David Evans, top blog contributor and local historian extraordinaire, has strong connections with the local Methodist Movement. In this capacity, David has been working very hard indeed on the following article on the construction of the New Chapel for some weeks now, and I’m proud and honoured to present it for readers. Many of us were sad to see the Ebenezer demolished, and I had no idea it was due to dry rot.
I’m also intrigued by the mention of the ‘Recreation ground adjoining the new Chapel’ on the poster; that would be Oak Park, wouldn’t it – or at least, an antecedent thereof? That makes it older than I thought. This requires more research, I think.
As ever, my thanks to David for nailing yet anther remarkable bit of Walsall Wood history. If only I could find someone with similar knowledge of Brownhills…
The Big Day for Ebenezer, 1891
This poster was one of a few items placed in to a time capsule when the foundation stones were laid for the ‘New Chapel’ in Walsall Wood – which was, in fact, a larger replacement for the original Ebenezer chapel.
Why was a larger chapel needed? The original Primitive Methodist Church had become much too small to accommodate the growing congregation. It had been built in the 1850s when the village had some 1,900 inhabitants. With the expansion of local industry, and especially with the opening of the village’s own coal mine in 1874, the village population had grown rapidly, and in 1891 stood at 4582.
In 1888 the decision was taken by the 29 Trustees for this Church to build a much bigger chapel, and this group were the first to make donations, totalling £15 19s 6d. A new plot, adjacent to the existing church, was purchased, and the congregation, which included many newcomers to the village over the previous ten years or so, set about raising their own funds to build their new chapel, a chapel that belonged to them – and no one else!
Among the other documents in the time capsule was this amazing list of some of the young donors:
These people are almost exclusively working teenage miners in large mining families. Yet they succeeded in raising ten guineas in three years. This equates to around £1,000 in today’s money. It is equally interesting to note the few local traders who participated, and the fact that the list is written on a sheet of Railway Company paper! [Station-ery? – Bob]
The minute books for this Primitive Methodist Church reveal a sense of common purpose and determination throughout this very methodical and efficiently completed business plan within a relatively short time span. We find details of the purchase of the site for the building, adjacent to the existing chapel, the tendering for the building – a Mr.Creswell, one of the well-known local builders, was awarded the contract – and the consultation with the architect. The new Chapel would be heated by steam from a boiler which would serve both buildings, to include the small chapel destined to be used solely as a Sunday School. There are details of provision of mains gas supply – shown as ‘gas tubing’ – and a complete list of donors.
The choir was officially encouraged to ‘go out and sing’ to raise funds. The records show a balance of £140 at the start of 1891.
Closer to the Big Day itself, 14 men from the congregation were detailed – and their names recorded- to make puddings on the day, some ladies were detailed to arrange the tea, a large 5oo person capacity tent was rented for the event, (two men were tasked to help erect it), the tea urns were commanded to provide hot water by 3.30pm, and a man and his horse and cart were employed to transport borrowed benches, cups and saucers and chairs from other Primitive Methodist Churches. When this was done, the cart also transported the attending VIPs, presumably from the local Railway Station on the day itself. It was agreed to hire the Brownhills Brass Band, and to pay them a fee ‘not exceeding ten shillings’.
The stones to be laid had been bought by donors at £10 each, and the named bricks cost 10/6d each, all with the donors names thereon. The new Chapel was completed and opened on 22nd November 1891, Just three years after the decision to build it. The total cost of the building was some £1100 and this was paid off by 1906. The records show that the outstanding loan was repaid at £18 every month. Quite amazing!
The Lichfield Mercury report of this event makes for very interesting reading. There seems to be a little confusion over connexion of the Primitive Methodist Church, to which Walsall Wood’s Ebenezer did belong, and the ‘New Connexion’ movement of Methodist Churches, which was a totally different kettle of fish, and to which Ebenezer did not belong. I think Rev.Wright was possibly inaccurately reported. The hymn detailed in the press report should actually read ‘This stone to Thee in faith we raise’ and not, ‘This Tomb’, but the proceedings of the day were exceedingly long, and the nearby local hostelry, the Royal Exchange Inn exceedingly accommodating, no doubt, for any press reporter.
The building served the community long and well. Sadly it was demolished in the 1990s and very little remains of this fine Victorian church that had been built and paid for by the people of Walsall Wood.
One of the stones laid that day, and salvaged from the demolition can be seen set in the wall above the new entrance for the present building. It was the stone laid by Mr.Tatton. His image appears in the Walsall Wood Methodist Church’s Diamond Jubilee commemorative booklet published in 1951. He is seen proudly standing on the steps of his chapel, with his wife, and holding his newborn baby.
The Minister was Reverend Harvey Roe, a Staffordshire man from Uttoxeter, whose descendants have completed a full history of the man, and this is published in an ancestor research website.
But does anything else remain of the chapel building, this second ‘Ebenezer’ to occupy that site or has the building, its community, and its memory gone for ever? Fortunately at least one of the stones is known to have found a new home when the building was demolished, a sad decision that had to be taken due to dry rot.
The coal-mining community had grown rapidly and its workforce had toiled hard, producing some 6000 tons of coal per week at its height. These coalminers had toiled equally hard to build something that they owned, the young teenage colliers more than anyone else.
They had even set about starting a football club of their own – ‘The Prims’ – but that’s for another article.
David Evans, October 2013
SourcesWalsall and Lichfield Primitive Methodist Circuit records from 1940 to 1900, Lichfield Library Ebenezer Methodist Church Walsall Wood minute books and archives 1880 to 1900. Walsall Local History Centre British History on Line – Walsall Wood, Economy ‘Walsall Wood, a Short History’ by Margaret Brice, 1982 ‘Coal mining in the north east section of Walsall metropolitan Borough’ by Brian Rollins, 2006 ‘The History of Methodism in Walsall Wood’ limited in-house church publication booklet, published in 1991, archived at Walsall Local History Centre Ebenezer time capsule of 1891. Own resource, but a copy is in Walsall Local History Centre. Colour photos of Ebenezer exterior and interior shortly before the chapel was demolished, courtesy of Bill Mayo Colour photo of Southall stone courtesy of Mrs Audrey Proffitt, Walsall Wood. Memento cross; own collection Lichfield Mercury newspaper report. Courtesy of Mr. Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, rapscallion, iconoclast and researcher extraordinaire.