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CHAPTER 11
ALBERT HALL, PART 10: 1980 to 1989

John Horner said:

I have always had an urge to write. I don't quite remember why I started to write the musical about the Prodigal Son, which I called Mr. Prodigal. Fred Parnell offered to commission Ken Platts to write the music. The Godfrey brothers, who were very much involved with District Youth, and Robin and Sue Aldridge produced it. They had their fingers on the youth in the district. Wendy Harding conducted. It had some absolutely wonderful lead singers in it. It was a brilliant production. It was produced three nights running in the Albert Hall and was very well reviewed. However, it was fated for three reasons. Firstly, all the official tapes were sent to London, for some reason, and all were lost on Red Star British Rail. So Mr. Prodigal never got into people's homes or got around. It just died a death on the last night. Secondly, all the national newspapers were on strike so it had no publicity in the press. Thirdly, Ken Platts, the composer, did not want to be associated with it any further because he was moving into a more serious career. He had recently been commissioned by Ursula Vaughan Williams to write a requiem or mass for her husband and he didn't want his name associated with anything quite as light weight as Mr. Prodigal, so he didn't want to know any more about it. It was a pity that it never went any further because it told a very important story.

The premiere of the show was held at the Albert Hall on 1, 2, and 3 May 1980. There was a cast of seventy-five musicians and actors gathered from churches, youth clubs and drama groups from all over Nottinghamshire. Paul Rowland tellingly projected the prodigal playboy, a far more sympathetic character than his conscientious but small-minded elder brother, here well contrasted by Martin Bell. Among other lively portraits were Kevin Payne as a fat and greasy con man and David Bennett as his salesman sidekick. The soprano, Alma Digisi as a seductive night-club siren sang Country boy. With the help of skilful lighting and scenic device, the Hall platform became an ample stage over which singers and dancers flowed spectacularly to conjure farm, night-club and restaurant. In secure control of soloists, chorus and a first-rate instrumental group was musical director Wendy Harding.

John Horner left the Hall in 1980 and was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph Gibbon, B.D., who had been stationed at Doncaster. He was a native of Consett in Northumberland.

In the 1980s the two central Methodist Churches of Nottingham, situated at either end of Parliament Street, decided to become one united Church. After considerable debate, the new society decided to house the new Mission at the Lower Parliament Street site for the following reasons, given in a report:-

1. The Albert Hall site, at the upper end of Parliament Street, had particular difficulties. The Albert Hall itself was a listed building, the rest of the premises (Institute and shops) were in a conservation area and the Albert Hall site was leasehold.

2. The re-planning of the city centre, in the 1960s, had included a large roundabout at the junction of Maid Marion Way and Upper Parliament Street. This effectively isolated the Albert Hall from easy pedestrian access from the city centre.

With these problems in mind, conversations were held with the City Council Planning Department, who sympathised with the plans and advised the representatives of the Church that in order to help in the reorganisation, they would put no obstacles in the way of a redevelopment on the Lower Parliament Street site.

There was also the situation that the Institute building was in need of fundamental renovation; the new Royal Concert Hall was larger and more up-to-date than the Albert Hall which lost the bookings of major concerts and other activities, thus reducing what had been a major part of the Mission's income; and, together with the smaller congregations providing less income, the financial situation became precarious.

Donald Harrison provided a clear resumé of the changes which occurred to the Albert Hall in the 1980s.

In view of the financial situation we could no longer defer a realistic assessment of our buildings and resources and a new possibility, which had Connexional backing in the light of Methodist policy for its mission to city centres, had come to the fore - a merger with Parliament Street Church. In strategical terms, and in a time of depleted congregations, falling income and rising cost, it seemed absurd to have two separate churches close to the city centre; on the other hand there was the known difficulty, experienced over and over again, in many parts of the country, of persuading two societies to lose their separate identities. Each church had its assets: the Albert Hall had large buildings, part of which might be sold for development; Parliament Street had a playing field on the edge of the city, the potential sale value of which was problematical because of the title and tenancy by a football club formerly linked with the church. Later we were to encounter serious objections from the planning authority, interested in preserving the appearance of the historical Lace Market area nearby. It was perceived that the first giant step was to unite the two churches into a single society and a beginning was made by setting up a working party composed of members of both churches. After some very hard preliminary work by this group, each of the two Church Councils made a formal resolution of intention to achieve the merger by a stated date. Although the Albert Hall membership was much larger than that of Parliament Street, Joe Gibbon stipulated that the constitution of the new combined Church Council should provide for an exactly equal number of members from each of the uniting churches; nominations and elections were made accordingly and the new body came into being on the agreed date. It was faced with three main options: to sell the Parliament Street site and playing field and renovate the Albert Hall; to sell the Albert Hall and the playing field and renovate Parliament Street church; or to build a new church on the Parliament Street site. When the final decision was made, the view which carried the day was that only a completely new building would command the whole-hearted support of the opposing schools of thought and that the church should have a new name - Nottingham Central Mission. Deep historical and emotional attachments lay at the roots of the conflicting arguments as well as more rational considerations.

The decision once taken, the church was in a position to appoint an architect, costing and planning advisors; a model and drawings of a new church were produced; an Appeal Committee was set up and hopes ran high that we were about to see building work started. Then a thunderbolt was launched by the City Council's Planning Committee when they considered our application for planning permission. Although our site was outside the designated "conservation area" of the Lace Market, they considered that the approaches and vicinity would be spoilt unless the new church attained the same height as the existing tower. Our design team went into the costs of revising the design in order to meet this requirement and reported that there would be a considerable increase. At the time I calculated that, after allowing for the proceeds of sale of the Albert Hall and the various grants that we hoped to receive, about £1,000 per member would be needed. The Church Council reluctantly accepted that this was not feasible and we had to fall back on the alternative plan of renovating Parliament Street rather than rebuilding it. This meant that design and planning had to start afresh and we had to wave goodbye to the thousands of pounds which we had sunk in the earlier proposal. There were also further resignations of membership from people who had supported a new building but were against renovation. Finance was not the only problem. Near the Minister's Vestry in the old church a number of headstones were mounted in the wall, indicating that the remains were interred at or near this position. These memorials were about 160 years old. We learned that human remains are nobody's property but that gravestones, having been paid for by someone at some time, were. We had to advertise in the local paper, giving the facts and inviting any interested person to make contact. No-one did, and we engaged a specialist firm to exhume the remains and re-inter them elsewhere. Then it was estimated that the work of building the new church would occupy nearly two years and we had to find somewhere else, in the central area, for our worship and mid-week activities. We finally went "into exile" at St. Catherine's Anglican Church in St. Ann's Well Road, at a cost of £100 per week. A trying period in many ways, but there was one important redeeming feature: joint participation in the various efforts, social events and other activities, brought the people of the two old congregations closer together in friendship and mutual respect. Let no-one underestimate the magnitude of this achievement: how can we be surprised at the many failures to unite churches of different denominations when it is so hard to bring together two separate groups of Methodists? But despite the great achievements of our Appeals Committee in organising these fund-raising events, our financial position was still very uncertain.

I have mentioned the playing field owned by the former Parliament Street church, the sale of which we hoped would provide part of the cost of renovation. But how big a part? There were doubts about the market value and much would depend on whether the local council would allow it to be used for residential purposes. Moreover, there was a dispute between two planning authorities, the county and the city, as to whether a new road was to be built over part of the area. We also wondered whether we were free to dispose of the land at all; for countless years the field had been used as a football club, once closely linked with Parliament Street church and still bearing its name. Had they, by long usage, become "sitting tenants" and had we, in any case, some moral obligation towards them because of their former links with the church? But that was not all: about twenty years earlier the Parliament Street church had been in urgent need of £300 (a sizeable sum in pre-inflation days) for structural alterations, and in return for this money they had signed a covenant with the Playing Fields Association committing the land for use as a playing field for 25 years. We were in a quandary and, at a meeting of the Church Council, I pointed out that the Methodist Church had a Property Division dealing with church buildings all over the country and it would surely be able to advise us from its wealth of experience. We consulted them and they replied that they had never heard of such a dreadful mix-up before. Their advice was that we should try to sell the property "warts and all" for whatever we could get for it. After taking soundings with valuers we formed the view that we should do well to get a sum of the order of £150,000 and that would leave us a good deal short of the £1,040,000 which we had to find. Meanwhile the building work was proceeding and was due for completion in December 1988.

We were making periodic payments out of our available funds on the basis of architect's certificates, but we estimated that, by July 1988, our funds would be exhausted. We advertised the playing field for sale and I suggested that we should invite the other two circuit churches and the circuit itself to lend us money, either interest-free or at a rate lower than what we should have to pay to the banks. In the event we never needed to act on my suggestion because an amazing offer from a developer of £810,000 was received for the playing field. After the deduction of legal and agents' fees and certain safeguards for the future of the football club, we now had enough to pay for the building work with a surplus of about £300,000. This balance would have to go into the Circuit Advance Fund but we could have unrestricted access to annual interest of about £30,000 for the work of the mission. This unexpected windfall, coming at the crucial moment, was regarded by many of our members as an act of God and an answer to prayer.

At the end of my term as circuit steward in 1976 I had become secretary and treasurer for Home Missions and also minute secretary of the Circuit Meeting. In 1980 I succeeded our friend, Arthur Jackson, as Secretary of the Circuit Meeting (including the minutes as formerly) and continued until 1986 when Albert Featherstone took over. I then became convenor of the circuit's Mission Committee, an active group which kept me quite busy. About once a month I served as organist at our Bridgeway Hall Church and occasionally at the Central Mission when our own organist was not available.

My retirement from work was in two stages - a partial one in 1982, after which I worked half-time until my final departure at the age of 65 in August 1984.

Some retirement interests were beginning to build up. A few years earlier Iris and I had been invited to become Governors of the Sir Arthur Black Trust, a small local charity which gave financial help to older people connected with the church and to other charitable organisations, mainly religious and medical. We were also "visitors", i.e. we delivered the money to the homes of the people helped. About 1984 I became Registrar of one of the trust funds and deputy Chairman.

1983

The following is a poem by Rev John Horner written after the 1983 Anniversary.

THOUGHTS ON RETURNING TO THE ALBERT HALL

We bring our greetings to you all,
dear members of the Albert Hall.
We're all quite fit, I'm glad to say
and happy to be here today.
My wife is with me, as you see,
and needs no further words from me:
Of her affairs, before we go,
she'll tell you what you want to know.
As for our Richard, perhaps you heard,
he's got himself engaged. My word,
how they grow up! This term, you see,
he takes his finals - B.Sc.

Our Ann, remembering Nottingham roots,
has got herself a job at Boots,
while Robin, in another store,
sells televisions by the score.

And now to this, our happy meeting,
I have to bring another greeting -
ah yes, you've guessed, from dear old Wyn
- the Killingback - now settled in
a dwelling by the Cornish sea -
in Mousehole harbour actually.
The locals find her quite a charmer,
tho' not without a touch of drama.
But say no more! My lips are sealed!
Some things are better not revealed!

But how are you? Ay up, mi duck!
How goes it then? How's things? What luck?
What memories come back today
I really don't know what to say.
Where it begins, or where it ends -
how can I list them all, my friends?
Allow me to recount a few -
and if I don't refer to you
forgive me. I have no defence
except that I meant no offence.

My first remembrance always goes
to my incomparable Rose
all Taylor-made (!) to ease me in
and show me how I should begin.

Then, to protect you from my folly,
they sent the watchful Sister Olly.
Dear Sister Olive - what a prize,
in inverse proportions to her size.
A down-to-earth and lovely lass
as natural as North Sea Gas.

And then events began to roll
with Frankie Drayton in control.
Caretakers changing every week
but bookings reached an all-time peak.
And now we learn, with great delight,
another Drayton's come to light!

Our scouts have got their "bob-a-jobs"
and so had we - two jobs, two Bobs;
our Secretary, Robert Proc.
As faithful as a chiming clock -
resigned his office every day -
still hasn't made a get-away.
And Robert Jones, our Chancellor
took what we gave and asked for more.
With deft financial wizardry
he kept us out of bankruptcy.

Remember with what resolution
you made me keep the constitution -
with George and George and Arthur J.
and Ernie B and such as they
all breathing down my neck to see
I'd dot each "i" and cross each "t"
lest haply some unwitting fool
should dare to break the 6-year rule.

And then the classes, happy days.
I still recall with some amaze
the cut-throat speed with which each brother
got in his hymn before another;
and all the friendly "us and them"
'twixt men and Wednesday p.m.
that urge to get the thousand: - tho'
to see the ladies on the go
you'd wonder, was it their ambition
to beat the men, or help the mission?

The choir had ups and downs - altho'
how could it ebb, when led by Flo? (!)
And organ - great 4-manual brute
with stops from sweet caressing flute
to shudd'ring open diapason.
And Gordon, Fred and Philip Mason.

The time would fail to tell it all -
the story of the Albert Hall,
the Guild, the clubs, the two Brigades
and all their excellent parades;
the buffet chat, the prayers, the jokes
and all those dear devoted folks.

And since we've left, those monthly screeds
from dear old faithful Dorcas Edees.

The future is not ours to see,
tomorrow is a mystery.
But on in faith and hope we go
guided by God and Rev. Joe!

And know - as long as time shall last -
nothing can take away the past.

1984

Sister Jean [Rev. Jean Quick, née Cowton] was congratulated on her ordination on 26 April 1984 [Mission Council 2 May1984]. It was announced, at the same meeting, that John Storer was to be the new editor of the Messenger, and that from 1 June 1984 Sunday evening services would commence with an introit.

The Albert Hall and Institute were sold in 1984 to the local property consultant, Cedric Ford.

Both sets of minute books of the Church Council meetings for the Albert Hall and Parliament Street were formally closed at the Church Council meeting held on 17 December 1984. The two churches' bank accounts were merged with effect from 1 January 1985 in the name of the Nottingham Central Methodist Mission.

1985

Central News newsletter was to replace previous publications and was to be produced on the last Sunday of every month. The editor was to be Mrs. Hilda Miller and the sub-editor Mr. Alan Broadhurst.

The final service at the Albert Hall was held on 13 October 1985. Greetings were given by Rev. Brian Greet (Chairman of the Nottingham and Derby District) and Rev. John Horner (previous Superintendent Minister of the Albert Hall). The sermon was given by Rev. J. A. Gibbon. The lesson (Mark 8: 27-38) was read by Mrs. Rose Taylor (previous Mission Secretary). There was a splendid gathering of former ministers, deaconesses, officers and members of both the Albert Hall and Parliament Street.


Mrs Elaine and Rev David Wheeler


View from the East

Closer view towards rear of the Albert Hall
Upper Parliament Street, Nottingham


Albert Hall Institute building and rear of the Albert Hall
(with
fire escape and cross)


The grand piano

Full scene
Albert Hall interior


Derby Road lessees and the Albert Hall, 1998


South-west side

South-east side
Albert Hall, 1995



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