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Angus Duncan was part of the groundworks team during the demolition of the old Church building called Corporation Road Presbyterian Church. This Church once stood on the corner of Eton Road and Corporation Road.
Angus was asked to be part of the team because of his engineering experience and training.
His experiences working as part of the work camp and Church life led him to train and become a Minister.
0 – 3mins: Angus Duncan grew up in the Mossley Hill area of Liverpool and Cyril was a "scouse lad”: they got on well. He left Liverpool in 1960 after graduating in Civil Engineering and went for interview in London with Robert McAlpine’s. The personnel team were eager and said, “When do you want to start?” and they sent him to Newport, where they were building Llanwern Steel Works: Richard, Thomas and Baldwin (Spencer Works) as it was known in those days.
He spent a lot of time setting out concrete bases for the huge steel rolling mills, the whole lot was “piled”. They had to build up the ground level to 6ft as it was all built on marshland -
“There’d be lorries coming down from the Welsh valleys both day and night with shale and gravel stuff to raise the levels to make it possible to put the piling in. They said you could run a road from Newport to London with the amount of stuff which they brought down from the valleys.”
After spending the first 18 months out on sites he went into the McAlpine’s design office, but he really values that time. “It was a wonderful experience. I learnt a lot about life and so on. The chippies as we used to call them, (the labourers) were all part of a team... And we were all equally important. They couldn't get on with their job if I hadn't done mine as an engineer and I couldn’t get on with my job until they’d done theirs.”
3 – 5mins: He moved up to Cheshire, to Knutsford, with McAlpine’s nuclear power group in the summer of 1962. His first job was designing the pump house of Dungeness A and he used to be flown down to Kent to check progress. He remembers being in Knutsford during that very cold winter of ’62-63. “I used to wear my duffle coat in bed at night”.
His home was still in Liverpool and, as he had bought a Mini car when in Newport, he decided to travel with two other colleagues taking turns to drive the 45 minutes commute to Knutsford each day. That meant he moved back home and was able to reconnect with his church there. He considers this an important part of his story and the continuing connection with Community House.
5-8mins: Before coming to Newport he had been a member of a Presbyterian Church in Liverpool. He had been brought up with two services each Sunday, and Sunday School in the afternoon. The family being Scottish he wore the kilt as his Sunday best. When he arrived in Newport, back in 1960, it was important to him to find a Presbyterian Church.
He was living in McAlpine’s huge hostel at Pye Corner. He remembers “hut upon hut”. He had his own room and there were showers and a canteen. One day he caught a bus into town to look for a Presbyterian church in Newport. Along Corporation Road, “I saw this sign, in English, which helped. It said Corporation Road Presbyterian Church.” He went to Sunday service and was “nonplussed because there were ladies doing everything; you have to remember, we are going back a long time and it was unusual for women to be doing things in Church on a Sunday.”
He went the following Sunday and met Brian Selby. “Brian and Val (Summers, later Martin) said I did a lot in the Church but I don’t remember what I did except that I was in the choir because I liked singing and still do. I didn’t have time to do a lot in Church because I worked a lot of overtime and I was saving for a car. Father took out an insurance policy and that was the security to get the loan in order to buy the car”.
8-11mins: He met the Selby and the Martin families, and he remembers a very warm welcome. They were a lovely community group; very family orientated. The old church building was still standing: it must have been 1960 – 62. He realises how much he stood out in Newport as a Scotsman standing over 6ft tall then, wearing a kilt on a Sunday in a Welsh Presbyterian Church. He had a strong identity.
Duncan moved back to Knutsford and kept in touch with people at Community House with Christmas cards. He remembers Dorothy as a “very bubbly character: I can still hear her laugh, her chuckle”.
Once back in Liverpool, things started to happen. In Church he was invited to join The Fellowship of Youth and then helped a youth group on a Sunday, part of a near-by Anglican Church, leading their young people on a weekend conference. Four or five of them went to assist at the conference. “At the end, we were asked, would somebody like to give a testimony about their faith? Friends said, “You can do it” – oh help!”
It was difficult as it was something he’d not done before. “It was to explain not just what you believe in, but why”. He struggled through it. In October the minister read the annual notice regarding the need for ministers to train at Westminster College, Cambridge and said that if anyone thought about doing that, he should come and “have a talk with me”. Angus says, “I was sat in the choir stalls when a little voice said – “How about you, Angus?” and that little thought wouldn’t go away. “What’s involved, I wondered.”
11-13mins: “I’ll have a go.” A month later the youth group were taking the evening service and Angus had to plan his first sermon – it felt like a test, if he could do it, maybe it showed what God wanted from him. “If my life is yours, what do you want me to do?” He conducted his first sermon in a kilt. It went OK and was “a step of faith: if God wants me to be a Minister, the doors will open - if he doesn’t then the doors won’t, will they? That’s what a step of faith is about”. He got through the rounds of interviews and passed the entrance exam in Westminster College in 1963.
Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, there was a girl called Althea Jones with whom he attended Sunday School as children.
13 – 16mins: It had been at Althea’s invitation that he joined the 'Fellowship of Youth' or F.O.Y (a youth group) as it was known. He later dated her; they fell in love and celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary three years ago: they married in 1965.
In 1963, he received a letter from Revd. Cyril Summers about the problems with the church. There was a tower leaning and the foundations were giving way and it was going to be demolished. There was talk of an international work camp. The question was: could he (Angus) be the work leader using his engineering experience. “If this is what God wants me to do, I’ll have a go”. He asked the senior engineer in Knutsford for permission to be away for a month. It was agreed on condition that it was unpaid leave. He stayed for that month at the Selby’s. At the time he was engaged to Althea. She came down for the week-end and met Cyril and Dorothy and family. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have many photos of that time. “We didn’t tend to take any”.
16 – 19mins: When he left Sir Robert McAlpine’s he said, “I’m going to training college to become a minister”. He remembers the memo he received back: “We could have made you into a good engineer”.
We came down to Newport and worked for a month. “It was amazing – I don’t have any records of their names, but they came from USA, England, India, Sweden, some Scots girls, there was a Hebrew girl, a Swiss and the Welsh: it was incredible. They all worked so hard. A typical day went like this: They’d gather at 8 in the morning, have prayers outdoors then work ‘til midday, then have lunch somewhere and have the afternoon off. The weather was quite good; I remember some lovely mornings”.
During the afternoons Angus would have to read in preparation for his entrance exam in Cambridge: he was studying Philosophy and Theology – after engineering, it was a different language (but) “if God wanted me to do it, he would open the door.” He had to study New Testament Greek for the entrance exam. As an engineer he had done a lot of mathematics, so was familiar with some of the terminology: the Greek alphabet for example, so the grammar of the New Testament Greek and Latin wasn’t so very hard to pick up but vocabulary was difficult and it was hard to do Hebrew. The first year was difficult. To move from a scientific, engineering background into a world of philosophy and theology was very difficult. It took a year for him to settle into it; it was language orientated and strange. He did bible studies and history was a particular challenge. By that time, his parents having moved back to Scotland, he had no base in Liverpool. Althea’s parents took him in as a lodger.
19 – 26 mins: He ‘lived’ with fiancée Althea at her parents – “in those days, it was very ‘risqué’ and while at college you weren’t allowed to get married”. But by three years later the Presbyterian Church changed the rules to say that you could, but you would need the permission of your minister, the principle of college and the Moderator of the General Assembly! The Moderator said, “Do you really understand what you are doing?” Angus was 26 by this time. He finished a year after getting married.
Meanwhile, back in Newport, it wasn’t plain sailing. There were 15 or 20 people in the work camp and bringing that together was quite something. They were scraping mortar off bricks, it was dirty, almost soul-destroying work. But, he says, he retains “…but a wonderful memory that has never left me and has influenced my thinking, that on the very last morning, Cyril arranged for a sharing of communion, outside, in the round with all these young people. They all took part including those who were Roman Catholics and even the Israeli girl (who was Hebrew) – all took part in sharing the bread and the wine. That image has never left me. This is how the Church in the world should be sharing together in harmony and peace and in love for one another. If you can do it here, why can’t we do it elsewhere? And I’ve always been so…. sort of disappointed in the way people look back and say ‘this is our tradition, now we can’t possibly change this and do that and it’s (Angus sighs) ….so far from what I see Jesus wanted things to be. And that’s been an insight that’s never left me in Church Life.

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