By the 1920s Stockton Heath was beginning to become a more desirable place to live.
In March 1923 the site of the present Church Hall was bought: this was some land plus 11 cottages 55-75 Walton Road at a cost of £1300. The total outlay including ground rent was £1908 with the outstanding debt being £1863. The cottages now (2009)still to be seen opposite the church had been built in the 1830s when the road was first turnpiked and so are known as Toll Bar Row. Some others which were demolished in order to build the hall were called Duke’s Cottages and had been erected to house workers on the Bridgewater Canal. Since the hall has been built all the remaining cottages have been sold, the last one in 2000.
The debt of £1863 was paid off in 1932 and in July 1935 the Trustees recommended building a new church seating 500 on that site and remodelling the present church as the Sunday school. This would have cost £7000 and an Extension Fund Committee was set up as a jubilee effort (1887-1937) with the aim of completing the work by 1937. Various plans for these schemes survive and can be found in the circuit archives.
Problems with a road widening scheme and the coming of World War II temporarily stopped all building activities but as soon as licences were being given out again after the war the then Trustees realised that the Sunday School needed more room too. Indeed the Sunday school had been using two of the cottages as the tenants had moved out.
In 1949 the trustees decided to formulate plans to include the erection of a new church and ancillary accommodation on this site on the north side of Walton Road and the provision of adequate Sunday school accommodation by reconditioning the present church. A special church meeting was called.
In 1950 plans were agreed with the church fronting onto Hawthorn Road and the side onto Walton Road. However during the following year the Chapel Committee was still asking for alterations to the plans and for the next 2 years there were administrative problems with the scheme.
In October 1952 the Warrington Guardian reported that the District synod had passed plans for building a new church on the site. The scheme would be in 2 parts with firstly a church seating 400 being built then behind this a hall with a stage able to seat 300 and 2 classrooms. The organ was to be sunk in the floor like a cinema organ.
But in 1953 a new trust was set in place and the trustees decided to take another look at the whole scheme and so recalled all plans. Discussion was held on whether to proceed with the original plan or try something else; for example, Appleton was looked at as an area in which to start anew. In December the first scheme was abandoned and plans put forward to build a new Sunday school and hall on the north site and after that make alterations to the church.
The first revised set of plans submitted to the Chapel committee in 1954 were returned with a request that they be scaled down – they did not see why an upstairs was needed – and the trustees were also asked why they had not gone ahead with the first plans! At this seemingly late stage the trustees set up a sub-committee to find out who would use the new premises and what the minimum requirements of the building would be. Plans were then accepted by the trustees and the sub committee became the Building Committee. But even then it was not plain sailing as in 1955 the Chapel committee again wanted more alterations and the trustees agreed with their suggestions. Finally, or so it was thought, in March a congregational meeting agreed to go ahead with the whole scheme. In April there was a Gift Day to help with the fund raising.
In March 1955 the Warrington Guardian reported that plans were in hand to build the new hall needed because of the inadequacy of space for all the competing needs of the present schoolroom. The J Arthur Rank Foundation give £6000 and the Chapel Department £1000 but to qualify for these there had to be no more than £750 debt when the building finished.
As mentioned earlier some of the cottages were demolished and building began in December 1955. However, almost immediately a major problem was discovered: as the foundations were being dug it was found that the site was in fact an old rubbish tip and not stable enough for the plans as they stood. The extra work needed to completely remove the rubbish was going to cost over £2000. Would the church commit itself to raising this extra amount?
The question was put to an emergency meeting and it gave the go ahead. At least some good came out of this near disaster: as extra digging would be involved it was decided to put to good use the hole that would be made and it became the extra cellar that is now used for dramatic society storage.
Obviously there were many fund raising efforts – sales of work, sewing meetings, jumble sales, social evenings, beetle drives, concerts; every section of the church and individuals gave money. There was also a scheme to purchase bricks where everyone who bought a brick put their name in a book but this book seems to have disappeared; if anyone knows its whereabouts I would be interested in seeing it and placing it into the church archives. Some people gave gifts and some gave interest-free loans; the voluntary giving scheme raised over £1000. It cost £22000 to build the hall: £2700 more than expected because of the problems with the foundation.
On 24 March 1956 15 foundation stones were laid by or for:
- Rev WO Phillipson (secretary, Methodist Chapel Dept)
- Rev JH Sanders (former superintendent of the circuit on behalf of Rev & Mrs Kewley)
- Mr G Benson (on behalf of the church congregation)
- Miss V Stobbs (on behalf of the Sunday school)
- Miss Nora Withinshaw (on behalf of the Withinshaw family)
- Mr R Lunt (for Mrs Richardson)
- Mr H Harris
- Mrs P Cliffe
- Mr B Dudley
- Mr WA Bromley
- Mr L Ardern
- Mr G Gould
- Mr Wadell
- Mr G Benson jnr
- J Arthur Rank Benevolent Trust
These names can be seen on the plaque in the entrance hall. Mallets were given by Messrs Stobbs and Benson. The J Arthur Rank Foundation gave £6000 and a plaque commemorating this fact is also in the entrance hall. The Chapel department gave £1000. The architect was A Brocklehurst of Manchester.
Finally on 17 March 1957 the hall was opened by Mrs EH Wadell the wife of a previous supernumerary minister who had lived in Stockton Heath for many years. The service was due to be conducted by the chairman of the district Rev SJ Granville but he was ill so Rev J Sanders deputised with the Warrington circuit superintendent Rev JT Hughes, the minister of the church Rev J Mellor and the Sunday school superintendent Mr Cyril Roughsedge all taking part. The sermon was preached by Rev A Hearn secretary of the Chapel department. The service was followed by tea then a meeting where Mr W Pearce, treasurer of the building fund, presented his report and good wishes were conveyed by representatives of other churches. There was also a special scholars dedication service when the preachers were Rev J Mellor and the Rev CJ Thomas a previous minister of church.
Our predecessors in the church worked long and hard to provide good accommodation for the future. But, oh, how we wish they had gone ahead with the 1950 plan to build a new church and hall on one site!
Continued – “Modernisation!”
(c) Kit Heald