The Methodist Church - The Early Years

Well Cottage and site of Christ Church c1910

The first moves towards a Methodist church in Woodley

It was through the foresight of the people in the Reading Circuit that the Woodley Methodist Church came into being. (Woodley was fast developing into an urban area. At this period Berkshire was the fastest developing county in England, and Woodley was the most rapidly developing area within the County. The large property developers started to move in around the mid 1950s, soon after the area received mains drainage. From this time various housing estates started to spring up in different parts of Woodley. Each estate was developed as an independent housing complex with, at first, little regard for the provision of amenities for the increasing population.)

For some time the need for a Methodist Church in Woodley had been realised by the Reading Circuit officers, and it was largely through their foresight that the Woodley Church eventually came into being, and it was the closing of the Friar Street Church in Reading which provided the opportunity.

At this period, Methodists living in Woodley had to travel to Reading to attend Wesley Church at Queen's Road or Cumberland Road Church. Bus services from Woodley were very scant and of course private cars were not so plentiful in those days. It required quite an effort to attend these churches for Sunday service and the difficulty in travelling even these relatively short distances tended to discourage Woodley members from attending other meetings during the week.

By 1959 the possibility of a Methodist church in Woodley was being discussed and then, with the authority of the Circuit Quarterly Meeting, Rev C S Day, minister of Cumberland Road Church, began visiting those people who could be interested in forming a new Society of Methodists.

Contacting and visiting the interested parties took the Rev Day quite a considerable time, and as few of the people invited by him were known to each other there was a natural curiosity and maybe apprehension prior to that first meeting.

The first meeting of Methodists in Woodley

The venue for the first meeting was to be the Coronation Hall, and the Parish Council (it was to be some years before it was elevated to Town Council) allowed its use on Sundays at a very small rent sufficient to cover their costs. To keep these costs to the minimum the caretaker was not to be involved. And so, on Sunday 4th October 1959 at 6:30 in the evening, the first service of the Methodist Church in Woodley took place.

It might be added that this first meeting was not without a behind-the-scenes hitch. A founder member, Mr Dalgleish, remembers calling at Coronation Hall in the late afternoon, prior to this meeting, to discover that the hall was not ready but he was fortunate in being able to arrange the seating etc. in time for the service. Obviously, as agreed in the terms of hire, the caretaker's services were definitely not involved!

The service went well and it was reported that everyone appeared pleased and no doubt relieved that they had all finally met face to face. After the service an informal business meeting was held and a small Church Council was appointed from the 26 or so people present. In addition, some stewards were appointed who would ensure that the hall was prepared for use each Sunday - no more last minute hitches! A collection was held and, at that very first foundation meeting 3-3s-10d was raised. Rent charge for the Coronation Hall was 17s-6d, so a comfortable amount remained. However it was to be a further three years before the weekly church collections regularly equalled this initial sum. Most weeks achieved only about half this sum.

For some time after this first service it was not possible to plan too far ahead because of the rudimentary nature of things and the delicate finances.

Our debt to the former Friar Street church

For the Coronation Hall services a desk-top lectern from the Friar Street Chapel, Reading formed the pulpit with a brass cross set on a table at the front of the stage.

Some six weeks after the first meeting of the Woodley Methodist Society it is noted in the Minute Book that "120 has been transferred to Woodley Church from the Friar Street Church funds which are now closed." A sense of relief is apparent when a comment adds that this will considerably ease the financial strain of Coronation Hall rents and the purchase of Hymn Books. It is also noted that the congregation is averaging about twenty people and most of these are deemed to be young people. The first family service took place some weeks later when, just prior to Christmas, an afternoon Carol Service was held on 13th December 1959.

The pitfalls of hired premises

Whilst the services were always conducted with proper care and reverence, the conditions were not ideal as, although the Church had the sole use of the hall, the surrounding rooms could be in use at the same time by other organisations. If, for instance, the Drama Group were making stage scenery for one of their productions whilst our preacher was delivering his sermon, a great deal of unintentional embarrassment could be caused. Also in the summertime the stewards might be on tenterhooks in case the cricket team had not left the room they were using to change in before we needed it as a vestry for the preacher. We did our best to avoid overlapping by having our summer services at 8:00 p.m. Another disadvantage was that of a small congregation in a large hall. Normally about 40 chairs would be placed in front of the stage but this left a large open area at the rear.

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Page last updated 26th October 2007.

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