Joyce and George’s account

Notes on Romany with Special Reference to Carlisle Central Hall and Kirkoswald Circuit

by George and Joyce Gelleburn

In her teens, his mother joined her brother (Gipsy) Rodney Smith, then a Salvation Army Captain. The connection with Carlisle goes back to her being sent there at the age of 17 as a S.A. lassie to conduct open-air meetings, which were often broken up by the rougher element of the crowds that gathered to listen to her as she spoke and sang her gospel songs. But because of her attractiveness she could always rely on a small band of well-dressed, educated young men in her audience who were not only ready to be converted by her each night, but clamoured to be the first to rescue her from the mob. Among the many proposals of marriage she received in this town alone was one from a well-known family member who afterwards became Mayor of Carlisle.

In 1883 she married S.A. Lieutenant George Evens, a native of Plymouth, and Romany (George Bramwell) was born at 3 Argyll Street, Anlaby Road, Hull, in 1884. At age of 4 he made his first appearance on a public platform as a singer in black velvet suit and lace collar, reducing audiences to tears with his sweet voice.

Spent his boyhood in Liverpool. Fond of pets and long country walks. Here parents joined staff of new Methodist Central Hall. At 13, to Epworth College, Rhyl as boarder. Here captain of School football and cricket teams. Silver cup for half-mile handicap. Skilled at piano and mandolin. Head Boy. London Matric at 17. Instead of sending his parents usual p.c. on arriving back at school, he would take with him one of his homing pigeons, and when he reached the school grounds, he would release it. As soon as the pigeon arrived in its loft his parents knew that he had reached school safely.

Queens College, Taunton 1902-4 on a scholarship. Here preached his first sermon in a village chapel. Six months as a schoolmaster Lytham. 1904. Accepted for Methodist Ministry. One year at Colchester in charge of a newly-built chapel. Failed medical examination on grounds heart not normal. Then famous heart specialist was reassuring saying that the heart murmur was normal in his case and so to Handsworth College, Birmingharn, 1905-8. Soccer goalkeeper and captain. Ordained at Cardiff Conference. 1908.

To Goole, Yorks. Married Eunice, daughter of Rev. Owen Thomas , ( a London Congregational Minister) , 1st August 1911. September 1914 to Carlisle. Volunteered for the Army at Carlisle Castle but failed his medical on the grounds of his heart murmur. Later placed in-charge old Fisher Street Church. Dry rot discovered in roof beams and condemned as unsafe. Mr. Joseph Rank, while not prepared to help build a new Church, offered £10,000 towards building a Central Hall. Estimated cost £26,000. Interesting Roman pottery and other relics found when working on the foundations and placed in Carlisle Museum. Central Hall officially opened April 12th 1923 by Mr Joseph Rank.

A Tablet in the Vestibule now records the fact: “During the ministry of the Rev. G. Bramwell Evens, 1914-1926 this Hall was built’. It was during this period that Mr. Arthur Gibson, County land Agent, a cousin of the Potters, first took him to Old Parks, Kirkoswald, and for 22 years it was an open house whenever he needed rest and solitude. In early days when Mrs. Potter was alive, the family consisted of Alan, Joe, Hannah and Charlotte. later Joe and Sally lived at Old Parks while Ald. Alan Potter and his wife Margaret (nee Kidd) lived at Fog Close and Hannah and Charlotte had a cottage of their own nearby.

By the Old Parks fireside Romany would lead Joe on to talk of his sheep or cattle, or they would talk apprehensively of that peculiar phenomenon, the Helm Wind, which betrays its coming by a heavy white line of cloud lying along the summit of the Fells. Joe would explain that if it does not cease blowing at the end of 3 days, it continues for either 6 or 9 days, and after that indefinitely. Joe was one of the first people in Cumberland to own a wireless set. Here the Evens’s first listened in September 1923 and through headphones finally heard “2 LO calling” and what was alleged to be the band of H.M.Irish Guards. How excited they were qt this miracle! It was then that, outside among the country sounds, he uttered a prophecy which he himself later did so much to fulfil, namely: “Perhaps in the years to come we shall not only be able to listen to the sounds of the town , but town-dwellers may be able to listen to these beautiful sounds too” And it was at Old Parks, perhaps more than anywhere else, that he absorbed so much of the atmosphere that made his broadcasts in later years so true to life.

In 1921, at Brough Hill Fair, for £75 bought a ‘vardo’ a gypsy caravan, hired a horse and drove it to Carlisle and parked it in the yard of the Manse in Fisher Street. 12′ x 6’ x 7 ‘ high. Fitted it out and took it to a spot on the Canonbie side of the Liddle near Harelow Mill. Contributed a weekly Nature Column to the Cumberland News. A son Glyn. A daughter; Romany June, born.1924. Was a Scoutmaster in Carlisle. Just before leaving Carlisle in 1926 visited specialist at Edinburgh. Duodenal trouble and put on diet.

His wife writes that she felt that he had more chance of self-expression in Carlisle than at any other point of his career. He felt his departure keenly. Not only had he been supremely content in his Church work and friendships, but he was leaving behind a part of himself in the quiet hills and valleys of Cumberland.

1926-29 Huddersfield. For sometime homesick for the beautiful Eden valley. During third year far from well but could not afford to retire.

Halifax 1929-39. Caravan sited on Eskdaleside moorland road. In 1933 began with B.B.C. as Romany in Children’s Hour feature: “Out with Romany” with Muriel Levy and Doris Gambell. Fame spread as lecturer.

Retired through ill-health to Wilmslow, Cheshire, September 1939. Here he made a lovely garden including a small rockery which would remind him of the outcrop on the Cumberland hills. On his last visit to Old Parks, he and his wife had spent most of the afternoon seated in a field by the side of one of his favourite woods, which slopes steeply down to Daleraven Beck. He was quite content listening to the soft cooing of the wood-pigeons in the trees above, and the music of the waters far below, and laughingly watched Raq’s vain attempts to catch even the baby rabbits as they dashed into their burrows.

Then he got up and, climbing to the top of one of the small grassy hillocks in the undulating field, he stood awhile drinking in the beauty of the scene. “This will do for me”, he said, and then added, “When I die, I’d like you to scatter my ashes up here”.

Within a few months only, his wife returned there alone to carry out his wishes, for he died very suddenly on 20th November 1943.

Here stands the bird-bath in its enclosure with a plaque on its pedestal which reads:

BORN 1884