyril look for a house. Isobel married Hassan Sabri in Oxford and they soon pioneered to Africa, near about the same time as Philip Hainsworth, who also pioneered to Africa. Shoghi Effendi had a great love of Africa and knew that the time was right to open that continent, to get to the people who were pure in heart, before those in the villages got to the cities and were drawn to materialism. Philip’s mother spent some time in Oxford but when Philip went to Africa she moved back to Bradford to be with her other son, but fully intending to pioneer to Africa as well. Sadly, however, she died before she could go.
While Marion and David Hofman were in Oxford we had many people declare their faith. Jean Campbell was one; she was secretary for a plastic surgeon, and later served for many years as secretary for the local spiritual assembly. Through Jean, Dorothy Wiggington became a Bahá’í and she too served for many years as local secretary.
At one public meeting at the town hall in Oxford, Marion Hofman was the speaker and David Hofman the chairman. Ian Semple came to that meeting; he was then a freshman at Pembroke College, and immediately got together with Philip Hainsworth and studied the Faith. In a very short time he became a Bahá’í and, as we know, became a very valuable member.
Daniel Jordan came to Balliol College as a Rhodes Scholar. He had heard of the Faith in the U.S.A. where he came from, and after learning more from Marion and David Hofman, he too soon declared his faith and was a valuable member in the community. At that time our home goals included opening Ireland so Dan made many teaching trips there, finally marrying Nancy Blair from Northern Ireland, and together they eventually went to America. Dan and Nancy were very active members of the community there and Dan became a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States.
To go back to 1949 – our pioneer move was during the Six Year Plan, but while still in Bradford we looked eagerly to any letter from the Guardian who had already mentioned the plan to send pioneers to Africa. So it was in Bradford where we met Clare Gung, who was a refugee from Germany, and who pioneered to Uganda. She was one of the first to answer the Guardian’s call to go to Africa. Clare obtained work in a school and after many years became the Principal. At the time Idi Amin became a power in Uganda and tried to take over the school, Clare stood against the injustice and kept her school going.
While still in Bradford we had a summer school – just a simple arrangement – some staying with Bahá’ís and some in a hotel – the sessions were held in the Bahá’í Centre. Cyril and I had the pleasure of having Emily Eastgate from Birmingham as our guest. She was a staunch worker for the Faith for many years and a great help in teaching. Over the years I have met many people who learnt of the Faith from Emily.
Another time in Bradford we had a Bahá’í guest to help with our teaching, Evelyn Baxter. She was one of the early believers and served at one time on the National Spiritual Assembly. Eventually she pioneered to Jersey in the Channel Islands and became a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh. We also met Dick Backwell, who came to Bradford on a teaching trip. He and his wife Vida were teachers overseas in Guyana for some time afterwards, and Dick was also an Auxiliary Board member and settled in Northern Ireland.
Moving back again to our early days in Oxford, it was a time of great movement at the end of the War, and Bahá’ís came to England and visited Oxford when they were on their way to Pilgrimage or as they were going pioneering to fill the overseas goals. We had friendly relations with the Principal of Manchester College where `Abdu’l-Bahá had visited at the invitation of Professor Cheyne when Dr Carpenter was the Principal. We were able to visit the Carpenter Library, a private library in the College, where there were books on the Faith which had been presented by `Abdu’l-Bahá. Sometimes we held meetings on World Religion Day in the College Library, in the room where `Abdu’l-Bahá had spoken. At one such meeting David and Marion Hofman were present, along with Philip Hainsworth, Mrs Hainsworth (Philip’s mother), Hasan Balyzui and John Robarts (before John was a Hand of the Cause), Connie Langdon-Davies, Dick Backwell, Jean Campbell, Cyril and myself, and some of the members of the Northampton community. Much later, when Hasan Balyuzi had become a Hand of the Cause of God and he had written the book on `Abdu’l-Bahá, we presented a copy to the College on the 50th anniversary of the Passing of `Abdu’l-Bahá.
Our association with Balliol College began while Dan Jordan was there. We held some meetings in Dan’s room and we made enquiries about the room Shoghi Effendi had occupied (it was never established as there had been alterations). Later Riaz Khadem was a student at Baliol, enabling Riaz to hold meetings there, and where eventually he and his wife Linda were married. On this occasion we had the bounty of meeting the Hand of the Cause Mr Khadem and all Riaz’s family, and many Bahá’ís from other places. Pictures of Riaz and Linda were on the front page of the Oxford Mail, with a full account of the Bahá’í Wedding.
Also, early during our time in Oxford, our Assembly obtained a Bahá’í Centre. This was a room at the back of the High Street, at the end of Longwall Street. We had many happy teaching meetings there, as well as some of our Feast and Holy Day celebrations. Unfortunately, after seven years we gave this room up as it was very damp and cold in the winter and our books and furniture were becoming spoiled.
One of the happy times we had each week was when we held Bahá’í classes for the children. Our fourth son, David, was born in 1950, so there were our Bahá’í children, together with May and Mark Hofman. We remember when David Hofman wrote his book God and His Messengers, which was written for May and Mark, and David gave us a copy for our sons. So we had Bahá’í children – a great blessing. Stephen and Paul were very active when they became youth, with the other youth who came to Oxford, and within the Bahá’í Society in Oxford University. Duncan and David, our eldest and youngest sons, moved away from Oxford during the time they were youth. David spoke with his friends at school, especially when he was at Magdalen College School. Martin Beckett was David’s friend, who became a Bahá’í, and is a very active member. We are very pleased our children became so devoted to the Faith. Also, our daughter, Kathy, was born in 1958, the year after the passing of our dear Guardian.
Until 1957 we were guided in all the world’s activities by Shoghi Effendi, and we each felt he was our brother as he often signed himself. He knew of everything we did, even to mention us as a family who were the biggest family to pioneer during the Six Year Plan. So it was with extreme sadness that we heard of his passing. I was at home in Oxford when Marion Hofman came to tell me. At first she had heard that the Guardian was ill in London, although he had died – that was the way we were told – but it was so very sudden to us all, and it was a very great blow. The Hands of the Cause of God were deeply moved by our bereavement and we too felt this. It was as if we now had to make a much greater effort to hold on to the cord. But gradually we knew that we had a wealth of guidance in the abundance of the Guardian’s writings and that the Ten Year Crusade had all been mapped out for us.
Here in our old home in Oxford I have been looking through old papers and found the card announcing the opening of the Centre in Oxford, giving the date; also a copy of a letter from the Guardian about the importance of Oxford.
Footnote: Margaret and Cyril Jenkerson were overseas pioneers in Larnaca, Cyprus, from 1979 to 1992.
Margaret and Cyril Jenkerson
Oxford, September 1992