Meet the Rotherham church organist who has been hitting the right notes for 50 years

John Smalley, organist at All Saints Parish Church.
John Smalley, organist at All Saints Parish Church.

John Smalley has been hitting the right notes for half a century.

For the dedicated churchgoer has been playing the organ at All Saints Parish Church in Wath for an astonishing 50 years.

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu.

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu.

The 71-year-old played at his first church service on April 17 1966, and he is showing no signs of slowing down five decades later.

He is only the fourth organist at the church in 175 years and has his sights set on breaking the record which stands at 52 years.

The former steelworker, of Lime Grove, Swinton, said: “I saw an advert in the local newspaper appealing for an organist and I needed a job so I thought why not apply.

“It’s funny to think that I’ve been playing for 50 years now, but I’ve loved every minute of it.

“I can still remember my first-ever church service and the singing. I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it even now all these years later.”

Mr Smalley reckons he has only missed about 10 Sunday services in that time, through holidays and honeymooning after marrying his wife Kathleen, 72, in 1981.

He has played at thousands of church services, including Christmas and Easter, christenings, weddings and funerals, serving generation after generation.

The musician is also in fine voice as he has combined his role with that of choirmaster for the church.

He said: “I do like to do a bit of singing now and then. My favourite hymn is Angel Voices Ever Singing.

“It’s a really nice tune to play.”

A special celebration was held to mark his 50th year on April 17 last month.

Friends and family gathered in the congregation to watch as he was presented with a certificate and medallion engraved with his name on it. Mr Smalley was also presented with a letter of congratulations from the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Dr Sentamu paid tribute to his ‘remarkable service to the church’.

There has been only three church organists before him, Joseph Butcher, who served from 1841 to 1880, George Marsden Coates, from 1880 to 1932, and Schofield Hampshire, between 1932 and 1966. He has now set his sights on breaking Mr Coates’ 52-year record.

“To break the record would be a great achievement. I hope I can do it.”