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History of St Thomas Church : Heaton Chapel

The memories of Rupert Gurney regarding F Whatmough 1926-1944

For Rupert's memories of the locality please see the end of the article St Thomas 1880-1926

In my day the monkey run as it was called was Sunday evening, after the churches turned out. The lads and lasses would walk up and down Heaton Moor Rd. It was there that you would make your dates for the coming week. No one seemed to have a steady girl or boy friend, certainly not until you were about 18.


Mr.Whatmough was a very nice man, quiet. The first thing I noted about him was his glasses - the lens looked almost as large as bottle glass. He seemed a very determined man, married with two young daughters.

What did he find? a very small congregation with very few young people. The congregation made up of an influential few, nearly all paying for their pews, and as far as they were concerned a system of "Laissez Faire" would suit them.

Finances of the Church were low mostly dependant on the generosity of a few. Apart from the usual outgoing expenses of the church the professional choir had to be paid.

Things had to change, there was very little difference for some months, he made a point of visiting many parishioners. Mother promised I would attend Sunday School.

During his travels he put forward a suggestion that the people might like to participate in a voluntary envelope scheme whereby one could promise to make a weekly donation and give to the church weekly, either by attending the church or placing the envelope in a locked receptacle in the porch. This went down very well. -[ introduced 1930]

One of the results of the increase in the Sunday School was that the Sunday school teacher a Miss McClean decided to put on a stage show depicting rural life. The actors were all young one, .lads and lasses.

From this I think Mr.Whatmough realised the potential for a boys choir.

Mr Whatmough contacted a Mr. Thompstone, a member of the church and a pianist of some ability. He was to sort out potential boys who would make up a choir. This he did by interview and finally chose twelve lads age 9 to 11.

After Sunday school we would go to the infants school where there was a good piano; after a few weeks the practice would take take place on Friday nights. This all started mid-summer 1927 and carried on until Christmas. On Christmas day afternoon Sunday school was to be held in church. The choir was the usual formation, six boys on Decani side and six on cantori. I was the leader of the Decani. A few weeks before our debut I was told I would sing a solo "Away in a Manger".
For about four weeks I would go to Mr Thompstone's house to practice, the best part of this was that I had tea and cakes at the end of the practice. The big day arrived and all went well. The boys Choir had arrived.

Now came the problem for the rector, he had to tell Mr.Greenwood, the organist and choir master that from a certain date [the paid choir was dispensed with in 1930] he would lose the paid singers and take over the choir. In the meantime he would take on Friday night practice. Eight male adults were interviewed and added to the choir,two tenors,.two Bass. I felt sorry, here was a man 60 years of age had a quiet life with 8 pro.singers suddenly faced with twelve likely lads.

The transition from a paid choir to a boys choir was about a month, the choir was to take over on Easter Sunday. We had three practice nights before the big day,they were hell.
Greenwood suddenly realised that he was faced with a bunch of novices. Gone were the days when he would play a few bars of a Hymn, Psalm or Anthem and be able to say "thats ok".
The boys were ok on the hymns, we had been singing those in school and Sunday School for some time and at Mr Thompstones practice nights. Psalms and anthems were a different kettle of fish. Phrasing of psalms we found tricky and anthems? what were they? Greenwood had a quick temper. If we sang a wrong note or made a mis-timing he would roar No and crash his hands on the the manual of the organ.

The Friday before our "debut" we were introduced to our vestry, the space under the North gallery had been altered to accommodate a robing area. On the Sunday morning there was an array of purple cassocks and snow white surplices, we boys had put on our starched white collars and suddenly we were transformed fro a bunch of lads in to angelic looking beings. We lined up,a short bidding prayer by the rector, a rather loud sung Amen, to warn Greenwood that we were about to enter, a stirring tune from the organ and we were off. Out of the vestry, turned left at the chancel forward to the Altar, ranks divided, into our places in the choir stalls. The service went well, we, of course, knew the Easter Hymns very well got through the psalms,and made a reasonable job of the anthem. All seemed pleased with the new venture. However there was the proverbial fly in the ointment. Just before we lined up in the vestry, we were told that as we faced the Altar to divide we should make a bow.

The change from Low to High Church as envisaged by Mr.Whatmough would take a few years as it was to be done on a softly-softly basis.

After the introduction of "The Bowing" there, somewhat later a further development. One Friday evening, at choir practice we were told that there would be a "processional hymn" on entering the church and a recessional on leaving. On the Sunday we lined up as usual, just as we were about to move off Mr Woolfenden appeared carrying a processional cross, very ornate it was. Woolfenden took his place at the head of the choir, a bidding prayer by the rector, a loud sung amen, which was a signal to Greenwood to play a stirring "intro" and we entered the church to Onward Christian Soldiers,chosen because it was thought there were enough verses to take us round the church.

Following the Cross we turned right up the North Aisle, at the top of the West End we turned left into what had been the vestry then through the vestry, where we were out of sight and sound, then turned left into the South Aisle and believe it or not we were "in sync." with the organ. Down to the Chancel, the Cross proceeded to the Altar and was placed, ,after a genuflection by Woolfenden, in a holder. The congregation loved it, apart from one or two of the old guard. The processional was to be used on Festival Days, then later on would be used at "Sung Holy Communion"

Further changes included - Firstly two Standard Candles were placed in the Sanctuary one either side of The Altar, before and after the service they were lit and snuffed by Mr,Woolfenden. Later on five candles were added to be on the altar. Again the same ritual was observed by, this, time Messrs Woolfenden and Giggal. The Final act in high church was that these two chaps served at Holy Communion.

A problem arose during this period of introduction, Mr.Greenwood retired and his place as organist was taken by Mr.Hancock- there were times however when he was not always available, when Ken Gigall, ,who was an accomplished pianist and organist would deputise, also Mr Wolfenden became a sidesman. This created problems with the "serving". One or two of the original boys choir had reached broken voices time, four of these were recruited to become Servers and duly took over from K.G and T W.

The Transition Period took about four years from bowing to full serving at Holy Communion. It was during this period that Mr.Whatmough suffered a family tragedy. The family were travelling back to H.C. when they were involved in an accident and sadly Mrs Whatmough was killed. Just imagine the effect it had on the vicar. He carried on with his parish duties extremely bravely.

The services were now much brighter, the congregation increased, notably new families were starting to attend. More teenagers were coming to Sunday School and Church and the choir kept up a steady recruitment of " New voices for Broken voices". A teenage society had come to St.Thomas.

The teenage Society, It was about 1931 that a family started coming to church, newcomers to Heaton Chapel, living in Langdale Road. Father, Mother and daughter (aged 12). Mr.C..., Mrs D... (commonly known as Doll) and daughter D.... Mr.D... was of Irish extraction, a protestant, critical of high tendencies but tolerant. Mrs D... had a lovely soprano voice ,which she used to great effect and help at church services.

Mr,D... suggested to the vicar that there should be a top class at Sunday School for teenagers (14+). He would be willing to organise it. So after the opening of hymns and prayers at Sunday School the teenagers would repair to a separate classroom. Under the guidance of Mr D... speakers from outside were invited, debates, discussions and planned activities were the "curriculi" . From this class came many of the organisers of future events in support of the funding of a proposed new church.

Mr.and Mrs D... were tireless workers for the church, especially with young people. Most Sunday evenings, after church, they would invite members of the top class to L... Road for a cuppa. Ken Giggall would play the piano,songs of the period, choruses from Gilbert and Sullivan and snatches from Opera. We also let rip on the popular music of the day, trad Jazz and normal dance band music. Mention must be made of a young man, Ray Thornton, a teenager who would play these melodies all night long, if allowed, a brilliant pianist in this sort of music; it is said that he had never had a piano lesson.

From this class we organised a cricket team, we played on Meadows Field, each match we laid down a "matting wicket" ,we had a large shed for a pavilion and Mrs R..., whose house backed on to Meadows Field would kindly brew up the tea at half time. We also played in the Stockport Sunday School League. Our matting was not very popular with our visitors.

There was a legacy of GBP 2000, left in 1926 by Mr Allen with conditions attached to it. This news did not have much impact on the congregation of that time, but at least it did provide a topic of conversation such as " when we get the new church" " we will have this that and the other"

One Sunday it was announced that the plans for the New Church were approved by the church commissioners subject to some changes. It sounded like present day "spin" as the Commissioners wanted radical changes, plans were altered and it was said we could only proceed with half of the building,owing to shortage of money.

I think it was somewhere in the region of 1934/5 that hoarding separated the Nave from the Chancel, the organ had been dismantled and on the Friday of commencement week the choir practise was transferred to the infants school: one realised why. On the following Sunday the choir processed from the temporary vestry on the North side, to its left a temporary Altar; passing on its righthand Mr.Hancock pedalling for all his worth on the small pedals of a tiny Hammond organ.

We had reached the reached the "promise of a new land" I can well imagine how Moses felt when he too was promised a New Land. At least we did eventually reach it.

Mr. Whatmough asked me to be a Sunday School teacher and at the same time suggested that the teenagers could do something to help in fund raising to help pay for the new church. I would be about 19 or twenty at this time.

Dawneth the Day
One Friday evening, some time in the Summer of 1936, we were at Choir Practice in the Infants school we noticed some thing was afoot. The hoarding and builders paraphernalia had gone. It was unusual to see Mr Whatmough at choir practice but he came at a most appropriate moment as we were rehearsing "O thou that tellest good tiding s to Zion".

He gave the good news that on the Sunday we would be in the new church. Notice the phraseology: although it was only half a new church it was hereafter referred to as "The New Church".

The Sunday was the service of sung holy communion, or Eucharist as one or two of the reformers called it. However for this special event there would be a "processional" and so The Churches One Foundation would be rehearsed and for the recessional the hymn would be Holy Holy Holy Lord God All Mighty

The Sunday dawned , a beautiful day. We robed as usual in the vestry, lined up in procession. Cross Bearer. Mr Tom Woolfenden, two servers behind, Messrs Gigall and Wynne the latter having not yet been ordained as Curate, the Choir followed and the rear brought up by Mr Whatmough and his two Churchwardens, the wardens carrying their staves of office.

The organ struck up a vibrant intro to the processional hymn, the choir responded and proceeded up the North aisle , through the old vestry into the South aisle : it was only as we approached the Chancel that the full vibrancy of the new building became apparent. It was a joy to behold,all very new looking, high ceiling , lovely white walls and beautifully lit. Behold the Sanctuary in all its glory, the Altar with the two standard candles and five candles on the altar. There was a brief halt to the procession whilst the Cross and the two servers, with candles, took their places in the Sanctuary. The choir then proceeded to the choir stalls... still singing, it came to the last verse of The Churches One Foundation . The organist played and the choir sang and hung on to the last note ;four beats stop! and the sound reverberated around the church .... just like Westminster Abbey

Future services became alive, especially Mattins and Sung Holy Communion on Sunday mornings. The services were brighter and there was an aura of real interest amongst the congregation also attendances seemed better. The Chancel and Sanctuary always seemed to be full of light. The singing improved vastly, and even those who were sceptical agreed that ,the processionals, lighting of candles and ceremonies added movement and interest to the services. In a nutshell there was some thing going on at all times.

One thing they could not come to terms with was the amount of genuflecting that was practised by a few. We had got our new church, sadly we were never to achieve the second part. However there is no such thing as a free lunch, in business circles, payment had to be made somehow. .So it was in late 1936 that it was announced that there was not enough money in the kitty to pay for the new building. Money had to be raised by either private donation and group or individual effort. The various efforts that were carried out by all are too many to include here.

However there is one effort well worth recording. One Sunday morning after service Mr Whatmough called me to his office. A simple question to open "I would like you to take on the 11/12 year olds Sunday School Class. I agreed not realising what I was taking on, but that is another story. Thank you says Mr W. but there is something else you may do . He explained the difficulty of lack of funds and how people in the parish were responding so well. He continued "realising you are the eldest of the teenage group I thought you might organise a concert or something to be given by the Sunday School." That Sunday afternoon the teenagers agreed to co operate.

Following various meetings it was agreed that each section of the Sunday school would take part and, this being late October, the concert would be held first week in January 1937. The various sections, infants, mid-classes and adults would all arrange their own programmes, some singing , some dancing and one or two short comedies and plays.

The School had a stage which could be erected in the schoolroom. This would be erected under the direction of Mr.Langhorn. A stage crew was chosen, items for stage lighting would be supplied by K.Grotecke from his shop on Wellington Road. The first week in December we brought the classes together and from thence we "cobbled" together a concert, with music on piano by Ken Giggal .Somehow the concert was a success, a bit amateurish, no costs involved, all stage requirements, all costumes provided by parents and well wishers. A profit of GBP 42 was handed to Mr.Whatmough.. All involved including the audience enjoyed it so much that the Teenage Group agreed that we would make this an annual event.

The Annual concerts. Two more concerts were to follow, Jan.38 and Jan 39. Little did we realise that 1939 would be the last These two concerts were much more professional than 1937. They were based on the "Seaside Concert Party", singing, dancing, individual items. sketches etc etc; all taken at speed

They were good and thoroughly enjoyed by all. It is quite impossible to convey, in writing, the fun and joy experienced, especially when things went slightly wrong(slightly?) and in this respect the 1938 concert stands out, primarily due to the Audience.

During a "lull" at one rehearsal Ken Giggal played the "Overture to Poet and Peasant".It was realised that this could be an audience show stopper,with slight alteration. An orchestra, with a difference was formed. It was to be of an Edwardian setting. The "music" was to be provide by miniature wind instruments based on the "comb and tissue" principle.

The cast provide their own costumes and instruments bought at Woolworths, a BIG bass drum ,cost GBP 5 was found but no drumstick. We improvised by using a rubber ball, a thin stick and a washleather all bound to form a beautiful drumstick. The cast was given "carte blanche" to ad lib in their actions and their dress; the only imposition was that they had to learn every note of the overture. Learn they did ! every note every rallentando every "lente" and allegreto, the latter being somewhat overdone by the drum, especially when it got to the last allegreto.

The drum stick flew out of the drummers hand, and landed plump in the lap of one of the ladies. The resultant altercation (in good spirits) between the drummer and the lady, who was somewhat loathe to give up the drumstick was comedy out of this world, only concluded by one of the stage hands producing a Jaffa orange on a stick and telling the drummer to get on with it. He and the orchestra did get on with it only for the orange to split and squirt juice all over his drum and his face.

The audience erupted especially one old lady sat on the front row, the lady known to all as Mrs Babbacombe(see below) she arose from her seat and with tears streaming down her face cried out "stop it,stop it" I cant take any more I ache all over with laughing. That was it,the audience,the cast and stage all joined in the laughter. Ken Giggal played the final chorus of Happy Days are here again and the final curtain fell on what was to be a most memorable night.

That was fifty one years ago-memories- and even to-day when I hear the strains of the Poet and Peasant I break into a smile and wonder how many others of that night share the same memories.

Portrait of Rupert Gurney 1917-2014 Mrs Babbacombe known by this name because for many many years she always took a holiday at Babbacombe)

The years 1938/9 up to declaration of the war were placid enough nothing much happening odd bits of additional ceremony being introduced. The only thing of note was the evening of fitting gas masks. The press had made an official announcement that gas masks would be issued to all and gave time and place of fitting. St Thomas schoolroom was appointed. We were drafted in to carry out this task. Loads of gas masks were delivered and lots of people started to arrive on the due date. Following a quick instruction by the van driver we were shown how to deal with the fitting. We took out the masks from the cardboard container and got the people to form a queue. Each person had a mask placed over his face and, as we had been instructed we placed two fingers between cheek and mask. Can you breathe, we asked at the nod of a head the mask was pronounced OK. Dads Army never achieved such comedy. Thank goodness we were never to use the masks.

The Sunday 26th of August 1939 was to be the last time that I would attend services at the church. Being in the Territorial Army,myself and Harold Grainger were called up on 1st September. So sadly ended my many happy years with St Thomas.

There is an interesting epilogue, in 1946 my middle daughter was to be christened in the church. We all assembled by the font which was now placed in the churchwardens pew. Waiting for Mr Noble the vicar I looked at some books in the pew, there I spotted a book of Hymns Ancient and Modern words and music, I opened it and there inside the front cover was a coloured label noting that this was a Sunday School prize to Rupert Gurney. I thumbed through and recalled many of the hymns I had sung with the choir. Should I take it away? No! I closed the book put it back in the pew, with a lump in my throat and, yes,a small tear in my eye; it was part of me in the church where there were so many memories, so many happy times. Maybe that part of me is still there somewhere.

(Rupert Gurney died in September 2014)

Return to main page for 1926-1965    ||   Read the memories of Kenneth Giggall
Church History: Page One ||   Page Two (1844-1879) ||    Page Three (1880-1926) ||   Page Four (1926-1965) ||   Page Five

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