Realising the dream
In 1845 the pioneering Wesleyans, having made the decision to build a new larger church, set about the task with great eagerness.
Their first attempt to find a suitable site met with a blank refusal from Squire George Fox. They then approached a Mr Busfield who owned a site in
Atkinson & Son of
On the evening of 4th November, the trust met and unanimously accepted a revised tender submitted by one of their number, Mr Benjamin Bulmer; who agreed to build to the figure of £1000 previously proposed. His memorial stone is to be found in the graveyard. The trust instructed Mr Bulmer to "start work without delay". He, fired with the same zeal as his fellow trustees, took the instruction literally. He stood up, walked from the room and holding his oil lamp high, led the trust, accompanied by Mr Atkinson, from
The Trustees minutes of the day record, in neat copperplate, that the Building Committee met weekly and that "work proceeded apace". 100 hand bills were printed and a large number attended the foundation ceremony. The first stone was laid at half past two on Friday 27th November 1846, following a prayer meeting at six o'clock - in the morning! After the laying, a moving address on "The Upper Room at
Imagine the scene as the walls rose heavenwards. The site sloped towards the river and it was necessary to excavate deeply at the southern end where the front steps would be. The subsoil was magnesian limestone, a soft rock containing pockets of "sand" and this would have been loosened by pick and shovel and loaded onto carts by an army of diggers. In all probability, a ramp would be constructed to facilitate the removal of spoil which was then deposited mainly on the
Those familiar with the Schoolroom beneath the Sanctuary will have pondered as to the original function of the arch which supports the steps at the front entrance to the chapel. This archway was walled up and has only been revealed in the past twenty years. One possible theory is that the ramp was situated where the arch now stands. Having excavated the hole, the foundations, seemingly rather shallow and without a damp proof course, were placed and the building of the walls commenced. In order to build the front end of the chapel whilst maintaining the ramp for access by horse and cart, it would have been necessary to provide support for the gable wall. The ramp was therefore bridged with a substantial arch which was subsequently boarded up since bare stonework was not regarded as being particularly attractive in those days. The schoolroom was finished in plaster to within 10 cm of the ground level but this was to cause problems of damp and efflorescence which still troubles us today. Maybe to save costs, the depth of the excavation was kept to a minimum and the suspended wooden floor was only given a 5 inch ground clearance. The joists rest on wooden wedges which, in turn, lie on stone blocks. The wedges have since moved a little, and the floor now springs in places.
The Grand Opening
The building was completed in 10 months, the chapel being opened and dedicated for divine worship on Friday 1st October 1847, by the Rev John Ryan whose mother Ann Ryan was a close personal friend of John Wesley. An address given to the Wesley Guild on March 10th 1948 by Mr Blackford whose wife had read Mathematics and was the first woman to graduate in the subject at Leeds University, describes the opening ceremony in the following terms:-
'Local ministers and preachers in sober black reverless coats and white high soft cravats joined the folk of
The First preachers
On the first Sunday following the official opening, the service was conducted by the Rev George Macdonald; a minister of some distinction whose children were to make their mark on society in due course. One of the daughters,
George Macdonald's father had been ordained at John Wesley's instigation. George was a puritan of the best kind for, in common with other God-fearing households, the Bible was read and prayers said, on a daily basis. He read extensively from his library of over 1000 books and was keen to see his children well educated. However, he was particularly concerned to ensure that they consumed only the very finest literature and accordingly their reading was restricted to the Holy Scriptures, Pilgrim's Progress and Methodist Publications. Such fripperies as Shakespeare and sentimental romances were strictly forbidden! Macdonald disapproved of idle gossip and would interrupt such conversation by asking the price of potatoes!
His wife Hannah, daughter of a
Their seven children were destined for a bright future:
Georgina met Edward Coley Burne-Jones at the age of twelve and a relationship blossomed to bring marriage to the noted pre Raphaelite painter and future President of the Royal Academy.
Agnes, renowned for her great beauty, married Edward Poynter, an artist who was commissioned to produce the mosaic of St George which is to be found in the Houses of Parliament. His knighthood conferred upon her the title of Lady Agnes.
Louise, the fourth sister, married an ironfounder Alfred Baldwin and lived a somewhat lonely life in Bewdley in Worcestershire where she resorted to composing poetry of a melancholy nature. Though rather weak and sickly she did give birth to a son who was both robust and healthy and, in consequence, very lively. The couple must have educated their son well for he, Stanley, was to serve his country as Prime Minister on two occasions; in 1923 and again in 1924.
For sheer romanticism we turn to the eldest daughter, Alice. She met her future husband whilst picnicking with her brother Frederic and friends on the banks of
Frederic William was ordained into the
Harry was also keen on travel and following a notable career at Oxford, he emigrated to the
The youngest of these seven children , Edith, remained a spinster and lived with the
The Rev George Macdonald not only preached on the first Sunday in the new chapel but he occupied the pulpit on many occasions before his death in 1868. And so it was that, during his ministry, the chapel entered its first 150 years of service to the "People called Methodists".
Days of Struggle
The grand opening over, the trustees addressed their attention to the most immediate problem - that of finance. The minute book records a final building and furnishing cost of £1794-7s-1d and one halfpenny! By 1849 this stood at fivepence farthing short of £1187. At an extraordinary meeting of the trustees it was decided to call upon the goodwill of ten friends of the chapel and ask them each to donate £20. A certain Mr Pearson boldly volunteered to approach seven such friends but alas - they let him down, with the result that he publicly denounced the refusal of "certain persons" to honour their promises and set about raising the money by that standby of all church societies - the bazaar - to be organised by Mr John Padman, a Draper whose shop in the High St closed in the late 1950s. This, first of many such efforts to be, raised £280.
However, it was the ladies who were to sustain the chapel in the matter of money raising for many a long year. Annual Trustee accounts regularly show a deficit on the normal income from collections, pew rents and lettings. This shortfall was, each year, met and exceeded by the untiring efforts of two particular groups of ladies known as the Ladies Working Committee and Ladies Basket Fund. These "basket" ladies were well known around the village for each would carry a wicker basket containing items of embroidery or crochiery or sweetmeats which they would sell in aid of the church. The "better off" were "persuaded" or possibly "charmed" into placing a gold sovereign in the basket. Each year the trustees minuted their "great appreciation" to the ladies of the society and it is beyond doubt that their dedication enabled these worthy pioneers to be able to record with pride in the minute book of 1863 - "Our Chapel is now free of debt!!!"
Evolution of the building
The Chapel as we know it today has grown from a simple rectangular building characterised by large overhanging eaves which some say, gave the building the appearance of a Swiss chalet. A Sunday worshipper in the 1860's, sitting in the front row of the balcony, would have looked towards a blank wall behind the pulpit for neither was there organ, loft or choir balcony. The old pulpit stood behind a communion rail positioned where the present rail has recently been relocated. To the left and right of the pulpit in the NW and NE corners stood two vestries. The singers pews faced the pulpit and were located in front of the two vestries. It is possible that a door behind the pulpit led to a set of stone steps which gave access to the school beneath.
Damp and efflorescence from the soft stone in the schoolroom has always presented a problem Within 10 years of opening it became necessary to excavate soil from around the exterior of schoolroom walls and put ventilators in the
By 1868 it had become imperative that action be taken to relieve the pressure on seats. The size of the congregation removed all concerns for finance and presented the trustees with the type of problem which the Church Council of 1997 would, no doubt, welcome.
Matters came to a head when the boys from
Similarly, in 1864, Mr R W Oliver had offered to "accommodate his young gents in the side isle in the gallery, such of them however as are now a distance from the rest who are in the front pews." The offer was declined and it was agreed to provide "extra square pews on each side of the free sitting downstairs" at a rental of 30 shillings per year which was well above the weekly income for the average family.
However, the overcrowding problem remained and so in 1868 more drastic alterations were proposed, viz: "the removal of the singers pew, the preacher's vestry, the steward's vestry and the stone steps and stairs in the schoolroom lobby and that a small vestry be made in their place." The communion area was to be reduced by moving the rail towards the pulpit and "additional pews made in the space thus set at liberty". It would seem that the current alterations have returned the communion area to its pre - 1868 design!
The Trustees also resolved to use the old stone steps to form " a better and more direct communication from the school to the chapel in the SE corner" (Outside).
The actual date of these major works is unclear, the minutes referring to the above changes having taken place in 1868, whereas other sources refer to major extensions in 1877. However, recent examination of the present building suggests that the preacher's vestry, possibly having a wooden partition wall, was to the left of the pulpit. A stoned up window can be seen above the present boilerhouse and this is thought to have been the vestry window. It would seem that the
The new organ loft, enshrined within a fine arch upon which was inscribed in bold lettering:-
"Give Unto The Lord The Glory Due Unto His Name"
incorporated a fine circular stained glass window in the form of a star of David. This feature has been said to give the building the appearance of a synagogue, that is, when viewed across the river from Thorp Arch.
The layout of the sanctuary reflected the emphasis placed upon preaching, singing and upon communion in Methodist worship. Anglicans and Roman Catholics had always made the altar and the celebration of the Eucharist central in worship and in architecture. Wesley was concerned at the then lack of emphasis which the traditional church was placing upon the preaching of God's word particularly in the fundamental teaching of "salvation by faith". Any person, upon entering the Spa Lane Chapel, would have seen that it was, above all, a "preaching house" in which "the word" was not only read and preached but was sung through the stanzas of John Wesley's hymns. They would also have noted that there were few distractions in the form of stained glass side windows (the glass was frosted and was only replaced around 1970). A simple table, spread with a white linen cloth, stood in place of an altar. The true Methodist would have been shocked, if not offended, at any reference to an altar and not even a simple cross would have been acceptable. He may well have cried out "Know ye not that Christ was the final, the full, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice and there is no further need for a sacrificial altarpiece."
Whatever the precise dates of these two great developments, it is clear that the cost was high and once more the minutes refer to the stirling efforts of the ladies and in particular to the "great efforts made by Mr & Mrs Wheelhouse to liquidate the debt" in recognition of which the trustees made a gift of "a piece of ground for a grave with the right of vaulting and monument".
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