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Bowdon Vale Methodist Church

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Methodism in Bowdon, Greater Manchester[edit]

In 1857 the first Wesleyan Chapel was built on Bell Clapper field in West Road, Bowdon (the same road the Methodist Home for the Aged now stands on). The Church soon became too small and a new Church was built in Enville Road and the old Church demolished. The members of the new Church at Bowdon had some ideas of their own which they soon tried to put into practice. One proposal was to split the Altrincham Circuit in two, the Altrincham Circuit to consist of Altrincham, Sale Wesley, Sale Trinity, Timperley, Ashton, Partington, Sinderland, Manor Road, Baguley, Egerton Street. The new proposed Bowdon Circuit would consist of Bowdon Dome, Vicarage Lane, Hale Road, Booth Bank, Hoo Green and Bollington. The proposal was defeated at the Circuit meeting by 42 votes against 37 for. These proposals followed the extending of the work of the Dome by building Mission rooms at Vicarage Lane and Hale. There is a strong oral tradition that one of the reasons for the building of the Church in the Vale was to provide a place of worship for the servants but there is no written evidence for this.

Methodism in the Vale[edit]

On the 15th June 1858 the Primrose Cottage Mission was formed to hold cottage services on Tuesday afternoons, the first being held on the 27th June 1858 at Mr. Rawlins, 3 Primrose Cottages. On that Sunday the work first began and it continued and prospered for a number of years until a cottage in Brickiln Row was rented. In this cottage regular preaching services were held, a class meeting and mothers meeting met regularly until the 22 members trans- ferred to the new Chapel in Priory Street.

In June 1882 Mr. Potts reporting to the Circuit Quarterly Meeting at Trinity Sale said the estimated cost for the new mission rooms at Bowdon Vale would be in the region of £300 - £350. The Church was opened on January 10th 1883. On the day of the opening a Trustees meeting was held at The Gorse, Vicarage Lane and at that meeting thanks were recorded to Mr. Edward Potts for the gift of freehold land for the site of the Chapel and a strip of land which gives an approach to the Chapel from Vicarage Lane. The stone pulpit which was in the Chapel up to the re-organisation in 1970 was a gift from Mrs. Potts. pieces of which are still left, were a gift from Mr. and The crockery, a few Mr. Potts reported that because of the Mrs. Robinson. eager demand for pews a larger number of pews had been installed than had first been arranged. The Chapel, vestry, reading room and storeroom were insured for £485, the organ for £50.

The list of the first Trustees is interesting and must have been one of the few meetings in the area where Master and servant were equal.

  • Mr. John Lees Barker; Dunham Rd, Bowdon; Stockbroker
  • Mr. William Bradley; Priory St, Bowdon Vale; Coachman
  • Mr. William Champness; Woodland Bank, Alt.; Manufacturer
  • Mr. Frederic A. Church; Winton Road, Bowdon; Farm Agent
  • Mr. George Howarth; Winton Road, Bowdon; Gentleman
  • Mr. James Longbottom; Stamford Road, Bowdon
  • Mr. Edward Potts; Vicarage Lane, B. Vale; Architect
  • Mr. William Ed. Potts; Vicarage Lane, B. Vale; Architect
  • Mr. Joseph Potts; Priory St, Bowdon Vale; Gardener
  • Mr. Fabian L. Robinson; 18 Ashley Road, Bowdon; Draper
  • Mr. James Rutter; Stockport Rd, Alt.; Provision M.
  • Mr. Edward Sandbach; Charlton Dr, Sale; Wine Merchant
  • Mr. James Scarlett; 7 Higher Downs, Bowdon; Gentleman
  • Mr. William Smith; South Downs Rd, Bowdon; Grocer
  • Mr. George Whitfield; Bow Green, Bowdon Vale; Coachman

No information is available as to the opening services and little is known about those first few years. What we do know suggests that the members had a number of teething problems, the builder Mr. Fletcher was not satisfied with his account but the architect Mr. Potts stated that 'Mr. Fletcher had been equitably dealt with and that he had been rather over than underpaid'. Problems also arose over the Chapel Keeper. A Mr. Joseph Potts had been appointed at a wage of 5 shillings a week but by June 1984 he had resigned and a Dora Shaw and Maria Roberts had been appointed. Their wage however was 4 shillings a week; an extra shilling was to be paid for work outside such as getting in coals and keeping the garden in order. Mr. Potts at least seemed to think this was rather unfair and promised to make up for 6 months the one shilling a week that had been taken from them.

The same year it was decided that the Chapel Anniversary should be held in November instead of January because January was taken up by so many meetings. The first Anniversary however took place in December! The morning service was held at the Dome conducted by Mr. Edward Potts, the afternoon and evening service was held at the Vale conducted by Rev. H.J. Foster. The attendance was reported to be very good and in the evening the Chapel was crowded, the collections for the day amounted to £12.6.81d.

A Band of Hope was started that year; they paid 10 shillings a year for the use of the rooms and this arrangement con- tinued until 1897 when they gave an entertainment each year; the proceeds were in lieu of an annual charge. The Band of Hope continued for many years and many people still remember the happy times of fellowship they had at those meetings. The village had no public house but an off licence where people used to go with their jugs to be filled with beer for the evening. One member remembers that at the end of one Band of Hope meeting as the leader was speaking the door from the street opened and a boy's voice called out that the leader's jug he'd left at the off licence had been broken.

Three years after the Chapel opening a Bazaar raised £75 which finally cleared off the debt on the Chapel. The same year a class was formed by Mr. Edwin Whitfield to teach the Tonic Solfa.

The following year 1887 it was decided to install heating for the Church and also a cellar and toilets were built. Mr. Rutter was appointed as Treasurer and paid £15 towards the cost of £30 for the outbuildings. The builder Mr. Stones gave a reduction on his bill which left only £8 outstanding. The boiler however proved a problem and Mr. Bowen's bill was not paid until the boiler worked. Ten years later the problem of heating the Church was still a cause of concern to the Trustees. The Chapel Keeper seemed to be at fault this time. He was given a month's trial in which he had to keep the heat up between 50 - 60 degrees for Sunday morning services. If at the end of the month things were not satisfactory he was to be given a months notice. The outcome was the Chapel Keeper resigned and Mr. Potts took over until a Mr. Ainsworth was appointed. The boiler continued in use until the electric heaters were installed in 1970 and still remains in the cellar. At the Quarterly meeting in June 1891 at Bowdon the following tribute to Mr. E. Potts was recorded.

'Members of the Quarterly Meeting having heard of the removal of Mr. E. Potts family to Eccles cannot allow the severance to take place without recording the loss the circuit has sustained thereby and especially the Bowdon Society... with equal gratification they call to mind the many years of useful and devoted work of Mrs. Potts at Vicarage Lane where the loss of them all will be sorely felt.

In 1893 a girls club was started by Mrs. Lewis, they met in the Reading Room and continued for many years. Five years after being formed they were asked to put on an entertainment instead of a yearly fee for use of the Reading Room but after only one performance they were asked to pay 15 shillings a year for the use of the room. It would be very interesting to know what happened on their first and last evening's entertainment. In 1895 the Circuit meeting received the membership report for the Circuit which was Altrincham 259, Bowdon 122, Timperley 56, Hale Road 41, Vicarage Lane 51 and Booth Bank 7. This was the year that 13 weeks of continuous frost was recorded in the Vale. The following year it was decided the Society would recommence using the Sankey and Moody collection of hymns at their services, they are still used once a year at a Sankey and Moody Service. The special event that year for Trust Funds was a lecture by the Minister Rev. D.A. de Moulpied entitled 'The Paris Commune of 1871'.

The 20th Century dawned with a new Trust being formed and the hopeful sign of 7 new members on trial, the result it would seem from a mission, conducted by a Miss Manley. The choir was now strong enough to ask for Choir Sermons to begin which must have been very gratifying to Mr. Boyer who retired from position of Choir Master, a position he had held for almost 20 years. The folk at Vicarage Lane also felt they should contribute £5 per annum towards the cost of the Wesleyan Day School at New Street. Nothing much is known about the first eight years of the 1900's as the documents that should have been in the Circuit Safe were missing assumed to have been in the last Superintendent's residence.

By 1908 things seemed to be improving; the Sunday School was increasing and the Trustees allowed them the use of the Chapel without charge and they were also allowed to hold an Anniversary. Unfortunately no documents of the Sunday School have survived so only personal memories are available.

Because of the extra strain on the use of the building it was felt a new room was needed at the back of the Chapel. The first estimates were around the £120/£130 mark but because the Church in Hale Road was being built it was felt it was not wise to push the project then. The Sons of Temperance held regular meetings at the Vale and reported a membership of 84. It was around this time that Mr. & Mrs. Birchall left the village and the Trustees recorded their appreciation of the faithful service they had given to the Chapel. In 1910 the Circuit Mission Committee sanctioned a small grant towards expenses in- curred in engaging a Deaconess Sister Helen for 6 months. During this time 'she did much good and useful service in general visitation, Girls Clubs, Bible Classes etc', she was so effective that the Trustees felt they needed the additional rooms to accommodate the Sunday School and also the evening classes connected with the Chapel so urgently that they went ahead and got estimates and the Circuit's permission. The estimate chosen was £245 from Astell's, £50 was to be raised locally, £50 from Mr. Howarth per- sonally and a promise to raise another £100 from his Bowdon friends.

In 1910 the Chapel was the last building on the right hand side of Priory Street, a Mr. Robinson lived in the end cottage and permission was obtained from him to put a door in his passage so coke and coal could be delivered to the Chapel. Mr. Robinson agreed to this subject to a note recognising his rights and the Trustees paying him 6d a year.

A long discussion took place as to the cost of the dividing screens in the Sunday School to divide the room into three areas as this would be £68 extra on the estimate. It was finally decided to have them and they remained until the reorganisation of the Church in 1970.

The Sunday School was opened on Wednesday October 26th 1910 with a Service of Song. The Architect and Clerk of the Works for the new building was a Mr. Hilton who had charged nothing for his services so the Trustees decided to offer him £10 for his kindness. Mr. Hilton was asked if anything could be done to stop the down draught in the Chapel, 70 years later the same question is still being asked by members of the congregation and the late Ted Stephenson like Mr. Hilton could not find the answer. Once the debt had been paid off the members turned their attention to the Organ. In 1900 one of the Trustees Mr. Kenneth Howarth who was an Organ builder had been asked to build one for the Chapel, he had done this but lent it to the Trust and it was this reed organ that was to be replaced by a new pipe organ. This was to cost £207.9s.9d. and all kinds of activities took place such as sales, carol singing, a Field Fete, subscriptions and a collection of £10.5s. 6d. on the day of the dedication meant that the cost had been covered which was just as well because the First World War had just begun and the Organist and Choirmaster (and Church Secretary) Mr. Howarth had left to take up military service. His successor Mr. Geo Dunbar Brown followed two years later and then Mt. T.S. Howarth the Treasurer left for France to work for the Y.M.C.A. He returned in 1919 and continued as Treasurer until 1933 having served the Chapel for 46 years.

The war over, a new Trust was formed and on the Trust came men like Percy Rainer, John Henry Riley, George Dean, Fredrick Hall. Two new Chapel Stewards also were appointed, Evan Kay of the Post Office and John Broady of Vicarage Lane. This new Trust soon made changes and in 1924 it was decided to install electric light in the building and to redecorate the interior of the building. Another unusual change made that year was to use water to blow the organ. This system continued until 1932 when problems over the lack of water pressure especially on Sunday mornings (all the washing being done in the village ?). After some correspondence with Manchester Waterworks which brought no reassurance the Trustees wrote saying that water would no longer be required for this purpose and Mr. Riley was asked to find a boy to blow the organ for 1 shilling a week.

Another change that took place about this time was the abolishing of pew rents and the adoption of the envelope system. In its first year (1926) there were 40 contribu- tors and a yield of £70 but by 1929 the numbers had dropped to 24 contributors and a yield of £55. They were of course hard times and money was in short supply. Mrs. Attenborrow and Mr. Riley recall how one Sunday evening a member of the congregation came to see their father and told him he had put 2s. 6d. in the collection by mistake and could he have 2s.5d. back. Despite these problems 1932 came and the folk of the Vale celebrated their Jubilee.

These celebrations were held on Sunday and Monday 15th & 16th January. Mr. T.S. Howarth took the morning service, Mr. Edwin Whitefield the afternoon, and the Rev. Ed. Greaves the evening. A tea was held on the Monday at 6.30 at 9d. per head. This was followed at 7 by a meeting when all Ministers, local preachers, Trustees and as many old friends as could be found were invited. The receipts for the weekend were £12.12s. 11d. and it was reported all services and meetings were successful. The Chairman at the Public Meeting was Mr. H. Longbottom and the speakers Mrs. Tattersall, Messrs. T.S. Howarth, J.L. Hambly, E. Whitefield, G. Whitefield, G. Potts, H. Shaw, E.Hulbert and the Rev. F.J. Gould.

In 1936 Mr. Dean, 30 Priory Street, the father of Mrs.Ber Thomason our present Chapel Keeper, was appointed caretaker at £2 per week and three years later at the outbreak of the war the late Mr. C.F. Mardon was appointed Secretary and gave devoted service to the Chapel in that capacity for 36 years. The war brought the usual problems to the d Society but the work continued and the few remaining men left took on the extra responsibilities, for example Mr. Riley organised the blackout, Mr. Hambly provided the sand bags and the Chapel Steward obtained 6 buckets for the fire fighting. Mr. Riley's faith was strong enough during those dark days of war to propose at a Trustees meeting that arrangements should be made to celebrate the Chapel's Diamond Jubilee in 1944. Once again we have no record of these celebrations and the only information recorded in the local press around that time concerned the 1st Vale Scout Troop which met at the Chapel, Mr. Ken Monether acting as both Scout and Cub master. Don S. Bruce and K. Spilbury remember getting their musician's badge and acting E. Raynor, G. Robinson and P. Norton also gained badges that year.

During the war the morning services had been discontinued and only restarted in 1949 at the suggestion of Mr. Downey the Treasurer. This post war period seems to have been a difficult one for the members, the neglected repairs during the war now made the upkeep of the premises very urgent. The Trustees of the Vale agreed to raise £60 - £70, the members of the Dome were asked to double the amount and the Rank Trust were asked for £100. The Circuit also leant a hand in organising a Garden Party, the proceeds to be shared between Carrington Lane and Vicarage Lane. The Garden Party raised £241.1s.lld. In the middle of all the organisation the Treasurer, Mr. Downey had to leave the area and into the breach stepped Mr. Crowther of Hale who along with his wife and son have been good friends to the Vale over many years. He inherited a debit balance and this took a long time to clear and held up other needs like an electric blower for the organ. This was eventually installed in 1953. During the war the railings around the Church had been removed and the erection of the railings was the final act completing the renovating and decorating of the Church.

In 1955 the title of the Chapel was changed from Vicarage Lane to Bowdon Vale (Priory Street) Methodist Church. Three years later another tradition ended. Instead of the morning service at the Chapel Anniversary being held at the Dome they were now held at the Vale. In 1959 the minutes of the Trust record the death of Mr. J. Riley who had served the Church in all capacities for over 40 years and whose passing saddened the Church. The same year Ted Stephenson was nominated as Chapel Steward Lord buries his workers he raises others to take their place. The following year Mr. Barber who had taken on the truly as the role of the Treasurer as well as his position of Boys Brigade leader asked for someone else to take over the task and Mr. Les Soper was appointed. Mrs. Thomason was appointed Chapel Keeper and Mr. H. Smith To complete the change as Organist.

The 60's proved to be a time of growth at the Church. The new Minister Rev. Winchurch spoke of the congregation being doubled and the Youth work increasing the number of the young people in the Youth Club and Sunday School. The Youth work was undertaken by two newcomers to the area, Dr. Goldsworthy and Mr. Rutter. Both were local preachers and neighbours of Les Soper, (all three will be taking services during the Centenary Year). These increases also meant that the Church was paying its way and improve- ments and repairs to the Church were undertaken. It was a great shock to the members in 1966 when they heard the news that the Rev. Winchurch had died whilst preparing a sermon in his study. His work as a loved Pastor and preacher was reflected in the new spirit in the fellowship and his passing marked the end of the links with the Dome. His successor was Sister Gwen Appleton who had pastoral oversight of the societies at Bowdon Vale and Dunham. It was a very busy two years, a new Trust was formed, the heating of the Church was changed to electric and new furniture and fittings from the Broadheath and Dome Churches who had closed down, became available for use at Bowdon Vale. Plans were drawn up to reorganise the Church and improve the facilities by extending the premises. The work among the young people continued to grow and the congregation steadily grew. When Sister Gwen left she left behind a Society that was now well prepared for the biggest upheaval in its history. This took place in 1970 when the Rev. Roy Gillet was with us for 12 hectic months when thanks to his leadership and enthusiasm and faith and the work of Ted Stephenson and Les Soper as Chapel Steward and Treasurer and indeed all the members and friends of the Chapel the scheme went ahead, the Church was turned round, new rooms appeared and the old ones altered and we emerged a new and stronger society ready to try out new experiments in faith. Rev. Gillett left us before he saw the completion of the work and we hope that he will be able to visit us during 1983 to see the final results of his labours for which we shall always be thankful. The cost of the scheme was £4,000, and thanks to grants from the Chapel Department, the Dome Trustees, the Circuit and the hard work of the members it was cleared in two years. Our new Minister was the Rev. W. Wallbank and so began a very happy and supportive link with the Altrincham Church. Other changes took place during this time. Mr. P. Rainer who had been associated with the Society as a Trustee for 50 years died and Les Soper left the Vale to retire to Devon. He had served as Treasurer for 13 years, had been a regular member of our congregation and a well loved Local Preacher and as Circuit Steward had looked after the Vale's interest at Circuit level. The work of the Church continued to prosper, for three years running the J.M.A. collectors received the Circuit award for the biggest percentage increase which indicated the increasing numbers in the Sunday School and Youth Club. When the Methodist Home for the Aged opened in West Road, Bowdon members of the Church made contact with the staff and the first residents and so began a time of blessing to us all. We enjoyed the fellowship of the residents at our evening service and at the monthly services taken by Mr. Rutter and the children from the Sunday School at the home, so after a gap of almost 100 years Methodist services are held in West Road where it all began. One of our former Ministers, Rev. Price is a resident and one of our members, Mr. J. Prior became a resident of Handsworth where he celebrated his 100th birthday in 1975. In the same year we welcomed our present Minister Rev. J. Leech who has led us into new ventures such as the monthly House groups, regular family services, monthly Church rambles, family social evenings and the Christmas Eve Family service which each in their own way have added to the spiritual growth and fellowship of the Society. For the first time in our history we were registered for marriages and since then two of our former members of the Sunday School Elizabeth Mein and Pauline Thomason have been married in the Church.

In 1978 Mrs. Attenborrow retired as Secretary to the Church Council after serving as Secretary to the Leaders Meeting for 16 years. The following year the Dunham Church was closed and most of the members transferred their membership to the Vale. Their coming has enriched our Society and they have shared their experience and gifts to the benefit of us all. In 1981 the Society lost one of the pillars of our Church when Ted Stephenson died, the tribute recorded in the minutes of the Society expresses our thoughts 'he was an outstanding Christian, firm in faith, devoted in service, a credit to the Methodist Church which he served as s Society, Class Leader, Chapel Steward for 22 years and as a member since coming to live in Bowdon from the Lake District.


Bowdon Vale Methodist Church 1883-1983 history booklet

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