Providence Colley Gate 1850: The Beginning and First Building
Among the many folk of strong character who had been influenced by the Methodist movement, were Mr and Mrs Benjamin Oliver, of Clows Top near Bewdley. They came to live in the area we know as the Slad Piece. Mrs. Oliver was an enthusiastic Wesleyan, and she made it her particular business to start a Church in Colley Gate. Probably before that, there was in existence some kind of Society and meeting places, because in the vestry there is a plan dated 1838, which shows preachers planned at Colley Gate, but there is no record of a meeting.
Mrs. Oliver started meetings in her own home in Barracks Lane. Obviously for some time meetings were held there weekly, and possibly prayer meetings in the mid-week. As the membership grew, a move was made into a Clubroom at the back of the White Lion Colley Gate (now the Little Chop House). The Clubroom was situated over some stables and frequently the parson at that time - a man named Butterworth - was known to pray "to be delivered from the discomfort and close proximity of horses, cows, pigs and poultry."
The next move was to an old malt house in Windmill Hill just below the White Lion Inn,
Unfortunately for our story, there is little record of what was going on.
One document does exist, the Ministers October Return dated 1850 we have to depend upon tradition for information of the development during the next 20 or 30 years. All we know, is that most of the buildings in the immediate area of the old Chapel were in existence at the time and some are probably 200 years old.
Windmill Hill was known as the Turnpike Road between Stourbridge and Halesowen; but nothing like the road we have today. Toll Houses existed at Quinton, Short Cross, Halesowen and Netherend. In order to avoid the toll, many vehicles were taken through the lanes, so “toll gates” were placed at strategic places in the lanes, and among these were “Two Gates” in the area, now called by that name. Spring Lane - or Furlong Lane as we know it today - was a narrow country lane, with fields either side for the most part. Gypsies camped on the roadside and none but the boldest would go down that lane after dark.
The site of the old Chapel was part of a field belonging to Thomas Brookes of Lye Waste, and Colley Orchard was probably a footpath. Somewhere about 1854, a small band of eight men decided to form a trust and a year or so later, with money short the small band of eight men decided to form a trust and a year or so later, with money subscribed by themselves and collected from friends, they purchased the site whereon the old Chapel had stood (lower corner of Colley Orchard and Windmill Hill.) The date of the conveyance for that land was October 28th 1856, although agreement must have been reached before, because the Chapel itself was built in the same year. The site of 347 square yards cost the sum of £60 14s. 6d. The conveyance is in a remarkable state of preservation and is an exhibition piece of the art of penmanship. We must realise and acknowledge the great sacrifice of these eight men - the pioneers who raised the first Chapel. It can only be described as a miracle of faith and perseverance.
Their names are: Thomas Cox, John Priest, Edward Harris, Peter Boxley, Samuel Bache, Samuel Wyre, Joseph Moore and Thomas Pearson. Three of these men could not write their own names and their signatures are in the form of the usual cross.
It is to be presumed that as soon as an agreement was made about the land, an attempt was made to build the first Church. Money was short, and the building would not have been completed so soon, had it not been for the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Oliver who provided the last £20. Only £2 of that money was ever repaid - the remainder was eventually forgiven. The late John Oliver was a nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Oliver and he married the daughter of Edward Harris, one of the first Trustees. They remained lifelong members of the Church. John Oliver died in 1934.
Of the actual building operations we know very little, but one incident seems to stand out. Samuel Wyre had a very close friend named Samuel Ellesmore - a carpenter who lived in Two Gates. It is said that he did all the woodwork. His name by tradition is closely connected with the first Trust.
It is presumed that the founders named it "Providence". The building cost about £300 and was duly opened on April 5th, 1857. The Church immediately associated with the Stourbridge circuit of the Methodist New Connexion and the first circuit Minister was Rev. W. Reynolds. The first sermon was preached in the new building by Mr. Simon of Dudley circuit. A road was cut alongside the Chapel and was continued to join Toys Lane. That road unfortunately is still one of the few unmade roads in the district.(This by a Council mistake was surfaced in 2010 it is still un-adopted). The late Alderman H. J. Cox tells us that, within his own recollection, this place of worship consisted of a square brick building.
Artificial lighting in those early days was mainly by means of tallow candles and possibly some oil lamps using light oil made from Scottish shale. About 1870 paraffin from petroleum was beginning to come into the country, and lighting by this means gradually it superseded shale oil. Paraffin wax candles commenced to replace tallow around 1880.
As a matter of further historical interest, Cradley Gas Company was formed on 20th October, 1854 and under the Gas Act of 25th May 1871, they were allowed to extend the gas mains over a wider area. It is probable therefore that the first gas main was laid in Windmill Hill in the late 1870's, and it is highly probable that gas lighting was introduced into the Chapel during its extension in 1876. It was not until 1906 that incandescent mantles were fitted.
The building was lit by cast iron warehouse windows, and heated by a large closed-in stove set in the middle. Around the stove in a square formation, were four high-backed seats, which comprised the whole of the seating accommodation. It would have held about 50 people. Artificial lighting was by gas jets, a primitive method unknown by children today. The preacher was accommodated in a pulpit very much like a cupboard in shape, and placed against the back wall of the Chapel. The contribution to the Quarterly Board (Stourbridge Circuit) at that time was £4 a quarter. The Sunday School services for children were held in the same building but at different times. This was really the first Sunday School connected with the Church in Colley Gate.
The succeeding months must have been a very trying period. People were poor; wages varied between a few shillings and a pound per week, and the cost of living was relatively high. In order to carry on, a mortgage for £150 had to be raised in 1857 - a debt which was not repaid for well over 20 years.
The first pioneers worked earnestly and very hard for their Church. We know that during the week, many hours of labour were required to earn a living but this did not deter them from giving a full day's service on Sundays.
This was their timetable:
7.00 a.m. Prayer Meeting until 8.00 a.m.
9.00 a.m. School until 10.30 a.m.
10.30 a.m. Preaching, singing and worshipping until 12 a.m.
1.30 p.m. School until 2.30 p.m.
2.30 p.m. Divine Service until 4.00 p.m.
5.30 p.m. Missioning the district and inviting people to Chapel.
6.00 p.m. Divine Service until 7.30 p.m.
7.30 p.m. Prayer Meeting until 8.00 p.m.
After the Prayer Meeting, visit sick and pray with them.
So enthusiastic were some of these old pilgrims, that one of the local preachers (Higgins) walked all the way from Kidderminster, returning there on foot after preaching all day.
Samuel Jones was a locomotive engine driver at Corngreaves Works. Each week-end, he had to wash out the tubes and boilers of his engine, and in order to be in time for school, would rise at 4.00 a.m. and get his work done first. Such men lived out the "Heart, Soul and Strength" maxim of Jesus and gave materially and spiritually all they possibly could of all they had, to maintain this Church at Colley Gate.
The first Sunday School Room (1868), and the period up to 1886
By 1868, the Sunday School had grown to sufficient numbers to warrant a separate room, and become a separate organisation. A small room was built behind, and slightly away from the Chapel. It was built by Mr. J. P. Bloomer at a cost of about £100, and held over 100 children.
The seating in this first school was most primitive. Planks were supported by a few bricks at each end, and the smaller children used to sit back to back on them.
In 1869, a set of Rules for the use of the Sunday School was drawn up, and until well into the early part of the present century, they were read out in the School by the Secretary, once a quarter. More interesting still, they have never been altered: in fact, fundamentally there is no need for alteration.
It would seem that even in those far-off days, Anniversary Day was an accepted annual event. We have a Sunday School Anniversary Service leaflet dated 1869, and the unusual feature, is that a boy of 13 years of age was the preacher. His name was Master S. Walker, of Drews Cottages, Halesowen.
The school proved so popular that it very soon became overcrowded; but as the people were so poor nothing could be done and teachers and pupils had to do the best they could for the next 17 years. From events in the following years, it seems evident that the Trustees were not unanimous in their opinion as to whether any available money, little though it was, should be spent on extending the Chapel or the Sunday School.
During this period, about 1875, Samuel Jones founded a Young Men's Bible Class. Later, the Young Ladies joined at a fixed age, and it developed into what was known as the Adult Bible Class. Samuel Jones was the Class Leader for forty years.
In 1874 a piece of land, 287 sq. yds. in area, was bought for £35 17s. 6d. It lay close to, and behind, the schoolroom. It was obviously intended for an extension of the Sunday School. In 1876, the remaining seven Trustees felt that further active help was necessary, if they were to make any progress and pay off their mortgage. They decided to invite some of their fellow members and workers in the Church to join them and make a new Trust, (the second), and the number was then brought up to eighteen. Amongst the men who joined, was Samuel Jones, who was appointed Secretary, James Tate who was appointed Treasurer, and his eldest son William. The latter married the daughter of John Priest, and their descendants are still widely represented in the Church today.
It is significant that the newly formed Trust decided to give preference in development to the Chapel, although there was still a mortgage of £150. The space between the Chapel and Schoolroom was covered in pews (which were added in the Chapel itself) and a gallery (which was built at one end of the Chapel to increase seating).
The second Sunday School Room (the third Sunday School) 1886-1925
By 1886, the Methodist movement in Colley Gate had taken a very firm hold and it would seem that the interest created in the Sunday School had become keener than that in the Church. The number of scholars attending was still growing- the need for more room was becoming extremely urgent. An enthusiastic band of young male teachers were becoming impatient, and they decided to take matters into their own hands as far as extensions were concerned. The Trustees were unable to do anything- there were only two active members remaining: James Tate and Samuel Jones. Of the original Trustees, some had died, three had emigrated and the remainder had resigned.
In 1886, therefore, these young men decided amongst themselves that they would make a start with a new school. They knocked down the old one in eight hours. Their enthusiasm infected the village, and many willing helpers joined them; men who undoubtedly had great affection for the old school. They dressed all the bricks, prepared the foundations for the new buildings, and made everything ready for the builders to carry on. Joseph M. Tate and Samuel Newby completed the building and the cost was £350. The sum of £8 was paid to the Trust Fund annually, from the Sunday School Fund as rent until 1920.
Heating in this school was effected in a very simple way. A cast iron closed-in stove was built below ground level at one end, and the flue pipes passed down the centre of the room length wise, beneath cast iron gratings. The final products of combustion passed into a stack pipe through the roof at the opposite end (and we thought hot air heating was new!)