This chapter describes the events of the years which led up to the purchase of the leasehold of the Nottingham Temperance Hall (the "old" Albert Hall) from the Albert Hall Company Limited, and the work of the Mission from 1901 to April 1906 when the fire destroyed that building.
Enclosure Act award of allotment 42
Appendix 4 (Properties) gives some very brief details from title deeds relating to the land on which the Albert Hall and the Institute stood. The first title deed, (A4.1.), is dated 4 July 1846 and shows that 6,396 square yards (allotment no. 42) were allotted under the Enclosure Act to the Trustees of the Freemen of Nottingham.
By an affidavit dated 19 August 1873, the Vicar of St. Mary's gave "consent to your building and erecting upon a piece or parcel of land situate (which had been assigned under a lease dated the 25 October 1861) and being in and near North Circus Street a Temperance Hall to be used for purposes of public exhibition, entertainment or amusement and for general purposes".
The foundation stone of the Nottingham Temperance Hall (although it never achieved that function) to be built on a site on the northern outskirts of the city was laid a month later in September 1873. The Good Templars and others had chosen Mr. Watson Fothergill to be the architect. From the beginning the project experienced financial problems but a rescue bid was put together with the formation of a limited liability company. Work resumed on what was to become the Albert Hall, a prestigious and expensive building costing some £14,000. It was opened by the Mayor, John Manning, in 1876. It was said to have been a singularly beautiful building with perfect acoustic properties and besides the principal hall, which had a capacious balcony and, at the back, a small upper gallery (known familiarly as "The Sweat Box", where one could sit or stand and hear for a "tanner"), the premises included another hall capable of seating five hundred, two large rooms holding upwards of one hundred each, two class rooms, and three fair-sized vestries in the tower. The principal hall had a fine Brindley & Foster organ and was capable of holding an audience of two thousand without crowding, but could accommodate as many as three thousand.
On Sundays the building was used for undenominational evangelistic services which later came under the auspices of the United Gospel Temperance Mission of which Alderman Mellors was president. His successful Brotherhood also met in the hall.
One of the major Christian workers in the 1880s was Mr James Flanagan who was unanimously elected by the Nottingham Gospel Temperance Committee, out of forty applicants, as their missionary for Nottingham generally and for the Narrow Marsh district in particular. On his appointment as missionary to the whole of Nottingham he and his family moved from Ilkeston to Nottingham where he served for a year and a half with great success.
He became well known throughout the town for his passionate devotion to the cause of the poor and for his unsparing labours among the vicious and criminal classes. One of the most important branches of his work was the systematic visitation of the lodging-houses in the lower parts of the town where in the first year he conducted over one thousand services, chiefly on Sundays, in their homes. These visits so won him the respect of the roughest characters that both he and his daughters were allowed to pass unmolested through the very worst quarters of the town at all hours of the day and night, and men would cease swearing and fighting and touch their caps when he went by.
He held open-air meetings in all weathers and seasons and in all parts of the town. Although he was knocked off his chair many times, his response was that it "got me a crowd".
So prosperous did the mission become that at length the committee was forced to consider the shepherding of the flock during the week. Many of the people who were converted on the Sunday expressed a desire to meet for instruction and fellowship on some week-evening. The cost of hiring the Hall for the whole of the week was too heavy, so the committee at length decided to purchase the Circus Street Hall, for the sum of £2,025, as the best way out of the difficulty.
A novel feature of the work among men was the formation of what was known as the "Lung Tissue Class". A group of working-men met on Sunday mornings at 7.0 am at the Arboretum gates, where they were joined by one of the professors from University College and treated to a walking lecture upon some aspect of nature.
Occasionally Rev. Flanagan visited the Albert Hall and preached with marvellous power. When the post of superintendent became vacant, he was urged to fill it. He shrank for a time from such a great undertaking, but at last he accepted the offer and for four years carried on an effective ministry.
The “old” Albert Hall exterior
The “old” Albert Hall interior
When he resigned his charge to become a minister of the Primitive Methodist Church, the authorities of the Albert Hall Mission presented him with the following illuminated address:
To the Rev. James Flanagan.
"The Committee of the United Gospel Mission and of the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Classes meeting in the Albert Hall and Circus Street Hall, Nottingham, desire to record their regret at your departure for London and their high appreciation of your services as Mission-Preacher. During the time you have laboured here your whole heart, mind and energies have been directed to promote the well-being of the people. You have been unwearied in your visits to the sick and, in earnest and eloquent preaching, have set before your hearers Life and Death and have preached a living Christ as God's remedy for man's sin and misery. We earnestly pray that in your new sphere God's blessing may abundantly rest upon you."
But this was not the same Albert Hall known during the Twentieth Century. It was the City's largest concert hall and a major venue for political rallies. However, by the turn of the century it was quite clear that it would never be able to generate enough cash to avoid frequent financial crises, so the building went up for sale.
It had been advertised as "One of the leading structures of its kind in the Midlands, suitable for all kinds of entertainment ... in the hands of an enterprising purchaser it should obtain all the most lucrative engagements in the city".
Methodism in Nottingham was making good progress, so accommodation was required to house the growing congregations. It was especially hoped to encourage the poorer classes to come to church with popular singing and preaching. When the old Albert Hall was offered for sale in 1899 a committee of prominent Methodist laymen decided to purchase it to start a Methodist Mission, a new form of endeavour which was lately becoming popular in Methodism. The committee comprised the following:
|Arthur (later Sir Arthur) William Black||Lace Manufacturer and Liberal M.P.|
|Joseph Shepherd Bolton||Doctor of Medicine|
|William Henry Carey||Lace Finisher|
|Henry Cartwright Eden||Lace Dresser|
|Harold Edgar||Hosiery Manufacturer|
|George Arthur Gregg||Leather Merchant|
|George Hallam||Coal Merchant|
|Alfred Manchester||Tea Merchant|
|Joseph Derbyshire Marsden||Provision Merchant|
|Abraham Pyatt||Alderman and Timber Merchant|
|Joseph Wardle||District Inspector, Prudential Assurance Company|
|Walker Rushton Wibberley||Joiner and Builder|
Between 13 December 1900 and 31 December 1902 the following capital payments were made for the purchase and renovation of the Albert Hall:
|The purchase price of the Hall||8,450 0s 0d|
|Legal charges and stamp duty||96 6s 7d|
|"Chairs and all loose things about the Hall"||140 0s 0d|
|Painting||603 16s 9d|
|Electricity||375 8s 2d|
|Repairs and alterations||486 11s 8d|
|Land for kitchen (Stanger's house)||112 12s 0d|
|Kitchen||326 14s 10d|
|Furnishing the Minister's house||10 0s 0d|
|Opening expenses||14 7s 0d|
|Total cost £||10,615 17s 0d|
At the opening date, not a penny had then been given or promised. The Committee made a venture of faith by taking responsibility for this considerable sum without any guarantee of official backing.
Rev. J. Ernest Rattenbury
Assisted by the Rev. Frank Boynton, the first superintendent minister was the Rev. J. Ernest Rattenbury, an aggressive young preacher with political views of whom Mr. Jesse Boot approved. The opening services were held on 21 September 1902.
The Rev. Rattenbury's own report (Nottingham Mission, Albert Hall, First Annual Report, 1902-1903) of the situation gives a good account of the first year's work:-
On Sunday evening, 21 September 1902, I conducted the first service in the Hall. There were about 600 people present. They had come from other churches to give us a start. The following days were spent in prayer for the success of a Mission which was to be commenced the next Sunday. The Rev. Howard May and I conducted it.
Our Inaugural Meetings were held on 9 October 1902. A luncheon was given in the Victoria Hotel at which upwards of £1,000 was promised. Mr. A.W. Black presided. The President of the Conference preached the opening sermon in the Hall, at 3.30 pm, to a splendid congregation and, although the day was very wet, a large congregation gathered at night. Alderman Pyatt presided and addresses were delivered by Rev. F.L. Wiseman (the President of the Conference), Rev. Simpson Johnson, and others. The meetings were most enthusiastic and hopeful.
When we started in October, the workers consisted of the Deaconess and myself and three Nottingham Methodist families. To-day we have nearly 400 names on our class books. Our congregation at first was quite small, and chiefly composed of friends from other churches who came out of sympathy and curiosity. We have succeeded in gathering together a Sunday evening congregation of 2,000. Sometimes the large Hall has been uncomfortably overcrowded by the people who came, and many have been unable to get seats. We have a morning congregation of about 600 people on a good Sunday. Last Sunday - a Sunday in August - at an ordinary morning service, the congregation was between 600 and 700 in number.
We have established a number of most flourishing Class Meetings. In my own class book for men there are 130 names. We publish a fortnightly magazine of 4,000 per issue, which is distributed by 60 enthusiastic workers amongst some 8,000 homes per month. We had from January to April a most successful Saturday Evening Concert, the Hall often being packed. We have already bought silver instruments for a band of young men, who are full of evangelistic zeal and musical promise.
Successful classes for young men and young women are being held on Sunday afternoons. There are six open-air services weekly.
Nothing has been more useful to the Mission than a well-attended prayer meeting at 10 o'clock on Sunday mornings.
It will be naturally asked: "whence have all these people come? Have they come from other churches?" My reply is that, as far as the membership is concerned, I have received 33 from other Methodist Churches in Nottingham, some of whom have already returned to their former spiritual homes. The great mass of the people in our church are made up of such as have been occasional attendants at numerous churches without particular church attachment, and chiefly such as have had no church associations whatever.
Nothing has been more persistently emphasised than our dislike of receiving people from other churches and I have resolutely and repeatedly declined to visit people who had inclinations to join us when I knew they had other church relationships. The fact is that the spirit of God has been leading all sorts of people out of darkness into light, and we have had to rejoice week by week in the steady ingathering of men and women into the church.
Week after week for a long time we had to visit 20 and 30 people a week who were anxious to join the Church. But many of our converts have come straight to the Classes as a result of their decision under the preaching of the Word. The sidesmen and members of the Look-Out Committee, some 60 in all, are each supplied with a book in which to enter the names of any who apply to them.
Sister Minnie has a Women's Class of 90 members.
Our first Mothers' Meeting was held on Monday, 6 October 1902, and a Junior Society Class was started for boys and girls.
The Wesley Guild made a successful start at the beginning of the year .
Bazaar Bag, Albert Hall first anniversary, 1903
Superintendent: Rev. J.E. RATTENBURY
Early in January  our Circuit Steward, the Mayor of Nottingham (Mr. A.W. Black), gave a reception in the Exchange to the members of the Mission and others interested in our work. It was a very great success. The kindly thought of Mr. and Mrs. Black in this undoubtedly did much to foster the incipient fellowship of our church. This interesting function will be an abiding pleasure to all who partook of it.
We are gradually gathering together a large and effective Choir. It has already about 100 members. Its organisation has been no easy matter, but we have fortunately received the services of a most excellent organist and choirmaster, C.H. Briggs, Esq., Mus. Doc.; and Mr. Isaac Carrick, his assistant choirmaster, has been unremitting in his toil from the beginning of the Mission to make the choral service attractive. We were greatly helped up till Christmas by Mr. F. Selby, our temporary organist. We have no instrument except the organ in our public services and hope in time to have a Choir of 200 voices.
Lastly, I must speak of the summer's work - our open-air campaign. Our service on Wednesday commenced comparatively early in the year; but during the summer this has been supplemented by a Young Women's Song Service, organised by Sister Minnie, on a Tuesday, and a Young Men's Service on Thursday.
J.E. RATTENBURY, Superintendent
Staff and Officers.
Rev. J Ernest Rattenbury (Superintendent)
Mr George Gorwood (Evangelist)
Sister Minnie [Mitchell] (Deaconess)
Sister May [Rattenbury] (Deaconess)
Mr. A.W. Black (Mayor of Nottingham)
Mr. J.H. Brown
Mr. H. Chapman
Mr. Walter Black
Mr. Ernest Richards
Mr. T. Pearson,
Mr. B. Davis,
There were a number of shops and offices at the southern end of Derby Road which had been leased by the Albert Hall Co. Ltd. When the property was transferred to the Methodists, a legal notice, dated 27 February 1901, addressed to one leaseholder, stated "the reversion upon your leasehold shops and premises adjoining the Albert Hall in Derby Road, Nottingham, has been assigned to Messrs A. Pyatt, G. Hallam and others [they were the Methodist Trustees] as purchasers and that the rents due from the shops by virtue of the underleases of the sites will henceforth be payable to them or their Agent".
In 1903 the shops and offices recorded in the Kelly's and Wright's Directories were:-
|1 Derby Road||
Ratcliffe & Gretton Limited, brewers (Burton);
R.S. Radford, agt The Nottingham Furnishing Co. (Albert Cahn & H. M.Bernstein)
|3 Derby Road||Brady Frdk. C. dining & boarding house|
|5 Derby Road||McLellan John B., pianoforte & music dealer|
|7 Derby Road||Coxon William, dyer & cleaner|
|9 Derby Road||Henry Fred & Son, ironmongers & house furnishers|
|11 Derby Road||Jamieson, William Henry v. The Old Three Horse Shoes Hotel, & Mews|
W.G. & Sons (veterinary surgeons) & shoeing
Brobson & Co. bedding & mattress manufacturers
|13 Derby Road||Minton R.R. & Co. oil & colour merchants, C. Deam, manager.|
|15 Derby Road||Smith & Co. tailors|
|Albert Hall buildings|
|17 to 23 Derby Road||Public Benefit Boot Company Limited (The Metropole branch), G.E. Franklin, director|
|1 North Circus St||Taylor C.V., M.D.|
|St Barnabas Cathedral (Catholic)|
During the 80 years that the Albert Hall received rents from these premises the gross rents received, less the expenses paid, provided a very important income to the Mission.
The Second Annual Report stated that a congregation had been gathered together of upwards of two thousand people and registered five hundred names on its class books.
During that second year the work of the Nottingham Mission consisted in the consolidation of the church and the finding of new methods of missionary activity and service. The work developed, deepened and widened, and was marked everywhere with the conspicuous success which comes of God's presence and leading. One example was a soup kitchen started in January. A subscription of £5 from Mr. F.E. Corley, of St John's College, Oxford, supplemented by many other generous gifts from members, helped to meet the expenses. Unfortunately, the kitchen had to be closed rather abruptly due to a small-pox epidemic.
Another fine piece of work was that of the Sunshine Band, in which there were already more than one hundred members. Each of these members contributed a small weekly sum which was used in buying flowers, fruit, coal, etc. These gifts were then taken to the needy and dying. Besides this excellent visitation work, there were sixty regular distributors of magazines. There were, therefore, upwards of 160 young people engaged in the work of visitation.
During this second year "a Window Cleaning Brigade" was set up as a means of providing work for the unemployed. A Speakers' Class was a new venture which was intended to stimulate open-air speaking.
Sister May Rattenbury provided activities for boys between the ages of five to seventeen, on Monday night, when she gathered them together away from their normal surroundings of "rough treatment, rough language, unkindness, drunkenness, impurity, and vice". The boys were provided with a Cricket Club during the summer, to be followed by a Lads' Club.
Also successful were the two half-hour Factory Dinner-Hour Services held in the room where the girls ate their lunches. In one factory there was an average of twenty-seven and in the other one there was an average of one hundred and ten girls and several lads. These services led to visits to their homes and, as a result, some of the girls came to the Hall on Sunday nights or to Classes, and two of the boys to Monday night Class.
Two other new ventures were the Open-Air Choir consisting of a choirmaster and a band of evangelical young men and women, and Lantern Services held on fine but dark winter nights.
The Cripples' Guild was opened in November 1904. Over the next half century this was a very successful and worthwhile scheme. Initially, the children were taught singing, paper-flower making, sewing, and basket weaving. It met for two hours each week; one hour and a half being given to work, the remaining time for games.
Great emphasis was placed upon the missionary efforts by the deaconesses and other helpers in their lodging house work, open-air work, and special services held in slums. Out of a roll of less than seven hundred members, nearly five hundred were registered as special workers in the Mission Services conducted by Rev. Thomas Waugh.
The Silver Band was said to be very creditable both from a musical and spiritual standpoint. Great credit was due to Mr. Thompson, the bandmaster, for scarcely a member of the band could play or knew music when the band was formed. They were essentially an open-air band. During the Summer there was a monster gathering on the Forest, the band occupying the bandstand.
Nothing had made more marked development during the year than the Choir, which was one of the best in Nottingham. Mr. Albert Rudd, the choir-master, with Mr. L. Gordon Thorp as organist, organised several special Sunday Afternoon Musical Services, which were overwhelmingly successful. The performances of Christ and His Soldiers and Gaul's Holy City were both repeated on the Sunday following their first rendering, and at each service the Hall was packed to excess.
Sister May Rattenbury left in April. Her influence endured. Sister Florence served for six months as a voluntary sister, working with the very poorest and most wretched in the city. After nearly two years' service Sister Margaret, who began her religious work in the Mission, left to work with the Birmingham Mission. Sister Minnie, who had been in the Mission from the beginning, still remained to develop the many organisations which she set afloat. These deaconesses were of an order other than the long line of Wesley Deaconesses who ministered at the Albert Hall for eighty years. Sister Grace Crump, as the first Wesley Deaconess, commenced in September 1905.
The girls were by no means excluded from all this activity. Those from seven to thirteen years of age (the Junior Institute) met at 5.30 pm on Mondays for sewing, drill, singing, and gymnastics. Then from 7 pm to 10 pm the Senior Institute met, of which there were some one hundred and seventy members. Each girl paid a penny a week. The Lecture Hall was divided into classes for dressmaking (Miss Cullen), fancy needlework (Miss Poole), general needlework (Miss Jackson), callisthenics [gymnastic exercises to achieve bodily health and grace in movement] (Miss Cheetham), shorthand (Miss Mitchell), ambulance (Miss Pelley), and gymnasium (Miss Garratt). Also there were games, books, and refreshments provided for any who did not care to take up classes. In the winter there was a Hockey Club for the girls and in the summer a Riding Club for Saturday afternoons.
The Fourth Annual Report, 1905-06, announced that a Wesley Guild had been formed and its opening meeting, on 1 October 1905, was attended by more than one hundred in the George Street Rooms. Another room which had been used for meetings was the little Mission Room in Poplar Street. These rooms were hired by the Albert Hall.
Mr. Gorwood left to go to the Wigan Mission, Sister Minnie Mitchell to the Manchester Mission, both of whom were at the Albert Hall from the beginning. The Rev. H.J. Benson, who commenced a Brotherhood in September 1905, and Sister Alice Maude, were welcomed.
The "old" Albert Hall 22/4/1906
At 5.30 pm, as the congregation began to arrive for the evening service on Sunday, 22 April 1906, they found the hall on fire and within a short time it was completely gutted beyond repair. The building had been old and made largely of dried wood and all efforts to save it were of no avail. Not only was the building destroyed but all the Church furniture, musical instruments, hymn books, Bibles, etc., were also lost.
Met with this sudden disaster, the Committee decided, with great faith in God and in the Nottingham Methodists, to build a new Albert Hall and dedicate it to the Methodist Church.
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