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Heritage: Reunion girls hoping to keep home fires burning

Queen Judith Laburnam with Kathryn Gregory(nee Cocking) as attendant 1963
Queen Judith Laburnam with Kathryn Gregory(nee Cocking) as attendant 1963

A group of girls who made life-long friendships when they were youngsters in a church group are hoping to celebrate those halcyon days with a grand reunion. 
Kathryn Gregory (nee Cocking) is hoping to meet up with some her old friends on Saturday and is asking them to join her.

A reunion of around 50 of the former members of the Home Fire girls, which used to meet in a Sharrow Vale church, is planned to take place.

Kathryn said: “Some of the ex-members of the Sharrow Vale Home Fire Girls will be meeting on Saturday September 30 at the Crowded House Church, formerly Sharrow Vale Wesleyan Reformed Church, for a reunion, as we discovered earlier in the year that it was the centenary of the start of the Home Fire Girls movement.

“We have endeavoured to contact all past leaders and May Queens and it appears that we may have a gathering of about 50 ladies.

“We may also be joined by some of the past Home Fire Girls from other Hearths in Sheffield, namely Pitsmoor and Firth Park.”

Home Fire Girls was formed in Cardiff in 1917 and was initially financed by T Vivian-Rees and the Cardiff Sunday School Union.

The movement gradually spread, apparently centring mainly in Sheffield.

In those days, when the country was still in the grip of the First World War, the meeting for girls was to place an emphasis on home and home life, where it was the ‘centre from which may radiate the highest ideals of character, conduct and service’.

The meeting place was usually in a church hall, which was named the Hearth and the leader was called the Hearth Mother.

She was supported by helpers, many of whom had grown up through Home Fire Girls themselves.

The meetings were split into two age groups, five- to ten-year-olds, called Fire Fairies (later known as Junior Home Fire Girls) and the older girls from 11-16.

A meeting would always begin sitting in a circle where the Hearth Mother would give a talk or a Bible story, a song or two and then have various craft activities, then games, finishing again in a standing circle to say the motto.

The Fire Fairy motto was – ‘Hands and hearts that work together, feet that run on willing errands’. The older group’s motto was – ‘Follow the Christ the King, live pure, speak true, right wrong.’

At the beginning of the term the candle ceremony would take place.

Here a lighted taper would be passed around the circle of girls while the Hearth Mother read passages from the Bible about light. The taper would then be used to light a red candle, the girls would repeat the motto and sing a song from the orange song sheets – Follow the Christ the King.

Sharrow Vale Home Fire Girls began meeting in 1933 and the first Hearth Mother was Ada Baxter and finished in 1988 with Bess Cocking as the last.

Kathryn added: “The highlight of the year was always the May weekend when the May Queen would be crowned followed by a show or a pantomime.

Many girls found talents they were not aware of when taking the part of Robin Hood, Aladdin, Buttons or the wicked queen.

“Various leaders, girls and helpers from the Boys Brigade would find they had talents in designing and painting scenery and props, sewing costumes and directing the production. One of the boy’s brigade leaders could always be relied on to provide lighting effects and the appropriate flashes and bangs when characters were meant to disappear or appear and others to move the scenery on and off stage!

“Other memories include camping in the rain in Edale.

Email kath-g@hotmail.com for more details about this.

Times change and people move on and so Home Fire Girls at Sharrow Vale came to an end, with a new group set up for boys and girls in the 1992 called Seekers. Many firm friendships were formed among the Home Fire Girls and they continue to this day. As Kathryn said: “We are very much looking forward to sharing news and also to catching up with old friends and there will certainly be a lot of reminiscing and laughter as we look at old photos and slides, remembering the ‘good old days’ at our re-union.”