Church Gresley Choirs
A Nest of Singing Birds
Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by J.P. Langham
ALTHOUGH you may search a map of England in vain to discover Church Gresley, it is a place worth knowing for its people and its products. Close by its ancient church is a mine which for a hundred years has fed the fires and warmed the hearths of thousands of English homes. From its exhaustless beds of clay pipes of all sorts, sizes and shapes go into every part of Great Britain and to countries far beyond the seas. With this industry is associated the name of H.R. Mansfield, who for some time added lustre to the group of Primitive Methodist M.P.’s, and who has recently passed to higher service. With the coal industry is honourably associated the name of Mr. Moses Bourne, a local preacher of Connexional repute.
At Church Gresley, by the side of the common, stands a handsome Primitive Methodist chapel, whose singers and musicians have gained an honourable and ever-growing reputation. Under its roof have been reared two choirs of outstanding merit. The mixed choir, which leads the service of praise from Sunday to Sunday, is recognised as one of the best in the Midlands. It is a choir to be proud of, able to render efficiently the compositions of some of the greatest composers and to brighten with anthem and solo the ordinary services of the church. In its repertoire will be found the works of such well-known composers as Handel, Mozart, Elvey, Goss, Sullivan and Stainer, and some local musicians of merit. Seldom does a Sunday evening pass which is not enlivened by an anthem rendered with “spirit and with the understanding also.” How much this choir owes to its leader, Mr. Henry Kirk, it is difficult to say. To him, in a sense, is due its very existence, for from his tuition the present singers gained their knowledge of their art when he trained them as little children for anniversary and festival occasions. For thirty years he has done this work “for love,” and found in it his greatest delight. Children of the present are becoming his disciples, so that there is no fear of this choir becoming moribund. If it follows the line of its evolution the future of the choir will be bright indeed. Mr. Kirk is as devout as he is musical, a diligent Sunday-school teacher, a supporter of every movement for the Church’s good. His favourite books are the Bible and the Hymnal. Each morning before starting for work he spends a short time with these two great books of devotion, and, as a consequence, he is an irrepressible optimist. He is worthy of the degree of C.H.M., which means “Cheerer of the Hearts of Men,” and if Gresley Primitive Methodist society had the power to bestow degrees, it would instantly bestow it upon him.
In doing this work Mr. Kirk will maintain that he is only paying back a great debt he owes to his Church. As a boy of eleven years he learned his alphabet in a Primitive Methodist school, and on that modest foundation his musical education has been reared. His assistant leader is Mr. J. Smith, who is most diligent and devoted. In Mr. Richard and Mr. Leonard Clark he has found helpers who never fail him, the former being organist and the latter assistant. They, too, are products of the school and Church, and work “for love.” The organ is not used to display the player’s skill, but to support the choir in producing such music as will quicken devotion and inspire fervent praise. Yet both of the brothers can play well upon their instrument, and are in constant request for “specials” at other churches.
But after all, what is a choir without an efficient secretary to look well after details and render a hundred little services which people never notice? Such a secretary is Mr. J. Starkey, who is regarded by both church and choir as indispensable. The choir has a number of soloists whose efforts are much enjoyed by the congregation. Foremost of these is Mr. George Walton, the well-known leader of the Walton Quartette Party, whose services are sought by churches many miles from Gresley. The brothers Walton have an enviable reputation in the musical circles of the neighbourhood. All of them from childhood have been Primitive Methodists. To mention Mr. George Walton is to invoke a chorus of commendation from people who have listened to the Gresley Male Voice Choir, of which he is leader.
Quite a long list could be given of prizes won by this choir in open competitions in many parts of the Midlands. Of this Choir also Mr. J. Starkey is the indefatigable secretary. Order is heaven’s first law, and harmony results from obedience to that law. “To sing in choirs,”said Emanuel Swedenborg, “is one of the first things people learn in heaven.”
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1914/298(2)