From Maltby with Love, Saturday 29th October 2016

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‘Most right-minded people would assume The Wesley Centre – Official is named after the firebrand founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley. Or indeed his equally ardent brother, the hymnist Charles.

You would be mistaken…

Wesley Owolowo was born in 1880 in Nigeria. As a high born son of the Yoruba Tribe he enjoyed the very best education in England, on the Continent and, ultimately, in the United States.

It was there – much to his parents’ bewilderment and chagrin – that he fell under the spell of the American composer and conductor, John Philip Sousa. At the age of 18 he was apprenticed to C.G.Conn in developing the Sousaphone – a serpentine tuba modified for ease of marching. Imagine the unlikely offspring of a bell and a python and you’re in the right ball park.

Wesley played in The Sousa Band until America joined the war in 1917. At his mentor’s request he followed him into naval service. Following the armistice (for reasons which remain unclear) he emigrated to Scarborough before settling, aged 40 in Maltby.

Keener than ever to return to music Wesley wasted no time in setting up his own Silver Band. Largely composed of workers from the Maltby Metallic Brick Company and miners from Maltby Main, he schooled each and every one of them – trombone, cornet, flugel horn, euphonium

History has obscured the causes of the dispute that flared up between the Miners and Brick Company workers although it has been suggested it was something to do with someone’s wife, or a kiln. In any event it brewed for several months before spilling onto the streets with bricks as well as punches being thrown.

When news of the affray reached Wesley he rapidly changed into his band uniform, hoisted the sousaphone over his head and gathered those players not caught up in the riot from the neighbourhood.

Reportedly the conflict started to quiet as the strains of Nearer My God To Thee at first quietly permeated the wet, sooty evening air. Bewildered looks transformed into glances of recognition, rueful smiles, and shame with There Is A Green Hill Far Away. By the time Wesley’s make-shift band arrived fully at the scene playing Be Still My Soul some men were head in hand on the pavement weeping.

Wesley died shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War but is remembered and honoured with great affection here in this building as a gentle force for peace and unity.

This next song speaks of civil unrest and public order offences in far more recent times. We could’ve done with a Wesley or two. This is Burnt Down Trees…’