In 2004 eight new City Regions were formed. Sheffield was one, and includes all of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire. So, despite also visiting Chesterfield and Wingerworth in Derbyshire and Rotherham in Yorkshire, we truly were on our 2014 “Outing to Sheffield”. Three cars and seven warm bodies planned to converge on Chesterfield for our first visit at 1300 on Tuesday 3 June but James West and I bumped into Graham Hallett at Leicester Forest services. [Figuratively, not literally.] We found the rest of the party - Roger Smith, Ian Wickens, John Varney and Pam Barton - in the Coffee Shop at Chesterfield.
Ian Brackenbury was our host who gave us a little background to, and a demonstration of, the organ - a T C Lewis transferred and rebuilt by Wood of Huddersfield, from Glasgow. This instrument replaced one destroyed (almost) completely by fire in 1962. [One of the “boxes” was closed and, as a result, four ranks of Snetzler pipework were saved.] Everyone had time and opportunity to fully explore the organ and play more than one piece. Snetzler did a lot of work in the Sheffield area in the 18th century and Chesterfield was not the only “Snetzler in the village”. Our next call was Wingerworth, a very pleasant dormitory village to Chesterfield, on a hill overlooking the A61 - the traditional main road from Yorkshire to Derbyshire. Here, our genial host was Bob Girdler who already had the kettle on at out arrival. Wingerworth grew into a dormitory from a tiny hilltop village and in the ‘60s the church was extended and reordered. A new, and considerably larger, extension was built on the north side of the tiny 12th century building which became the narthex of the new with the chancel as the Lady Chapel. The organ was totally inadequate, but God was smiling upon their endeavours. A Snetzler was available from a redundant church in Sheffield where a friend of the Wingerworth organist was himself organist. [This in turn had come from a previously redundant church - St Paul’s, Pinstone Street, next to Sheffield Town Hall.] Thus the organ found its third home and was moved by local volunteers with assistance and advice from a small Derby organ builder named Poyser. This was a shoe-string operation and in 2006 Jonathan Wallace (Director of Henry Groves Organ Builders) and his crew did a major rebuild, renewing badly worn out components and making the organ more accessible for maintenance. The Snetzler pipework was all retained and constitutes most of the Great. Again, plenty of time was allowed to explore the organ.
Having played our last notes of the day we repaired to our hotel on the outskirts of Rotherham and close to the M18 junction. We booked into our rooms and met, about half an hour later to go to the carvery, next door, and enjoy a convivial meal to finish our last day. Churches have this annoying habit of having services and our first call of Wednesday was delayed by an hour for this reason. It did mean, however, that we had a leisurely start and plenty of time for breakfast. What we did not plan for was a large and very slow tractor impeding our progress along the roads bordering Sheffield and Derbyshire which were the first part of our route. It didn’t help that Oldfield knew where he was going and the others didn’t - he managed to overtake the tractor but had to keep stopping to make sure the others were still in contact with him! Nevertheless we were only about five minutes late at Millhouses - but the kettle was already on and tea and coffee ready for us. Mary Cobbold was our host and although I had “known of her” for about forty years, I had never met her before. We got on like a house on fire and had a great deal in common - but the astonishing thing was, after a flip remark bz me, she knew the Samuel Wesley Organ Duet - so we did an impromptu performance.
The organ is a rather splendid Kenneth Tickell, tracker instrument and different from most of the others we visited by both age and action. My old friend from my home parish church joined us for this visit and during my conversation with Mary discovered that she was Robert Quinney’s very first organ teacher. After a pleasant time at Millhouses we moved on to Ranmoor. St John’s Ranmoor is the second building in the parish - the first, along with organ - burned down. Only the tower and spire survived, but this is where all the wealthy steel magnates lived in huge properties and a new building and organ were provided in less than ten years. It is still a very wealthy area - think St George’s Hill - and there used to be a choir of men and boys doing cathedral repertoire from about 1950 onward. There still is but now there is also a girls’ choir, a student mixed consort and a “baby” training choir. Very much a cathedral musical set up, it is led by a full time Director of Music, Ian Roberts, who moved there from being Sub Organist at Chester Cathedral. Ian was there to greet us and after a brief introduction and demonstration almost left us to it. I say almost, but it is a big organ (56 speaking stops) and Ian kindly stood by to turn pages and advise and help with registration. Well he did for everyone but me. This is where I did all my training, had all my organ lessons (and exams) before I went to college. When it was my turn to play, Ian said “You know this one. I’m going off to the back to listen” - and there I was, all on my own.
Most people have heard of the two Victorian Greats, William Hill and Henry (Father) Willis. Likewise, most have heard of T C Lewis who was as great, some would argue greater, than these. Perhaps fewer have heard of Brindley & Foster of Sheffield - and particularly Charles Brindley - whose work, especially pipework and voicing, is held in similar regard to the other three mentioned. This same Brindley & Foster built both the organs at Ranmoor (remember the one which burned) and despite a 1963 rebuild by Nicholson’s and another in 1997 by David Wells this is still substantially and Brindley & Foster and one of the really great organs of the Sheffield area.
We then moved to the Beacon Church, Nether Green, formerly known as Hallam Methodist Church - next door neighbour to Nick Clegg’s constituency office! Here we were met an old school friend, and Director of Music at the church, Graham Wilkinson. Tea, coffee and cake here and then a short introduction and demonstration before we were let loose on the 1863 Father Willis which, when it moved a couple of miles up the road from Broomhill gained a third manual, again all by Father Willis. I didn’t play here, as I was to give a recital in the evening. Before leaving Ranmoor we had been invited to Boys Voices Evensong at 5.30, so whilst I had a rehearsal at Nether Green everyone else returned to Ranmoor for Evensong. [My recital was in the 150th Anniversary year of the organ which had had an opening recital by someone by the name of S S Wesley.]
It was suggested that we might have an Indian meal after the recital and Graham Wilkinson recommended the restaurant across the road from church. We invited him to join us, but he had other commitments. Having settled in to the restaurant and starting to give our orders, we lighted upon a problem. “Sorry sir. We are not licensed.” Ah! “But you can bring your own bottle.” Ah! OK. Easy solution. We sent Graham and James across the road - no, not back to church - to Tesco Express and problem solved. Yet another excellent meal with convivial company. …..and so bed – eventually. We had to cross the city and then into Rotherham - only to find the hotel, and car park, had filled up and that we were banished to the outer darkness of the car park fringes.
Thursday we were close to our goal so 10.00am was no great hardship and, unlike the previous day, we all managed to converge for another convivial meal - this time breakfast. Breakfast concluded, bags packed and signing out finished, we made our way to Talbot Lane Methodist Church – Rotherham’s Central Methodist Church, opposite the Town Hall. We were met by another old friend, Barrie Thomas, a Lay Preacher at Talbot Lane. This impressive building is the third on this site - but you will never find Talbot Lane on a modern map. It ceased to exist when it was built upon - it’s somewhere under the church! To match the impressive building, an impressive though modestly sized organ whose best stop is the building. A 1904 Harrison & Harrison in original condition, it was the first new Harrison (as opposed to a rebuild) built in Durham after they had completed the rebuild of Durham Cathedral).
Barrie, our host, doesn’t play - but provided us with refreshments. Anne, the organist who isn’t - she doesn’t use her feet - joined us mid morning as did Drummond who had been with us both in the afternoon and evening at Nether Green. Another old school friend, Drummond - a retired Methodist Minister and organist - had originally been instrumental in the rediscovery of and subsequent promotion of the two historical instruments. As he said, it’s quite something that arguably the two best historical organs in the area are in Methodist churches. Again there was plenty of playing time and a number of the congregation popped in to listen. [There is not a lot of money, but a great deal of interest and pride in their organ at Talbot Lane.] I know that one or two people slunk off to Rotherham Minster – a truly magnificent building where there is an equally magnificent, but unplayable, organ. This, again, has huge chunks of Snetzler in it and it is the intention to keep the organ in mothballs until such time as money is available for restoration.
We finished our time at Talbot Lane sharing in their regular Thursday Lunch-time service and then in lunch with them. At about 2.00pm, the party split up and we all made our several ways home.
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