From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 27
November - December 1983
The Story of the Tin Chapel
The architect's drawing of the layout of the chapel submitted for Building Regulations approval
(courtesy of the County Record Office)
Although it has not quite reached its centenary, we thought now was a suitable moment to turn the spotlight on the 'tin' chapel. Like the prefabs of another era, it was conceived as a temporary building, but events proved otherwise, and it has remained a permanent fixture on the Lenton landscape. In the last few years its future has looked increasingly uncertain as it suffered neglect, but now that future looks much brighter. The present owners are hoping the building will be known as the Old Chapel, but no doubt many locals will continue to refer to it as the tin chapel. Those who don't will probably call it Clement Pianos, even though that firm moved out four years ago. Built as a chapel, it has, however, had secular occupants for most of its lifetime. Below we briefly outline the story of the building and its inhabitants, past and present.
Dissatisfied with their premises on Park Street New Lenton, in the 1880s, the trustees of the local United Methodist Free Church had decided to look around for a more suitable location on which to build a new chapel. In 1881 a firm decision had been taken by the Town Council to construct a new low-level route from Nottingham to Lenton. The road called Lenton Boulevard was finally opened about the beginning of 1885, though by 1907 the name of the Nottingham portion had been altered to Castle Boulevard. The trustees of the Methodist Church decided it would be a good idea to position their new chapel on this major thoroughfare and so took a lease of about ninety years on a plot of land alongside it. Then they set about raising the money to build their new chapel. Evidently the trustees felt they couldn't countenance the debts that a wholly brick built church would saddle them with, so they decided that the foundations and basement school room should be of brick, but the main superstructure of corrugated metal sheeting. Then when funds permitted, the sheeting would be replaced by brick walling. The builders, Messrs. Evans and Woodcock were engaged and the building was completed and the new chapel opened in May 1887. When furniture and fittings were added to the bill, the new chapel had cost the trustees about £1,850.
The Church soon attracted a thriving congregation and the trustees must have felt pleased with their move to the new site. But by the turn of the century their smiles must have disappeared when water was found lapping around the foundations of the chapel. The flooding had damaged the brickwork and, after expert advice had been sought, it was decided that it would be virtually impossible to erect a permanent brick chapel on that site. Refusing to accept defeat the trustees resolved that they must clear their debts, sell the tin chapel and commission a further building. In 1912 a purchaser was found for the chapel and the Methodists moved out in to temporary premises in the old Wesleyan Chapel on Willoughby Street.
A site had been taken on Derby Road and in July 1913 the foundation stones for a permanent brick built church were laid. The chapel and schoolrooms, now opposite the Savoy Cinema, were finally opened seven months later in February 1914. The Church has continued to serve this Methodist congregation down to the present day.
The new purchaser of the tin chapel was John Compton who used the premises as a factory in which to build organs. In 1920 misfortune struck once again. Fire broke out and the works were extensively damaged. The building was restored but John Compton preferred to move out, in fact to leave the Nottingham area altogether. The brick portion at the rear of the building dates from this restoration.
The building in 1953
The Clement Piano Company were the next occupants and stayed a little longer, almost sixty years until 1979. Clement Pianos are now a firm of longstanding, but when they took the tin chapel, the business had been in existence for just two years. George Goodacre and Sam Smith, demobbed after the Great War, hadn't relished a return to their pre-war jobs. Mr. Goodacre had worked as a bench hand for his uncle, Samuel Goodacre who ran a high-class furniture shop in Clumber Street and Mr. Smith was employed as a piano repairer and tuner for Chas. Foulds Ltd. of Chapel Bar. They decided to combine their talents in the piano business and opened a small workshop on Wimbourne Road Radford, where they repaired pianos. The third member of the partnership was a Lenton man, Tom Meakin, who invested money in the business but preferred to remain in employment with Foulds. You notice no Mr. Clement figured in the partnership! The name of the firm had been suggested by Tom Meakin - an allusion not only to the bells of St. Clement Dane's Church in the Strand London, which were world famous for their purity of tone but also, coincidentally, to Muzio Clementi, an Italian maker of the pianoforte who had started making pianos in London in the late 1700s.
On their move to Lenton, Clement Pianos continued to undertake repairs but also started to recondition old pianos and even to begin the assembly of new pianos. Although Clement Pianos had the whole tin chapel, they inherited a tenant in the basement. Mr. C.R. Woodward had made it his base for his agency for a French hosiery machine manufacturer. Mr. Woodward also ran the local company of Boys Brigade and allowed them to use part of the basement for their meetings and activities. Mr. Woodward stayed until about the mid-twenties. The next lodger was Howarth Nuthall, more familiarly known as Alf, who converted part of the basement into a billiard hall. In the rear he carried out repairs to billiard tables. Besides his activities at the tin chapel, Mr. Nuthall was well known in Nottingham as a promoter of exhibition games of snooker and billiards, when some of the country's top players were matched against each other. Mr. Nuthall held a number of these events at the Liberal Club on Lenton Boulevard.
The staff at the works in 1956
In 1933 Mr. Smith, one of Clement's founders and then works manager, died and Len Wilson, who had begun in 1922 as an apprentice, was made manager in his place. George Goodacre preferred to concentrate on the retail side of the business at their shop at 74 Derby Road Nottingham, which they had taken over in 1924 from Westby's Piano and Organ retail business. Clement Pianos continued to prosper and in 1934 a further shop was opened on the High Road in Chilwell. Two years later business was transferred to a larger shop at 117, High Street Beeston. In 1953 Mr. Goodacre retired and a new company 'Clement Piano Repairs Ltd.' was formed with Mr. Wilson as Managing Director. The new name reflected the specialisation on repair and reconditioning work at the tin chapel. New piano construction had been dropped after only a few years at Lenton.
Returning to the tin chapel's basement, at some unknown point in time, Mr. Nuthall had decided to close the billiard saloon and expand his workshop area. Kelly's City Directory for 1953 describes Mr. Nuthall as a billiard table maker. Quite possibly he had always produced the odd one or two tables, and if so, this side of the business together with repairs had gradually proved more profitable than entertaining the players themselves. On his death, his son, Jock, continued the business until his own untimely death in the late 1950s. Clements then took over the basement, renovated it and held a number of exhibitions there of pianos and other musical instruments. Next a Mr. Taylor rented the basement as storage for his wholesale furniture business and continued to do so for a number of years until his new furniture made way for old. The basement was rented by a charitable agency, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, as a distribution point for old furniture to be given to needy families.
In the 1960s Clements began to stock and sell a variety of musical instruments and amplifying equipment, and to accommodate this expanding stock, a move was made down Derby Road to larger premises at Nos. 21/23. A sheet music department was added along with a booking office for concerts at the Albert Hall, just round the corner. The Beeston shop was sold off in 1969 and the retail side concentrated at Derby Road. Clements now extend from 17 to 23 Derby Road.
While the retail outlet on Derby Road grew ever more impressive, the tin chapel itself entered into decline. Clements had been led to expect that within a few years the building would be included in a general clearance of the houses on Castle Boulevard. As a result they kept maintenance of the building to a minimum. Trying to ensure the roof was watertight was their main task and this wasn't easy. They frequently found builders exhibited a marked reluctance to venture on to the roof such was its rickety condition, though brave roofing contractors were found to replace the metal sheeting which blew off in high winds and to remove the steeple when it came adrift and slid down the roof to rest against the adjoining house. Clements investigated the possibility of replacing the tin chapel with a new purpose built building. On enquiry the planning department indicated that they would wish to see any replacement incorporate a two-storey frontage, given the building's prominent position on the Boulevard. Clements, however, had no wish for an extra storey. Back in 1956 the City Council had purchased the lease of the land on which the tin chapel stood from the Oxford Trust. As Clements' lease on the property expired in 1981, they entered into discussions with the Council regarding its possible renewal. The Council were initially willing to offer only a new twenty five year lease, but later extended it to fifty years. Clements nevertheless felt that this was too short to justify the expense of the refurbishment that the building would need if they were to continue to use it. The answer to their problems appeared to be to look elsewhere. This they did and the ideal solution was found in the old church hall of All Souls, at the other end of Lenton Boulevard. It was freehold, single storey, extensive enough for their needs and in a good state of repair. And so they moved the works there in November 1979.
One of the foundation stones of the 'Tin' Chapel uncovered during
The present occupants of the building, Trent Upholsteries, had taken the basement space in 1975. Started by a Mr. D. R. Poulson in a shop on Arkwright Street in the Meadows back in the 1950s, the reupholstery business soon prospered and larger workspace was taken near the 'Navigation' pub on Trent Lane. Further moves to premises on Bottle Lane and on High Pavement followed. Difficulties with parking outside their High Pavement premises finally prompted the move away from the City centre to Lenton. Here, it was business as usual, except that Roger Poulson took over from his father on his retirement.
When Clements decided to move out, Trent Upholsteries felt it would make good business sense to take over upstairs. They were none too happy with the new rents which the City Council proposed to charge, and so began to investigate the possibility of buying both the building and the freehold. The City Council proved agreeable and the building and land subsequently changed hands. Once the building was theirs, Trent Upholsteries were happy to carry out the improvements that the building so desperately needed. The roof has now received a new coating of waterproofing sealant, the lower level brickwork has been sandblasted and repointed, and the rest of the walls given a new coat of paint. Incongruous square windows, previously inserted in the side of the building, have been covered over and such natural light as is needed upstairs, is provided by the original gothic styled windows. The upstairs is now used for storage, both of materials and furniture brought in for reupholstery. This has allowed for the extension of the workspace in the area downstairs. The large rectangular window at the front will remain though, and the customary display of the reupholsterer's skills mounted behind it. The boundary wall at the rear has been rebuilt and the side railings look spick and span after a fresh coat of paint. Once work has finished on the refurbishment of the front steps, new shrubbery is to be planted in the 'well' beneath them. Inside the building has been completely rewired and the downstairs area should look a little brighter once repainting is completed.
The bill for all these improvements will probably approach £10,000 but fortunately for Trent Upholsteries, the City Council has agreed to grant aid 50% of the external work. In its later years many must have felt the building had neared, if not reached, the end of its acceptable lifetime. A building surveyor, called in by Trent Upholsteries, considered the old chapel was still structurally quite sound and all must hope this vote of confidence is justified. Certainly between them, the new owners and the City Council have shown that a little loving attention can make all the difference.