Bishop Auckland Central Primitive Methodist Church and Schools
Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine in the series “Our New Churches” by Ben C. Spoor
The erection of the Central Church and Schools in Bishop Auckland is striking evidence of the growth of Primitive Methodism in the town. Eighty-six years ago William Clowes preached here in a stable loft in Bondgate, and the gradual evolution of the Church in influence and effectiveness is very fittingly indicated in the marked development which has taken place in its buildings. From the humble loft to the magnificent structure of to-day is a far cry and the transition covers a period full of that quiet unselfish enthusiasm which is really the mainspring of all progress. Those early years of struggle and persistent effort in which the foundations of our cause were laid, when shall their full story be told? Histories may be written, known facts may be chronicled, but is the true record ever revealed to those of a later day? No, not to us is it given to get behind events to their primary causes; not ours to tear aside the veil which hides the soul-life of men and to see there impulses which crystalise into service and result in the external organisations which in their turn quicken impulses in others. All we can say is that the organisation of Primitive Methodism in our town has advanced, it has moved far beyond what its pioneers even dreamed of, and to-day occupies an established position and wields an influence for good over a rapidly widening circle.
In the year 1842 the Society moved to a small chapel in William Street and in 1869 the Tenters Street Church was opened. This was undoubtedly a very great forward move and placed a heavy demand on the self-sacrifice of our people; a demand, however, to which they proved themselves fully equal. Under the guidance of a capable ministry and with the co-operation of an energetic membership, the Church continued to enlarge the sphere of its activities to such an extent that further development was assured. It is interesting to note that we have still in active work in the Tenters Street Church two men, Mr. John Binks and Mr. John Brown, who were connected with the Church in William Street. The first named has been a local preacher for a very long period, and has a distinct remembrance of some of the very early days, and many are the stories he can tell of the glorious experience’s of that time.
Whilst the idea of a new and larger building had been in the minds of the members for many years it did not find practical expression until during the ministry of the Rev. G.R. Bell in the year 1900. In that year a large site was purchased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at a very advantageous price, and a New Church Fund was started. Now that the scheme was fairly under weigh the members and friends entered into it with great enthusiasm, so that, when the Rev. W. Younger, who succeeded Mr. Bell, suggested a much more ambitious scheme than had previously been thought of, they decided to adopt his suggestion. Mr. T.E. Davidson, of London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was engaged as architect, plans were decided upon, and on May 19th, 1902, the foundation stones were laid. It is worthy of note that on that day over £1,200 was raised, a sum which we imagine constitutes a record for a Church of our numerical strength. At the opening services in October, 1903, over £800 was secured, so that from the first the financial success of the project seemed practically certain. Altogether nearly £5,000 has already been raised, and, though we still have facing us a debt of slightly over £3,000, we feel perfectly confident of our ability to cope with it. It needs to be remembered that although the money which has been secured includes a few handsome donations from fortunate and generous friends, it is in the main part made up of the gifts of working people. In fact the most delightful feature in connection with the scheme, viewed from its financial side, is the unstinted generosity, involving much sacrifice, which the rank and file of the Church have manifested. It is essentially a people’s Church; it has been conceived and carried to a successful issue by truly democratic sentiment and practice, and, through the years of effort which preceded and succeeded its erection, the people have worked together in a unity born of a real devotion to a common cause.
As an instance of the practical zeal which the cause inspired, it may be mentioned here that the Church unanimously decided from the first to have no pew rents. When it is remembered that very serious financial liabilities confronted us the significance of this decision will be realised.
Of course, it is not surprising that, under the leadership of the Rev. W. Younger, enthusiasm was intensified. Mr. Younger is one of those men who has the knack of kindling in a marked degree the interest of all those with whom they come in contact and the great work he has done in connection with the building of this Church will not soon be forgotten. His unfailing optimism and resistless energy infected all the workers, and it is undoubtedly due very largely to his personal influence and example that a project of such “amazing audacity ” was so brilliantly pioneered.
And now a word or two as to the Church Buildings. These stand in a large plot of ground adjoining the main thoroughfare in one of the pleasantest parts of the town and are built throughout of local stone. They comprise Church and School with five classrooms, large lecture hall, minister’s vestry, etc. The general architecture may be described as a free treatment of Gothic. The ground plan of the Church follows the usual design of ecclesiastical buildings, which is a development of the Romanesque, and consists of nave with side and centre aisles, two transepts and chancel. Above the vestibule is a small gallery, and adjoining the chancel is an organ chamber. The pews and gallery front are of varnished pitch pine, the ceiling is of unpolished pitch pine with heavy stained cross-beams. The pulpit, communion rail, and choir front are of oak, as also is the organ case. The two-manual organ was built by the well-known makers, Messrs. Binns of Leeds, at a cost of £500. The windows, which are of delicately tinted glass in leaded squares, have a delightful effect, and add considerably to the beauty of the building. The church and school are connected at the rear by a spacious corridor. In architecture the school follows the general plan of the church, with, of course, such modifications as its special requirements necessitate. It is admirably equipped throughout, is light and airy, and the class-rooms and lecture-hall, which are separated from it by sliding partitions, provide every facility for efficient work. The seating accommodation of the church is for 600 persons, and the school for 400.
Needless to say the whole of the internal fittings and furnishings are in harmony with the general design, and the external appearance of the premises is certainly equal to anything we have seen in Primitive Methodism.
We are justly proud of our Church. It represents an enormous advance not merely in financial resource and numerical strength but also in the more subtle spiritual quality which we term “artistic sense.”
Of course this great work has needed workers. We have already referred to the enthusiasm of our members, but special mention deserves to be made of a few men who have contributed in a marked degree to our success. Our Society Steward, Mr. A. Heslop, has been indefatigable in his efforts and has, together with Mr. N. Holden, the assistant steward, Mr. W.H. Hamflett, Mr. H. Curtis, Mr. E. Keen, Mr. J.J. Spoor, the late Mr. Andrew Mein, and in fact the full body of trustees, very energetically laboured to ensure success. And that success has crowned our efforts. The most sanguine expectations are being splendidly realised. Although the Tenters Street Church has been retained and is doing a very good work, the “Central” is increasing its congregation and revenue month by month. The Rev. B.A. Barber has already proved himself to be an excellent successor to the Rev. W. Younger, and with his colleague the Rev. T.A. Brown is leaving no stone unturned to build up in association with this very beautiful structure that permanent and abiding Church of character and spiritual experience which shall live on when the earthly temple, its passing expression, shall have ceased to be.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/299