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Memories of Lower Gornal Sunday School

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: April 27, 2014

  • A Sunday School anniversary line-up at Himley Road Methodist Church in Lower Gornal

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AN article and photographs of pupils at Dudley Grammar School brought back memories for one Bugle reader who thought we might be interested in these two pictures of Himley Road Methodist Church in Lower Gornal – affectionately known as "The Wesleyan."

Geoff Davies, of 442 Himley Road, Lower Gornal, Dudley, said he was still in touch with former pupils thanks to the reunions organised by Reg Flavell.

"It was a truly excellent school which I was privileged to attend from 1947 to 1954," said Geoff. "Although I was unaware of the process at the time, it was a priceless foundation for my progression to graduation from the Law Faculty at the University of Birmingham and eventually more than 40 happy years in private practice as a solicitor in Stourbridge and Halesowen.

"Somewhere I have an album containing form photographs for each of those seven years and of other school groups and activities."

He thought Bugle readers would be interested to see these photographs connected with Himley Road Methodist Church

"I have no idea of the dates of either of them, though I'm sure that many of your readers will recognise themselves, their friends and parents or more remote ancestors in both images.

"The first is of the children, choir members and others taking part in a Sunday School anniversary.

"I am seated at the end of the third row on the right (as you look at the picture) and my father Joseph ("Joe") Davies is on the back row of the choir on the far left. I am now in my 78th year and my Dad died, sadly prematurely, in 1971, aged 63.

"On the organ stool is Edward Grainger, organist at the church from 1946 to 1959 and immediately below him is his father, John ("Jack") Grainger, who was the choirmaster.

"They were a formidable musical and choral team who, between them, produced truly wonderful music from the choristers. Jack was also choirmaster during the "reign" of the previous organist, Thomas Share, who held the post from 1903 until 1946. His grandson, Peter Langford, succeeded Edward and was in post from 1959 to 1972. A really brilliant organist, Peter has, since 1972, held that position at Darlington Street Methodist Church in Wolverhampton.

"The four Methodist Churches in Lower Gornal (as well as two in Upper Gornal) each held their respective Sunday School anniversaries on the same Sunday each year, though on different dates from each other as there was a great deal of mutual support and friendly rivalry – not least as to the amount or size of the collection taken up on the day! Each church also held Repetition Services at a later date when the children and choir would perform the same items as on the "Day" itself, though with a different visiting preacher.

"Himley Road was fortunate in that its Anniversary Day was always on the last Sunday in June and the Repetition Services on the following Sunday, the first in July. This had the distinct advantage that the platform could remain erected and in situ during the week and did not have to be disassembled, stowed away and re-erected at a later date.

"It was a remarkable feat of self-assembly engineering in wood, though these days would very likely attract the unwelcome attention of the 'elf 'n safety brigade concerned about the welfare of the children whose combined weight it was required to bear for some 5 to 6 hours during the three services on the day. There are 57 young people in the picture and I was involved as organist with a similar event in 1974 when there were 70 to 80! In all of the decades the platform was in use I have never known of any child or young person experiencing any kind of harm or injury as a result of occupying a place upon it.

"The organ is a fine instrument, installed in 1903 by Peter Conacher & Co. at the price of £375 – but what a massive financial commitment undertaken by the fellowship of the chapel at the time!

"It was lovingly renovated in 1987 under the expert direction of Wesley Ward, organist from 1975 until his untimely demise, and it continues to be regularly maintained by the Church Council. I was given lessons on it from 1956 by Edward Grainger and am privileged to have been able to extract an acceptable sound from it, off and on, since then, including each year for the Action Heart Carol Service, the most recent of which, the 20th in the series, was last December.

"The second photograph is of an obviously a very happy party of people from "The Wesleyan" on, I think, a coach outing to Trentham Gardens. Again I have no idea of the date of the event. I am not in the picture, though many of my contemporaries are, and I believe that the reason is that at the time the girl I was "courting" (and to whom I have been very happily married for over 52 years) was a bank cashier, who worked on Saturday mornings and was unable to finish soon enough to catch the coach for an early afternoon start for the excursion!

"Well over a hundred good folk are in the picture, from all sections of the activities of the chapel, and that represents very probably three or four coachloads given the capacity of such forms of transport in those days. I believe that a clue to the origins of the event is the smiling, portly gentleman on the extreme right of the first row.

"He is John Ernest Timmins – very affectionately always known as "Jack" – a lifelong member and supporter of "The Wesleyan". He was also proprietor/principal director of Matthew Southall Ltd, fruit and vegetable wholesalers based in Tower Street, Dudley, a J.P. and Councillor on the former Sedgley Urban District Council when Gornal was part of that authority before its absorption into Dudley M.B.C., and a generous benefactor of his chapel and the wider community.

"Lower Gornal Athletic F.C. proudly proclaims on its website that it owns the stadium which is its home ground. Now known as Garden Walk Stadium it used to be called "Timmins Stadium" – perhaps an indication of the source of the funding for its acquisition by the club whose history goes back to 1919.

"I and friends of similar vintage recall that from time to time Jack organised, and funded, coach outings from the chapel which came to be known as "Mr Timmins's Trip" and my belief is that the picture depicts the folk from "The Wesleyan" who obviously enjoyed his generous hospitality on that day. His wife is at his right hand shoulder and he is clearly a happy man, justly proud of the smiling faces in the group. He must also have organised an expert professional photographer to assemble and capture such an image.

"If you are able to find space in your excellent publication to publish these pictures and perhaps my comments on them I feel sure that they will generate considerable interest among readers who recognise themselves or friends and family members, present and departed, and who may be able to confirm (or correct) my recollections."

Did you attend Himley Road Methodist Church? What are your memories? Write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or log on to wwww.blackcountrybugle.co.uk

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