The landscape of the industrial Black Country may have changed dramatically over the years, with shopping malls replacing the mighty steelworks of old, and the derelict land of the 19th century coalfields redeveloped into modern housing estates, but pockets of community- spirit, borne from those far off days, still exist.
They have managed to remain steadfast in the face of the even more dramatic changes in society, and one fine example is the Methodist Church at Causeway Green, which this Saturday, 19th October, proudly begins a three day event to celebrate its 150th anniversary.
An excited John Hadley, organist at Causeway Green, came to Bugle House with a clutch of photographs that portray some of the history of the church, and an account of the building and the church community which he has written himself.
He told us, “Everyone at Causeway Green Methodist Church is looking forward to our 150th anniversary. On Saturday there will be an anniversary fair with lots of stalls and refreshments, which begins at 12 noon. Then on Sunday, 20th October, the Rev Chris Hughes-Smith, from Nottingham, a former district chairman and president of conference, will join the congregation for the Gift Day service of praise and thanksgiving led by Rev Edson Dube at 11pm.
“It would be terrific to see as many new faces as possible on the Saturday and Sunday and all are welcome.
“On Tuesday we have set aside a members and friends banquet in the church hall (a ticket only event), which will bring the celebrations to a happy conclusion.” The history of Causeway Green Methodist Church is very interesting as John explains: “Before 1863 the nearest Methodist chapel was in George Road, Warley, and in winter people from the small village of Causeway Green found the uphill journey difficult and unpleasant to negotiate. There were no street lights or public transport, so they began to meet in the home of Mr Parkes, a local a local man who lived in Ashes Road. (The cottage was demolished a long time ago when the railway bridge was widened).
“Later, the folk of Causeway Green purchased the land on which the church now stands, (the car park area was acquired 15 years later). Mr Parkes was so anxious to see the church built he laid the foundations himself without official permission.
But because he was an experienced builder the foundations were allowed to stand. He begged most of the materials and supervised the construction of the chapel, his workmen generously giving a day’s labour free.
“My great-grandfather was one of the labourers. The original chapel was quite small, and the second side window seen today marks the limit of the first phase of the building, which in the end cost £170.
“The grand opening took place on Sunday, 18th October, 1863, the same day as the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, which puts its age in perspective.
“The Rev H. Fish conducted the first service in the morning, and the Rev J.S. Ridsdale took the one in the evening. The attendance at both services is reflected in the marvellous sum of £27.7s.11d. which was taken at the offertory, a huge sum of money for the middle of the 19th century in the heart of the industrial Black Country.
“Membership at the chapel gradually increased in numbers and as a result the building was enlarged between 1891-93 with all the accounts settled before the work was completed. Two pieces of railway track had to be fastened to the side walls to prevent the brickwork from crumbling, which at the time was hoped to be a temporary measure, but they are still held in place to this day by two sets of iron bars which cross the church over the heads of the congregation.
“Oil lamps replaced candles, and in 1903 gas lamps were installed; the final cost £280.
Half of the cost was raised by such events as sewing meetings, garden parties and sales of work, and the other half by the Carnegie Trust.
“The organ was built by Henry Hewins of Stratford upon Avon and is, of course, very dear to my heart. A young man named Percy Parris working with the builders took it upon himself to maintain the organ, tuning it twice a year, and he remained faithful to his task until he retired in the late 1950s.
It is rumoured he died at the age of 105. Recently his name was discovered carved into the main organ bellows.