The History of New Road Methodist Church, Stourbridge.

 

Chapter One:

Beginnings.

The eighteenth century heralded the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and with it came urban development, which John Wesley targeted with his open air preaching. He often came to the industrial area known as the Black Country. Wesley visited Stourbridge on a cold Monday on March 19th 1770. His hearers he described as "wild as colts untamed, though the bridle was in their mouth." Yet his words had taken root, although twenty years went by before there was a Methodist community in Stourbridge, worshipping in a building in Mill Lane. From here, apparently, they moved to the house of a Mrs Jones in High Street, until numbers increased and rented accommodation was found in a theatre in Theatre Road.

The first steps to the building of a church were made on September 17th 1804, when Messers William Horner and Edward Gibbons, two Dudley ministers, bought 680 square yards along New Road for £34 (at one shilling a yard) from banker Edward Rufford. The new chapel was completed a year later in 1805, as were a dwelling house and other buildings, constructed by Phillips of Clent for a cost of £1413/18/10. The ministers conveyed the land to the trustees in a deed on May 27th 1805. It was quite an undertaking for, at this time, England was at war. Later that year Nelson's great victory at Trafalgar made this country safe from invasion, but at the time things were less certain. French troops were expected daily. It must have taken great confidence in their religious zeal, for Stourbridge Methodists to have built their church in such a momentous year.

 

Old pictures indicate that the entrance to the church came straight out into New Road. The chapel seated almost one thousand people on two levels. The building belonged to a simple architectural style, much in vogue then for Methodist churches. It was rectangular in shape with a low pitched roof and a horse‑shoe shaped gallery inside. The front of the chapel indicated to all what is was: 'Wesleyan Chapel 1805.'

 

For twenty three years the church was part of the Dudley Circuit. In 1828 the chapel left the Dudley Circuit to be head of a new circuit of eleven churches in the Stourbridge area. These included Brierley Hill, Cradley, Amblecote, Mount Pleasant, Lye Waste and Clent. It was a great achievement for Birmingham only had one circuit at this time. In the same year a further 330 square yards of land were bought, with another 120 square yards being added in 1829. The chapel was enlarged at the back, at a cost of £550.

 

The first two ministers in the new Circuit were Samuel Sugden and John Rattenbury. They came for two years. John Rattenbury, in this his first appointment, was to be the greatest of them all. He was one of the great evangelists of the nineteenth century. Rattenbury was President of the Conference in 1861. Yet he never forgot his first circuit and kept his link with Stourbridge wherever he went. In 1877 he made his fiftieth consecutive annual visit to the church.

 

For many years this chapel served the needs of the people of Stourbridge. The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the numbers attending church. Methodists, with the evangelical message of salvation for all in Christ, were in the vanguard and helped change the religious attitudes of the nation. These were momentous years when great preachers could command enormous congregations. Yet this happened in a time before the welfare state. The spectre of the workhouse was a threat to all, but especially for the aged, sick and infirm. People could and did starve to death. Yet it was in this age that religion flourished, as men and women found a solace and a comfort in their belief in Jesus Christ, which enabled them to face and survive whatever misfortunes life had in store for them.

 

Chapter 2:

 The Chapel in the Nineteenth Century.

In this period Methodism, with emphasis on the Class Meeting, as well as its spiritual ministry of Leaders and the employment of 'laymen' as preachers, won a distinctive place within the religious life of the nation. Despite it's origins, it was inevitable it should range itself alongside the older Nonconformist Churches. Yet the dual existence of the Church of England and the Nonconformists, together with fresh outbursts of evangelical work, produced tensions which led to some parallel and breakaway movements, represented in the main by the rise of the Methodism New Connection (1797), the Primitive Methodists (1812) and the Bible Christians (1815).

Despite this the Wesleyan chapel in Stourbridge continued to thrive. By 1835 the circuit had over a thousand members, of which New Road had 288, with a large Sunday School. Sadly this was to change. In 1835 a dispute arose over the establishment of a Methodist Theological College, in which local trustees fought to keep their independence against the centralising power of Conference. It ended at the House of Lords. The rebels were defeated. The victory established the Wesleyan Conference as a self‑controlling body able to make its own laws. But the row split the church, for by 1837 the numbers in the circuit were down to 350 and three chapels were lost. Stourbridge's membership was 90 and most of the Sunday School had gone. The disaffected members joined the Methodist New Connexion and a new church was built for them in 1836, higher up New Road. This church was enlarged in 1842. When the Methodist New Connexion, the Bible Christians and others came together in 1907 it became a United Methodist Church. The Primitive Methodists, facing bankruptcy, stayed out of the agreement.

 

The local churches soon recovered most of the lost membership. In 1838 Rev Robert Melson, the superintendent, reported an increase in the circuit of 150 members and that the Sunday School in Stourbridge had been re‑established. The

numbers were 765 in 1843 and 860 by the end of the century. In 1890 Cradley became a separate Circuit, but was re‑united with Stourbridge in 1912, when there were 838 members and 2,300 Sunday School children.

 

 

The Circuit gained an extra minister, making three in 1841. By 1876 there were four, but they reverted to three again in 1880. New Road and the circuit also supported the great fund raising efforts throughout the century: the Centenary Fund in 1839, the Missionary Jubilee Fund of 1863, the Thanksgiving Fund of 1878 and the great 20th Century Fund that collected over a million pounds, of which £1500 came from the circuit.

 

 

In this period the church at New Road was constantly improving the premises. In the 1860's the Sunday School was enlarged and the chapel repaired. The debt reached £1755, but it was soon discharged. There were more alterations in 1874 and 1878. In 1873 £288 was spent on a church organ, while in 1881 much of the church was re‑pewed. In 1885 land was bought to build a new Sunday School to replace the delapidated building at the side of the church. The cost was £750. The new Sunday School opened in 1886 at a further cost of £1653, which brought the debt to its maximum of£ 2130. Efforts were made to pay this off. A Thanksgiving Fund in 1895 raised over £1000, but £400 was spent to rebuild the organ and £450 on repairs. In 1905 the Centenary Fund raised £430 and a Bazaar raised the amazing amount, for those days, of £560, so that when the centenary was celebrated the church was out of debt.

 

 Chapter 3:

 The New Church.

For upwards of fifty years the members had looked forward to the building of a new church to replace their old chapel. In 1878 the Trustees passed a resolution to build a new church, but forgot to carry it out.

 

By the twentieth century the people of Stourbridge made a more determined effort to replace their old chapel that had become gloomy and rather delapidated. Since 1900 yearly inspections had been carried out on the roof timbers, these timbers were large and heavy, being 14 inches by 9 inches, spanning the whole width of the roof and weighing over five tons. As long as they seemed to be in good condition, the decision to rebuild was put off for another year.

In 1912 the Rev John Hornbrook, Connexional Chapel Secretary, came to confer with the Trustees and recommended building an up‑to‑date church. The Great War intervened, but in 1918 a building fund wag started by investing £1500 in War Bonds. Bazaars in 1920 and 1923 raised £1300 and £500 and, with donations, the fund had reached £5000 by 1926, so the superintendent, Rev H.R. Crosby, had plans prepared for a new church and a building contract was fixed. The last Sunday Services were held on May 1st, 1927, it was the Sunday School Anniversary. On May 2nd a Valedictory Service was conducted by three local ministers: Benson, Pickering and Crosby. The grand finale came with the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

The Chapel was full for this final service, so full in fact, that one of the trustees, unhappy at the state of the building, was afraid to go in and remained in the vestry praying. He was proved to be right, for after the service it was found that the upper gallery had pulled out of the wall by four and a half inches. When demolition started it was discovered that the roof supports were not secure and could have given way at any moment. Rebuilding was to come at the right time.

 

 

The first thing the Trustees did was to build a new house at the rear of the Sunday School to accommodate the caretaker, when his cottage and others nearby were taken down. Then the rest was demolished to make way for the new church, which was to be built parallel to the road. The builders were Messers S.F.Swift & Sons of Birmingham, the architects Messers Crouch, Butler and Savage, also of Birmingham. The Foundation Stone of the new church was laid by the President of the Conference, Rev W. Hodson Smith on September 8th, 1927. It was followed by a service in the Town Hall where another £3,000 was donated.

 

The opening and dedication of the new church was on Thursday, 28th June, 1928. The sermon was preached by the Rev F.L. Wiseman. This was followed by a public tea and a meeting where there were addresses by Rev Wiseman, Rev F.H. Benson and Dr. Tasker. At this meeting £1238 was donated, so that the total raised was £10,272/3/8 towards the estimated costs which were over £13,000. The preachers for the first three Sundays were Rev F.H. Benson, Rev W Hodson Smith (the President) and Rev J.E. Rattenberry, grandson of the chapel's first minister. 

 

Chapter 4:

Details of the New Church.

The new church was designed on a cruciform principle. The plan consisted of entrance porches, spacious vestibule, nave, aisles, chancel, transepts and organ chamber. There was a tower at the north west corner, which provided the main entrance porch. The scheme also had a minister's vestry, choir vestry with a church parlour, the guild room, adjoining. It was built on the site of the old chapel, but at right angles to it.

 

 

The builders' plan was to produce a magnificent building generally on the lines of ancient Gothic architecture by developing a style sincere and honest in its outward forms, yet suitable for the worship of its members. The old building was dark, gloomy and falling into decay. It was felt that the generous donors had made it possible to rebuild in a manner more in character with modern requirements for 1928.

 

 

The whole of the congregation were seated in the nave and transepts, the choir being placed on either side of the chancel. It could seat 500. The side aisles were to be used as passages only. These side aisles were divided from the nave by stone piers supporting the nave arcading. The centre portion of these piers was carried up to the sill level of the clerestory and finished with richly carved capitals illustrating the works of God in creation.

 

The exterior was in small Kenilworth bricks, with Hollington stone dressings, the interior stone was also Hollington. The style was a modified treatment of Romanesque, with rich carvings on doorways, windows and capitals. The pews and fittings were of English oak, to harmonise with the barrel roof of the interior, while the walls of the chancel were also panelled in oak with a richly carved frieze. The floor of the chancel was of Roman stone and green Tinos marble, the steps to the same being in white marble. The Last Supper at the Communion Table was an original painting by Bernard Sleigh. The font was of Beer Stone, designed by the architect.

 

The stained glass window in the Chancel was to the memory of Mr Fred North, the secretary of the Building Committee, who had died in the January before the church was completed. Fittingly, his widow formally opened the new church. The window consisted of three panels, the centre is "The Light of the World", based on the painting by Holman Hunt. The two side panels represent the soul before and after seeing the light.

 

The architect claimed that his work as a whole was simple and dignified, with a certain richness in places, such as the chancel, the carved capitals of the nave and in the main entrance. It was seen as a memorial to the superintendent, Rev H.R. Crosby, who had brought to fruition the wishes of the Stourbridge Church and Circuit for a church that was called the Cathedral of Methodism for the district" in 1928. 

 

Chapter 5:

Changes at New Road.

On June 28th 1928 the new church in New Road was formally opened. The following year the driving force behind the great endeavour, Rev. H. R. Crosby departed to be replaced by Rev. J. Nevison Philipson. Their followed a succession of such men. Rev. C. R Butler arrived in 1932, Rev H.R. Goodwin in 1935, Rev. W.W. Ensor in 1940, Rev A.S. Barton in 1947, Rev. L. W. Tattersall in 1950, Rev. S.M. McCutcheon in 1955 and Rev. G. Elvidge in 1963.

 

Since those early days it is interesting the challenges that the Trustees and the Leaders Meeting have had to face. The church had electric lighting and this was something very new. Then there were more mundane discussions over pew rents and umbrella stands in the new church. More surprising was the fact that the church was in debt for most of those early years. They had an overdraft with the National Westminster Bank and had to pay yearly interest. Fortunately it was low in those days. Most of it had been paid off by 1938.

 

Then there were the topics that have taken the church's time in recent years. Besides problems such as repairs and decorating, the Sunday School and the Youth Club, there were difficulties with the heating of the church right through the period. There were the acoustic problems. It was often hard to hear the preacher in the new church. The caretaker's house, now the cottage, and its upkeep was a constant source of difficulty. There were also problems with the maintenance of the boundary walls, especially of the manse. Then there was issues of the day like the cost of blacking out the church in the Second World War. It was removed in 1946. After the War new railings were put in place outside the church in 1947.

 

Perhaps, the biggest change that occurred in the early years happened in 1932. All the different streams of Methodism: the Wesleyans, the Uniteds and the Primitives came together in the Union of that year. This brought about an extension of the work, into Wollaston for instance, with the entry into the Circuit of the Primitive Churches there. There was also a Methodist Church at Gig Mill from 1885. It also meant there were now two Methodist Churches within a few yards of each other in New Road. The United Church closed in the same year of 1932, although the building remained until it was knocked down to accommodate the ring road in the late 1960's. There is a small dish inside the font, which came from this church.

 

A big change at New Road came in 1931 with the selling of the old manse for £1000. A new manse was built next door to the church. This was to serve as a home for ministers until it was replaced by the new manse bought in Bowling Green Road in 2001.

 

The other main change in the church buildings came with the construction of the Hall of Memory in 1929. It was the work of the Young Men's Bible Fellowship, an inter‑denominational group, meeting on Sunday afternoons and it was dedicated to those who had died in the First World War. In 1931 it began to be used by Toch H. This was a christian fellowship founded in 1915 and was also dedicated to remembering those who'd given their lives in World War One, so it was obvious the two would become intertwined. In 2003 the room's function was changed when it was taken over by the Robin Woods Library.

 

Within the church there were many developments. The organ, built by Norman and Beard of Norwich prior to 1895, was installed in the church in 1929 by Nicholson. The first organist was George Hodgetts. The choir master was Mr Sutton until 1933, when Percy Crook took over. When Mr Crook gave up in 1945, George Hodgetts became choir master and organist until 1963. Michael Carless then took over and has remained as church organist and choir master for over forty years.

 

There have been additions to the decorated windows in the church. The small windows in the chancel entitled Truth and Peace were in memory of John Charles Deeley and added in 1940.

Those entitled Charity and Love were in memory of Elizabeth Fellows and were fitted in 1947. In 1938 the "Sunday School" Window (South Transept) was given in memory of Felix Petford Fellows by his widow. The Modern Window (North Transept) was given in memory of Mr & Mrs J.E. Hickman of Stourton in the 1960's. Designed by Stourbridge College of Art, it depicts Christ from the Cradle to the Cross'.

 

The other main alterations occurred in the School Room. A new floor was incorporated in 1971 making it a two story building. Then after the centenary celebrations held on June 28th 1986, a new kitchen was built in 1987. 

 

CHAPTER 6:

1978 and Beyond.

In 1978 celebrations marked the fiftieth anniversary of the church. The minister Philip Hodgson (1971‑1980) led the festivities in June of that year. One of the highlights was the visit on Anniversary Sunday of the Rev Kenneth H. Crosby, the son of the first minister at the re‑built New Road. As part of the celebrations a Handbook was produced on the work of the church in 1978 and also looked back to 1928.

 

In 1928 the Sunday School had been well attended, services being held in the morning and the afternoon. The Sunday afternoon school was dropped in 1972. In 1978 it was reported that the morning school was still thriving, although the numbers were diminishing in the senior departments. There was a thriving youth club, linked to M.A.Y.C., that met on Friday nights. Parties regularly attended the annual M.A.Y.C. rally in London. There was also a Youth Fellowship that met after church on Sundays and the members took part in special services.

 

In those days a feature of the Sunday morning worship was the Family Service, which enabled parents and children to attend together. At this service the uniformed organisations were present. Of these uniformed organisations the Wolf Cub pack was started in 1952, the Scout Company in 1954, Brownies began in 1958 and the Guides in 1960. Sadly none of these groups now meet at the church. The Play Group has also gone, although a Mother and Toddlers Group does meet at the church.

 

Some things continue. The choir lead worship Sunday by Sunday with special efforts at Passiontide and Christmas. The Young Wives began in 1947 and has now become the Thursday Ladies. The Wesley Guild first met way back in 1924. In those days it consisted of young people. Later it changed and the membership became older, but they are still meeting regularly. The After Eights began in 1970 for those young people who had outgrown the youth club.

 

 

There are new endeavours. In 1988 a Stroke Club was founded, by Dennis Howard. Every fortnight the group meets for lunch. Here those with strokes, their partners and the helpers come together. The Thursday Coffee Morning was begun in 1982 by Eileen Price and Kath Mountford. Although mainly social it does give friends, visitors and strangers alike a change to meet and chat. Every month a Communion Service takes place on Thursday.

 

 

Since 1978 the work at the church has continued. Recent ministers have been John Mountford (1980‑85), David Meacham (1985‑90), Alan Elgar (1990‑5), Janet Roe 1995‑2001, Peter Clarke (2001‑6 ) and Stuart Davis (2006‑). Throughout the years news has been provided about the church by the publication 'Contact'. Begun in 1964 by Tony King, other editors were John Syed, Henry Whitehouse and Peter Thorogood. Since 1987 this monthly magazine has been edited by Pam Cook. Throughout all those years 'Contact' has been printed by David Cormell.

 

 

In 2005 the church celebrated two hundred years on the New Road site. The President of the Conference, Rev Will Morrey, led worship in October 2004 to recognise this event. Now the church awaits the new building.