In 2003 we celebrated our church building’s centenary with a number of special events. We produced a booklet to mark the occasion and some of these details are taken from that.
Early Methodism in Four Oaks
Methodism in Four Oaks did not begin with the building of our church in 1903. Francis Asbury, who went on to found the Methodist church in the United States came from nearby Great Barr. His home, shown in the picture, is now a museum (you can click on the picture for details). Asbury established services as long ago as 1765 in the home of Edward Hand in Hill Hook, near to where Blake Street Railway Station now stands. Methodism had a troubled start and Edward Hand and his family suffered great persecution. Eventually they were evicted from their home, though records show that they continued to hold meetings in the area until about 1794.
In that year some cottages in Belwell Lane were rented to the Methodist Church, which actually bought the site in 1799 and built a chapel. A bible, printed in 1707 which was presented to the Belwell Lane Chapel in 1837 is still on display in our church. That chapel became a school in 1853, and the site is now where the Waitrose supermarket stands.
Meanwhile, local records show that Methodist services continued in various cottages in Long Lane and at the junction of Belwell Lane and Walsall Road.
Our church is built
In the 1880s a racecourse had been built at Four Oaks, but that was not a success and by about 1890 it had closed. More houses were being built in the area and a bold group of local gentlemen saw a need for a Methodist church in the area. With no existing Methodist society behind them, they nevertheless raised money to buy the site and launched a local appeal to raise the £10,000 cost of building the church.
The first stone was laid at 4.00 pm on 22 October 1902 and the church was opened on 6 October 1903 by Mr A J Webb. It was described as a wet and blustery day, and the building has been tested by plenty more of those. Another £4,000 was raised over the next few years to extend the building and add the transepts and the tower, a vestry and some schoolrooms. This was all finished by 1910 and by 1913 the caretaker’s cottage and the adjoining manse had been built as well.
Gifts provided some of the features of the church we still see today, including the lovely stained glass window in the chancel, the communion table and chairs, the font, and the pulpit with a beautiful carving of Christ depicted as the Good Shepherd. The organ we still use, built by Norman and Beard was installed in 1914. Our Building page has more details of the layout of our church and its other rooms, and on this link is a short glossary of terms used to describe parts of church buildings.
Development of our church
Our church was developing in the years leading up to the First World War. War work was tackled, and a ladies sewing circle met to make clothing for soldiers at the front. Some of those soldiers were local men, and a plaque in the church commemorates the men from the church who died during the war. The picture shows soldiers of the 2nd (Birmingham) Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment leaving from Sutton Coldfield in July 1915. This is part of a collection of wartime pictures held by Birmingham City Council.
The 1920s and 1930s saw a lot of development in Mere Green, but little in the area around our church itself. But the church itself developed. Modern conveniences like a microphone and amplifier made their way into the church, and a gas ring was installed in the kitchen. The current oak pews date from 1930. The Scout and Guide groups who still meet here were formed at this time as well.
The Second World War came closer to home than the first had. For a time after Coventry was devastated by bombing some evacuees stayed in the church itself. Our area too saw bombing; in 1940 a very near miss prompted the removal of the stained glass window to safety in the boiler room for the rest of the war.
The 1950s and 1960s were a very busy time. Expansion of local housing around Dower Road brought many new families and an expanded community for us to serve. The church responded in 1969 with a development of the church’s additional buildings; this is when the small hall was added along with some additional community rooms, a new kitchen and toilets.
The achievements of those Edwardian gentlemen who saw a need and set about meeting it were recognised in 1976 when the church buildings were given a Grade II listing as of architectural significance.
We too have sought to take care of the heritage entrusted to us and make the premises a comfortable and functional home for a modern worshiping community. The buildings were refurbished in 1986 and in 1996, to preserve them, increase their accessibility and to enable us to offer a wider range of activities. Our centenary appeal raised £200,000 to replace the central heating, repair stonework in the tower and improve the lighting and wiring. More recently we have improved the car park and internal ramps to give level access to all of our facilities, and have introduced facilities for multimedia.
We continue to look forward to how else we can improve the facilities we offer to our community. After a big fundraising effort, and with generous grants from Sutton Municipal Charities we have just refurbished our kitchen. One project we have been considering is to change the pews in the nave for chairs. If you have visited us lately you will have seen three rows of chairs at the front of the nave, part of an experment to see how we think they would work. We haven't decided to change all the pews, but we have resolved to keep those three rows of chairs.
This recent picture of our church showing the main entrance
is ©Adrian Bailey and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence