The Methodist Church - The Middle Years

Church Opening 1963 - Revd and Mrs Day and guard of honour

The Search for a Permanent Home

We find therefore an increasing incentive for the Society to obtain its own permanent place of worship and the Minute Book shows that as early as the end of November 1959, some nine weeks after the first meeting, active discussions were taking place concerning a site for the church.

At this time two sites were examined. The first was at Drovers Way on the proposed Cooks Southlake Estate. Members thought that this site was in a better situation than the other site which was located on the corner of Church Road and Duffield Road. This second site, with an area of half an acre was available for 1000.

An interesting indication of the small size of Woodley a quarter of a century ago is contained in the reason given for rejecting the Church Road site. The site was regarded as being on the outskirts of Woodley and it was not on an important bus route. It was thought however that it might eventually be in the centre of some future residential area.

A further possible site was kept in mind on the planned Wokingham Rural District Council Bulmershe Housing Estate.

Some months later, in early 1960, negotiations seemed to be dragging concerning the Cooks Drovers Way site, and a church member, Mr Rutter, offered a plot of his land adjacent to his home in the Ridgeway.

The Final Site is Found and Purchased

The Circuit was fortunate at this time in having on the Quarterly Meeting people who could help them by their profession in the choice of suitable building sites. As a result of their negotiations, the opportunity was made available to purchase a small plot of land on the large Wimpey estate at the junction of Arundel Road and Crockhamwell Road. This was a great offer because no one could have wished for a better position for the future church.

At the time the Building Fund for the new Woodley Church stood at 9900 which comprised 7500 from the sale of the Friar Street Chapel and 2400 from the sale of land belonging to Whitley Hall.

The Superintendent Minister, Rev A E Emerson then, with the approval of the Quarterly Meeting, lost no time in nominating a Trust composed partly of founder members and partly of Circuit members and they duly purchased the site towards the end of 1960. Further, they engaged the architect to prepare plans for a church on that site.

The time seemed ripe for the need for wider representation in the administration of the growing Society, and the small Church Council gave way to the more usual Leaders' Meeting. The responsibilities were increasing with the acquisition of the site and an architect, and now that he could prepare plans a quantity surveyor would be needed to prepare an estimate of the cost of the church.

The Circuit Quarterly Meeting agreed upon a financial scheme and the Woodley Society was asked, as its first target, to raise 500 as its part of the scheme.

Since the formation an account had been kept consisting of weekly collections from which was paid the rent for the Coronation Hall and the assessment to the Circuit Treasurer. The Circuit Stewards deliberately kept the assessment at a very low rate and not until the church was built were we asked for anything like a proportionate assessment.

Even so, sometimes the weekly collection was not enough to cover the rent and small assessment.

Now, however, new ways had to be found for money raising efforts to service a Building Fund and these took the form of having collecting boxes at home, of saving up old newspapers and storing until in sufficient quantity to bring a return. Even more serious efforts were needed to increase the money raising and the first Christmas Fair in 1961, followed by the second in 1962, provided a considerable inroad into the target of 500.

Rev C S Day moved to a new appointment in 1961, after taking his last service on August 13th, and so was not able to see the construction in progress. He and Mrs Day will always be remembered for the great encouragement they gave, acknowledged when they later returned for the opening of the building.

He was succeeded by Rev G Webber from Andover as Minister of the two churches, who entered the Circuit on 29th August 1961.

Invitations had always been received from Cumberland Road to join them in mid-week fellowships as a gesture of support and a more successful link occurred when Cumberland Road Church produced a monthly news magazine which contained contributions from Woodley.

By this time the estimated cost of the church including the site and fees was stated to be 19604. Future assets expected to amount to 19250 including grants and the efforts of the Reading Circuit.

Reading Circuit had set itself a target of raising 1000 within 18 months.

As encouragement to further commitment a sign now appeared on the site facing Crockhamwell Road which proudly announced "Site for new Methodist Church". Church construction was planned to commence in June 1961 with, hopefully, the stone-laying ceremony in September 1961 and completion in September 1962.

Late in 1961 a setback occurred when the site which had a tendency towards being marshy was shown to be waterlogged. It was discovered there was a spring that fed the remains of a small stream, which had once flowed across the site. Land drain pipes were laid down where the old watercourse crossed the site so that it would not give any trouble when the time came to lay the church foundations. The cost of this drainage was in the region of 100.

Church Life Develops Despite the Lack of a Building

The church activities carried on expanding with the Girl's Life Brigade being formed and meeting at the Vines' home for the first time on 21st February 1962, and receiving their certificate from Major Milsom on 4th April. Mr Woods was looking into the question of forming a Cub or Scout unit.

Problems were still being encountered with the church services at Coronation Hall and investigations were going ahead to use Beechwood Junior School. The Headmaster and Managers were anxious to help with temporary church accommodation, but apparently did not have the approval of the school caretaker!

Finances alter church plans

Tenders had been received for the construction of the church but even the lowest one was well above the ceiling figure for the financial scheme, and drastic economies had to be made to the design to reduce costs. These included a simplification of landscaping features; deletion of the separate Minister's Vestry at the Crockhamwell Road end of the church and the contracting in size of the Meeting Room so that other ancillary rooms could be moved into that area and the capacity of the building space thereby reduced.

A new tender based on these reductions and modifications was received and a contract was let in the summer of 1962.

It is interesting to note that not only did the architect's plans make provision for a future building extension but also a future manse, since at that time it was thought that a future minister serving churches at the eastern end of the Circuit would be more central at Woodley than at the existing manse in Hamilton Road, Reading.

However, as time passed a re-deployment of ministerial staff for churches in the eastern end occurred and on economic grounds it was found better to purchase a ready built house for the manse rather than build a new one on the church site, so the new manse came to be in Pitts Lane, Earley.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is realised what a sound decision was taken in the Circuit at that time because had there been a manse on the site there could not have been the ecumenical new Christ Church on anything like its present size.

Stone Laying

A landmark in the history of Woodley Methodist Church was reached at the Stone-Laying ceremony carried out by Mrs Bulpitt, a past member of the old Friar Street Church. This took place on 29th September 1962, only three years after that first service in the Coronation Hall.

By the end of 1962 church membership stood at 43. Cubs were experiencing serious difficulties in obtaining accommodation and approached Beechwood School for help. The 9/- (45p) nightly charge by Beechwood was thought to be excessive but it was agreed to accept this for a trial period, but after about eight weeks was discontinued. It had been found that not only were the costs too high to be maintained but also the meetings could not start earlier than 6.30 p.m. Cub meetings were held in abeyance although fortnightly house meetings were held to keep the boys' interest.

However there were still successes to be seen; Sunday School now had 65 scholars, Girls' Life Brigade had 17 members and moves were afoot to provide an electronic organ for the church. Mr Woods and Mr Redman had offered to build an organ for 300, thus saving some 200 on a normal purchase, and a grant of 50 was made by the Society to enable the work to commence. In addition an Organ Fund was set up and within three months had reached 110, increasing to 133 some 10 weeks later.

At this period services were held at Loddon Bridge Secondary Modern School, a change which had occurred in April 1962. For two and a half years services had been held at the Coronation Hall which, despite its various failings, had served well enough. By moving to Loddon Bridge School it was possible to hold Sunday School at the same time as the service. In any case the Sunday School had grown so that its various departments needed separate rooms and the school afforded space to do that. The Society was to remain there for one and a half years before the church building was ready for use, and the school was used on the final occasion when it provided catering facilities for the celebrations when the church was opened on 21st September 1963.

Equipping the Church

A sum of 100 had been set aside for equipping the new church with moveable seats and furnishings etc. The 200 chairs needed for the church was probably the largest cost item. Perhaps at this point it might be of interest to remember the prices of those days:

stackable chairs, metal framed                                    2-14s-11d each
200 were purchased from Methodist Central Buying Assoc. for       549-3s-4d
Minister's vestry desk from Holmes, Reading                        19-4s-0d
50 small chairs and 10 small tables, Sunday School                 87-2s-6d
Crockery for the kitchen was purchased by the ladies and included:
  1 gross cups, saucers and plates                                 23-1s-9d
  1 doz. each of cake plates, sugar bowls and cream jugs           4-1s-11d

Many other items for the kitchen including the all important tea urn and enamel teapots etc were bought for equally low prices. These items were supplied mostly by P J Drew, Reading.

It was not possible to buy ready-made full length curtains which the architect envisaged for curtaining off the church communion area and so provide sanctity to that part when the building was used in its dual role of meeting hall. Joyce Ayres volunteered to be seamstress and it was through her efforts that these curtains were fitted in time for the church opening. The savings to the church can be judged from the price list of the materials she used:

	26 yards Rufflette tape        19s-6d
	24 yards of Bolton Twill   11-18s-0d
	24 yards of Repp            24-2s-0d

All these materials were bought from Holmes, Reading.

The target of raising 500 for the church had been achieved in time for the Opening Day, although almost immediately a request would be received to increase it to 1500 since the Trust was not yet out of debt.

Opening Day

Church Opening 1963 - Mrs Day with the door key (photo from Revd George Sales seen on right)

The church was opened and dedicated at 4:00 pm on Saturday 21st September 1963. The start time was advertised as 3:45, so that the congregation could be seated by 3:50, when the doors were locked ready for the door opening cermenoy to start the service.

The recently formed Scout troop made a guard of honour for the ministers, special visitors and officials as they walked in procession to the main door of the church.

The arctitect, Mr Daniel G Higgs, passed the key to Mrs C S Day who opened the doors and passed the key on to the Superintendent Minister with a request to dedicate the church.

Order of Service

The electronic organ had been completed in time and was used throughout the day.

Officiating clergy were:

A Circuit Rally was held at the new church at 6:30 in the evening, following a buffet tea at 5:15 at the Secondary Modern School, Loddon Bridge Road. At the rally, held under the chairmanship of Mr F Masterman, the speakers were the Rev G Sails BD, Rev A E Emerson MA BD and Mr E J S Beckley JP (Trust Treasurer).

At the end of a great day church members could stand and be justly proud of a fine achievement. Probably for those who had attended that very first meeting in the Coronation Hall in October 1959, the four intervening years must on occasions have seemed interminable, but the Rev C S Day had promised it would be a wonderful experience for them and so it proved to be.

End of the church building

Woodley Methodist Church Develops with Help from the Reading Circuit

The Circuit had entrusted to these members the formation of a new Methodist Society. They did not ask whether the members had held previous office in the church. Many of the members were 'untried' and they took up their positions with some trepidation.

The Circuit knew this and they gave the members all the support they could, especially by inviting experienced people to become members of the first Trust, in particular Mr E J S Beckly who became Trust treasurer, where his knowledge and business experience were invaluable when it came to the payments and settlements due to the contractor, quantity surveyor and architect. This certainly relieved the pressure on the church treasurer, Mr J Daglish.

Many people had offered their talents and time to increase contributions and a pattern of church efforts included the Annual Gift Day and the Christmas Fair, but also there were the personal efforts of many others such as Ivy Hawkins and Rita Morris, who organised regular coffee mornings in their homes and Mr & Mrs Earle Crome who organised a contribution scheme; Dick Heatherington kept people on their toes with various fund raising purchases and also collecting boxes. There was also the occasional rummage sale to swell the funds.

The church was built and in use but matters did not stand still. In view of the large numbers of children attending Sunday School it was found necessary to meet in two sessions. It was necessary therefore to proceed with plans to extend the church buildings. This is descibed in a later section.

The Organ

The organ built by Mr Woods and Mr Redman continued in service until February 1972. By then it needed very frequent tuning as its valves had begun to age. Mr Woods devoted a great deal of time to this task while he lived in the area, and even travelled back a few times from Aylesbury to help the organists with the tuning.

However the Church decided that the time had come to look at alternatives. After some investigation by some of our organists, (yes, we had a rota of serving organists even then!), the choice was decided by a side-by-side comparison of the two best instruments found. The Allen was chosen. It was the baby of the range, yet was still a substantial purchase for the congregation at that time. Those who gathered to hear the two organs clearly felt our worship would benefit most from that choice. It also had the great advantage of new technology which meant that it never needed tuning. The research that made such stability possible was, surprisingly, a spin-off from the American space program.

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Page last updated 11th June 2020.

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