Monday, 5 October 2009

I Binns Out For The Day

Although not officially part of the City Pulse event this year another summer music event kicked off on the same weekend.

The Albert Hall has had a troubled existence and if there are building councillors then this could well have been a case for one.

In the early 1870's the Good Templar's amongst other groups were looking for a site in Nottingham to build a Temperance Hall. The local architect, Mr Watson Fothergill won the commission and the foundation stone was laid in 1873, however funds soon ran out.

A rescue bid was put into place by the formation of a limited liability company and work began on what is now the Albert Hall, with the costing being £14,000.

At that time, the Albert Hall was Nottingham's largest concert hall and a major venue for political rallies. By the turn of the century it was realised that the Hall would never be able to generate enough cash to avoid frequent financial crises.

It was time for the Wesleyans to take over the mantle. When the venue came on the market in 1901 it was purchased by a syndicate of local businessmen for £8,450 and opened as a mission in 1902.

The outstanding debt on the building was a burden, however work on the mission was progressing well until the 22nd of April 1906 when fire swept through the building. The fire hit the Methodists hard as it was under insured, therefore they needed to raise a substantial sum of money to rebuild. The sturdy community managed to raise the sum required and brought in another local architect, Mr A E Lambert. His new Albert Hall Methodist Mission was built in the style of an Edwardian Theatre or Music Hall and, in the practise of temperance halls, concerts and other events were staged in the hall.

The new hall was dedicated in March 1909 and officially opened on the 15th September 1910 by Lady Boot, wife of Sir Jesse Boot.

The centrepiece of the hall is the magnificent Binns Organ, built in 1909 by J.J. Binns, gifted to the City of Nottingham by Sir Jesse. The walnut casework was made by Boots' shopfitters.

Back in the 1980's, Ian had the pleasure of being at a recital of Gillian Weir's, when she performed Mussorgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition". There was an audience of less than one hundred in the vast hall and the windows could be heard rattling when the bass notes were played.

The hall continued to function as a Methodist mission until 1984 and the City Council purchased the building in 1987, conducting a major refurbishment in order to link the venue with the Nottingham Playhouse. The work was completed in 1988 and HRH the Princess of Wales unveiled a plaque in 1989 to commemorate the refurbishment.

The Nottingham Playhouse managed the Albert Hall until July 1990 when the City Council leased the building to the Albert Hall Nottingham Ltd for use as a Conference and Entertainment Venue.

After the final service in the hall the organ lay silent for three years, being exposed to damp, dirt and the disturbance of the refurbishment.

When the hall was purchased by the council the Binns Organ Restoration Appeal Fund was launched. The group, representing local businesses, organists, art bodies and civic charities, needed to raise £200,000. Donations poured in and restoration began in September 1992 under the guidance of local organist and custodian of the organ, David Butterworth. Restoration was undertaken by Harrison and Harrison, of Durham, and in October 1993 was ready to sound forth again, which brings us full circle on this post.

On Sunday May 24th, John Keys, a former pupil of Gillian Weir gave the "Centenary Celebration Recital". This was the first of six free recitals for 2009. In it he performed music from Purcell, Mendelssohn, Wagner including Ride of the Walkyre (or should that
be Valkyre?)

Unfortunately we only stayed for the first half of the performance as there were so many bands playing around the city centre. Ian did sneak in the video recorder and I managed to record the first movement from Handel's "Suite for the Royal Fireworks"