Hebburn High Lane Row Primitive Methodist Chapel, Co. Durham

High Lane Row PM Chapel, Hebburn, Co. Durham
Bede Circuit Archive Collections
Sunday School in High Lane Row PM Chapel, Hebburn 1940
Bede Circuit Archive Collections
Hebburn Colliery (High Lane Row) PM Chapel Sunday School Banner (now in private hands)
Richard Jennings
The former chapel in 2016
Elaine & Richard Pearce
The former chapel in 2016
Elaine & Richard Pearce

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  • This society, more correctly known as Hebburn Colliery PM, has its beginnings in the Hutton Rudby Circuit, Hull in January 1823. John Branfoot, the young preacher sent out by that Circuit to the northeast, began by preaching in Gateshead in August 1821 before moving on to South Shields in December of the same year. He then went on to Jarrow in January 1822 and to Hebburn Colliery in the summer of 1823. The response of the Hebburn people to the message that Branfoot preached was deep-rooted and fervent. Within his journal he records that just 9 months after his arrival – on 7th March 1824, to be exact – a further 24 people made spiritual decisions and became attached to the Hebburn Colliery society. When the South Shields Circuit was formed on 9th December 1823, John Branfoot became the first Circuit Superintendent. Another early day preacher from the Hull Circuit, was Thomas Nelson and he also spent time at Hebburn in 1823. Nelson was exclusively an outdoor preacher who attracted large congregations.

    The society at Hebburn had actually begun in January 1823 and by March of that year there were six classes with a total membership of 100 persons. The members however, were like many of their contemporaries in that a chapel was out of the question. Their meager earnings were just sufficient (and often not) to sustain daily life and it was therefore not within their means to contribute to the raising of a building specifically for worship. Early meetings were held in the homes of members – pit cottage kitchens – with furniture adapted to serve as appropriate.

    The centenary history of the chapel, includes a copy of the earliest known (at that time) plan to exist for the South Shields Circuit – from 1828 – and shows Hebburn as the second place on the plan. The original of this plan was, in 1923, in private hands, unfortunately, the oldest now within the county archives is for just prior to 1900. This old plan shows the vast extent of the Circuit, an area which included South Shields, Hebburn, Jarrow, Chester le Street, Temple Town (another area of South Shields), Boldon, Pelton, Novascotia (now Harraton) Chatershaugh, Oxclose, Galloping Green (Eighton Banks), Bill Quay, Hawk Nest, Washington, Plawsworth, Ouston, Vigo and Wheatley Green with four additional mission places holding week-night services.

    Hugh Bourne, one of the founders of Primitive Methodism, paid a visit to Hebburn Colliery in 1829 traveling, as he did, on foot. His host whilst in the village was one Thomas Shillaw, a local preacher, who resided at Cross Row. Bourne’s only complaint during his stay was directed at his host’s wife who had laid a number of blankets on the bed to stave off the cold but Bourne preferred a couple of sheets only and made this known to his hosts the following morning.

    In 1837, with a considerably more substantial society, the Hebburn members decided that it was no longer viable to meet in members’ homes and rented accommodation in a school run by Miss Barnfather located at 3 Quality Row. These premises were used for about 6 years until the opening of the first chapel.

    In 1843, the members decided that it was time that they had a chapel of their own. The members decided to solicit contributions for the chapel from local farmers and “well to do persons in the neighbourhood” but the Circuit Quarterly meeting suggested contacting the owner of the local colliery, James Easten, instead. This proved to be most worthwhile and resulted in the erection of a chapel on the western end site of Cross Row, an old house being demolished to make way for the new building. The street later became known as Chapel Row. A description of this building was provided in the society’s 100th anniversary lecture:

    “You got into it by a somewhat narrow door on the west side, the pulpit was fixed against the orth wall and with the exception of a singers pew and three other pews on each side of the building, forms with backs supplied the sitting accommodation. The floor boasted no linoleum, but instead was bricked out and liberally sanded.. As the colliery chapel was built before the era of electric light, tallow dips provided the illumination when light was required.”

    On 8th March 1872, the “General Havelock Tent” of the Independent Order of Rechabites was founded at the chapel and it was through this that the Durham Rechabite District was formed. James Patterson, then aged 18, was present at the meeting and served Primitive Methodism for 52 years.

    In 1859, an accident occurred at the ‘A’ Pit when the tubbing gave way and the mine was flooded. The men employed at the pit lost their jobs though were fortunate to find work at others within the district. The effect on the chapel was significant in that vast numbers left the village and membership dropped to just four women. The Sunday School, which had been one of the strongest departments of the church, was completely wiped out. Nevertheless, these four women – Jane Richardson, Mary Dawson, Jane Laverick and Mary Ann Wilkinson struggled on and managed to keep the chapel going.

    At that time, a young man named William P Huntley came to reside in the village. On visiting the chapel and seeing the desperate state of affairs, he took it upon himself to do something to rectify matters. The singing, previously led by the string band, had now resorted to spoken hymns spoken, because there was no-one to strike up the tune and lead the singing. Huntley took up the violin and, following a few lessons from Thomas Eddy of Temple Town Chapel (South Shields), was able to provide some musical accompaniment. At the request of the members, he canvassed the village and succeeded in getting together a small choir made up of young people and a few fiddlers to aid the music.

    A Sunday School was formed and George Huntley, (later associated with Heworth Lane Chapel) William’s father, became superintendent. Gradually, matters improved though there was still a general lack of funds. The interior and exterior of the building required attention and, with some difficulty, the members managed to collect £3 to paint both inside and out. The interior, previously dirty, was cleaned up and, to counteract the roughs who caused rowdyism in the services and tried to smash the windows, William Huntley would stand guard at the door.

    In many of the earliest chapels, in the days before harmoniums and well before the advent of universal acceptance of pipe organs, the “singers” were accompanied by a band – usually a string band. This was also the case at Hebburn Colliery. The singers were led by George Short who was later connected to the Dog Bank Row Chapel in Jarrow whilst the music was provided by Michael Watson and James Willis on violin and Richard Brack on double bass fiddle. The Brack’s were well known within Primitive Methodism in this area and their names crop up many times in connection with a number of chapels. James Brack, brother of Richard, was born at Hebburn Colliery on 30th November 1845 and by 1923, had been connected with the Primitives for 61 years. It wasn’t until the opening of the High Lane Row Chapel that an harmonium was brought into use, of which more later.

    The Chapel Row chapel, of course, belonged to the colliery owners – like many others – so when the congregation moved on to new premises, these were handed back to the owners without any financial gain on the property by the Connexion. For many years it was used as a store for pit gear before being renovated in 1923 and becoming the Salvation Army Hall. In 1874 a scheme was commenced for the erection of a new chapel resulting in the foundation stones being laid in 1875. In November of the same year, Andrew Latimar the South Shields Circuit Superintendent preached the opening sermons. It is interesting to note, that his son-in-law, Rev. Edward W Challenger was, in the 1920s, superintendent of the Jarrow Circuit. Mrs Challenger was known throughout the district as an excellent soloist.

    The new building was erected, with subsequent additions, at a cost of £1,042 to a design by Thomas Southron of South Shields, himself a local preacher. The building was opened in 1875 and registered for worship on 17th December of that year. In the 1913 PM Quarterly Guide for the Jarrow and South Shields Circuits, it states that there was just £20 debt remaining on the chapel. This was paid off in that same year when the church membership consisted of 41 Members, 27 teachers and 153 scholars. By the time of the Society’s 100th birthday, the chapel could boast 55 members on the roll with a further two PM Chapels operating in the area. The Sunday School consisted of 230 children attended by 32 teachers and, in addition an active Christian Endeavour Society was in operation.

    Jacob Johnson jun. was for sometime the harmoniumist at High Lane Row, being succeeded by George Tibboe. On Good Friday, 11th April 1906, a pipe organ built by Nelson & Co. of Durham, was opened by Mrs Glenny of Jarrow amidst much rejoicing. Funds for the organ were obtained, in part, from the Carnegie Trust – Andrew Carnegie having an interest in pipe organs. It is recorded that “things changed considerably for the better when the.. organ was installed”. It is also noted that “the old American organ had every disease an organ could have. It was broken winded and weak voiced and probably died of premature senile decay”. The congregation certainly did not mourn its loss! George Gouldburn became the first organist followed after his early death by his brother, Matt. The 1973, 150th anniversary booklet makes reference to the important job of organ blower – often overlooked! Fortunately, High Lane Row were never short of youngsters keen to fill this position and amongst those mentioned who did this duty are George Lee, William Lee, George Allen, Laverick Nicholson, George Hinds and Robert Robinson. The position was made redundant in 1935 when an electric blower was installed. The chapel also boasted a good choir, led at various times by amongst others Wilfred Kirton, William Trelease and Thomas Fenwick. Perhaps the highlight of the chapel choir’s existence was the taking part in the Festival of Praise broadcast from Newcastle City Hall in 1947 when the Methodist Conference met at Newcastle.

    1922 witnessed the beginnings of the Women’s Own Meetings which were to continue until April 1974. The first president was Mrs Holmes whose husband, Walter, was a local preacher and who was employed in a managerial post at Foster Blackett’s Paint Works. The Women’s Own did sterling service throughout its history and it is fortunate that their Minute Books survive.

    A new vestry was added to the chapel in the 1920s and also a wooden hut which served as a church hall. This was dismantled from the Barium Chemical Co. at Jarrow in 1925, after being purchased for £50. The ground on which the hall was to stand had to be levelled and, once transported to Hebburn, the building had to be put up. It was here that the young men of the chapel provided their time and labour freely and soon the new building was ready to receive heating and lighting whilst a false roof was installed to conserve heat. The new hall allowed the chapel to develop its social life more fully and also the provision of extra activities such as the Young Men’s Bible Class formed by William J Franks.

    The Methodist Union of 1932, brought about changes which resulted in two Jarrow Circuits existing for four years – the Jarrow Circuit and the St.John’s Circuit. These were brought together in 1936 and added five ex-Wesleyan and two ex-United Methodist churches into the Circuit, the total strength of which was eighteen churches and chapels. High Lane Row remained in the Jarrow Circuit throughout.

    On 12th March 1938, a new Trust was established consisting of: William James Franks, John George Buddle, Frank James Lennon, William Fenwick, Henry Brown, Francis Wappat, Joseph Curtis Franks, Albert John Franks, William Lee, Ivy Isabell Fenwick, Thomas Fenwick, William Main, Austin Riley, John George Straffen, Eleanor Blenkinsop, William Watson Maddison, James Breeze, Ralph Porter and Margaret Ann Young.

    The Second World War brought its fair share of difficulties to the chapel. Services were initially held in the afternoons until arrangements could be made to meet the blackout regulations. These first of all consisted of painting the chapel windows with black paint (which took a long time to remove later). The chapel suffered considerable bomb-blast damage in late 1939 to the roof and organ when bombs fell in the nearby Blackett Street area. Whilst repairs were carried out the chapel members met at the School Street Chapel and, from 1942, also Jervis Street. School Street later amalgamated with High Lane Row. The War Damages Commission paid up following the end of hostilities as they did with Charles Street.

    Following the War, the chapel went through a considerable period of growth under the leadership of various ministers. In 1953, 76 members were recorded rising to 96 a couple of years later. It is easy to imagine that the chapel must have been packed for the Circuit service marking the Mow Cop tercentenary in 1957. During the service, many old hymns were sung with great enthusiasm to now-forgotten tunes – “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” to the tune Bethlehem, “Thou Shepherd of Israel and mine” to “Shepherd” and “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” to the tune “Buckley”. Although not from as far back as 1957, a recording does exist of these hymns and tunes being sung at High Lane Row, during the early 1970s.

    In 1971, the Jarrow Circuit ceased to be when it merged with the former Gateshead East to become the Gateshead & Jarrow Circuit as it is now. The new Circuit consisted of 27 churches and a total membership of 2,483. The three Hebburn churches, it was decided, should become one, resulting, of course in the closure of two of these. The chapel had lost its choir some years previously and the Sunday School was no longer, but there was still a membership of about 60 people and financially, the church was quite sound.

    1973 dawned, and the members were able to celebrate the 150th anniversary with a series of special services. Within a year the chapel was, unfortunately, closed and the members dispersed to other chapels in the area. Amongst those remembered in the final days of the chapel are: William Lee, Mr J Sayers, Mr E Moore, Nichol Wilson, Arthur Wappat, Mr J Dunn (assistant Organist), Frank Wappat, George Lee. The last service was held on Sunday 28th April 1974 and, following the sale of the building and its contents, the final Trustee Meeting closed on 16th October 1974.

    By Richard Jennings (19/09/2020)
  • My grandfather Joseph Franks and his father William Franks both attended this chapel. Joseph played the organ and his father was a Lay Preacher.
    Billy Franks took Sunday School

    By Margaret Cato (23/11/2018)
  • Two photographs were added on 18 July 2016, showing the chapel today.

    By Jill Barber (18/07/2016)

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