Chapter 1 In the Beginning - Protestants and Dissenters
The history of the Methodist Church in Boston Spa forms but a small part of the vast tapestry of Christian beliefs which gather under the banner of Protestantism. The 18th and 19th centuries saw much division within these protestant churches, frequently arising out of the various interpretations given to particular passages of scripture and of the emphasis placed upon specific beliefs and practices. The Parish of Bramham which included Clifford, Boston and Oglethorpe, was not immune from dissent and a variety of Christian societies registered their presence in the growing community. Luther's proclamation in 1517 may be said to mark the birth of the Protestant Church. Henry XIII's desire to divorce his queen - Catherine from Aragon - in 1534 marks the departure of the English Church from Rome and John Wesley's conversion on 24th May 1738 marks the origins of Methodism.
As far as we know, the nearest John Wesley came to this area was on the 15th May 1777 when he preached in the Churchyard at Tadcaster. The earliest record of dissention dates back to 1691 when the property in Clifford known as Petty House was in use for the "Meeting of Friends" and in 1794 the house of Ridsdale Junior was known as a "Quaker Meeting House". Two houses in Clifford Moor Road in Clifford are still known as "Quaker Garth". The early years of the new century saw a group of Independents meeting together in each other's houses and by 1836 they had raised sufficient money to build Ebenezer Chapel in Church Street / Lime Tree Avenue with the Rev Mr Dixon as the stationed minister. It is unclear as to whether these were independent Methodists or whether their theological allegiance lay with one of the other non conformist churches . The Congregationalists built their chapel ( now Listers shop) in 1875. Towards the close of the century, the Ebenezer Independents and a number of the Primitive Methodists joined them. These Congregationalists appear to have been well ahead of their time as far as emancipation was concerned. Following a decline in attendance at worship in the period leading up to the Great War, they gladly accepted Sister Nellie, a woman missioner, as their pastor.
They eventually closed their doors in 1950 and the last vestige of the building as a church disappeared with the removal of the steeple in the 1960s. The foundation stone of the church of "St Mary the Virgin - Chapel at Ease - in Boston in the Parish of Bramham" was laid in 1812. There was considerable contention amongst subscribers as to the appointment of the first clergyman, one puritanical faction favouring an independent appointment whilst others sought to follow the regular course of action by vesting the nomination in the vicar (of Bramham). In 1852 Boston became a parish and the present Parish church is a result of major alterations in 1851, 1877 and 1966. The troubles in Ireland, particularly at the time of the potato famine led to the establishment of a Roman Catholic community in Clifford thereby creating what may in these times be seen as a well balanced Christian community. At least one other chapel existed in the middle of the century. The ruins were to be found in a field between Leys Lane and Gunter Wood . The remains of this small building, possibly a private chapel for the Grange Park, were finally removed in the 1980s. Relationships between the various churches appear to have been friendly throughout both centuries although it would be unrealistic to suggest that feuds did not arise from time to time.
Although the present "Churches Together" is a recent innovation, reference to inter church co-operation is frequently made in the records and a strong bond appears to have existed between the non-conformists. For example, the Congregationalists used the Methodist premises frequently, dual membership was not unknown and Primitive Methodists joined with their Wesleyan cousins for special events. Happily this friendship now extends to all expressions of Christian Faith in the area. The Primitive Methodists The earliest records of Methodism in Boston Spa refer to the issuing of a licence, by the Anglican Bishop, for the establishment of a Methodist Meeting House in the village. This was just prior to the formal establishment of Methodism as a separate denomination in 1795. In 1813, the house of Samuel Powell of Boston (who farmed land at Thorp Arch Hall) - in the Parish of Bramham - was licensed as a place of worship for dissenters and in the same year the Wesleyan Chapel in Clifford Rd opened. Possibly prompted by the new Wesleyan Chapel in Spa Lane, the Primitive Methodists in 1847, purchased a plot of land in Church St which they were not to develop for a further twenty five years. They did however, continue to meet regularly in the laundry of Mr Rockliffe in Low Lane.
Here, in 1867, a "Tea Party and Evening Meeting" was held "in furtherance of a movement for raising a fund for the erection of a chapel". Vigorous efforts received their due reward and the foundation stone was laid by a Mrs Sutcliffe one Wednesday afternoon in 1872 . The new Primitive Chapel was duly opened on June 3rd of the following year at a cost of £400 of which less than £130 was still to be raised. Primitives and Wesleyans appear to have been friendly towards each other . The Wesleyans lent their schoolroom for the tea which followed the laying of the first stone, and a number of children attended the Wesleyan Sunday School although their parents were Primitives. A certain William Carter was, from 1869 until his death in 1874, a member of both societies. Another Primitive, Miss Florence Powell, recalls how she was taught by a Miss Crowther who subsequently married the Rev Samuel Chadwick, a famous preacher and principal of Cliff College which catered, then as now, for the training of the laity. The wedding ceremony took place in the Wesleyan Chapel in Spa Lane.
The Primitive Methodists continued to meet in Church St until 1932 when, following the Act of Union, they moved and joined with the Wesleyans in Spa Lane to form the new Methodist Church. Wesleyan Methodists In 1813, two years before the Battle of Waterloo, the first purpose built Methodist Chapel was opened in Middle Lane (Clifford Road). By 1829 the Wesleyan Methodist Circuit comprised 22 churches which, in addition to our present 12 included churches in Barkston Ash, Stutton, Newton Kyme, Bolton Percy, Bilborough, Healaugh, Saxton, Walton and Colton. The chapel in Middle Lane served the village until 1845 when the need for a larger building was felt by the growing congregation. A number of the men met in the home of Mr Robert Pearson, a draper and tailor. Under the chairmanship of Rev Hugh Beech of Tadcaster they passed a resolution to build a new Wesleyan Chapel to seat 450 people, the cost not to exceed £1000. On February 11th, the Rev J Lockwood chaired a meeting to discuss the "best mode by which Mr Brown Hargreaves Esq should be approached" in connection with the application to build - a certain amount of soft soap was evidently required! A further meeting was planned for the 18th but this was inquorate as only one member turned up!
We cannot but admire these pioneers, for though not rich in monetary terms, their conviction and determination knew no bounds. So committed were they to the realisation of their dream that they willingly pledged themselves and their homes as a guarantee. They knew that under God's guidance, that the task of building a chapel, worthy of the name, was a work from which they could not and did not shrink.