Twenty five years ago the three Methodist Churches of Chester-le-Street, Central, Durham Road and Station Road were amalgamated into one.
After extensive renovation the building of the Central was transformed and renamed the Chester-le-Street Methodist Church.
The first chapel was built in or about the year 1787. There is no record of where this building was but it is thought that it may have been a rented room possibly in Bland's Opening or it may have occupied a site in Low Chare and may have been pulled down or incorporated in when that place was built. This church was built in 1807 and seated 400 people and according to records was well attended. The site is now occupied by the Salvation Army.
When Chester-le-Street became head of a Wesleyan Circuit in 1873 it was agreed to build a new church. The site in Station Road, was bought from Lord Durham in 1879 and the foundation and corner stones of the new building were laid on Easter Monday, 29th March, 1880. The building proceeded at a good rate and the opening ceremony took place on Wednesday, 1st December, 1880.
Central was the third church for Methodists in this part of the town. The first was in Middle Chare and the second, built in 1860, was in Bland's Opening. It was out of the way and bitterly cold. Also, there were no street lights in those days and street cleaning and sanitation was in a very backward state.
When the sale of Prospect House was advertised in the town, a decision was made to bid for it.. Despite having no money and owing £25 on the Bland's Opening building the site and existing house were purchased for £650. The Bland's Opening site was sold for £240, the balance of which after the £25 debt was cleared was all that was left for the new enterprise. The purchase was made in 1882 and four years later the school and classrooms were erected at a cost, including the site, of £2200.
When the school and rooms were completed the Trustees were faced with a debt of £1000, but the new premises were modern and warm and in spite of the debt it was decided to build a church which was begun in 1901 and completed in 1902 at a cost of £3300. It was opened on 8th October, 1903. The organ was presented to the church by Mr. Thomas Wright in 1903 and the clock was installed in the clock tower later the same year and was paid for by public subscription.
Early in 1898 it was decided by some people that the school room at Central was becoming over crowded and they decided to start a "Mission" at the south end of the town. Rooms were rented in Red Rose Terrace and by the 1st June, membership totalled 47.
In 1900, new and larger premises were needed and a site on Front Street was obtained and an iron building, popularly known as the "Tin Chapel" was erected. at a total cost of £505. This was all paid for in less than four years and because of increased membership, funds began to be accumulated for another new chapel.
In 1904, Mr. Thomas Wright offered the gift of a site on the corner of Kensall Well Fields, Durham Road. The following year was one of great activity with members assisting in the clearing of the site and the actual building work proceeded rapidly. Foundation stones were laid on the 21st June, 1905 and the new church was opened on the 24th March, 1906 at a cost of £2800. After the opening ceremony, those present were given the opportunity to climb the tower and view the surrounding countryside for a charge of 3d.
Looking more closely at the three churches, we start with the oldest, Station Road This was also the largest, a three storeyed building. It had a magnificent two storeyed church above a large kitchen and schoolroom. There were three services held each Sunday. There was morning worship at 10.30 a.m., a Sunday School at 2.00 p.m. and an evening service at 6.00 p.m. There was also a prayer meeting after the evening service.
From 1950 onwards there was a Youth Fellowship held every Sunday evening. The weekday services, which were all held in the lower school room were as follows:
|Monday Afternoon||Women's Bright Hour|
|Monday Evening||Wesley Guild|
|Wednesday Evening||Young Wives|
|Thursday Evening||Boys Brigade and Choir Practise|
|Friday Evening||Youth Club|
Every year, there was a Sunday School trip to Tynemouth by train, which of course nowadays, would be very expensive to organise. Also every year, the Sunday School Anniversary was held on the first Sunday in May. It was held on a platform which was put up in the church. There was a yearly Choir outing and Celebrity concerts were held in the church Amongst those appearing were Sandy Macpherson, the Blackpool organist, Len Hutton, the cricketer, Doris Arnold, from BBC Childrens' Hour and Victoria Elliott, from the Carl Rosa Opera. There were many other concerts and social evenings held in the school room. In 1959 there was a production of "A Christmas Carol".
Around 1947 Circuit Eisteddfods were begun by the Reverend L. Brown. These were very popular and 150 young people used to take part.
I am grateful to my friend, Mrs. Mary Elliott, for her memories of Station Road.
The second church we look at is Central. Once again there were three services on a Sunday. As at Station Road there was Morning Worship at 10.30 a.m., a Sunday School at 2.00 p.m., and Evening Worship at 6.00 p.m. There was a Womens' Meeting on a Monday afternoon, Choir practice was usually on a Thursday evening as at Station Road. There were numerous other social evenings and events held in the church and the lower schoolroom.
Every year there was a Sunday School trip to Whitley Bay by coach. Fares used to be 4 shillings for adults, 2 shillings and 6 pence for children not attending the Sunday School and free for children who attended the Sunday School. As at Station Road, the Sunday School Anniversary was held on a platform which was put up in the church. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Sunday School members would tour the local streets, the week before the Anniversary, with a harmonium, singing some of the songs in the forthcoming Anniversary.
My memories of these times are somewhat hazy as I joined the Sunday School at the age of 5, being taken to the bottom of West Lane by my mother and met there by Joe and Iris Kendal who took me down to the Sunday School, this was in the year 1955.
The one church which I do not have much information about is Durham Road. The schoolroom of this church was not opened until 3rd April, 1954. As at Central and Station Road, it was used for many meetings including a Youth Club. In the early 1960s, several pantomimes were produced by the members and the young people.
Sunday Services were held at 10.45 a.m. for Morning Worship, 2.00 p.m. for Sunday School and 6.00 p.m. for Evening Worship. On Monday Evening there was a Men's Fellowship, Tuesday evening was Christian Endeavour, Wednesday afternoon was Women's Sisterhood, Thursday Evening was Choir Practice and on Friday evening there was a Junior Mixed Club as well as a Youth Club.
This photograph of Durham Road Methodist Church comes from the front cover of their 50th Jubilee Souvenir brochure published in 1956.
The church has not changed very much since this photograph was taken. It is now used by the Assembly of God church who bought it shortly after it came up for sale when the three churches united.
This photograph of Central Methodist Church comes from the front cover of the 50th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet published in 1952. This time, the view has changed dramatically over the years. When the three churches united in 1979, refurbishment of both the front of the church and the interior took place so that it could accommodate the worshippers from all three churches.
The original pews were removed and replaced with seats both in the main church and the choir stalls. Development of the market place area in front of the church has completely altered the view that you see.
Just out of shot from this picture, to the bottom left was the town's War Memorial which in the 1970s was removed to the grounds of the Parish Church and a small obelisk was placed opposite..
This photograph of Station Road Methodist church is the oldest of the photographs. It dates from around about 1900 and was taken from the town's railway station. You can clearly see how large a church it was, with the kitchen and lower school room level just visible.
This view has also changed dramatically. Development of the railway station, the area in the foreground of the picture which is known as Turnbull's Field and Station Road itself have altered this view beyond all recognition. The church, when originally sold, was a furniture warehouse before it was bought by the Jehovah's Witnesses for their Kingdom Hall. There are now plans to turn the church into a private house.