When I was a lad my family was Church of England, so I went to the Sunday school at the parish church in the Lye, instead of one of the numerous nonconformist chapels. The cub pack I belonged to, however, met at the Ebenezer chapel, which was Primitive Methodist. And as a further complication, the husband-and-wife team who ran the cubs were actually attendees at the Mount Tabor chapel, which was New Connexion Methodist. It didn't really matter - people seemed to be in and out of each other's churches and chapels all the time.
The cubmaster was the organist at the Mount Tabor chapel (the Top Chapel in Lye parlance, because it was further up the hill). Indeed it was he who first introduced me to the king of instruments, gave me a stack of back numbers of The Organ, and showed me the intricacies of his chapel organ, of which he was very proud. I think he had a right to be. It was a good instrument, almost the equal of the organ in the parish church. As I recall it was a Norman Beard organ and though its specification was the usual late-Victorian chapel-romantic (a reed/mixture/stopped-flute swell, for instance), whoever voiced it had known their trade. It was an organ worth listening to.
Later, in my teens, I studied organ under the organist at Old Swinford church, an old friend of my dad's. Old Swinford was a couple of miles away and had a big church with a big (three-manual, electro-pneumatic action) instrument. This was a mixed blessing for the trainee organist because (in my opinion anyway) there's nothing to beat a good old-fashioned tracker (i.e. purely mechanical) action in an organ. It gives you a much more intimate contact with the pipes and enables you to feel your way into the music that much better.
Anyway, I always retained a soft spot for the Mount Tabor organ. But I went away to college, lost contact with the chapel organist. In the sixties the borough fathers decided that what the Lye needed was redevelopment. Clear away all those nasty little terraces of houses in the higgledy-piggledy streets that straggled up the hill of the Lye Waste, and replace them with spanking new blocks of concrete flats. And so they did, smashing much of the incumbent community in the process. Part of this involved the destruction of the traditional religious arrangements, so many of the chapels were demolished, and those that remained were turned over to other uses, such as Sikh Temple (the Congs) or motor-repair workshop (the Gospel Hall). Among the chapels condemned to destruction was the Mount Tabor. The congregation joined forces with the Wesley Chapel, moved out and the wrecking crew came along and demolished the whole building.
The organ? My dad bought it in an act of ultimate degradation, though for him it was shrewd business practice. Organ pipes are an alloy of tin and lead, and make excellent solder, so it was a good cheap way to get solder for his stained-glass business. He took away all the pipes and melted them down. I was there when he wrecked the organ, and I felt very sad during the couple of hours it took to turn a functional musical instrument into a ruin. The organist, I expect, was also upset about the fate of his pride and joy. But in those days old chapel organs were available on all sides in the Black Country, and there was no market for it in working order. I kept one pipe as a souvenir for many years afterwards.
© Darroll Pardoe 1990
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October 1st 2010