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CHAPTER 12
ASPLEY HALL

An ever-present problem is the requirement to satisfy the religious needs of the new areas of population which spring up around big cities. The Aspley Estate in west Nottingham was commenced in the early 1930s when the City Corporation created the garden suburb which was expected to have a population of 40,000.

In 1930, with its official opening in 1931, the William Crane schools were built inside the Minver Crescent, in Aspley. There were four main buildings: a Junior School in the north (later called Rosslyn Junior and Infant), another Junior School in the south (later called Ambleside Junior and Infant); Senior Boys wing in the west facing the entrance from Sherbourne Road; and Senior Girls wing in the east facing the entrance from Hilcot Drive.

At that time there was neither Church nor Sunday School on the estate. Largely through the influence of Councillor J.A. Shaw, arrangements were made to accommodate a Methodist Sunday School in the newly erected William Crane school with an attendance of 375 children at the first morning session. Within six months there were 500 scholars on the books. Numbers stabilised at about 400 with a teaching staff of about forty who had volunteered from other churches all over the city, coming to morning and afternoon sessions. By 1939 the Sunday School had become independent of outside help. In 1960 there were 200 scholars who came from Broxtowe, Bilborough and Strelley as well as Aspley, with a staff of thirty-six.

This was one of the earliest and largest fully-graded Sunday Schools in the City. Councillor Albert Shaw and Mr. Tom Abbott began and developed this work, Mr. Abbott being the first Sunday School Superintendent. The beginners, primary and young people's departments continued to meet in the William Crane School for many years, some of them till the Memorial Hall was built.

In 1939 the Sunday School met at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm.  The Sunday School Teachers' Class met on Wednesdays at 7.00 pm,

By 1951 some five hundred children had their names on the Sunday School registers, with an average attendance of about four hundred and a Staff of about sixty.  The Church purchased a hundred and twenty special chairs (at fifteen shillings each) for the youngest children and that was said to have been not nearly enough! In 1956 it was recorded that the Sunday School was undoubtedly one of the largest in the Nottingham district and taxed their accommodation so much that one class was held in the kitchen. Mr. R.E. Airey, B.A. was superintendent.

As far as the Church itself was concerned, it was two years after the Sunday School was started at William Crane School in 1931 before Aspley Hall was opened. The Wesley Circuit Quarterly Meeting agreed to release Rev. George E. Allcock from his usual circuit appointment so that he could concentrate on the work at Aspley.  Sister Ethel Westlake was a Deaconess at Aspley Hall from 1933 to 1938 and was involved with pastoral care.

Mr. J.D. Marsden, a wealthy grocer, purchased the finest site for the new Church on 6 January 1931. It is a strategic corner-site served by five bus routes. A Methodist Trust was constituted and Mr. Marsden, in addition to the gift of the site, gave the scheme a great start.  He urged that the foremost Nottingham architects be asked to prepare plans for a complete scheme for a Church Hall and a School Hall with accommodation for a fully-graded school and institute. Grants were gratefully received from Mr. Joseph Rank and Mr. John D. Player. The trustees of the old Halifax Place Chapel, situated in the Lace Market, (sold a year or two previously) finalised their accounts with a balance of £300 which they kindly donated to Aspley Hall. This gift was commemorated by the naming of a room after Halifax Place Chapel.

The stonelaying ceremony for the new building, which took place on Thursday 14 July 1932 at 3.30 o'clock, included three hymns, four addresses, and the stonelaying. The first stone was laid by the Lord Mayor, Alderman William Green, J.P., followed by eighteen other stones.

More than a thousand people assembled on Thursday afternoon 17 April 1933 for the opening of the Hall. There was a short Dedicatory Service in which the Vicar of the Parish participated.  The key was handed over by the architect to Mr. J.D. Marsden, who unlocked and "flung wide the doors". The company was too big for the accommodation of the Hall.  Rev. Alfred E. Whitham, of Bournemouth, preached the sermon.

The church comprised of (1) the Hall with seating for 700 people, every seat free; (2)  a platform with raised tiers at the back to accommodate a choir of 50 or an orchestra, to be arranged with curtains and a cinema screen; (3) various vestries and other rooms including a cinema operating room; (4) electric lighting was installed throughout. The Synod Minute Book, in minuting the May 1935 synod, quoted the total cost of the Aspley Hall as £10,841 5s 11d.

Plate 95.  Aspley Hall, front (Melbourne Road).  [Image missing]

Plate 96.  Aspley Hall, Aspley Lane side. [Image missing]

During the 1939-45 War,  three of the members of Aspley Hall lost their lives while on active service. They were Harry Sansome, 75th Squadron, R.A.F.; Frederick G. Saville, Army; and Edward J. Thornhill, R.N. They were all very much involved in Church life and were all sadly very young men.

The ministers for the first fifty years of Aspley Hall were:

Nottingham Central Circuit
1933/34Pastor (subsequently Rev.) A.H. William Houchin
Pastor B. Allen           
1934/37Rev. Jesse Parkin
1937/38Rev. W. Henry Lake
1933/38Sister Ethel Westlake (Deaconess)
Albert Hall Mission Circuit
1938/42Rev. Harry A. Breakspear
942/45Rev. Ronald Wilson, B.A., M.Th.
1945/48Rev. Norman B. Cooper
1948/51Rev. Albert Aspey
1951/55Rev. R.C. Palmer-Barnes
1955/60Rev. John A. Earl
1960/64Rev. Peter H. Bolt, B.D.
1964/70Rev. Bryan A. Rippin
1970/82Rev. W. Ronald Waine, B.D.
Nottingham North Circuit
1982Rev. Keith K. Winn

For thirteen years Rev Reginald C. Palmer-Barnes was a missionary in Jamaica, British Guiana and (for the last five years) at James Street Church, Speightstown, Barbados. He said that he had taken a lot of interest in cricket out there and was an umpire in their senior cup games at Barbados. When the West Indies' Cricket Team learned that he was due to come to England on furlough in 1950 he was asked to act as their secretary during their tour from early May to mid-September. Eight members of the team topped their thousand runs and three celebrated their 20th birthdays during the tour.

On Sunday 2 September 1951 he commenced his ministry at Aspley Hall. He, his wife (Margarette) and three of his four children (the fourth being a pilot-cadet in training) resided in the manse at 6 Elmdale Gardens.

"Penny Pictures" were held three or four nights a week in Aspley Hall, which was always full, with long queues before opening time. These evenings continued at Aspley Hall until the opening of the Forum on Aspley Lane provided talkies at tuppence.

The Aspley Times was first published on 6th February 1934 and many editions followed.

At the meeting of  The Nottingham Methodist Mission General Committee  on 15 June 1938, Rev. G.C. Gregory stated that a sub-committee of  nine (Circuit and Society Stewards, etc.) at meetings lasting a total of  nine hours, decided  unanimously to recommend the General Committee to take over Aspley Central Hall as from September 1938. Aspley Hall, therefore, came in to the Albert Hall Mission Circuit which undertook to provide a full-time ordained Minister to be stationed at Aspley and to meet most of the cost until the Church was financially stronger.

Aspley Hall has always been regarded as a family Church.

In 1939 the Sunday morning and evening services were at 11.00 am and 6.30 pm. The Young People's Fellowship and Social Hour met alternately after the evening service. The Men's Fellowship met at 8.00 pm on Fridays with an average attendance of over thirty.

The Junior Guild, in 1939, met on Tuesdays at 6.30 pm, the Wesley Guild at 7.45 pm. Midnight rambles were held around Strelley and the Hemlock Stone and that part of the canal, followed by a sunrise service.

In addition to the Adult Choir, the Junior Choir under Mr. Langley's leadership formed a fine addition to the Sunday morning worship. A tape was made of some of their songs. They would have a choir practice and then come into the Youth Club. They practised on a Friday night so that the children from the High School and Grammar School could do their homework at the weekend.

Mr. H.S. Bingham of 381 Aspley Lane was Treasurer and Secretary of the Aspley Church Benevolent Society. An original donation of £100 was given by the Sir Arthur Black Trusts but later people used to contribute to it. Payments were made out of it, to help people in the area who were in need. During the 1939-45 war, gifts and greetings were sent to men in H.M. Forces. Only very recently has it been closed. The fund was amalgamated with the Poor Fund with which it had overlapped. The demand has not been great in recent years. Also the value of money has gone down quite a lot. When it wound up there was only £36 left in the fund. Mrs. Barbara Paling was the last Treasurer. There is still a Poor Fund but it is now called the Benevolent Fund.

In 1942 a circuit Horticultural Show was held at Aspley Hall on Saturday 15 August in which everyone connected with the Albert Hall, King's Hall and Aspley Hall were cordially invited to enter in any of the twenty-four classes of  flowers, fruit, and vegetables.

Rev Roland Wilson, the minister at that time, remembered fire-watching with Mr. Bert Farrington and the forces' canteen in the kitchen catering for the N.F.S. station in Aspley Lane and the A.A. battery in Beechdale Road.

Just after the war there was a big prisoner of war camp on Wollaton Park. Some of these prisoners of war came to church from Wollaton Park. Although it was quite a long walk, some of the members walked back with them. Later, the prisoners were placed on farms.

During Rev Albert Aspey's time as minister, 1948 to 1951, there were a number of firsts. The first extension, the Memorial Hall, a pre-fabricated building costing about £1,500, was opened before a very large crowd by the then Lord Mayor of Nottingham. The first, and perhaps only, Rose Queen Carnival, in connection with the Sunday School, was held with a procession round the estate, with the Rose Queen in a decorated float, followed by games, sports and all the fun of the fair in the grounds of the Crane School.

The Bright Hour was similar to the Central Mission's Women's Fellowship. Daffodil Sunday was the Bright Hour Anniversary. Tuesday was the Rally when the daffodils were sold, followed by a tea. People from all the churches  around the District were invited. Daffodils were also given to anyone who was sick or otherwise in need. Cora Southall introduced the first Bright Hour's Daffodil Rally weekend at Aspley, with the gorgeous display of the daffodils grown by members of the Women's Meeting.  Some ladies provided cut daffodils, others pots of daffodils. Mr. Thornhill, a professional gardener, judged the displays.

An investigation of numerical statistics relating to the work of the Churches among young people revealed that although the numbers of younger children were increasing, there was a serious falling away between the ages of about twelve and sixteen. The work at Aspley tried to do something to counter this, and it was gratifying to note that results were visible.

15th Nottingham Company (Aspley Methodist Church), the Boys' Brigade, was enrolled on 24 November 1949 and was created to cater for the newly-built Aspley Estate. It was always based at Aspley Methodist Church. There had been, at one time, a Company based at Cinderhill Parish Church under the Captaincy of Mr. Alfred Morley but there was never one at a Cinderhill Methodist Church. Its founder Captain was Joe Reed whom Rev. Albert Aspey described as  "indefatigable and inimitable".

The Girls' Life Brigade, 8th Nottingham Company, was also based at Aspley Methodist Church. It closed before the change of the name nationally to The Girl's Brigade. Mrs. Bertha Airey was the founder Captain. The Enrolment Service was in 1949 when Sister Connie Lockwood was present to enrol Captain Airey, Lieutenants Barks and Osborne, and some thirty girls, with Rev. Albert Aspey as Chaplain.  The whole service was full of inspiration; it had been good to have been able to welcome the parents of some of the girls, and also to have had the splendid support of the Boys' Brigade Company.

The first pantomime produced by The Girls' Life Brigade was Babes in the Wood, with Les Clements and Albert Aspey in the title roles and a huge cast.

Miss Mabel Mills describes how, before the Anniversary, The Girls' Life Brigade used to go around the estate with the band. "It was lovely to see them all walk down on a Sunday. It was a happy occasion."

About 1950 the Wednesday afternoon Over-Sixties Club was commenced.

The October 1954 Messenger recorded that: "The results of the work of the Girls' Life Brigade were realised when one of the Company was commissioned as an officer.  Our congratulations are extended to Miss Maureen Taylor upon her appointment as a Lieutenant of the Company."

The Aspley Hall Youth Club was affiliated to the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs [M.A.Y.C.]. While he was minister at Aspley in the early 1960s, Rev. Peter Bolt became Vice-President of the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs. He took the young people away camping in Wales on several occasions and also on a goodwill tour of Europe with Bill Cockell. It was the first time British Methodist Youth had been challenged to help the underprivileged and they had a scheme of providing tractors for the Third World.

Records for the years 1955 to 1960 show that there were three different operations concerned with pastoral work at that time. Firstly, there were Class Leaders who carried out pastoral work similar to Pastoral Leaders. In November 1968, January 1969 and April 1969 the Class Leaders looked through the Church Roll together and several lapsed members were visited as a result. It was found that there were two house meetings which met regularly, others spasmodically. Class Leaders for 1969 were:-

Mrs. B. Airey, Mrs. M. Clements, Miss G. Hornby, Mrs. S. Kirkman, Mrs. B. Paling, Mrs. A. Pegg, Mrs. M. Pindor, Mrs. N. Shaw, Mrs. Stubbings, Messrs. F. Bateman, T.B. Farrington, I. Poxon, R.V. Walker, and Mr. & Mrs. A. Russell, Mrs. E. Wardle.

Later, in 1972/73, a schedule recorded a Community Roll of six hundred and a membership of two hundred and sixteen. The average attendance on Sundays mornings was eighty and in the evenings it was one hundred and fifty. The Sunday School had an average attendance of ninety.

Secondly, there was the Stewardship system which involved the envelope scheme and which was one way of getting people involved; not just the financial aspect but using their talents as well, which is often overlooked when there are stewardship campaigns.

Thirdly, there were several evangelical campaigns. In the early 1960s, during Peter Bolt's ministry, Aspley Hall shared with the Parish Church in the distribution of over five thousand Christmas Cards to the neighbourhood, and members packed and delivered over fifty food parcels to needy friends.  Then there was a major project in 1962 called the "Welcome to Church Campaign".  Separate committees planned the visiting, publicity and meetings, and over fifty visitors were trained and engaged in house-to-house and contact visiting throughout the winter. The value of the campaign was seen in steadily increasing numbers of people, both at Church services and also in the Sunday School and weeknight activities. But for many of those who shared in the work, there was a deepening of faith and a broadening of vision. The campaign reached its climax in a "Welcome to Church Week" from 8 to 15 April 1963 when a thousand people visited the "Church in the Modern Age" Exhibition.

Mr. Derek Smith and Miss Mabel Mills described how, with the house-to-house visits, members did not know how long they would be at a house. Sometimes they never got off the doorstep, other times they were invited in for tea and cake. Most of the roads, all around the estate, in Aspley were visited. There was a rota; people worked in pairs and members were allocated streets. A crescent, a road or an avenue which was very long would be dealt with by twenty or so members. A lot of the members were involved.  In some cases members would stay at a house in order to hold a short prayer meeting. A leaflet would be left at each house which provided details of crèches, the minister's address, and invited people to take part in the activities. They would be asked to fill in the leaflet if they wanted the children to go to Sunday School or they wanted them baptised, or take part in activities.

There were plenty of excuses for not coming to Aspley Hall Methodist church: of those who went to a church, the majority said that they went to the Anglican Church. Some would say: "We are Roman Catholics and we go to Saint Teresa's".  The member would reply: "We are very pleased to have met you. We are Methodist and may see you at one of the Inter-Church activities", and wave good-bye. In some cases they would talk because their children went to the Sunday School.

Some of these campaigns were joint operations with St. Margaret's, the Anglican church also in Aspley Lane.

A new venture started in Rev. Bolt's time was the Men's Supper Club, launched by the Campaign Committee, which met once a month for a full three-course meal laid on by the Commodore Caterers, after which they heard a speaker on some subject relevant to the work of the Church.

Not to be outdone by the men, the ladies commenced a Young Wives' Club, also an outcome of the Campaign, which met monthly at the Manse. It brought a new group of young mothers into the fellowship of the Church. It was successful for many years but finally, after discussing many subjects, it was hard to find something different, and so it stopped meeting. As Derek Smith remarked nearly forty years later, the "young wives" became a bit older.

Rev. Roland Wilson (1942-45) was chaplain at the open Borstal at Lowdham Grange. He was succeeded by Rev. Norman Barratt Cooper, during whose ministry at Aspley Hall the Free Church Chaplaincy of the open Borstal at Lowdham Grange again was one of his duties. The first minister to be chaplain to the Nottingham Prison was Rev. John Earl (1955-60). Aspley Hall had connections through cricket. Twice every summer the Church played the prisoners at cricket. The Church team had to get there for an early start because they had to finish at four.  They were told that: "You can bat 'till so and so, then we will have a mug of tea".  The game was played in the prison grounds. Rev. John A. Earl recalled that the Prison Chaplaincy was an unforgettable experience, especially the help he was given by the Aspley Hall cricketers and footballers who were willing to play the prisoners. He chuckled one day when a deputation of prisoners met him on his entry into the prison and said: "Padre, we have a complaint to make. You never arrange for us to have any AWAY games!" Also, he remembered the prisoners' choice of hymns at his first service in prison - M.H.B. 330 (O Jesus thou art standing outside the fast-closed door), and 944 (Now the day is over) (at 10 a.m.!). Most of all, were the recollections of men being converted in prison and themselves leading a fortnightly prayer meeting.

Peter Bolt found prison ministry a real joy. Shortly after the family moved into the Elmdale Gardens manse, his young adopted son, Andrew, answered the door to the Palings and said: "My mum's in bed and my dad's in prison" and shut the door. Peter's most important discovery was that the members of the Church were willing to share the work with him which led to them starting morning services at the prison with members of the Church sharing in the service. Joan Bolt still chuckles about the time when she was sitting between two prisoners at morning service and one of them said: "We do like your husband. He seems like one of us!". Those were the days when there was a hostel attached to the prison and some prisoners soon to be released were transferred into the hostel and started worshipping with the congregation at the Church every Sunday morning. Members gave hospitality to these men on Sundays.  Most of  them had spent a great deal of their lives in prison and they appreciated the caring and the love of the Church more than anything else.


Aspley Hall, Youth Wing, foundation stone, 13/6/1964.


Youth Wing

Back
Aspley Hall

The Cricket Club used to meet at the nets on Thursday evenings on the Melbourne Road Recreation Ground.  The Tennis Club played at the King George Playing Fields on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons. A number of  members met at the King George Street Playing Fields from time to time for the purpose of playing bowls.

Behind the familiar phrase, "Flowers for the Church", there lies a wealth of generosity on the part of friends who week by week made the gift of flowers.  There was also the quiet faithful service of those who were responsible for the arranging of the flowers and the distribution of them afterwards to whose who were sick. For at least the first sixteen years after the opening of the Hall the first of these duties, and the task of securing promises of flowers from various friends was, with one brief interval, part of the loving service of Mrs. Harry Wakefield. She was followed by Miss Barbara Farrington in 1950.

The October 1952 The Messenger recorded the following weddings as being conducted by the Minister.

6 September 1952: Clarence Poxon and Ida Monks.

13 September 1952: Leslie Matkin and Doreen Clarke.

The building scheme for the new Youth Centre commenced at the end of May 1963 and the building itself was opened in 1965 consisting of a large hall, meeting room and coffee bar in a simple but attractive open-plan design. Due to a grant of £2,500 from the Joseph Rank Benevolent Trust and money raised by members, there was little debt remaining. The scheme involved the re-designing of the present Memorial Hall, which became the coffee bar. After a year it had become "a sort of home for three hundred youngsters, all members of Church organizations but mostly of the Senior Youth Club. The Coffee Bar is open six nights a week and has helped to make the Centre virtually self-supporting. A team of men and women staff the premises every night. The Church has been remarkably sympathetic and interested in the whole venture".

Aspley Hall continued the same good work for the next seventeen years after which it left the Nottingham Mission (Albert Hall) circuit in 1982 and joined the Nottingham North circuit. 


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