Towards the end of the century the 3 Free chapels in Stockton Heath and Appleton: the Wesleyan Methodists, the Independent Methodists and Hill Cliffe Baptists had formed a joint Band of Hope (Temperance organisation) which was a thriving concern and well organised. They held other joint services to break down barriers and to consolidate Free Church forces.
Membership gradually increased from 12 in 1888 to 29 in 1902 and soon the one roomed building became too small. It was reported that the church was losing many children and young people because of the lack of facilities.
The trustees tried to find land elsewhere for a bigger church but they were unsuccessful so they decided to rebuild on the same site. The last service,the Sunday School Anniversary, was on 14 March 1905. The next day a congregational tea was held paid for by Mrs Sherburn when 120 sat down and this was followed by a meeting at which Mr Richard Miller and others told the history of the society and talked about future prospects before the chapel was given over to the builders. Services were held in Providence schoolroom (Independent Methodist: now Christian Fellowship) while building work was proceeding.
Bazaars and other fund raising events in Stockton Heath and around the Circuit took place in order to raise the £1500 that was needed. Many members in the Circuit expressed sympathy with the people at Stockton Heath with the need for a bigger building and they helped the building fund on its way.
The Memorial Stone laying ceremony was on 22 June 1905 and this is how the Warrington Guardian started its report on the event:
“Great interest was taken by local Wesleyans on Thursday afternoon in the laying of the foundation stones and bricks of the new church at Stockton Heath. There was a large attendance of friends of the church and school children were much in evidence. There was only one drawback to the pleasure of the visitors and that was the intense heat. It was almost unbearable and but for the use of umbrellas and sunshades and the shelter of 2 or 3 trees in front of the site there might have been some cases of sunstroke…..”
Sixteen foundation stones were laid but unfortunately it is now impossible to determine whether there was any inscription on them. They were laid by:
- Mr A H Crosfield,
- Mr J E Richardson (for Mrs Richardson),
- Mr William Bennett (for Mrs Bennett),
- Mr Joseph Stringer (for Mrs Stringer),
- Mrs Moss (for Mrs Lancashire),
- Mr T Brough (for his father),
- Mr W Arnold (who had presented the stones),
- Mrs S W Stringer,
- Mr W H Sherburn,
- Mrs F Penketh,
- Mrs A Blackhurst,
- Messrs Richard Miller,
- P J Whitfield,
- F Pendlebury,
- S Moss (for the church)
- A Lamplugh (for the local preachers)
To save money special trowels were not provided but suitably inscribed hymn books were presented to the 16 stone layers. Bricks were also laid by children who had made collections in aid of the building fund.
The Warrington Review (Stockton Heath edition) gave more details about the building:
“…..the building when completed will make an ornamental structure comprising a church 44’x34′ with a schoolroom behind about 60’x30′. In addition, there will be 3 vestries and a convenient basement in which will be set up a kitchen range and boiler, etc. The whole building will be surrounded by a boundary wall and ornamental iron railings and gates. The buildings will be faced with St Helens grey bricks and red terra cotta heads, sill and string bands and copings etc. At the corner of the building there will be an octagonal tower carried up to a good height and having louvre openings in the upper portion to be used as an extract ventilating shaft. Ornamental tracery windows will be fixed in the main gable and the transept gables glazed with cathedral tinted glass. The internal wood will be in pitchpine, stained and varnished; the building will be warmed by hot water pipes and radiators. Due attention will be paid to the ample ventilation of the school. Additional accommodation can be obtained if required by means of a gallery to be fixed over the front entrances access being gained thereto by means of staircases from the small vestries at the front of the church….”
The building was opened at 3.0 pm on 2nd November 1905 by Miss Bessie Dutton of Moore – one month later than expected ‘to allow the plaster to dry’ – and again the Warrington Guardian was there to report it:
“Thursday was a notable day…..marking as it did the handsome new church and schools in Walton Road, Stockton Heath……The church will seat about 270 and the schoolroom 300 and on Thursday the accommodation was found none too extensive to seat the large number of friends who came to see the opening….Miss Dutton said…..this new church was eloquent testimony to the love, enthusiasm and energy in the hearts of those connected with the church.”
The large congregation included massed choir and orchestra. One man is quoted as saying “This place of course is dreadfully new and has none of the associations which make old buildings so dear to us, but perhaps this day we have made what we will look back upon as a happy recollection” How right he was!
In the evening a public meeting was held in the Independent Methodist Church and the collections for the day raised £474.12s (£474.60p)
There was a partition between the church and the hall which could be removed to provide an enlarged church area for special occasions. The final cost of the buildings and furnishings was £1700.
The list of Trustees is now seen to be mainly Stockton Heath men – and it is all men. Membership in 1905 was less than 60 but Church and Sunday School numbers increased over the next 10 years and there was frequent reference at Circuit quarterly meetings to the fact that the congregation was only ordinary working men and women so they could not raise a lot of money.
On 8th March 1907 the building was registered for the solemnisation of marriages and the first marriage that took place in the new church was between two Sunday School teachers – Mr T Brereton and Miss Maud Evans.
In November 1908 the death was recorded of the oldest member of church, Miss Clarke, the daughter of William Clarke who was mentioned in the ‘Early Wesleyan Methodism’ section. She had been a member of the Methodist Church for 72 years and before the chapel in Stockton Heath was built she walked to Buttermarket Street in all weathers to take her Sunday School class. Both she and her father were total abstainers
Continued – “The Church Hall“
(c) Kit Heald