Stanley has been a Pew Steward at Seymour Street church for twenty-five years and he follows a succession of men who have given long and faithful service in this capacity. Pew Stewards are regular in their attendance at church and unstinting with their time, and it is hard to find words to adequately express their worth. They come early to ensure that the doors are open for the first arrivals; they arrange who is going to collect the offering; they check that the lighting is adequate in the sanctuary; and they give a welcome to all who come to worship God, and hand them an Order of Service and other relevant material. They also give out the Methodist Newsletter to those who have yearly subscriptions. Finally, they help people to find a seat! On Holy Communion Sundays a Steward on each aisle alternately ushers the correct number of communicants to the communion rail. In fact, pew stewards could be described as ‘unsung heroes’. Oh, I almost forgot! If someone faints in church or needs help to get outside, everyone nearby assists and the Pew Stewards do the needful in getting the person to the door. The year 1995 was exceptionally hot and I vividly remember that on about three or four consecutive Sunday mornings someone, including a choir member, had to be transported out because of the heat. The Rev Dr Ken Wilson was our minister and at the September Leaders’ Meeting he suggested a stretcher should be bought as he was concerned some of the church members would get injured by carrying people. This was done, and we have a canvas first aid type stretcher at the ready.
Stanley bought a house in Seymour Street around thirty years ago, and that is when he and his wife Kathleen became connected to our church. One of the Pew Stewards was Tommy Ferguson who manned the inside door on the right-hand side. Tommy, who is now in his 95th year, has given forty years’ unbroken service as a Pew Steward and it was through him that Stanley became involved in the Methodist Church. Tommy asked him to help at the door, and gave guidance on what should be done when a newcomer arrives. They should be made welcome and, if appropriate, introduced to someone and then shown to a seat. Stanley says he gained a lot from Tommy’s instructions and through him became deeply involved in the life of the church. In passing we think of other men who gave long service in this role and have now gone to their heavenly Home. The names of Sydney Thompson, Alec Acheson, Jim McCrea and Bob Malone come to mind. Another long-serving former Pew Steward, Alec Hanna has now moved to another residence outside town and is unable to come often and we remember him. Some of the men carrying out their role now as Pew Stewards have also been very faithful. I am thinking of John Maze and Bobby Teeney. I do hope no one has been left out.
When engaged in conversation with Stanley it is not long until one hears about an interesting experience he has had, and one day I said to him that he ought to write these things down. I thought of interviewing him, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I brought the subject up again. He has been suffering from vertigo and is unable to attend church at present due to dizziness, but is otherwise physically and mentally well. He told me the following of his early life and occupation.
Stanley’s first home was at 60 Longstone Street, which is where Dowling’s shop was later situated. He was born in 1923 and is one of a family of eleven - six boys and five girls. They worshipped at Christ Church on Hillsborough Road and attended the Sunday School.
Stanley’s mother died in childbirth when he was just a toddler of around three years old and his great regret is that he has no memories of her. His sisters helped to raise him, his younger brother Wesley and the other young children. Wesley served many years in Lisburn Fire Service and about a year before he was due to retire he was killed in the line of his duty by an IRA bomb at Poleglass.
Stanley’s father and two of his uncles served in the First World War. His father survived, but sadly his two uncles were killed. Mr Orr (senior) was a blacksmith and worked at his trade when he returned from the War. Later when there was not so much demand for his trade he was employed as a lorry driver with Lisburn Council. His father had a great interest in livestock, especially pigs. In Stanley’s family there were boys who were tradesmen and they built piggeries at Longstone Street to house the livestock. It was not unusual for people within Lisburn town to keep livestock. His father had a pony and cart and when Stanley was growing up he went with two sisters and a brother around the streets to collect swill to feed the animals. He served his time as a joiner with Thomas Cregan & Son, a Lisburn building firm, and those were happy years.
After the second war ended Mr Orr (senior) bought property in Longstone Street and the surrounding area, such as Phillips Court, Priest’s Lane, Ridgeway Street, Pump Lane and Howard Street. These houses had sitting tenants and he became their landlord. Stanley being a joiner, with his brother Harry who was a plumber, and other members of the family would carry out necessary repairs to these houses. His father, although not highly educated had good business foresight, and was quite an entrepreneur. Stanley can remember him saying that when construction of houses would eventually begin after the war the land would become valuable, and this proved to be the case.
In the meantime they were still rearing pigs. They had sows and bought in young pigs for fattening. At one time they had one hundred fattening pigs. Stanley would go with his father when he was buying more livestock and there he learnt how to conduct deals with the sellers. He purchased and reared some of his own animals and had the task of butchering them. The carcases were then taken to the weighbridge which was at the end of Market Street near Smithfield Square, on the site now occupied by the gents’ outfitters, McCalls.
But it wasn’t all work for Stanley. With some of his friends (Jim Keery, Bob McMullan, Kenny Coates and Patsy Lavery) he joined a boxing club at East Down View. The others were really keen but Stanley had not much interest in taking part in boxing. However, he did engage in some fights as a lightweight boxer, and discovered his skill as a trainer. He says he was a better trainer than a boxer Some friends were members of the Air Training Corps. They would have been at least sixteen years old and under Stanley’s supervision they trained to enter boxing contests at Wembley Stadium. Three boys - Harold Spence, Billy Patterson, and Samuel Orr (a nephew) - came home from Wembley with ATC Championship trophies! Stanley had made prior arrangements with the Manager of Lisburn Picture House, Mr Victor Dornan, to put the results of the contests on the screen and when this was shown in the cinema their friends were jubilant. On the professional side he trained and managed Jim Keery and brought him over to White City in London to fight the World Featherweight Champion, Sandy Sadler, but Jim was outclassed. During this time Stanley was still employed by the building firm of Thomas Cregan. He fed the pigs before going to work in the morning.
During the war, of course, house-building stopped. A permit was needed to obtain timber but the firm’s employees worked at government buildings such as Thiepval Barracks.
Around 1943 the firm of P J Walls of Ballymena advertised for volunteers to go to London to carry out emergency repairs to bomb-damaged buildings including high rise flats, and Stanley went. He was in London during the blitz when he saw the pilotless planes, doodle bombs and rockets being fired by the Germans. At the close of the war he had the joy of attending a Thanksgiving Service at Westminster Abbey.
Stanley got the offer of a job in Liverpool where he spent twelve years, working for the large building concern of J F McNeill. He was sent to do work at the firm of United Biscuits which had around 9,000 employees. There he met the owner, Sir Douglas Crawford, Lord Lieutenant of Liverpool, who also required work to be done at his beautiful home and Stanley was given the job. He had many interesting conversations with Sir Douglas about the political situation here, and he observed the consideration and kindness that Sir Douglas showed towards his retired employees, and said he was a proper gentleman.
On returning to Lisburn Stanley met Mr. Billy Stitt who was running twice-weekly dances at Lisburn Orange Hall in Railway Street, and he asked for Stanley’s assistance in keeping order at these events. Stanley accepted and was involved there for nine years. Another entertainment venue made its dèbut. Mr George Connell, a boxing promoter, started The Top Hat Ballroom in Bow Street, Lisburn. It was open on Friday and Saturday nights, and was one of the biggest ballrooms in Northern Ireland with a capacity for thousands. Mr. Connell decided he wanted Stanley to become Manager of his Lisburn venture, having known him from the days when he was a boxing promoter and Stanley was one of his charges. Attendances were falling off at the dances in Railway Street and eventually they closed. Stanley recalls that Mr. Connell was able to get all the big stars of the time, mainly because his daughter was married to Philip Solomons, who was a big record producer, so it was often only a matter of Mr. Connell lifting the phone to get a specific act or star for the Top Hat. This golden era took place when Showbands were at the height of their popularity. It is hard to imagine, but artistes such as Little Richard, Sandie Shaw, Sunny and Cher, Roy Orbinson and Acker Bilk all performed in Lisburn. One patron remembers that he danced to the music of Brian Coll and the Buckaroos, the Royal Showband, the Dave Glover Band, and of course the Miami Showband.
No alcohol was allowed on the premises. Everyone was searched at the door and if any drink was found it was confiscated and you were given a receipt to reclaim it at the end of the evening. Stanley was in charge of all the staff of the Top Hat. He saw to the needs of the different stars who appeared and attended to their food requirements, changing room allocations and safety. He recalls: “I have many memories of the years that I worked there and of the different artistes. Mainly they were all professional people who caused very few problems. They would come with their bodyguards and so on, but I never witnessed any of the extreme demands that you hear stars making today, like a certain type of water to drink, and there certainly were no prima donnas throwing tantrums. They all just got on with the job they were paid to do. One star stands out in my mind as a real gent and that was Little Richard. A friend of a young girl in a wheelchair asked me if I would get his autograph for her. I knocked on his dressing room door and asked if he would mind signing a photo for her. He wanted me to bring the girl up to meet him, but when I explained she couldn’t because of her situation he went out to meet her personally, giving her his autograph and a hug. It really made the girl’s evening.
“Then one night we had the Bee Gees playing and as you can imagine the young ladies were going crazy to get on the stage. I must admit I had my hands full that night, picking up all the young lassies who were fainting, but that sort of thing didn’t happen often. All in all it was a great time. My own personal favourite artiste was Brenda Lee. Her voice was amazing. You had to hear it to believe it. There aren’t too many artistes around like her today. A real livewire if ever there was one.” The Top Hat Ballroom was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on 17th June 1972. It never was rebuilt.
Mr George Connell was a promoter of many entertainment venues. One such was the King’s Hall where he sometimes held boxing matches and concerts. There was a concert there one night featuring The Beatles. It was Mr Connell who started the Ice Skating Rink at the King’s Hall around the ‘60s. It can be said that Stanley was a workaholic. Still at his job as a joiner at Cregans in Lisburn, he was asked by Mr Connell if he could possibly arrange for a barrier to be put around the ice rink. Stanley, with a couple of friends, Brian Spence and Wesley McBride and several other tradesmen would go down to the King’s Hall as soon as their day’s work was finished. The men journeyed together in Stanley’s car and Mr Connell had a meal arranged for them. They then worked until one or two o’clock in the morning.
Stanley and his wife Kathleen became full members of Seymour Street church. Kathleen attended the Sunday evening prayer meetings and both were involved in the Bowling Club. Stanley was a member of the Leaders’ Meeting. He recalls his days in Liverpool when a friendship was formed with Anglican Bishop David Sheppard who in his younger days was a famous cricketer, and they kept in touch. Later, Stanley and his friend Billy Bennett went to the Grosvenor Hall to meet Bishop David Sheppard, who was on a tour and was accompanied by his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool.
Stanley doesn’t forget a friendship and remembers with affection Griffith Black and Billy Bennett and others too many to mention here. He recalls the days when Paul Clark, the UTV presenter and his family worshipped at Seymour Street, and he was very fond of their little son David, who would now be in his early 20s!
There are three beautiful stained glass windows in the church, which are dedicated to the Glory of God and in memory of some of Stanley’s family. On Armistice Day 1984 one was dedicated in memory of his brother Wesley, who was tragically killed by an IRA bomb. A window installed in April 1997 is in memory of his sisters who looked after him in infancy; and the window dedicated in May 2006 is in memory of his wife Kathleen.
In our last conversation on the subject of Stanley’s varied occupations he observed that people he had met in the past had some wise sayings which have stood the test of time. They had learned wisdom in the university of life. The poet, Alexander Pope, has written: “Unlearned he knew no schoolman’s subtle art. No language, but the language of the heart. By nature honest, by experience wise. Healthy by temperance, and by exercise.”
Stanley told me that he prays for God’s blessing on the people of our church every day. We send our good wishes to him and pray that he will soon be with us again on Sunday mornings. We would love to see your smiling face welcoming us as people come in. We miss you, Stanley!