Acocks Green Methodist church, section two
The present church from 1927 to 1986
Deprived of their former premises by the alterations the Sunday School had to meet in the Council schools in Westley Road. This presented many difficulties. Providing a new home for the Sunday School became a priority. In May, 1928, the house next to the manse in Botteville Road came up for sale and was offered to the church. In a meeting in April, 1931, the Trustees requested the architects, Messrs. McKewan and McKewan, to survey the land with a view to providing new Sunday School premises. Two months later the minister, the Rev. Stanley Edwards, reported to the Trustees that Mr. T.H. Rolfe had been to the Chapel Committee in Manchester to present the case for new school buildings. This had been sympathetically received and he had returned with a promise from Mr. Joseph Rank to pay a third of the cost of the new building, provided the cost did not exceed £10,000. The Chapel Committee had proved more generous than at the time of the last financial appeal and had agreed to a grant of £400.
July, 1932, saw two important steps towards the new schools. The block freeholds in Shirley and Botteville Roads were obtained at a cost of £360, and promises of donations totalling £1150 were made by seven members of Acocks Green church by Messrs. Morley, Marshall, Crabbe, Whittle, Ault, Rolfe and Barfield.
The Quarterly Meeting in September, 1932, gave formal permission to the Acocks Green Trustees for the erection of new Sunday School buildings and in January, 1933, they accepted the tender submitted by builders, Messrs. William Jackson, Ltd., which amounted to £8589. At the annual church meeting of that year an appeal was made for donations towards meeting the cost. A 'Brick Fund' was one scheme and a 'Mile of Pennies' another. The result of these two appeals were two panels of bricks, inscribed with the donor's name, being incorporated into the wall lining the downstairs corridor of the new school premises.
The new School and Institute was built on the land formerly occupied by the manse, its adjacent garden and the house acquired by the Trust. To accommodate the minister a house in Sherbourne Road, No.5, became the new manse. The builders worked quickly and the opening ceremony was performed by Mrs. H. Hathaway on Saturday, December 9th, 1933, when she formally unlocked the entrance door with a key presented to her by the architect. The hymn "Now Thank we all our God" was sung by visiting guests, congregation and schoolchildren in the Crush Hall outside the Parlour and then all were served with tea in the downstairs schoolrooms. The guests included the Rev. F.H. Benson, Chairman of the District, Rev. Stanley Edwards, Rev. P.J. Kelly, vicar of St. Mary's, Acocks Green, Rev. R. Martin Harvey, minister of the Baptist Church, Mr. E. Neal, representative from the Congregational Church, circuit stewards and the architects and building contractor.
The new buildings were large, modern and spacious. The round floor comprised three large classrooms, corridor cloakroom and kitchen with basement rooms beneath, whilst the first floor was largely given over to a hall with a purpose built stage at one end with dressing rooms off, and a further set of cloakrooms. The church rejoiced in having a building able to accommodate a Sunday School numbering over 650 children and pace for weeknight activities and uniformed organisations.
In those days of relative social stability and before the shadows of Munich were perceived there was only one man amongst the assembled guests at the opening ceremony who voiced his fears hat these premises might become a financial millstone around he church's neck. Perhaps if the Second World War had not intervened the prophesy by the spectre at the feast would not have been fulfilled but it was only up until 1939 that Acocks Green church had the sole use of all the building. Since then the church has depended on income generated from the letting of the school premises - at first from the Ministry of Labour during the war and until 1953, then the Education Department, and latterly from the Social Services Department and the Housing Department of Birmingham City Council. The rents have benefited both the church and circuit but provision always has had to be made for the upkeep of a building too large for the church's needs.
During the Second World War the church premises escaped any serious damage by bombs, although an incendiary bomb fell on to the Guild Room roof during a raid in 1942. Two boys, unnamed, were thanked by the Trustees for helping to extinguish the device.
In January, 1962, the Leaders meeting held a long discussion about the desirability of a Christian Stewardship campaign. The main emphasis was on the spiritual gains to the church but nevertheless the practical side was not overlooked, with stress laid on the expected increased giving in 'Time, Talents and Money'. The majority for its adoption at the meeting was overwhelming, twenty-seven for the motion to hold a campaign, three against and one neutral. The campaign organisers were booked for three weeks in March, 1963. Much preliminary work had to be done with house to house visitations of all persons connected with the church, however remote. Solihull Civic Hall was booked for a dinner at the end of March when the objects of the campaign and personal testimonies would be reported to the whole church family - a concept stressed by the organisers. Between forty and fifty visitors were enrolled and preliminary meetings were held.
That the campaign did have successful results is not denied as an increase in the offers of help within the church and increased collections proved. Covenanted and pledged giving gave the church treasurer the ability to forecast financial resources. But offers of help by members of the congregation were not always taken up and in some quarters a sense of disillusionment crept in. For others the pledging of income resulted in the feeling of a once and for all decision and when soaring inflation came in the 1970s there was no corresponding increase in giving by some church members. The loss of fund raising efforts such as bazaars and socials were regretted and, initially, there was no thought of transferring the effort of raising money for the church and circuit to causes outside the scope of connexional funds.
The centenary of the stone laying of 1863 was celebrated in May, 1963, although at that time nothing was known about the first five years of the first church, the two written histories in circulation at that time giving the date of the first church as 1868.
In November, 1967, much at the instigation of the then minister, the Rev. Ted Herron, an Industrial Sunday was held. The church saw a large collection of products of industry from neighbouring factories on display and so great was their generosity that several church members slept on the premises over the weekend to guard against theft or accident.
In 1968 the Recreation Club grounds in Hazelwood Road were sold for building for a total of £29,000, £26,000 net. Two thirds of this money, £20,000 was invested by the Chapel Committee in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. At the time this investment appeared safe but three years later, in March, 1971, concern was growing both nationally and locally over the financial stability of the Board. With hindsight the local Trustees felt that it had been unwise to place such a large sum in one investment and a letter was sent to the Chapel Committee stating the unease felt by the Trust. A reply stating that the dividend would be paid did little to allay fears when it became known that Parliament was debating a bill which, if passed, would authorise the Harbour Board to defer repayment of capital, repay below par and substitute lower dividends. The loss to both the local church and circuit of an income of approximately £2,000 p.a. would be immeasurable.
Investigations by the Trustees were made to see whether it would be possible to sell the church and land upon which it stood and to alter the Sunday School buildings to make them the church. Unfortunately, building lines and regulations indicated that the land was not commercially saleable and so it was decided to re-let the school premises and to alter the interior of the church. This would enable both Sunday and weekday meetings and activities to be contained within the one building. This was agreed at a Trustees meeting in October, 1971.
The alterations to the interior resulted in the building as we know it today. The church nave was divided in two with the back portion becoming a hall with a kitchen attached, whilst in the front portion the pews were swept out and replaced by chairs. The pulpit was made free standing whilst the platform on which it stood was extended into the main body of the church, the idea being that it could be used as a stage. A screen was erected near the choir entrance. The cost of the alterations amounted to £17,700. On Saturday, June 9th, 1973, the church was re-opened by Miss Ethel Watson in the presence of former ministers, the Revs. J.V. Dibben and E. Herron, and the then present minister, Rev. G. Hawkridge. Mrs Gedye, the widow of another former minister, and Mrs W.H. Harrison were also present.
With this restructuring of the interior of the church it was hoped that major capital expenditure was at an end for some years, but in the late 1970s it became apparent that the church roof needed extensive repair. However, it was the Quinquennial inspection of November, 1984, which revealed the full extent and seriousness of the problem of fabric decay. Estimates had been obtained already to deal with the presence of both wet and dry rot in the north aisle and the Property Committee knew also that the soak away system of storm water drainage was not functioning properly. What the inspectors' report highlighted was the fact that unless these problems were dealt with immediately a basically sound building would be beyond the point of repair within two-five years. The urgency of these warnings gave a spur to the Church Council's deliberations. Meetings were arranged with the Property Committee Secretary of the Methodist Church, the Chairman of the District and the District Property and Redevelopment Committee.
It was known from the 1973 investigations that the church land was not attractive for sale and commercial development. The church members' early enthusiasm for the idea of demolishing the church and replacing it with a modern building was dashed when the cost was found to be prohibitive. The idea of ceasing to have a Methodist church presence in Acocks Green was rejected overwhelmingly at a general church meeting. Instead, it was decided that an architect be appointed to draw up a renovation programme and to invite tenders from contractors.
After consultation the architects Messrs Salt, Crook & Walsh, later Cornfield, Crook and Walsh, were appointed. A scheme costing in excess of £46,000 was submitted and approved by the Church Council in early 1985. It was realised that this figure was not final as some of the structural damage to the church fabric would only be disclosed once work was under way. Messrs W. Weaver of Bromsgrove were appointed the main contractors and work started in August, 1985, and completed four months later.
A Restoration Appeals Committee was set up to orchestrate the funding of the scheme under the chairmanship of the present minister, Rev. William H. Hopkins. Through grants from circuit and connexional funds, appeals to charitable trusts, past and present church congregations, covenants and church funds, bills to the sum of £60,000 can be met. At the time of writing the total cost of the restoration work is not known.
The Appeals Committee decided to ask initially for money to fund Phase One of the restoration work, which is to prevent imminent disintegration of the building fabric. If sufficient funds are available this would be followed by Phase Two which would be concerned with rebuilding or desirable alterations to enable the church to offer its premises for the greater good of the Acocks Green community.
The Memorial Windows
In 1919 the Trustees approved the plan to erect memorial windows in the church. Unfortunately, no records can be traced of their designer or installer. It is understood that initially the three windows were placed either in the back wall or the side wall of the church and moved to their present position in the chancel when the church was remodelled in 1927. They commemorate:
Lowson Brown. Not intimately connected with the church, but the son of William Lowson Brown, choir member and Trustee, who lived in Westley Road, Acocks Green.
Ernest Daw. Eldest son in the Daw family of five boys and two girls. He served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was one of the thousands killed at Paschendaele.
Edward Malins. He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham. He had been a registrar in the Sunday School and was the son of Joseph Malins, first headmaster of Yardley Grammar School.
After the Rev. Paagham, mentioned earlier, returned full time to the ministry in 1869 Acocks Green relied on the help and leadership of other ministers in the circuit and local preachers to conduct Sunday services. Amongst the latter, in the 1870s, there appears the name of a Mr. W. Ault of Alma Place, Stratford Street, Birmingham, whose family and descendants continued a long association with Acocks Green until the late 1960s.
The Quarterly meeting held in March, 1873, heard the chairman submit a request "of the friends at Acocks Green relative to a supernumary being invited to that place and it was resolved that the request be acceded to, providing the stewards at Acocks Green were willing to take the responsibility of providing the necessary funds to meet the increased expenditure." Exactly a year later the secretary recorded in the Quarterly Meeting minute book: "Acocks Green - the friends from this place presented the following resolution: that this committee requests the Q.M. to undertake the charge of the supernumary minister until July 24th, 1874, at which time his services end, this committee guaranteeing the amount of his stipend for that time." (£150 p.a.). After further discussion, it was decided: "That the question of ministerial supply for Acocks Green be remitted to the invitation committee."
At this time the assessment levied on Acocks Green chapel was £3 10s 0d p.a., as against £48 0s 0d for Bradford Street and £46 0s 0d for Belmont Row chapels. Two years later the Acocks Green representatives at the Quarterly Meeting were asked to raise their subscription and they replied: "They thought there would be no difficulty in raising an additional £10 per annum." The increased assessment led to the appointment of the supernumary minister, the Rev. John Hornby, to take , charge of this chapel. Mr Hornby is known to have lived in at least two houses in the area, "Fronmere" on the Yardley Road, and "Laurel Villas" in Broad Lane, later Broad Road. In 1886 his son and daughter in law became the first couple to be married in the new church and they were presented with a Bible and hymn book by the Trustees in recognition of this fact.
In 1889 the Rev. William Martin, the "young man" of the Belmont Row circuit, was the minister for Acocks Green, living in nearby Victoria Road. He was succeeded in 1892 by another bachelor, the Rev. H.G. Roberts, again residing in Victoria Road. The first married couple (apart from the supernumary minister, Rev. Hornby) arrived three years later in 1895. The Rev. Theophilus S. Gregory was the second of three generations of ministers to bear that name. He and his wife took up residence in the first manse in Botteville Road, bought just four months earlier. Their son, the Rev. Arthur S. Gregory, now a supernumary minister living in Kendal, Cumbria, wrote to the present writer in April, 1983:
"Your letter has sent me back to my 'Halls Arrangement' (1886 edition) and also to my father's detailed record of all his preaching from 1878 to 1902, the year of his own early death. My grandfather, first of the three Rev. Theophilus S. Gregorys, died in 1885. The third 'T.S.' my cousin, whom you mention, left the Wesleyan ministry in 1935 when he became a Roman Catholic. He and I both served as Assistant Tutor at Handsworth College in the 'twenties and he most probably preached at Acocks Green during 1921-2. Three years later I most certainly did so - actually, I see on June 7, 1925. I could even tell you what I preached about! My recollections of the earlier association (with Acocks Green) however relate only to the birth of a baby sister and a festive celebration (when I was 2½) of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee."
Successors to the Gregorys were the Revs. Robert Wardell, 1898-1901, H.J. Sugden, 1901-1904, Arthur Wooliscroft 1904-1907 and James Goudie, 1907-1910.
An important decision was taken at the March Quarterly Meeting in 1910. "Resolved that the Rev. Samuel Marriott, now at Sheffield, to succeed the Rev. James Goudie at Acocks Green at the ensuing Conference and to take the superintendency on the expiration of Mr. Rose's three years in the circuit." So it was that in September, 1911, the superintendency moved from Belmont Row to Acocks Green, the same year as Acocks Green village was taken into the municipal arms of Birmingham. The Rev. Marriott had already spent one year at Acocks Green and had set up what were described as "cottage" services on Tuesday evenings in the New Avenue. Mid week services had been a feature of the chapel ever since the first church was opened in 1863. Mr Marriott also hired the Public Hall in Sherbourne Road on Sunday afternoons and held 'Men's Meetings' there.
The tenure of the next minister, the Rev. George W. Kettleborough was to be a long one, seven years, from 1913-1920 with World War I intervening. Early in 1917 the Methodist Conference, upon representations by the Government, decided that because of the difficulties of transit associated with the war it was desirable that no changes be made in ministerial appointments unless unavoidable circumstances prevailed. (The war had brought difficulties to the church in a practical sense when the Leaders Meeting was informed that it was difficult to heat the building owing to the high price of coal.) Both Mr. Kettleborough and his wife are remembered by two of the oldest members of the present congregation, his wife especially as being of great beauty. Another former church member described Mr. Kettleborough as being "not eloquent, but a warm hearted pastor, ministering faithfully to old and young." His successor, the Rev. Davison Brown from Wolverhampton was his antithesis, "A preacher with a punch - a brotherly, forthright soul who was popular with outsiders."
The following minister was again of a different calibre - "diffident, but very influential by sheer ability and integrity. A scholar, a thinker, a modernist but a mystic too." This was the Rev. G.B. Robson, 1926-1931. It was during his time here that the alterations to the church were accomplished. Writing later, in 1935, he relates an out of character incident during the re-building: "The reaction from the fussy decorations of the old building was to plainness and simplicity and I remember the joy with which I heaved half a brick through the preposterous fancy window facing Shirley Road after it was decided to scrap it. It would have been a pity to leave it whole enough to be planted on anybody else."
The pendulum swung again and in 1931 the Rev. E. Stanley Edwards came to Acocks Green. "A more conventional but industrious and friendly man." His ministry here saw the planning and opening of the Sunday School buildings and also the move to the manse in Sherbourne Road. In 1935 the Rev. Ernest F. Drew was appointed, to be followed in 1938 by Rev. Joshua Johnson. Mr. Johnson was forced to retire through illness in 1943 and was succeeded by the Rev. W.C. Russell, who already held an appointment with the circuit. He was a brother-in-law to Mr. Arthur Fletcher, one of our present senior members. Two years after the end of the 2nd World War Mr. Russell was succeeded in 1947 by the Rev. W.H. Harrison, a forceful, forthright man and gifted preacher and scholar. Social tact was not one of his greatest assets and his many friends lovingly remember some of his more memorable utterances. In 1953 the Rev. J. Valentine Dibben, 'J.V.' to many, came to Acocks Green. He was a former missionary, a writer of stories for boys, an able administrator and another gifted preacher. The Rev. A.J. Gedye's time at Acocks Green, 1959-1962, was cut short by illness and news of his later death was received with sadness. To the next minister, the Rev. E. Herron, 1962-68, belonged the distinction of being the last at Acocks Green to hold the position of circuit superintendent. It was in 1967 that the Sherbourne Road manse was sold and a new house at 18, Victoria Road was bought. The next minister, Rev. Geoffrey Hawkridge, 1968-73, had already spent one year within the circuit when he came to take up his appointment at Acocks Green. He succeeded in the sometimes difficult task of bringing the congregation to recognise the altered position of Acocks Green church within the circuit after the superintendency was moved elsewhere. He was an eloquent preacher but one to whom church financial affairs were not congenial, although he discharged his duties conscientiously. Next came the Rev. R. (Bob) Judkins, 1973-1978, a quieter and more restrained preacher than his predecessor, but remembered by many with affection.
Ill health dogged the Rev. John Le Sueur's ministry with the subsequent stagnation of some church activities and committees. In the early 1980s there was a welcome addition to church membership when former members of Tyseley Methodist church, which had been forced to close, joined Acocks Green. Their subsequent contribution to the life of the church has been greatly appreciated. It was during the ministry of Rev. Le Sueur at Acocks Green that the church celebrated the 100th anniversary of the present church buildings and the idea of investigating and writing the history of Methodist witness in Acocks Green was born. During the Centenary year a committee organised several events to celebrate the past 100 years, with services conducted by former church ministers and the Chairman of the District, Rev. Chris Hughes Smith, a flower festival and hobbies exhibition and a centenary exhibition.
The present minister, the Rev. William H. Hopkins, returned to the full time ministry in 1983 after serving for 14 years in teaching appointments in Birmingham. Since Mr. Hopkins already lived locally the need for a manse no longer existed and the Victoria Road house was sold in the same year. His leadership has rejuvenated church life and Methodist witness to the Acocks Green community outside the church. To him is owed much of the success of the church restoration appeal fund.
Organists and choir
On October 1st, 1874, the church Trustees gave permission to a Miss Lucy Curtiss to rent the schoolroom for use as a day school at a rent of £5 p.a. "However, in view of her services at the harmonium on Sundays the Trustees were prepared to remit half the rent in consideration of this." Thus we have the first reference to music and organists in the minutes. Perhaps this harmonium was already past its prime or its performance left something to be desired because four years later, in 1878, a 'New Harmonium Fund' was started. At the same time the Trustees announced the appointment of a Mr Walter Greenfield as chapel organist.
Mr. Greenfield had to make the best of the existing harmonium for five years but in 1883, a year after the opening of the new church, there was a bill for £8 0s 0d from 'Scotcher & Son' for a harmonium.
Sometime in the intervening years Mr. Greenfield had left his position and Miss Gertrude Mellor had taken his place. Gertrude was an elder sister of the Miss Clara Jane Mellor who was associated
with Acocks Green for many years and who is still remembered by some present church members. She was one of a family of six - Gertrude, Sarah, Fanny, Clara, John and William Mellor. In 1884 Miss
Mellor resigned and her place on the harmonium stool was taken by Mr Simeon (or Simon) T. King, one of the chapel Trustees and who lived on the Warwick Road at Tyseley. He was described in the
Trust deeds as a merchant, and the censuses reveal that he was a tea dealer. It is possible that Mr & Mrs. King were connected earlier with Saltley Methodist church because still in the
school hall at Saltley there is an inscription on a stone plaque to Mrs. S.T. King.
With the new church seven years old in 1889 the need for decoration arose. At the same time the Trustees felt confident enough regarding the finances to moot a scheme for the provision of an organ to replace the harmonium. On January 18th, 1890, the Trust, with the circuit superintendent in the chair, the Rev. Cuthbertson, resolved that the "tender from Mr. Bamfield to erect an organ at a cost of £200 be accepted." A month later they agreed that a further £50 would be well spent in providing a sixteen ft. stop plus extra smaller stops. Four weeks later the Trust stirred up a hornet's nest in approving a motion "showing the organ in the corner, pulpit in opposite corner and communion rail in centre." Exactly why this proposal sparked off a vociferous and vehement protest is unknown but it was so and a Memorial was submitted, signed by two Trustees and nine members of the congregation, asking that their views be heard. Again, what alternative proposals these gentlemen had in mind is unknown, but they were not given a chance to state their case to the Trust and the Memorial was rejected out of hand. Plans had already been made for the dedication and opening services to be held, using the new organ, on the first and second Sundays in June and for the preachers to include the Rev. F. Luke Wiseman. The opening service in the event was postponed until Sunday July 13th, 1890. Possibly this was because it had been only the month before that official permission had been received from the Wesleyan Chapel Committee in Manchester consenting to the erection of an organ at Acocks Green at a cost of £252 providing that there was no debt upon the Trust.
Perhaps Mr King did not feel confident in his ability to play an organ instead of the harmonium. Just three weeks before the organ dedication an advertisement was placed in the local papers announcing the vacant position of organist with an honorarium of £12 p.a., plus £2 p.a., for an organ blower. Mr King's successor was appointed in August of the same year, a Mr Glassey, as organist and choirmaster. So began a long and sometimes tumultuous association between the Trustees and organist which was to last for 20 years.
Mr Glassey lost no time in petitioning for chant books for use by the choir and in December of the same year, 1890, the Trust reluctantly gave its permission. Less than a year later Mr Glassey was advocating that the Ten Commandments be read monthly to the congregation. The Trust baulked at this, the reason given being that "it was too soon after the introduction of chants into the service..." Mr. Glassey bided his time and seven months later, in May 1892, he again made application for the Commandments to be read monthly. Whether the Trustees had a change of heart or whether they thought that a second refusal would only spur Mr Glassey on to a third application is unknown, but they agreed, at the same time decreeing that the congregation should receive the Commandments in a kneeling posture. The crusading Mr Glassey then turned his attention on to the choir members and just six months later submitted a set of rules entitled "For the Governance of the Choir." The long-suffering Trust declined to interfere or to authorise the publication of these rules "judging the choir quite capable of governing themselves." Mr. Glassey's other proposal to turn the choir stalls through an angle of 90° so as to face the congregation and so give added volume was judged acceptable and Messrs. Williams and Boddy were paid £5 10s 0d for carrying out this operation.
Only one month later, in January, 1893, came the fire at the church referred to previously. Apparently, Mr Glassey had left his bicycle in the schoolroom on the fateful night and it was destroyed in the blaze. Three days later he submitted a claim to the Trust for its loss and valued it at £9 10s 0d. The Trust declined to accept this claim stating that as it was not school furniture it was not covered. To present day readers the refusal may sound un-Christian and decidedly churlish, but it would have had to be a very special bicycle indeed to cost so much. A good bike could be purchased for as little as £3 0s 0d. The 'Birmingham Daily Mail' for Monday, January 16th, 1893, carries an advertisement for the National Cycle Show at the Crystal Palace where "one court of the west side of the nave will be devoted to the india rubber section, a most important annex now that pneumatic tyres are so extensively used."
The first direct mention of the choir's performance comes in June, 1897, when the choir members were asked to sing special hymns in connection with Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Unfortunately, there is no record as to what was considered appropriate for the old Queen on that joyous occasion. The new century was only a year old when Mr Glassey suggested that he organised either a musical service or a sacred concert, to which the Leaders Meeting agreed. What went wrong is not detailed in the minutes of the Leaders Meeting, but they had received a letter from Mr Glassey stating that he had not been fairly dealt with in respect of the concert. The Leaders remained unimpressed by his plea and the secretary wrote that "the Leaders Meeting was amply justified in the action it had taken. Resolved: That the concert be abandoned and 20/- already incurred be paid." Mr Glassey wrote another letter the same month, this time to the Trust asking for an increment in his honorarium. The Trust debated this at length and at the same time gave serious consideration to his conduct. At last they agreed to advance his salary from £15 to £20 p.a. but on the understanding that "he must consider himself on trial for three months."
Whatever Mr. Glassey's relationship may have been with the officers of the church he was undoubtedly a conscientious and gifted choirmaster and organist. Extra choir stalls had to be added in 1905 to accommodate the growing numbers. One of our oldest church members, Mrs. Gladys Pardoe, remembers the bi-weekly practices taken by Mr Glassey for the Sunday School anniversaries. At these he wrote out all the hymns in tonic sol fa on large sheets of paper and hung them on the walls of the schoolroom. His enthusiasm for the music communicated itself with the young children gathered about him.
After twenty years' service matters came to a head in January, 1910. The Trust minutes record: "Attention was called to the conduct of the organist, Mr Glassey. His conduct, demeanour, irreverence during the services and lack of sobriety were discussed and deliberated at great length, all remonstrance in the past having failed to work any reformation. It was with regret resolved to send Mr Glassey three month's salary in lieu of notice and that his services were no longer required." The reference to lack of sobriety makes all plain and this is confirmed by two of the oldest members still connected with our church - Mr Glassey drank and to excess and was not always steady either at 'practice' or during the service: He was known to absent himself from the organ stool during the sermon and to leave the church, returning in time for the last hymn. So ended twenty years' colourful association.
The Trustees were determined never again to lose control of the situation and the next organist, Mr. Green, only lasted a year. The minutes in 1911 recorded "Mr. Green declined in any way to recognise the authority of the Trustees Choir Committee. He was therefore asked to submit his resignation." The post was then split with two existing church members being appointed - Mr. Corley as choir master and Mr. Oliver as organist. Sir Kenneth Corley, son of the choirmaster, recalls that his mother would say that on Sunday evenings she could hear his father's voice singing in the choir from their home at 52, Shirley Road. She stayed at home when young Kenneth was tucked up in bed. An often overlooked adjunct to the organist was the organ blower. Before the coming of electricity the organ had to be pumped by hand by boys. A first hand account by one who filled this position records:
"As boys two of us often used to blow the church organ at some services and anniversary practices. By our heroic efforts at pumping the handle up and down we filled the bellows and caused the lead marker to fall; the organist would pullout more stops, deflate the bellows and cause the marker to rise. It was a veritable tug-of-war, especially in sustained grandiose efforts like the 'Hallelujah' chorus. If we lost the tug-of-war the noble chord would suddenly give way to a furious shriek and then a miserable whimper. I think that only happened once or twice at rehearsals when we hadn't quite the right sense of occasion."
In 1915 there is for the first time mention by name of a choir anthem, "While the Earth Remaineth", which was sung for that year's Harvest Festival services.
Mr. Oliver was succeeded by a new organist, Mr. Turner, about whom little is known. In 1924 he was succeeded by Mr. Bate, who held the position until 1929. Mr. Bate had only been in office for a year when there was a fall from grace by the choir. The minister, the Rev. Davison Brown, was requested by the Trustees to address the choir on "the dignity of their office." Another admonition of the choir by the Trust was contained in a letter to the choirmaster expressing its disappointment with attendance and unpunctuality of some members. In this respect the choir was neither better nor worse than the congregation. As far back as 1915, it was reported that "At the annual Church Social Mr. Corley had a few interesting remarks in his own style and particularly deplored the fact that there were certain people who could not, or would not, make up their minds to attend service in time." Worse was to follow. In 1929 the Trust heard a complaint made about choir members "loitering in the vestibule prior to the services. The minister was to speak to those concerned." A reader studying the choir minutes of the 1920s gains the impression that the choir members were not regarded as part of the congregation, giving the gift of their voices to enrich the services, but rather as a recalcitrant troupe of singers to be admonished at will.
In 1930 Mr. James Lile was appointed choirmaster and organist. So began an association with the church which was to last for the next 37 years. Jimmy Lile is still remembered by many within the congregation with great affection. Under his leadership the choir's repertoire was greatly expanded. However, the choir again fell foul of the Trust for some reason in 1936. Whilst agreeing to the customary annual grant of £10 for a choir outing or social the Trust stipulated that it was not to be given unless the choir asked for it.
During the years of the 2nd World War choir numbers were depleted and there was little scope for attempting major new choral works and so the yearly offering at Eastertide was either 'Olivet to Calvary' or the 'Crucifixion'. At the choir A.G.M. in 1947 Alan Fitton, representing the Trust, asked the choir to "forget Olivet and the Crucifixion for at least ten years and to do something different." The choir took the hint and the next year performed the "St. John Passion." During the years following choral works by Gounod, Thiman, Mendelssohn, Handel and Haydn were performed.
Mention must be made of the recitals given at Acocks Green church by the soprano, Isobel Baillie. She came three times and for the first two concerts was accompanied by Mr. Lile on the organ and with the choir giving support. On the third occasion in March, 1952, she gave a song recital which included works by Delius, Grieg, Schumann and Schubert.
On Sunday, 5th January, 1964, Acocks Green church was chosen by the B.B.C. to broadcast the morning service which took the form of the annual Covenant Service, and this was heard nationwide.
Following Jimmy Lile's retirement in 1967 the church had for some months the gifted services of a young man, Andrew Fletcher. He gave the choir a new insight into the presentation and performance of many anthems. Mrs. Betty Boddington, who for many years was deputy organist, graciously bridged the gap between Andrew Fletcher's departure and the coming of the new organist, Arthur Williams, in 1970. Five years later he was succeeded by Syd Cheshire. He made music through the organ and choir to the glory of God and all people within the church were inspired by his courageous fight against a finally fatal illness. In 1981 Peter Harding was appointed organist and choirmaster. Recognising that the days of the big Victorian style choir anthems are unsuitable for today's small choir he has been adventurous in his choice of new music and has introduced a number of musical arrangements of his own composition.
The Tin Tabernacle
These temples of His grace,
How beautiful they stand!
In June, 1918, the then minister, the Rev. Kettleborough, reported to the Quarterly Meeting that a Mr. Colman had offered to Acocks Green Wesleyan church a building in Westley Road, close to the council school, and known as the Temperance Institute. The sale price was £500 freehold. The building comprised of one large room, a second smaller room, clubroom, vestry, kitchen, w.c.'s. All were lighted and heated by gas. Mr. Kettleborough told the meeting that if the purchase was approved the Institute would be used as a centre for social work in Acocks Green. Approval was forthcoming and a Trust was formed to be legally responsible for its upkeep. The composition of this Trust was remarkable because for the first time women were elected to it and comprised a third of its membership, eight out of a total of twenty-four. It was not until 1965 that women were appointed to the church Trust.
The formalities of purchase were quickly completed and the Wesleyan Institute was officially opened on 31st August, 1918. It soon became known as the 'Tin Tabernacle' as it was constructed almost wholly out of corrugated iron sheeting. Its poor aesthetic appearance was matched by its construction and only five months later in January, 1919, its trustees were told that the floor was giving way, the roof leaked and ventilation was bad and made worse by the gas lamps and heating. Patched up repairs were carried out but throughout its ownership by Acocks Green church building repairs had to be made with alarming frequency.
The first social function of any importance was the welcome home for returning soldiers from the Great War. This was on May 15th, 1919. The Leaders Meeting had decided that each returning war veteran could bring "a lady friend, cigarettes would be provided and smoking permitted at table immediately after supper. Messrs. Sheasby and Uren would be asked to sing and recite respectively and then the soldiers in return would be asked to sing some of the songs that they had sung in the trenches." By January, 1920, the trust was able to report that the building account debt on the Institute was extinguished. A church social club bought a billiard table and met there regularly for the next thirteen years, despite being threatened with closure from time to time due to what was termed "excessive noise and late night hours." To generate extra income the large room was let on Wednesday evenings to the 'Solihull and Olton Operatic Society." During the time of the extensive alterations carried out to the church in 1927 the Sunday services were held in the Tin Tabernacle. With the enlarging of the church and the consequent loss of the old schoolrooms any meeting which was too large for the newly constructed Guild Room had to be held in the Tin Tab. "The Greeting", a magazine established by Rev. Robson in 1928, lists the various activities held there, amongst which were Miss Watson's class meeting on Monday evenings, the weekly social club and the Life Boys at 7.0 p.m. on Wednesdays.
The inconveniences of the Tin Tab. were great. There was only a rudimentary platform and the old iron stove was a limitation on movement. The piano also left much to be desired. Perhaps this was why the Operatic Society complained in 1932 that its own piano was opened and used by unauthorised persons. Nevertheless, these impediments were not a brake on the fellowship and friendship generated at various social gatherings and today the building is still held in affection, probably rendered the greater by the passing years, by some church members. When the new purpose built Sunday School and Institute was opened in 1933 the need for the Tin Tab. was no longer there. Its finances had always been precarious and by that year they were in the red. It was reported that there was a debt of ten guineas outstanding incurred two years earlier by a certain Miss Jean de N Guy. She had been a dancing teacher who had rented the Tin Tab. To give lessons, but who had decamped to Hampstead, London, leaving the rent unpaid. The Social Club was also in disgrace, having failed to pay its full rent for the previous three years.
The Tin Tab. Was sold in November, 1933. At the time its passing was without much regret but for the thirteen years it had belonged to the Methodists it had provided extra space for fellowship and friendship.
The Junior Church
The greatest disappointment in compiling this history of the church has been the complete absence of all Sunday School minute books prior to 1949. All enquires as to their whereabouts have been to no avail and it must be concluded with regret that the minutes have been lost through death or removal. Much of the information in the early part of this section has been taken from an article written by Alan Fitton, a former Sunday School superintendent, in 1935.
There is in existence at the Birmingham Records Office in the Central Reference Library an Acocks Green Wesleyan Sunday School cash book. This commences in 1869 by listing the proceeds of the Anniversary services as amounting to £4 0s 4d. In 1879 there is an entry for a children's treat with the expenses thus:
£ s d
22 lbs. cake 11 0
100 buns 8 0
Tea 1 6
Sugar 2 0
Bread 1 6
2 lbs. butter 1 10
TOTAL 1 5 10
Whether the children drank their tea milkless or whether it was donated is not recorded. Alan Fitton states that one of the earliest records in the old minutes book is one for 1891 when it was resolved: "That the Sunday School trip take the form of a ride to a field at Knowle in a canal boat." There is also placed on record the fall from grace of one young scholar who played truant, preferring a walk through the fields to Solihull to spending his afternoon in Sunday School. One is happy to read, however, that he was induced later to see the error of his ways and that he purged his offence by unbroken attendance over a number of years.
Towards the close of the century a number of items of serious business occupied the attention of the Sunday School Council. The following minute, dated November 11th, 1898, states: "Resolved that the secretary write to the secretary of the Trustees with regard to the draughts in the Sunday School." Hardly had this matter been disposed of before the secretary was instructed to write a further letter, this time to the superintendents, emphasising the necessity for keeping better order in the school. Before the century closed this official wrote yet a third protest, asking the Trustees whether it would not be possible to have the schoolroom cleaned and renovated at once. Apparently this had but little effect, for on September 22nd, 1900, there was a demand for a deputation to be received on the subject. It is not stated whether satisfaction was ever forthcoming.
It was early in the present century that a system of Sunday School prizes was first introduced. These took the form of the value of one penny for every three marks over forty attendances. In 1914 a medal scheme was started whereby a bronze medal was awarded for one year's attendance, a silver one for four years and a gold medal for seven years good attendance. There was the proud record of the Daw family: here the seven children duly collected seven gold medals. Miss Kit Mahoney, one of our present members, is also the possessor of a cherished gold medal.
In the first decade of the twentieth century the numbers in the Sunday School increased rapidly. The 'Circuit Magazine' for 1910 records: "January - the Sunday School at Acocks Green is full to overflowing - literally. Every available room is called into use and some five or more classes are held in the Chapel." The enlargement and interior reconstruction of the church in 1927 meant the loss of the schoolroom, formerly the first chapel. For a time the Sunday School was held in the council schools in Westley and Warwick Roads, a very unsatisfactory arrangement with the additional cost of rent at £100 p.a., no mean sum in those days. Large gatherings such as Sunday School Christmas parties were held in the Tin Tab.
The following are the reminiscences of two former Sunday School scholars who attended regularly in the early decades of this century and which were given to the writer in 1983:
"The incentives of the Sunday School. were appeals to our acquisitive spirit. Regular attenders were invited to a big Christmas party, complete with conjuror, and to the summer 'Sunday School Treat', when we went by train in reserved compartments from Acocks Green station to Lapworth, or from Spring Road Halt to Henley-in-Arden or Earlswood Lakes, there to enjoy tea and games and races and fair ground delights, as a race of professional caterers for the host of such 'treats' had evolved. We also had the chance to qualify for book prizes and even medals. There was a bronze medal as a reward for one year's perfect attendance, twice every Sunday, never late and never absent except for sickness or absence on holiday. (If you were away from home, simply going to a church service was acceptable - even going to my Auntie's Sung Mass). Four consecutive years with such an attendance record qualified one for a silver medal, seven for a gold one. The seven children in our family duly collected seven gold medals; I still have mine. Between us we must have enjoyed, or endured, well over five thousand Sunday School sessions. A religious weekly published a group photograph of the family that could boast of such an achievement! The Sunday School Superintendent who championed the medal scheme most vociferously was, not surprisingly a 'self-made' man, albeit one of great goodwill and charm. He himself won what most folk would regard as big prizes; he became managing director of one of Birmingham's greatest firms, a Member of Parliament and a knight. We were thus brought up with the idea that assiduity and effort paid dividends. In my heyday as a young Methodist in the 1920s I regularly attended five services and meetings on a Sunday, and what is more I did it not only from habit but from choice. My own financial contributions as a boy were perforce meagre. I recall one occasion when by mistake I slipped a shilling on to the collection plate instead of the halfpenny I had intended: I told one of the society stewards about the calamity, and was promptly given my 11d change."
The superintendent referred to above was Peter Bennett, later Sir Peter, and finally Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, M.P. The second memory of Sunday reads thus:
"There was, in the Sunday School, a class for young men. We were all - about a dozen of us - in our early twenties and were "taught" by Harold Sharpe and Bernard Lowe who had some difficulty in interpreting Biblical passages to sceptical young men. Question: 'How could Sampson have caused the deaths of 3000 Philistines who were on the roof of a temple measuring only twenty-two ft. by sixteen ft. by pulling down the supporting pillars?' And answer came there none, but we had listened and we have remembered."
With the opening of the purpose built Sunday School buildings in Botteville Road in 1933 there began the greatest expansion and attendance of scholars in its history. In June, 1934, there were 650 children and 85 teachers; this was the peak year and reflected the appeal of the school to the children and parents of surrounding housing estates and the growing number of families within the church. In the closing paragraph of his 1935 history Alan Fitton records the names of Sunday School general superintendents. They read: Mr Carpenter, Mr Ward, Mr King, Mr Corley, Mr Wright, Mr Vernon Bailey, Mr Peter Bennett, Mr Rolfe, Mr Pardoe, Miss Ward, Mr Wilks, Mr Leslie Dawand , Mr Keith Barfield. The years between 1935 and 1949 are un-recorded, but other superintendents included Mr. Andy Dawes, Mr. Alan Fitton, who held the post for twenty years, and then Mrs Marjorie Taylor, who was superintendent for fifteen years until 1979. Since then the post has been vacant, although Mrs Enid Smitten has been the leader for the past seven years, filling the post in all but name.
Only eight days after the outbreak of the Second World War the Quarterly Meeting decided to gather information about Sunday School scholars who would be removed from the district owing to evacuation. In Acocks Green mass evacuation of children from the Council school did not take place until late November, 1940, a fortnight after the most devastating Birmingham blitz. On the night of November 19th/20th, 1940, 615 died and 1,084 civilians were injured in the city, and many homes in the Acocks Green area were wholly or partially destroyed. The war not only destroyed the lives of many but also the social patterns of whole communities and never again did the number of scholars equal that of the 1930s.
In January, 1945, when the war was reaching its final stages, the chairman of the Leaders Meeting, the Rev. W. Russell, announced an anonymous gift of £100. The interest from the sum was to be devoted to the work among young people in accordance with the wishes of the donor. The trust deed stated: 'The donor is convinced from her observation and experience that great good has resulted from the attendance of teachers and other young persons of the Sunday School at weekend conferences and summer schools both on account of the instruction and the association with other similar minded workers. This money is therefore being given in order to make such attendance possible for some who would otherwise be unable to attend and to perpetuate in some measure the work that the donor has sought to do among the young people at Acocks Green.'
It is now known that the donor was Miss Ethel Watson, for many years a class leader, local preacher and Sunday School teacher. Later she was Sunday School secretary from 1956 until her resignation through ill health in 1964. By that time she had been on the staff for fifty-eight years. "Wattie" as she was known by many is still remembered today with gratitude for her work among young people. 'Miss Watson's Fund' has fulfilled the designs of its donor and many young people have been helped to attend the annual weekend youth conferences at Barnes Close, near Bromsgrove. In recent years the fund has benefited young people from other churches in the circuit as well as those from Acocks Green.
From before the beginning of this century until 1964 the annual Sunday School anniversary services (three on Sunday and one on Monday evening) have been one of the highlights of the church and school year. At a meeting held on December 17th, 1902 "some conversation ensued as to the stability of the platform used for anniversary purposes." There was no need to worry in later years as the platform was annually erected by local builders, Messrs Williams & Boddy of Station Road, Acocks Green, and then dismantled and stored on their premises until the next anniversary.
The anniversary practices were also the subject of much discussion and in 1902 a strong protest was made against these being held after the evening services. It was argued that not only was this a bad time for the children but it was also an "undue interference with the liberty and rights of the preacher." Years ago the anniversary training was much more intensive than in later days, though the results were not necessarily better. Reference to one of the old rehearsal sheets reveals the fact that practices were held for trebles on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and for the altos at different times on the same days. The choir, who had always assisted at the anniversaries, had five special rehearsals, from 6.0 p.m. to 7.0 p.m. on five consecutive Saturdays. How thoroughly things were done is shown by the announcement at the bottom of the rehearsal sheet that "no child will be allowed the use of a hymn paper on the platform. All words must be memorised." This held true for many years end there are still Acocks Green Methodists who can sing choruses from 'Messiah' or the 'Elijah' without need of words or music.
Beginning on the lowest tier of the anniversary platform as primary and beginners the children progressed as the years passed to the heady heights of the top plank where it was possible for the first time to examine at close quarters the memorial windows of the chancel. It was not by chance that the hymns sung by the Beginners Department always occurred just before the collection. Church treasurers and society stewards knew that a moist parental eye might increase the contribution twofold. Little girls self importantly arranged the folds of the skirts of their anniversary dresses around them whilst small boys either rolled, or sucked, the ends of their ties, or pulled surreptitiously at the bows adorning the heads of the girls in front of them. During each service at least one scholar would drop his or her collection, either by accident or design, through the slats of the platform and to be overcome by confusion or triumph at the deed. Despite strict instructions from the conductor to look nowhere but at him there would be a few stealthy waves of the arm from the serried ranks to parents in the congregation. Other children, mindful of the instructions, would sit in an agony of embarrassment, studiously ignoring the frenzied arm waving from parents, who so far forgot themselves as to half rise from the pew in an attempt to alert their offspring as to their whereabouts. The names of past conductors will be remembered by some of today's congregation - Owen Morley, J.A. Sheasby, Edgar Cowin, Bob Pardoe, Denzil Little, David Walker and Sue Dowling.
By 1959 the Sunday School Council was told that it was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade children to attend anniversary practices. For the next decade the format of the service changed from being devoted solely to choral items to dramatic presentations, involving all the children, imaginatively written and produced by Mrs Freda Stagg and Mr Pat Welch, Mrs Marjorie Taylor and Mr Roy Hiatt.
A trend, already discernible in the 1960s, was emerging. Junior church members, as they were now termed, were drawn increasingly from the families of regular church worshippers and less from families with no other connection with the church other than that their children were sent there each Sunday.
From numbers of 250 in 1952 the Junior church had shrunk to sixty-one children in 1978 with a corresponding decrease in teachers. Despite house to house visitations and invitations by staff and cradle roll secretaries the numbers fell further. By the early 1980s there were few families with young children amongst the regular worshippers and this was reflected in the Junior church numbers. Writing in 1986 it is good to report that this downward trend has been halted and even reversed and although numbers of Junior church members are still only in their teens the dedicated efforts of the staff give a brighter outlook for the future.
The Junior Missionary Association
The writer is indebted to Mrs. Barbara Evans, Acocks Green secretary for the Junior Missionary Association, for the information in this section.
The J.M.A. was started nearly 150 years ago by Joseph Blake as a movement to educate children about the world church and to raise money which was used in mission overseas. Today the money is divided between the Overseas Division, which receives 80% of the total, and the Home Mission Division, which receives the other 20%. Overseas the money is used to support the work of missionaries and in the form of direct grants to projects concerned with medical and social work, education, evangelism, and agriculture. The Home Mission's income helps to support weaker churches in rural districts and inner city areas; it helps to maintain chaplains in universities, the Armed Forces, prisons, and ministers in new towns. Industrial missions and the provision of factory chaplains are also part of its responsibility.
Acocks Green has a long history of J.M.A. involvement. In 1917 the Belmont Row circuit decided that the J.M.A. members of each church should compete annually far a circuit shield. Of recent years the shield has been awarded on the best set of marks derived from the winner of a circuit quiz and display centred each year on a different Third World country; the best percentage increase in cash raised over the last three consecutive years, and the number of J.M.A. collectors out of the total Junior Church attenders. In this way the smaller churches are not penalised by their lower numbers. Out of a possible sixty-eight times, the circuit shield has been awarded to Acocks Green twenty-six times.
In 1983 and again in 1984 Acocks Green received a letter from Mission House congratulating the J.M.A. members for being one of only twenty-two churches in the country who had raised over a thousand pounds in the course of the year. In 1985 the total raised was £1200.
The raising of money is only one of the aims of the J.M.A. They have a threefold promise: 'I promise to learn, pray and serve so that people all over the world may know and love Jesus.' Acocks Green J.M.A., can be justly proud of its achievements.
Mrs. Barbara Evans is the third member of her family to hold the office of J.M.A. secretary, her son and daughter, Tim and Jackie, also held the same post. Since the 2nd World War other secretaries have been Margaret Mead, David Sharratt, Edna Young, W. Jones and Freda Stagg.