Here’s a great post from top reader a contributor David Evans, who’s something of an expert on the history of Methodism in the area. Over the course of last Christmas, the question of the religion and it’s chapels in Norton came to the fore.
Since then, David has been very busy sourcing materials related to the subject, and I present them here, interspersed with a text on the history. It really is a great find, and can’t thank David enough.
For his fans, I’ll point out that the redoubtable Mr. Evans has been contributing some fine stuff of late in the background, which I have in store. Sadly, it can take a while to assemble such a post, and a bit busy right now, I’ve been churning out easier ones for speed. Please stay tuned, as both he and Pedro have some absolute gold in the can.
Can someone please fix up and eighth day of the week and I’ll promise to donate all 24 house of it to the blog? Cheers!
METHODISM IN NORTON CANES
Bethel Primitive Methodist Church 1853 – 1944
Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Church 1882 – 1905 Burntwood Road
1905 – 1968 Brownhills Road
In the days before Methodist Union there were both Primitives and Wesleyans at Norton Canes. The Prims of the Lichﬁeld Circuit were ﬁrst in the ﬁeld and their society ﬂourished for many years. They built a ﬁne church and schoolroom which they named ‘Bethel’ but which became known throughout the circuit as ‘The Cathedral’. Primitive Methodist Local Preachers regarded an appointment to preach at Bethel as an honour. Twenty eight years behind the Prims the Wesleyans of the Cannock Circuit moved in. They built a small chapel in Burntwood Road which, in contrast to ‘The Cathedral’ was known in the area as ‘Noah’s Ark’. However the Wesleyans outgrew their tiny chapel and purchased, in 1905, a corrugated iron structure which they erected beside the Brownhills Road and named ‘Trinity’. The society continued to grow and at one time had ﬁve Local Preachers amongst its member – Messrs. Jarvis, Weldon, Leadbeater, Mills and Bullock. They were happy enough in their tin tabernacle but they could never have regarded it as other than a temporary home, good enough until means could be found to build something better. They took good care of it, how else would it have lasted so long, but the best of care will not keep the ravages of time at bay forever. The building not only suffered the effects of age and weather, mining subsidence produced a list to starboard of about 10° which had a most disconcerting effect upon strangers entering the church for the ﬁrst time.
The damage caused by subsidence at Trinity was small compared with that suﬁered by Bethel where it was so serious that the building was condemned as unsafe and demolished in 1944. The Trustees received no compensation for the ruin of their property. All they could get was a few hundred pounds from the sale of the organ and such materials as could be salvaged during the demolition. The Bethel society continued to worship in a hut adjoining the old chapel, but the golden age of Norton Methodism had passed, the intake of new members had not kept pace with the losses due to death and removals and in about 1948 they abandoned the hut and joined forces with Trinity.
It was at this time that the Trinity society was transferred to the Brownhills Circuit. It was not now a large society, but led by Mr. Enock Bullock it carried on the work. The tin tabernacle was becoming more and more of a problem as the years went by and the prospect of raising funds for a new church seemed almost hopelessly remote. By 1957 the Circuit Superintendent was complaining to the Connexional Chapel Secretary that the building was in desperately bad condition and reporting that the Trustees were negotiating the purchase of a new site. They actually purchased a site for a new church in 1959. It was an act of faith since all the money they had amounted to about £1,000, what remained of the proceeds of sale from Bethel and the Burntwood Road chapel plus accrued interest. The faithful few, under the leadership of Mr. Eliiah Read, who took on the leadership after the death of Mr. Enock Bullock, worked hard in the face of severe handicaps to raise money for the Building Fund. With the building in such bad condition there was little hope of increasing their numbers. Houses were being built all around and people were moving into Norton, but not even the Methodists among the new comers would face the prospect of worshipping in that tumble-down tin shanty. The Trustees of Walsall Wood Methodist Church voted £1,000 from proceeds of sale but the position would still have been hopeless had not the Rank Benevolent Trust come to the rescue. The General Chapel Committee and the oﬂicials of the Rank Trust agreed to ﬁnd between them half the cost of an £11,000 scheme £4,650 from the Rank Trust and £850 from the General Chapel Fund. Messrs. Birch and Caulﬁeld, Architects, prepared plans for a church and schoolroom to the satisfaction of the Trustees and the Connexional Chapel Secretaries.
The Trustees were conﬁdent that they would be able to raise their share of the cost. We were expecting to receive £1,000 from the sale of part of the site as a building plot. However, the County Planning Authority ruled that the piece of land we were proposing to sell must be retained to enlarge the car park. That was a severe blow. We could not see how we were to replace that £1,000 and were afraid that we would have to scrap the plans and make do with something less costly. The Architects came to the rescue here; by undertaking extra work for which they made no charge and carefully scrutinising each item of cost they made it possible for us to keep the plan.
That was just one of the setbacks we have had to overcome during the three years we have been actively engaged in planning and building the new church. There have been times when most of us have almost lost heart, but if ever we were in danger of relaxing our efforts we were soon brought to our senses by the quite indestructable enthusiasm of Elijah Read. Although he felt the successive disappointments more keenly than any of us, each setback seemed to make him more determined than ever not only to push on himself, but to keep nudging the rest of us into action also. It is a great grief to us all that Mr. Read did not live to see the church for which he laboured so long and with such dedication. It is some consolation that, although he was a sick man at the time, he was able to attend the stone-laying ceremony to lay a stone on behalf of all who have helped to make the building possible.
We hope and pray that with the opening of the new church Methodism in Norton will begin a new era of growth. The interest which the building has aroused and the generous help we have been given by many friends is encouraging and augurs well for the future. Much hard work lies ahead if the worshipping community is to be built up to match the church, and there is still much to be done in the material as well as the spiritual realm. We hope to be able to -pay the builder, but at the time of writing we are still in need of money for an organ and other essential pieces of equipment. We shall be very grateful for all the help friends can give us.
We thank God for what has so far been achieved and look forward in faith to the future. In the words of Mr. Read’s favourite hymn, ‘We praise Him for all that is past, And trust Him for all that’s to come.’ We offer our gratitude to all friends who have helped us and appeal for their continued support as we seek to ﬁnish this good work to which we have set our hands.
WILFRED J. HILL,