I first heard about the Bahá’í Faith in about 1937 from a doctor friend, who, up to that point, was the most spiritual man I had ever met. One of his patients was David Hofman. In 1938 the war clouds were gathering, and David Hofman became the first presenter for television but, when the war came, all that was abandoned and David went abroad with ENSA (that was a project consisting of actors and actresses to entertain our troops). So it was really from David Hofman, via Dr Roe (a very close friend of the Faith), that I first heard about the Faith. I became a Bahá’í in 1944.
My second home was 20 Willing Road (Dr Roe’s home) where, on many social occasions, I met David Hofman. It was there that I learnt about the Bahá’í meetings being held in an upper room in George’s Parlour – a café in Northampton. I used to go to these meetings and I was very very impressed with the lack of dogma and lack of ritual, and somehow it brought me feelings of Christ in his Upper Room – and I was deeply moved.
My family’s reaction was that, as long as I was happy, that was all that mattered – and my husband’s, in particular – because my husband (William Philip Nutt) and Dr Roe were like two peas in a pod. They both had the same gentle temperament, and my husband was also a very spiritual man. He had been brought up in the Church of England and was a choir boy, and when he heard about the Bahá’í Faith, he was all for it. If I did anything at all remiss, he would say: “Don’t you forget, you’re a Bahá’í.”
My religious background was Church of England. My father was a church warden, and I remember that he used to go to church on a Sunday morning, and also Sunday evening, and he always said grace before meals. I would say that my father was a very spiritual man – and my mother was spiritual too.
The first Local Spiritual Assembly of Northampton consisted of the following nine members – Alma Gregory, Betty Reed, Eric Manton, Marion Hofman, Angela Shortland, Clare Gung, Una Coward, Sydney Barrett and myself. At that time Alma Gregory was our Chairman and she had a flat at 22 Kingsley Road, and that is where we met. We also had some very kind non Bahá’í friends, who opened up their homes and their gardens to our gatherings. I thought that was lovely. Perhaps that bore fruit – I’m not to know.
Betty Reed: I am being boastful now, but in 1944, when I first became a Bahá’í, I had to do a war job and I worked in insurance. I was meeting people of all kinds – all classes, all creeds – and most of the men engaged by this society had gone to the war; those remaining were disabled in some shape or form, and one of them was a man named Bill Ayres. We were having a party at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, and when the others were enjoying themselves, I began to talk to Bill Eyres about the Bahá’í Faith, knowing nothing at all about his religious persuasion. He said: “I find this very very interesting, and I have a friend, Betty Reed, who would be very interested too. Can I bring her to see you?” And that is how I first met Betty. The first thing that impressed me, being a woman, was her lovely, lovely chestnut hair and, that apart, the fact that she was very interested in the Bahá’í Faith. The second time I met her, she came to a Congregational Parish Room in Commercial Street, and from there she eventually became a Bahá’í.
Bill Ayres, this good man, never became a Bahá’í (I have my own personal feelings about why he did not, but that is beside the point). He used to go to Aspley Guise, a village near Woburn, and he had a friend, Dr John Mitchell (pioneered to Malta but returned quite quickly with ill health and died of a brain tumour) who became interested, and eventually became a Bahá’í. Then, through Bill Ayres again, I met John Shortland who, in turn, became a Bahá’í, and so did his mother. One of my colleagues in this insurance concern, was named Vera Rate, and she came to my home one afternoon. She and a Mrs Houghton (there were three of us) were trying to make sandwiches for a little party, for these boys at home, and Vera Rate said to me: “Do you know, Mrs Nutt, you are different”. And I said: “Yes, I am always being told that.” So she said: “What is your religious faith”? “Ah”, I said, “I am a Bahá’í.” And she said: “What is that?” So I said: “Well you must agree, that we will never get a peaceful world through politicians. We believe that all the great, major religions of the world all have the same message, but that each subsequent one reveals something further in the development of spirituality; and, yes, we accept all the great religions but, since Jesus Christ, there has been another revelation, Baha’u’llah” – and that is how they came to the Faith. Vera Rate’s mother also became a Bahá’í. I am a terribly boastful person (!) but seven people directly became Bahá’ís through me, I’m proud to say – so there’s no telling how many Bahá’ís became Bahá’ís from these seven that I brought into the Faith.
Claire Gung. She was great fun, and very earnest in her spirituality. She was sharing a house in St. Michael’s Mount with Alma Gregory – before Alma moved to Kingsley Road – and she wanted to get a job. I had seen specimens of her embroidery, so I said: “You give me a blouse or something that you have made, and I will get you a job.” And together we tripped down to the town centre, and I was instrumental in getting her employed, as a seamstress.
Alma Gregory: Alma was a widow. Apparently she and her husband were champion ice skaters and, sadly, Alma’s husband (who was an R.A.F. pilot) was shot down over Germany during the war. She had a small child, Lois, and on the occasions when Alma went to conferences or committee meetings, or something of the kind, Lois used to come and stay with me. She was a very bright child. I remember, on one occasion, to give her company, I asked another little girl to come in. She must have slept at my home because in the morning when I went with tea and biscuits for them, I said: “Good morning chickens!” and, like a shot from a gun, Lois replied: “Good morning, farmer!” Very quick!
Eric Manton: I didn’t bring him to the Faith, but I remember the first time I saw him. It was at a Congregational Parish room and he very quickly became interested in the Faith. His mother used to come but she wasn’t so interested, and his small son used to come too. Then Eric went abroad – to Zambia – and I have seen him once only since then. He married Jessie, a Bahá’í.
Una Coward: I was on a Board of Management for delinquent girls. My dear Doctor Roe was a medical officer and I felt very honoured when Canon Trevor Lewis asked me if I would sit on the board. I suppose there were about 18 males and females. Each one came from a different parish in the town and when I was asked to sit on the board, Una Coward, who was also a Bahá’í, was thrilled. Una was a domestic matron. I gave my entire Bahá’í library to Una Coward, but I kept a few prayer books. She later moved to Sheffield and she used to write to me from time to time. She passed away a few years ago.
David Hofman: Dear David. David’s mother always insisted we call her `Mummy Hofman’. Well, she and Captain Hofman [Indian Army] (David’s father) lived in a cottage in the country at Hartwell, called “The Folly”, and we had some lovely, lovely meetings there, and Mummy Hofman was a deeply spiritual lady too. David and Marion’s wedding service was held in Hartwell. They had to have a civil ceremony, and I even remember the wedding march. It wasn’t the established one – I think it was Mendelssohn’s wedding march. I suppose I knew most of David’s family.
Hasan Balyuzi. He was another lovely man. His eloquence was absolutely marvellous and his command of the English language was perfect. He married Molly Brown.
Mehrangiz Munsiff: She came to Northampton in about 1946-47. I had no car in those days, and I went to the Castle Station to meet her and her small daughter, Jyoti. I had informed the Press that she was coming, so one of the Press representatives was there, and one said: “We would love to know how you put on your sari.” Mehrangiz very graciously showed this reporter just how it was done. I met her once since then at the Guardian’s resting place.
When I was a new Bahá’í, and during the war, I attended the wedding of Bernard Leach.
In 1948 – I remember this vividly, because it was the year the Prince of Wales was born – we had a concert at the Plough Hotel, and there were people of all religions represented, and there were readings from all the religions. We also put on a record of “The Lord’s Prayer” and it was sung in duet form by Ann Zeigler and Webster Booth, and it crossed my mind how the world could be, if people of all religions, classes and colours were to unite – and it was that night when I got home that I heard of the birth of the Prince of Wales (it was November 14th).
Then, of course, after the war – a good deal after the war – I lost touch with the Bahá’ís, because my husband became very ill, and he needed full time attention. I don’t want to sound pious, because I am not, but my husband used to buy me all the Bahá’í books, and I had quite a library; but I thought that as I wouldn’t have time to read them because of my husband being ill, and because of other ill relatives for whom I felt responsible, that if I were to give my entire library away, with the exclusion of The Hidden Words, it would do more good. So I gave all my Bahá’í books to Una Coward, but I kept The Hidden Words which I gave to Ken Howlett some years ago. (This was later auctioned for the Fund).
I was rather tied in a way during those early Bahá’í years because I had to work, and I had to go out at nights to visit people because nearly everyone in those days was working.
First Centre in Northampton
It was at the back of a butcher’s shop but it was a challenge to make it look as decorative, as peaceful, and as lovely a place as possible. Albert Joseph (from Manchester) sent us a whole lot of pine coloured wooden chairs with real leather seats, and I was able to provide my kitchen table, on which I put a nice cover, and – being very boastful – I made it look very decorative. Well, after a time, we had to leave there, because we were looking for bigger premises, and there were some new buildings in Wood Street, which is very near what is now the Grosvenor Centre, and it was at the top of a building. There was a big kitchen and there was even a bathroom, and we had many wedding ceremonies there. There was a Mr Harris, who married a girl named Mitra (they later moved to Birmingham). I was so pleased because they said to me: “Come on, Mrs Nutt, you are good at bargaining. Can you get us a book shelf?” I was Treasurer, by the way, and I had 50/-, so I dropped down to Beatties, the sale room, and, needless to say, I offered up a little prayer, and I was able to buy a very good bookcase for 50/- !
There was a Mrs Moss, who had a wool shop in St. Giles Street. She lived in Bostock Avenue, and she opened her house on Sunday afternoons, and there was a Mrs Shaw, who had a very lovely home and garden in Homefield Way, Weston Favell, whose husband was a solicitor. There were many people very interested but they didn’t seem to want to “declare”; they were a little bit apprehensive about it.
Buxton Summer School
The war was on, and I was having a very rough time with my husband’s family, dead or dying, and my husband said that I must get away, if only for a weekend, and that I should go to one of my summer schools. It was in Buxton. Angela Stevens was there (later she was Angela Shortland. She didn’t stay a Bahá’í. Her husband, John Shortland, died young in the 1950′s). I met some very interesting people. One lady was Pauline Senior, and we were a little like ships which passed in the night! It wasn’t until about three years ago that one of our Northampton Bahá’ís, Ken Howlett, went to the Channel Islands, and there met Pauline, whom I had met in Buxton many years before. My name cropped up in conversation and each year since then, at Ridván and Naw Ruz, this good lady has sent me food parcels. A year ago, Pauline Senior asked me for Ken’s address, which I gave her. It would have been impolite to have asked why she wanted it. But she wanted to send a cheque to Ken, to save postage, and it touched me deeply. I have asked myself: “What have I done, to have deserved such kindness?” Since then, we have established quite a friendship – I phoned her twice over Christmas. There was a lady at Buxton, called Geraldine Cooper, but I never heard of her before or since. Speakers at the Buxton School were – John Ferraby, Dorothy Ferraby, Alma Gregory, Hasan Balyuzi. I remember meeting Lady Hornell many times, both at Buxton and when she visited Northampton. I never met George Townshend. I think I first met Philip Hainsworth at Buxton (50 years ago).
Northampton, January 1992
[interviewer – Kevin Beint]