Christine and Robert Hallam

Christine and Robert Hallam

My father’s family originated in Sheffield. After my grandmother died my father was brought to Bradford to live with relatives and then he moved to Halifax. He found work in the engineering trade and became a heavy-machine operator. My parents married in the early 1930s and I was born on 9th January 1937, the first of three children. I attended the local infants and junior school, sat the 11+ exam and was offered a place at the grammar school which had been fee-paying; I was in the first non-fee-paying group.

I studied eight subjects at ‘O’ level and stayed on to take Maths, Physics and Chemistry. I was awarded a state scholarship and went to Manchester College of Science and Technology to study Chemical Engineering. After gaining my BSc I was awarded a Government Council scholarship and pressured into working on a distillation project. I became part of a team which included a Persian (Bahador Haqjoo) who had worked in Abadan, Iran.

Our project required equipment to run up to twelve hours a day to obtain operating data. We used to work in the laboratory and eat lunch there; were we to do that today we would be severely reprimanded. I used to ask my colleague what he would like for lunch and then buy it from a nearby shop. One day I asked him as usual but he answered “Nothing – I’m not hungry”. He was not hungry the next day, or the one after that, so I said “What’s going on?” He said “I’m fasting – it’s part of my religion”. Nothing more was said.

The following week he told me that a meeting was going to take place at his home and asked if I would like to go. I said I would. A fairly regular attendee was a gentleman over the age of ninety who had a Jewish background. He was Mr Alfred Sugar, a Bahá’í with a very wide understanding of the Bahá’í Faith. He would respond to questions with carefully considered answers, so I learned a lot. My attendance was fairly regular. After a short time I was invited to a public meeting and asked to read a section from a Bahá’í book. I found it difficult and realised I needed to read more about this faith.

Among others I was given a copy of the small yellow pamphlet which I read and passed on to my girlfriend Chris. She read it and expressed interest, and although working as a nurse on night duty in Halifax, on her night off she would travel to Manchester to meet me and we would go to the home of Bahador and his wife Shahla for a meal and then attend the meeting.

Chris and I married in September 1960 and later that year I became a Bahá’í. Chris moved to Manchester to complete her training and I became her dependant because she was the one earning a salary. She was working one day when I was offered the loan of a car so that I could attend a meeting held at Lyme Park, a large country estate in Cheshire, now managed by the National Trust.

After the meeting I was asked to drive Hand of the Cause Abu’l-Qasim Faizi to Burnley. “What happens if I have a crash?” I thought. Anyway we set off and I hardly spoke until we got to a quieter piece of road. From that point onwards I became a little more confident and was engaged in discussion with Mr Faizi. I gained some interesting information and we arrived in Burnley happy and safe!

Chris and I attended many meetings and activities at the Manchester Bahá’í Centre in Wimslow Road, Fallowfield, and also in Cheadle at the home of Bahador and Shahla Haqjoo. Frequently one member of the community kept pressing Chris to declare. I knew that if it continued she would resist. When my project was completed and I was awarded a PhD we moved to Northumberland and lived in Whitley Bay. Before then I had met Joe Jameson and told him about the pressure and he said, “Don’t worry, we will look after her.”

We went to a weekend school at Dalston Hall, Carlisle. Present were Adib Taherzadeh, Major Harry Charles and his wife Marcia. The environment was such that Chris declared.

I cannot remember how it came about, but I was appointed a member of the Overseas Goals Committee. At that time Betty Reed was the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly. I used to travel from Newcastle to London by train and have lunch at a cafe on Brompton Road, then make my way through Montpelier Walk and up into Rutland Gate. Often there were odd tasks that I could help Betty with before the meeting began.

I knew that a request had been made to the British Bahá’í Community for overseas pioneers. I was not very happy with my Newcastle job because I was having to spend a lot of time at the London factory when I would rather have been at home with our new baby Linda. I asked for the list of countries needing Bahá’ís and Betty read them out in alphabetical order. The first one was British Guiana.

On the following Wednesday after that meeting my professional magazine was delivered and one of the first job advertisements was for a chemical engineer in British Guiana.

One of my jobs with the company, Procter & Gamble, was commissioning a new piece of plant in the London factory. Meanwhile I had submitted an application form for the job in British Guiana. We had a problem with the plant in London and I had been told that there was to be a reorganization of jobs with the company and it was unlikely that I would continue with the commissioning. I decided to ring the agent for the Guianese company and find out if he could conduct an interview that afternoon while I was still in London. If he thought me unsuitable he could simply destroy the application. During the interview I just had the feeling he was going to recommend me to the Company. The following week they offered me a better job than the one advertised.

Before we left the UK we were invited to Northern Ireland to visit Dick and Vida Backwell, who had lived in British Guiana, to learn a little about the climate, the population and the state of the country. Within about two months, in August 1964, we were on our way. The company arranged medicals/vaccinations, transport of personal effects, hotels and flights to British Guiana for myself, my wife and our baby daughter.

The first person to speak to me on arrival at Georgetown Airport (two wooden huts), other than an airline official, was a Bahá’í lady. She was searching for a visitor, an Auxiliary Board member, a Brazilian living in Suriname. She introduced herself as Mrs Winter and asked if I was Anthony Worley, an American Bahá’í living in Guiana. I said I was not, but was she Adrienne Winter? She said she was, and how did I know her name? I informed her that I had been serving on the Overseas Goals Committee.

Chris and I resided in Mackenzie, a town sixty miles inland on the Demerara River. There was no road, only a bush trail which was used by army vehicles and Land Rovers. River travel was used by locals but the Company had its own twelve-seater aircraft and landing strip. Most of the townspeople worked for the Company, Demerara Bauxite (a subsidiary of Alcan Canada). We soon made contact with the Bahá’ís living in Mackenzie. Betty Reed and Anthony Worley visited us and Anthony helped us to set up the first Spiritual Assembly of Mackenzie.

One of the locals was Prince George Warwick, an engine driver for the Company. Knowing what his shift patterns were, I was able to meet him on the bridge when he brought the ore trucks to the yard. So long as Prince could see the lights changing to move the trucks, he could talk to me. We discussed Bahá’í activities, and he gave me a lot of information about Islam, a religion of which I was quite ignorant.

On one occasion he said my Land Rover was needed to visit another village in the bush. There we visited an Amerindian lady who was unable to read or write, although she could read the Bible. A short time later Prince suggested that the lady be taken to Mackenzie to meet other Bahá’ís. When she arrived it was suggested that she sign the declaration form to become a Bahá’í. She said that she expected this development because she had seen someone in a dream the previous night. Our meeting was at the home of another Bahá’í who had a few books. I asked him to take out a photo of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and she said “YES that’s Him I saw last night.” She immediately signed and became a Bahá’í.

We had many gatherings in our home, and in the Salvation Army meeting rooms where at one Naw-Rúz event Chris had done a lot of cooking and baking. The food was laid out in a separate room and the meeting commenced. Suddenly Chris saw out of the corner of her eye a mouse, and then another, and rushing to check the food, discovered several more helping themselves. She quickly put the food back into tins and kept guard over it from the doorway. Mice, rats and cockroaches were common visitors in all the homes of the local people, so no one was concerned.

We spent almost two years in what became Guyana after Independence. We were sorry to leave, but the job that I had taken had changed. Our second child Ian was born in Guyana. Chris returned to England with the children and I packed up all our belongings and travelled first to Montreal to visit Expo 67, and then home to Halifax.

On our return to England we lived in Halifax for two years. During that time I was working in Swinton near Manchester and also house hunting. We were on the point of signing up for a property when the company I was working for decided they were going to move my laboratory to London. We did not want to move south so it was back to job hunting again. I quickly obtained a post as Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Bradford University, and house hunting continued in the Bradford area.

The property we found in 1970 was a small farm, and gradually over the years we have built up our herd of beef cattle. As the children grew older, Chris went back to her nursing career and I continued my lecturing. When the department was having difficulties recruiting students after the Bradford riots I decided to take early retirement and concentrate on the farm.

During this time we were heavily involved in Bahá’í activities, I being Chairman or Vice Chairman and Chris being Secretary or Treasurer of our Spiritual Assembly for over forty years. We supported the then isolated believers in Kirklees, Calderdale and Skipton, and often travelled to York and Selby to support events.

On one occasion Betty Reed came to stay with us for the weekend on the understanding that no one was to be told she was with us, as she needed a rest. The telephone rang and Betty answered it as we were unavailable. It was Philip Hainsworth on the phone but Betty just took a message. Later when we spoke to Philip he expressed the opinion that the voice sounded very much like that of Betty Reed. We just said it was a friend!

We held weekend schools at the farm, and one memorable time we had thirty-five people and a guide dog staying overnight, most of them in the house but some camping. Chris cooked meals and sorted out all the sleeping arrangements. A total of sixty-five people attended for the weekend.

There have been many changes in the Bradford Bahá’í community over the years. Families and students have resided for a few years and then moved on to further their careers. We have had weddings and many funerals. Presently there are only eleven Bahá’ís in the community, all but one well over the age of fifty years. Now Chris and I are the oldest Bahá’ís, being 76 and 77 years respectively.

____________________

Bob Hallam

Yorkshire, 2014

 

The first spiritual assembly of Mackenzie, Guyana.  Seated on the right of the photo is Anthony Worley, Auxiliary Board member for the Guyanas

The first spiritual assembly of Mackenzie, Guyana. Seated on the right of the photo is Anthony Worley, Auxiliary Board member for the Guyanas

The first spiritual assembly of Mackenzie, Guyana

The first spiritual assembly of Mackenzie, Guyana

Advertisements