Chapel of the Month – December 2017 – Churches of Christ

This month we are pleased to share a contribution from Council Member and Labour Historian, Professor Peter Ackers. Photos are by Moira Ackers.

Frontal View of Chapel

Frontal View of Chapel

Christians Meeting House (1910), Humberstone Garden Suburb, Leicester (Churches of Christ)

This meeting house was purpose-built for a little-known Christian group, The Churches of Christ, whose membership peaked in 1930, with 16,597 in 184 congregation. They were particularly strong in working class industrial areas, such as Wigan, Birmingham, Leicester and parts of Scotland. Their buildings are deliberately simple, but this one is part of a larger estate, designed by the Arts and Craft influenced, Garden City architect, Raymond Unwin.

Since the Churches often referred to themselves as just Christians or Christian Brethren, it easy to confuse them and their chapels with other bible Christians, such as the Brethren. Indeed, they were part of a wider Victorian ‘primitive’ reaction against respectable denominational religion, as dramatized by the fancy neo-Gothic chapel. Their mission was to restore simple New Testament Christianity and a distinctive package of beliefs included: adult believers Baptism linked to a weekly ‘closed’ Lord’s Supper, followed by an ‘open’ Gospel service, and mutual lay ministry rather than full-time Ministers.

Foundation Stone

Foundation Stone

Over the twentieth century, these austere positions softened. In 1957, the building was extended and in 1981 Humberstone and the Churches’ majority joined the United Reformed Church (URC) – though two groups, the Old Paths and the Fellowship of Churches of Christ remain separate. Humberstone URC later closed, but another Christian community now worships in the chapel.

However, this is much more than just another isolated nonconformist chapel.

Rather, it’s remarkable as one element of a larger, early twentieth century utopian experiment in Christian and Co-operative community-building. In 1897, a group of boot and shoe workers in the Crafton Street, Leicester Churches of Christ congregation decided to launch a new Anchor workers’ co-operative, dedicated to children’s footwear. Members of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, they already belonged to another co-operative, Equity; a pioneer member of the new Co-operative Co-Partnership movement. Manufacturing began in 1893, and the two key figures, Amos Mann (1855-1939) and J T Taylor (1864-1957), led the group on to build a specialist Anchor factory in New Evington. However, they had larger Co-operative ambitions, some inspired by the Garden City movement.

Estate House

Estate House

Thus, in 1907, Anchor opened a new garden suburb of semi-detached houses with gardens for working class families, run as a Co-Partnership Tenant Housing Co-operative. In 1910, the Christians Meeting House opened at its centre (an earlier plan to move the factory there had been rejected). Originally out in the country, with playing fields, an institute and other amenities, this small community has now been enveloped by Leicester housing sprawl. Yet it remains a poignant reminder of the strongly Christian origins of the British labour movement and its commitment to voluntary forms of collective self-help and associational life.

In Mann’s words: ‘This estate will remain a monument to the work of humble working men’.

References

  • Ackers, P., ”West End Chapel, Back Street Bethel: Labour and Capital in the Wigan Churchies of Christ c 1845-1945”, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47(2), April 1996.
  • Ackers, P., “Experiments in Industrial Democracy: an historical assessment of the Leicestershire boot and shoe co-operative o-partnership Movement”, Labor History (USA), October 2016.
  • Mann, A., Democracy in Industry: The Story of Twenty-One Years’ Work of the Leicester Anchor Boot and Shoe Productive Society Limited, Leicester: Co-operative Printing, 1914.
  • Thomson, D., Let Sects and Parties Fall: A short history of the Association of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland, Birmingham: Berean Press, 1980.

Links

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Chapel of the Month – November 2017

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Ellerton, East Riding of Yorkshire

Ellerton Chapel

Ellerton Chapel

This month we feature a Chapel at Risk that was brought to our attention by local campaigner Chris Cobley:

This delightful rural Georgian chapel with a remarkably intact original interior has an uncertain future. The chapel in the small village of Ellerton near the River Derwent was closed for worship in May 2017 and the Methodist Church has put the building up for sale.  There is no land associated with the chapel, other than the grass verge to the front, and it is difficult to see what the building could be used for.

Almost any new use would require gutting the interior and the removal of the box pews and pulpit, features that make this small chapel of particular significance.

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

Such reminders of the way that Methodism contributed so much to the cultural heritage of the rural East Riding of Yorkshire are fast disappearing.The East Riding was one of the most Methodist areas in Britain; out of the 600 nonconformist chapels built in the former administrative county before 1914, some 530 were Methodist – Wesleyan or Primitive. Of these only some 50 pre-1914 chapels remain in use of which only a handful retain their original interior, none as early as that at Ellerton.

Built in 1811 of cream brick the single storey building with hipped slate roof has a central projecting porch. The overlight to the entrance door and the two large windows to the left and right of the porch have Gothick glazing set in a pointed arch with red brick voussoirs.

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

The chapel was given a small red-brick extension at the west end, probably in the mid-19th century. There is a small circular window on the west side, and rectangular windows with later glazing in the south front.

Inside six rows of white-painted panelled box pews are tiered, rising from east to west, with the rows divided down the centre.  Steps at either end of the rows lead up to panelled doors that open into the top row. A brown painted panelled pulpit centrally placed against the east wall of the chapel is flanked by panelled pews and seating.

When the chapel was built the leading trustee was Barnard Clarkson, who would have met John Wesley when he visited the Clarkson family farm at nearby Foggathorpe in July 1776.

Chris Cobley of the Bubwith Village Trust, with the support of the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire and others, is campaigning to make sure that this splendid small village chapel and its increasingly rare original interior is preserved intact. An application has been made to Historic England seeking the upgrading of the chapel from grade II to II* thereby giving confirmation of the great historical and architectural significance of this chapel and ensuring that due regard of the importance of the building is taken by  local and national government  and other bodies in deciding its future and provision of financial support.

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Chapel once the beatitude

Although it’s a few weeks since National Poetry Day we thought that chapel crawlers might enjoy this poem by Jim Young, a poet in Swansea.

Chapel once the beatitude

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Chapel of the Month – October 2017

Trafalgar Street Church, Hull

This month we are pleased to share a contribution from Council member and Baines enthusiast Stuart Leadley.

Trafalgar Street Chapel

Trafalgar Street Church today

The Grade II listed Trafalgar Street Church stands on the corner of Beverley Road and Trafalgar Street in Hull. Its foundation stone was laid on 7 December 1904 and the church opened for worship as the Hull Central Baptist Church on 22 February 1906. The church is one of a series of churches in an ‘art nouveau’ free perpendicular style with a distinctive flint and terracotta facing built to the designs of the prolific chapel architects George and Reginald Palmer Baines between 1895 and 1908 in locations as far apart as London, Brighton, Cambridge, Liverpool, and Hull.

The site had been purchased in 1890 with a school-chapel opening in 1892 which subsequently became the school after the opening of the Baines church, and which has now been converted into flats.

For a total cost of £9,000, the completed church had 850 sittings, with seats arranged in circular fashion in the nave and in galleries.  An organ (by T Hopkins & Sons of York) was set above and behind the pulpit, which is in turn above the baptistery. By 1916 the church membership had risen to 415, with 33 Sunday school teachers and 245 scholars.  By 1936 membership had declined to 139 with 106 scholars.

Trafalgar Street Chapel

Trafalgar Street Church

In 1938 the church ceased to be a member of the Baptist Union, becoming a ‘undenominational’ evangelical church which it remained until it closed in 2002. Since closure the building has been empty and subject to the attention of vandals, despite planning consent for conversion into an entertainment venue being granted and being identified as a ‘high priority’ project in Hull City Council’s Beverley Road Townscape Heritage Scheme.  SAVE Britain’s Heritage included the church in their ‘Buildings at Risk 2010-2011’.

The Baines practice was credited with designing over 200 church and school buildings in the RIBA Journal obituary of George Baines in 1934.

George Baines was born in Huntingdonshire in 1851 and after serving an architectural apprenticeship in London and Great Yarmouth, set up independent practice in Accrington in 1871. He relocated to London in 1884, and took his eldest son Reginald Palmer Baines (1879-1960) into partnership in 1901. From then until George retired in 1929, most works are credited jointly to father and son. The practice produced a variety of chapel designs in both gothic and other styles, in accordance with changing fashion and church budgets. There are concentrations of their buildings in Lancashire and in the home counties, but there are also examples in many parts of England, from Newcastle to Lowestoft to Southampton.

References:

  • Pevsner, N and Neave, D; The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding Second Edition (1995)
  • The Baptists of Yorkshire (1912)
  • The Baptist Handbook (various dates)

Links:

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Ecclesiological Society conference news

From Citadels to Warehouses: Some Places of Worship in Britain Today

Date: Saturday 30 September 2017 from 10.15 to 17.30
Venue: St Alban’s Centre, Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7AB

This unusual day, organised by the Ecclesiological Society in close collaboration with the Chapels Society, will look at the buildings of six religious communities which have in the past been somewhat neglected. The illustrated lectures will discuss how the various places of worship are used and how that has affected the design of the building.

All are welcome. People find that Ecclesiological Society conferences combine serious intent with an enthusiastic and friendly atmosphere, and are enjoyable both for experts and those new to the topic being considered. A hot lunch is included. There will be a second-hand bookstall. Everyone is invited to finish the day with a glass of wine.

Further details.

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A Dictionary of Methodism

I was recently reminded about the extremely useful Dictionary of Methodism which has been available online for some years. This is an ongoing project of the Wesley Historical Society and contains a wealth of information that will be of use to people researching Methodist history. Well worth a look!

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Chapel of the Month – July 2017

This month’s contribution comes from Angela Swan, Grants Officer for the Listed Places of Worship: Roof Repair Fund administered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Baxter URC - Entrance

Baxter URC – Entrance

Baxter United Reformed Church, a Grade II listed building is located at the heart of Kidderminster town centre. It is named after the influential Puritan preacher Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691), who lived and worked in Kidderminster between 1641 and 1661. Formally a part of the Congregational Church, Baxter became a United Reformed Church when Congregational and Presbyterian churches united in 1972.

The current building was erected in 1884/85 and is the fourth building on the site and is in the early decorated Gothic style of concrete faced with red sandstone and Boxgrove Bath stone dressing, with a spire 140 feet tall.

The church contains some hidden gems. The stained glass windows are stunning and include ‘Charity’ ministering to children and extracts from Baxter’s book “Saints Everlasting Rest”. They were created as a memorial to the influential Adam family from Kidderminster. The pipe organ is also impressive; it is ‘three manual’ instrument installed by Walker and Sons. There are also a couple of distinctive portraits of Richard Baxter, which are in need of conservation, and the only surviving artefact belonging to him in the church is the wooden communion table which is in good condition.

Baxter URC - Dampness

Baxter URC – Dampness

The church is open to the public 260 days a year and is an active community hub and offers a regular Community Lunch, a Foodbank for the most vulnerable, a Job Club that has successfully enabled people to find work. It also hosts a choral group, an award winning youth choir and a Zumba Class!

Baxter United Reformed Church has been successful in receiving an award from the Listed Places of Worship: Roof Repair Fund to address the extensive decay to many parts of the roof which have severely damaged the building for many years. The repair project will focus on the west end of the sanctuary, drainage from the sanctuary roof, drainage from the gutters around the tower, the replacement of inadequate cast iron rainwater disposal components, hoppers and catch pits, and rectifying the consequent damage to internal finishes due to water ingress.

At the west end is an access bridge spanning between the sanctuary roof and the bell opening. This is a curious and improvised detail which is failing and causing severe decay to the interior and permission has been granted to remove it and reinstate the roof and louvers. Repairs start the end of July and will be finished by the end of 2017.

Baxter URC - Display

Baxter URC – Display

This money is part of a wider funding package of £22.9million to 401 historic places of worship across the UK. The Fund was launched by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement in December 2014 and the funding package has now seen a total of 903 places of worship across the UK receive a share of £55million. The Fund is administered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) on behalf of the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

A full list of awards across the UK can be found at www.gov.uk/dcms or www.lpowroof.org.uk

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Stained window by Geddes in Wirral vandalised

From the Newsletter of the C20 Society:

The C20 Society has been alerted to some serious vandalism to the highly significant 1934 stained glass window by Irish designer Wilhemina Geddes at the Grade II-listed Manor Church Centre in Wallasey on the Wirral. Designed by Briggs, Wolstenholme & Thornley in 1907-8, it was said to be the largest Presbyterian Church in England when it opened. The church contains an important collection of 16 stained glass windows by major Arts and Crafts designers such as Morris & Co and Edward Woore, of which the Geddes window forms part. The church is now in private ownership and in a serious state of disrepair. The Society has requested that Wirral Borough Council take action to ensure that the owner of the building protects this outstanding collection of stained glass.

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Researching Methodist Family History

An opportunity for people interested in researching Methodist family history:

“Join specialist Jackie Depelle on 23 June 2017 to learn about how you can use Methodist archives for family history. Drawing on Heritage Quay and West Yorkshire Archive Service’s collections, spend a day immersed in church records, circuit plans and history books. If you have Methodist connections, Jackie and the Heritage Quay team will be on hand to help.”

The venue is Heritage Quay, 9 Queensgate, Huddersfield. Free lunch and light refreshments will be provided.

Places can be booked via Eventbrite.

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Chapel of the Month – May 2017

This month we are delighted to feature another contribution by Dr Jennifer Freeman.

Bethesda Strict Baptist Church,Kensington Place, Kensington, London

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Strict Baptists form a distinct group among the many interwoven strands of the Baptist denomination.

The Church in Kensington Place was built in 1866 for baptised believers who subscribe to ‘Restricted Communion’ ( i.e. with communion being exclusively available to professing, baptised Christians), to ‘Particular Redemption’ and  to the teachings of the Authorised Version of the Bible, under the oversight of a Pastor.

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Bethesda Baptist Chapel interior

These founding doctrines remain core values. The Church is governed by its pastor and deacons, the present pastor at Bethesda being Jared Smith (Note 1).

The current congregation is thriving, with regular Sunday services, monthly talks, an annual lecture – the most recent given by Dr Tim Grass, Chapels Society Chairman, a library and bookstall.

A previous lecturer has been Kevin Price, who spoke on the  life of Benjamin Ingham (Note 2), the C18 preacher whose sole extant church at Wheatley Carr, West Yorkshire was visited by the Chapels Society in 2015.   There is also a programme of counselling and outreach.

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

The Church stands on its original site with its understated, gently classisizing, white rendered facade opening onto one of Kensington’s narrow residential streets. It catches the eye, immaculately presented and maintained, unexpectedly close to worldly Kensington Church Street and three minutes from the busy Notting Hill tube station.  In the evening delicate floodlighting pinpoints the building.

The interior is dignified modest and reverent, in spirit with Baptist thinking. The furnishings are crafted with patterned tongue-and-grooved timberwork that lovingly respects the character of the natural material. There are brass-handled umbrella stands on the pew ends.

A prominent rostrum has been lowered to facilitate modern usage. The baptistery stands in front of it, now covered over. Touches of stained glass provide light and variety.

Bethesda Baptist Chapel pews

Bethesda Baptist Chapel pews

Originally the Church had traditional galleries but in recent years the space has been reconfigured to allow for extended use. A new, lower chandeliered ceiling has been created with the space above it converted into a meeting-room, with a kitchen and modern amenities. The historic timbered ceiling still floats over the new space. The gallery fronts survive in a well-judged acknowledgement of the original design. Happily these changes have enabled the Church to widen its activities successfully.

The writer receives a warm welcome from those present on her visits and extends her thanks to Jared Smith and to Kevin Price for their assistance.

  1. Jared Smith discusses Strict Baptist beliefs in detail on the Bethesda Baptist website.
  2. The website also offers videos of previous lectures.

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