Stourbridge

The town was formerly part of Old Swinford and developed as part of the.industrial area known as the 'Black Country’.The only reference to the town in Wesley's Journal is in March 1770. The earliest known Methodist meetings were held in a room in Mill Lane, and then in the home of a Mrs. Jones in High Street. Growing numbers led to the renting of room in the theatre inTheatre Road (later the School of Art). In September 1804 land was bought in New Road as the site for a chapel, which was opened the following year. Including a horseshoe-shaped gallery, it could accommodate 1,000 worshippers. Enlarged in 1829, this had become the head of a separate circuit the previous year. John Rattenbury, the junior minister at the time, became an outstanding evangelist and was President of the 1861 Conference, returning annually to the circuit in which he began his ministry.

Numbers grew to over a thousand, with a thriving Sunday School, until the Warrenite disruption in 1835 which led to the loss of many members to the New Connexion and the opening of a rival MNC church in 1836, also in New Road and so uncomfortably close. The Wesleyan society dropped to 90 members, but recovered nevertheless from this setback and continued to grow throughout the century. (One notable minister appointed to the town in his early years wa the future Dr. James H. Rigg, later to be President of the Conference in 1878 and 1892.) By 1838 circuit membership had increased by150 and reached 860 by the end of the century. The Wesleyan Sunday School was re-established and its premises were enlarged and eventually replaced in the 1880s, along with repairs to the church.

Proposals to replace the church itself came to nothing until the early 20th century and were then further delayed by the war. But in 1918 a building fund was set up, the closing services at the old church took place in May 1927, thanks especially to the leadership of the Rev. H.R. Crosby, minister 1925-1929. Its successor, gothic in style and cruciform in shape, and complete with a tower, was opened on 28 June 1928, with the Rev. F. L. Wisemanas the preacher. Preachers on the first three Sundays were the the Rev. F.H. Benson, the Rev. .W. Hodson Smith, President of the Conference, and the Rev. J.E. Rattenbury. More recent alterations include a second floor incorporated into the schoolroom in 1971 and a new kitchen following the centenary celebrations in 1987.

The post-war era saw the flourishing of the Friday night youth club affiliated to MAYC, with a Sunday evening Youth Fellowship. Uniformed groups belonging to the Scouting movement were still an active part of the church’s life. Afternoon Sunday School ceased to meet in 1972, and the morning session was eventually replaced by Family Church. Weekday activities, such as the Stroke Club, a weekly Coffee Morning and a monthly Communion Service continue.

The neighbouring New Connexion/United Methodist Church closed in 1932 at the time of Methodist Union, though the building itself survived until the ring road was developed in the late 1960s.

A valiant attempt to introduce Primitine Methodist preaching to the town in 1820 seems to have had no permanent result.

Quotations

John Wesley’s Journal:

March 1770: ‘About one I took to the fields again at Stourbridge, Many of the hearers were wild as colts untamed; but the bridle was in their mouths.’

'On Sunday,July 2nd, 1820, Thomas Brwnsword of Wednesbury, Joseph Reynolds of Stourbridge, and Joh Thorns of Wordsley, Preachers belonging to the Primitve Merthodist Connexion, were preaching the glorious Gospel of the Blessed God in the open air in Stourbridge; for which offence they were pulled down from the chair on which they were standing (by the constable) and confined all night in the lock-up. On the Monday morning following they were taken before two of the Stoiurbridge Magistrates (Mr. Briggs and  Mr. Taylor) and because they would not promise never to preach in the open air again they were committed to Worcester Gaol for trial. After being incarcerated in prison for ten days, the Magistraes that committed them sought an interview with the prisoners and their friends in a private room. At first they endeavoured to extract a promise that they should never again preach in the open air, but finding all attempts at this fruitless, they abandoned the idea, and withdrew  all further procedings and so the prisonrs were liberated... The prisoners were assisted by several Dissenting Mnisters, including Bapitst, Wesleyan, and others, and also by several friends of the Darllaston Circuit, who had come to winess the trlial.'

[Verses recording the incident followed this account.]

Sources
  • James H, Mees, The Story of a Hundred Years (1928)