Ted Relph (Crosby Ravensworth)

Address given by the Rector’, Stewart Fyfe on 18 March 2020 at St Lawrence’s Church.

Ted Relph Introduction

The word ‘legend’ is applied rather liberally to folk these days, but it surely applies rightly to Ted Relph. He was a legend in these parts, whether it was across the county as the living embodiment of local dialect, or in this community, serving on countless committees, or as a storyteller, raconteur and historian, or in this Church as general factotum, we have lost the father of our community, a man who held so much of our history, culture and relationships in his hand. He was not a man given to superlatives, but superlatives are in fact inadequate to describe Ted’s achievements and what he meant to us personally.
For me, Ted came to embody this community in my mind. I’m not sure that was healthy, either for Ted, me or you! But perhaps it was because I came to know so many of you through Ted. Ted was, after all, our local Bard, the one who told our community’s stories, folklore and history. And I learned so much of that from Ted. And, as Treasurer of the Crosby Charities, he found a way to personally introduce me to so many of you, by carefully hand-picking the Christmas gifts for me to deliver in person, and so get to know you individually.
We all owe Ted so much and I personally owe him a debt I could never repay. Ted was one of the few people who really understood my work and my role in the community and he helped in innumerable ways. He is a great loss. Of course, we had a turbulent relationship too. The last time I had him in Church, just a few weeks ago, at the 10th anniversary of our re-opening, I tried paying Ted some well earned compliments. Ted helpfully stood up in front of the full church with his hand to his ear as a discrete way of reminding me to speak up. I gradually shouted louder and louder into the microphone until, with everyone else covering their ears against the noise, Ted announced in a voice calculated to broadcast across the shires, “Parsons these days. Why can’t they speak up?”
Well, I hope you can hear me today Ted, because I want you to know that we loved you and despite the plague that’s infecting the land at the moment, nothing would stop us from coming here today to pay tribute to you. God bless you.

James Theodore Relph (Ted)

Sermon and Tribute delivered at his funeral on 18 March 2020 in St Lawrence, Crosby Ravensworth by the Vicar, Revd Stewart Fyfe.

Ted first came into my life 10 years ago, when I arrived here as vicar. My first experience of Ted was watching a ding dong between him and the then Archdeacon at a meeting about the re-opening of Church. It ended with the Archdeacon saying, “if you speak to me like that again, Ted, I’ll walk out”. It was the unlikely start to a firm friendship, not only between Ted and our former Archdeacon, but between Ted and me.
Ted was a unique man, full of paradoxes. He was a firebrand, but could be remarkably kind and gentle, especially if you were having a tough time. He would tear a strip off you and support you to the hilt. He was over-critical and deeply encouraging. In a fight he wouldn’t hold back, but he could forgive at the drop of a hat and never, to my knowledge, bore a grudge. Even when he was hammer and tongs with you, you knew he had your back.
Over the years, I learned to deal with his late-night e-mails, written all in block capitals (and, bizarrely, in unusual colours), or his helpful feedback, which grew less helpful as his hearing diminished (“no, I don’t really care for hearing aids”). And I came to know and love a man of profound wisdom, deep learning, prodigious wit and a huge, generous heart.
One of the most treasured moments of my life came about three years into my tenure here, standing at the door of this Church: “As a rule, I don’t think ower much of parsons…but you’ll be all right.” And with that, Ted turned his back and walked off. You might think it a back-handed compliment, but it meant the world to me.
James Theodore Relph was born in Holly Cottage on the 13th of August 1925 to James and Dorothy Relph. It puts Ted’s long life into some sort of perspective when I say that his father was born in 1888 and his mother in 1884. And, as Ted reminded us at his 90th birthday party, his grandfather was born in the reign of William IV, before Victoria even came to the throne. His grandfather lived until 95, so Ted remembered him (and secretly, I think, wanted to beat him). It is a remarkable thought that Ted was a living link between us and the reign of William IV.
His mother, Dorothy, was from Essex and Ted used to joke that that’s why he had a funny accent, though in fact his mother had been in Cumbria since the age of six and as for Ted’s accent, it was pure-bred Westmerian. His father’s family had been in Crosby since 1824, operating the woodwork shop situated opposite the Methodist Chapel.
Ted’s father and grandfather worked in that shop all their working lives and in the usual course of things Ted might have been expected to follow. But theirs was an unusual family. They clearly believed in education, as young Ted was encouraged to go his own way in life. And they clearly believed in equal opportunities, as his mother worked in days when married women were not really supposed to do so.
His mother had been in service as a ladies’ maid before the First World War, when she served as a nurse. After the war, and for the rest of her working life she served as a district nurse here in Crosby.
Ted went to the old Crosby school, up at Monks’ Gate. I remember him telling me the story of his first day at school, aged 5. He was clearly rather disorientated by his first encounter with school. At playtime, he assumed school was over and so little Ted set off back home. He got as far as his father’s workshop before he was intercepted. “What are you doing here?” asked his Dad, “It’s not dinnertime yet.” And he promptly turned little Ted around and sent him toddling back up the village to resume his education.
And Ted was very receptive to education. He spoke highly of the ‘new’ headmaster, Mr Lupton, who clearly made a big impression on Ted and perhaps stirred the first sense of his own later vocation. He was a strict disciplinarian, but a creative and inspiring teacher.
To Ted, these days seemed like yesterday, but slates for handwriting practice and the cane administered for spelling mistakes, speaks of a different age.
At the age of 11, Ted excelled in his 11+ and won a scholarship to the Grammar School in Penrith. He won the princely sum of £15 (which was a lot of money in those days) and a pile of books, which he treasured his whole life.
On leaving school he wanted to become an Architect and sat the British Architectural Exam in Liverpool, but in the event, Ted’s talents took him in a different direction. He was accepted for teacher training at St John’s College, York. Right up until the last, he was tremendously proud of his association with St John’s and would attend annual reunion dinners, dressed in his college blazer and tie, right up until the last couple of years, when failing health got in the way, much to his irritation. When my daughter started at St John’s last year, Ted was tickled pink and never stopped asking her about how it is now, which reveals another side to Ted: that he never lived in the past or moaned about the way things are now. Rather, he always seemed anxious to be in the future as soon as he could.
Ted was always ahead of his time, whether it was working for the environment or equal opportunities before they were fashionable, or getting on with computers, most of which he had fixed up himself, he was always forward-looking. But I’m now running too far into the future myself…
When his father died in 1943, Ted found himself the head of the family. He completed his studies, however, and returned to Cumbria to be employed by the Cumbria Education Committee and take up a teaching post at Nenthead School . In the event this post only lasted a few months before Ted was called up to serve in World War Two.
From November ’44 – January ’45 Ted was on Infantry Training at Fort George near Inverness until he was posted to Carlisle Castle to join the Border Regiment.
In March 1945 he was sent out to Burma to oversee the release of PoWs, where he became part of the Army of Occupation. In 1947 he was moved to India to help ‘keep order’ in the run-up to their Independence. Ted served in Darjeeling, Delhi and Calcutta before being demobbed later that year. During these war years, Ted wrote to his mother every day, letters taking up to 9 days to arrive at Holly Cottage from various points around the world.
Back in England, Ted spent much of the next two years looking for jobs in Westmorland, Cumberland and Yorkshire. It must have been a tough time. Finally, in 1948, he got a job at a Primary School at Howden, near Goole.
In 1951 he returned to Crosby for 9 months’ additional study at Newton Rigg (commuting from home on his trusty motorbike), before beginning his teaching career in Kirkby Stephen in 1952. Initially, he taught at the all–age Primary School which took pupils up to 15 years old. Then, in 1982, he transferred to the Grammar School, which occupied the rest of his career.
Ted, like his inspiration, Mr Lupton, was a strict disciplinarian, but a creative and inspiring teacher. His approach to discipline was characteristically idiosyncratic. He was something of a perpetual schoolboy himself (indeed his last words were “I want a goodie”). So he would flush out mischief by knowing boys’ ways from the inside. He would sidle up to a lad and say, “I’m gasping for a cigarette. Have you got one?” “Yes Sir,” the boy would reply, as helpfully as he could, pulling out a packet and offering it. “Right, my lad, off to the headmaster with you!”
And when boys fought in his class, he would set up a make-shift boxing ring and get them to fight it out like men. On one occasion, this proved his undoing. His patience with one persistent offender ran out and he insisted on taking him on personally. A few brief moments into the bout, the lad floored Ted with a deadly hook. However, whether from the shock or a secret regret, the lad gave Ted no further trouble.
He loved sharing the life and larks of his pupils and though he could be tough, most of them remember him with staunch affection. On one occasion, a group of lads got caught tickling salmon in the beck (latterly Ted would lament the lack of fish in the river). Ted wrote a song about it in the style of a hunting ballad.
This is just one example of Ted’s prodigious talents as a writer, whether comic ballads, local history or books on Lakeland dialect. He wrote and edited many books and my life was regularly lit up by stories he would send me of Canon Weston, who largely built this Church as we know it now, or the remarkable Revd Sidney Swann, aviation pioneer, canoeist and adventurer, who was my Edwardian predecessor here. And I’m so glad he was such a fine writer, otherwise so much of our local history would now be lost.
And then there was the dialect. Until recently (as I discovered) if you Googled “Cumbrian dialect”, the first ten results would point you to Ted Relph. And to hear Ted telling one of his dialect tales, complete with actions (by way of subtitles for foreigners), was a special delight.
Ted joined the Lakeland Dialect Society in 1964 and became Editor in 1970, a role he held until a few years ago. He became President in 2003 and stepped down only in 2018 through fading health. He was expecting to walk out at that point, but was greatly moved when, instead, they made him President Emeritus. His contribution to the Dialect Society is simply beyond words (even dialect words!)
Life was never quiet for Ted. But despite his busyness, he looked after his mother at home until she died in 1976, aged 92. During this time Ted took Dorothy to Dialect society meetings and Wild Flower Society Meetings, both of which remained close to his heart.
He was also clerk to the Crosby Ravensworth Commons Association from 1965 – 2015, Treasurer of the Crosby Ravensworth Charities from 1974 – 2019, Parish Councillor from 1962-1999 (being Chairman from 1976), Treasurer to Crosby Ravensworth Village Hall Committee, Chair of the School Governors, and many others. And he was, of course, Churchwarden of this Church for 40 years, PCC Secretary until 2010, as well as Deanery Synod Representative, serving right up until death.
Despite his affection for the great heroes of this Church’s past, Ted was perhaps the most remarkable and influential hero of them all. When I first arrived, almost everything in the Church had been ‘fettled’ by Ted, from the precarious light fitting that hung over my stall like the sword of Damocles, to the PA system, which had originally begun life as his old home stereo. He turned his hand to everything.
The first time I attended a PCC meeting at his house, I made the mistake of having supper before the meeting. As soon as the meeting closed, Ted brought out a feast sufficient to feed the whole village and I discovered what a remarkable cook and baker he was. Everything made by his own hand and all of it delicious. And, as you left bulging at the seams, he made sure you carried off a doggy back sufficient to keep you and your family through the rest of the week.
He shared with me, a boyish sense of humour too. I have a blurry, but treasured photograph of him at a PCC meeting, wearing Ruth Tuer’s tea cosy on his head like a Rastafarian hat and larking about like a child of 90 years old.
The re-opening of Crosby Church 10 years ago offers another window into Ted’s character and his standing within this community. After years of keeping the Church going in partnership with Hilda Jackson, he decided that they had come to the end of the road. And though it pained him, he took a characteristically courageous and pragmatic approach in leading the move to close the Church. When, a year or so later, the community rallied round to re-open it, there came a tense moment when they had to put their proposals to Ted and see how he would respond. They fully expected both barrels, but after listening carefully, he said simply, “well, if you think you can do it, I’m right behind you.” It moves me to think of it, because it sums up Ted so well. Encouragement from Ted really counted, as I know personally, and I know many of us will have experienced.
Behind the gruff exterior and in ways he never publicised, he was incredibly generous, whether it was giving to the many causes dear to his heart, or kindly words and actions, he lived out what Jesus taught us about giving and not counting the cost. And he also discovered what Jesus meant about our giving producing the treasure of Heaven, because Ted was deeply enriched by all his love and service to others.
His last big act of generosity was the organ appeal, which he largely funded himself. The day he died, he knew, was the day before the organ began its gradual return from the repairers. It was job done and he was at peace. And the remarkable thing about Ted’s many bequests to Church in latter years is that Ted, the great fettler, really has fettled the Church again – this time with expert labour and in a way that guarantees its future for many years to come. As a community, we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
But Church is more than a building, or a community. It is a family. And today we have lost our father. It is a loss that pains us deeply, but we have been privileged to be considered among his family and enriched by him more than we can say.
There is a tendency at funerals to portray folk as saints, even if they weren’t remotely saintly in real life. But I believe Ted really was a saint. You might be surprised to hear me say that. We don’t imagine saints having a sharp tongue, or setting up boxing rings in their classroom, or smoking fags with their pupils – or being rude to the vicar! But that’s because we expect saints to be nice and sainthood isn’t really about being nice. It’s about something far more important than that. Ted was not ‘nice’. He was a great man and a sincere Christian. He had a greater mind than any of us and sometimes he got frustrated with us. He got angry when he perceived injustice, and could not let it rest. But he wasn’t concerned what people thought of him. His own reputation didn’t matter to him in the slightest. What did matter to him was people in need and he would think of nothing of sharing everything he had, even taking them into his own home. What mattered to him was his community and he got cross with behaviour that was self-centred or short-sighted, but he could also forgive, far more easily and generously than most of us can manage. What mattered to him was sorting things out and if that meant disturbing the peace so that we could put things behind us, so be it. What mattered to him was serving others and worshipping his God, which he did every day of his life. And that is what a true saint is.
I’m not sure why he liked me, though I like to think he did value my ability to put a diplomatic gloss on things for him at times, but I certainly valued his ability to point out the reality no-one would grapple with and to stir us into action. If he was a disturber of the peace, he did so in the manner of the Old Testament prophets, enlightening us to our own profit.
As a young boy at Crosby School, being a Church School, every child was given a verse of Scripture to learn and take to heart. Ted’s text was “zealous in good works, serving the Lord.” I need hardly tell you that he learned that lesson very well.
He was always in God’s house, every day of his life, whether it was in this building, fettling and worshipping, in our community being zealous in good works, at home in constant private prayer (which I know he was) or simply being the father of the Church family, the Lord was his constant shepherd. His goodness and mercy followed him all the days of his life. And now, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Ted will enjoy eternity. He was always anxious to get on with the future and now he’s living in it. I imagine he’ll give the angels a few home truths, but he’ll also be a kindly presence, larking about and living life to the full as he always did. Above all, I know he will be glad to be with the Lord he loved and served all his life. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.