Walter Gordon Normanton: [Heath 1947–1954]

Walter Gordon Normanton passed away, after an extended period of illness, at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on the , aged 87 years. Dearly beloved husband of Ann, loving father of Adrian, Rebecca and Alexander. A much loved brother of Stephen. Father-in-law of Piluca and Sue. Proud grandfather of Lawrence, Douglas, Hermione, Gabi, Macy and Caleb. Brother-in-law, uncle and a loyal friend to many.

Gordon was a pillar of the local community and gave a life of service to the church, various choirs and organisations through his love of music. The funeral service took place at Holy Trinity & St Jude’s Church, Free School Lane, Halifax on the . Donations, if so desired, to Holy Trinity & St Jude’s Church or Overgate Hospice.

The following tribute was paid by his brother:

Gordon and I first got acquainted in January 1944. He was 7½ and I was but a bonny baby. Gordon was born in 1936 and we lived on a small dairy farm on a hillside overlooking Luddenden Foot. We had a dozen cows, a horse (invaluable in 1944) and a dog.

Gordon tried very hard to be helpful when I arrived on the scene. Seeing dad busy doing what dairy farmers do and mum with a new baby he set about contributing his part by lighting the kitchen fire. Bad idea. Through the mists of time it was never quite clear what he did exactly but soon the kitchen curtains were well ablaze. Dad happened to be passing the window and upon remarking the unusual spectacle of burning curtains he rushed in to discover what was amiss. He found a very sooty Gordon, mouth open, apparently fascinated as he watched the curtains go up in smoke.

When trying not to burn the farm down Gordon did his piano practice. He started lessons aged 7 and soon showed good promise on the instrument. He also had a good singing voice and was not afraid to stand and sing solo in the local chapel.

1947 saw a great upheaval; our parents sold the stock and we left the farm for a house at Highroad Well, Halifax. Gordon was now 11. We moved in August; so he had already passed his West Riding eleven plus, but this wasn’t considered good enough for Halifax Borough; they insisted he took their eleven plus. He passed again and was admitted to Heath Grammar School. Here, one or two older boys, hearing Gordon sing in the school choir, invited him to go along with them to Halifax Parish Church, now the Minster. Our parents were happy for him to join the choir there; dad had sung in the choir at St. Bartholomew’s, in Ripponden, during the First World War. This move was now to influence Gordon’s future life; a whole new world opened up for him — the whole repertoire of English church choral music as performed Sunday morning and evening by the large Parish Church choir — and he was soon to become a leading soloist and Head Boy. He also grew to love the majestic sound of the great organ as played so skilfully by Shackleton Pollard, then organist and choirmaster, and determined to take lessons in organ playing himself. His piano teacher was Sidney Pickles, also an organist, at Square chapel, the one with the spire behind the Piece Hall. The body of the church burnt down later — nothing to do with Gordon.

Gordon found a church near home where he could practise and, 16 years old, still at school, felt confident enough to apply for and become organist and choirmaster at Heywood Congregational Church in Northowram. He loved the position there and was soon very popular, especially with the ladies, young and old, and took part in many of the activities of the chapel. Unfortunately, this could not last for after three happy years the Royal Air Force came knocking on the door. Well, not quite, but Gordon got his call-up papers and 2479210 Normanton W.G. went off to do National Service with the boys in blue of the RAF. After basic training interested parties were invited to volunteer for an intensive course in Russian. At the end of each week you took an exam and if you failed were sent back to your unit. Gordon took the course, passed and was posted to Berlin to listen in through headphones, and report with other colleagues what antics the Russian air force were up to. During this time if Gordon could ever find a nearby church organ he would be off to play.

With two years service in the RAF, Gordon left as a Junior Technician, and took up a course at Borough Road, a constituent college of London University for training teachers. It didn’t take him long to find Holy Trinity church, Hounslow, just up the road, which required an organist and choirmaster. He spent two years at Borough, qualifying to teach junior and secondary pupils.

After four years away Gordon returned to Halifax and took his first post at St. Augustine’s Primary School. And, of course, the church required an organist. After a short spell at St. Augustine’s, he moved to Clare Hall Secondary School as music teacher, later moving over to English and Head of Department status. He was organist at two more churches, St John’s, West Vale and Christ Church, Sowerby Bridge. He joined Sowerby Bridge Gilbert and Sullivan Society, doing his constabulary duty in Pirates of Penzance, and his ‘lot’ was to take up the conductor’s role in several subsequent shows. And it was here that he met his wife to be, Ann. She auditioned for a part in the chorus when Gordon was in charge and admits to being extremely nervous, holding on to a sympathetic chair for support. Obviously, she overcame this shyness a little while later.

Feeling the urge to move on Gordon came to this church, St. Jude’s, to first sing in the choir, with John Askew as organist until John moved to Blackpool. Gordon auditioned with two others and was chosen to be organist and choirmaster of St. Jude’s, serving two terms adding up to over 20 years. Ann joined him in the choir at St. Jude’s and they married here in 1968. Now retired, Shackleton Pollard came along to play for them. He forgot his music, but it made no difference; he was his usual brilliant self. Ann and Gordon walked through the South door into the July sunshine, Widor’s Toccata ringing in their ears, to begin their new life together.

Gordon was a good brother, and friend; we did a lot together. I shall miss him. We shall all miss him.

Stephen Normanton [Heath 1955–1962]