Hampshire Avenue, Slough, SL1 3AQ
Minister: Rev Mindy Bell 01753 - 520742
The Enabling Act for Methodist Union was signed in the Royal Albert Hall on 20th September 1932 and Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodists became legally one Methodist body.
In the years immediately preceding this, negotiations took place in Slough between Herschel Street Wesleyan Methodists and William Street Primitive Methodists about implementing the proposed Union locally. Out of this arose a suggestion for a Church in the Farnham Road area of Slough. A joint committee, set up in January 1930 to investigate potential sites, found two — one on the Baylis Court Estate and the other in Hampshire Avenue. Although the committee decided in April 1931 that the former was the better one, after prolonged negotiations, it was the Hampshire Avenue site which was eventually purchased — on 4th March 1935 for £640.
Around this time there was an influx of people from the North, the Midlands and Wales who came looking for work on the Trading Estate. A Methodist Gathering started, meeting initially in a home. When that became too small, and there was still no Church, they moved to a building in Warrington Avenue (now Godolphin Infant School; later, many children in the Sunday School attended there) and held their first evening service there on 18th November 1934. The driving force behind this was the Superintendent Minister, Rev Thomas Caddy, assisted by a team of Richmond Students. This gathering became known as the Trading Estate Methodist Church, Slough. The Sisterhood continued to meet in a local house.
Messrs A Brockenhurst of Manchester, the designers of Slough Central Hall, were appointed as the architects. The plans were drawn up and costed at £4,000. Although a grant was given by the Methodist Church, a considerable amount of fundraising was also needed. The contract was awarded to H D Bowyer, work started immediately, and the stone-laying service took place on 2nd May 1936.
The building was erected in five months, and the renamed Hampshire Avenue Methodist Church was opened by the President of the Methodist Conference on 26th September 1936. The original building had a boiler house under the kitchen. Evidence of where the steps went down, is still visible on the back wall of the kitchen, and a lintel, which would have been over the door of the boiler room, is at ground level. One of the members, Lewin Bowyer, used to go down every Saturday night, whatever the weather, to stoke the boiler ready for Sunday.
Almost immediately it became apparent that the premises were too small for the large congregation and Sunday School.
The Trustees agreed to an extension with a large Hall and two classrooms. This was built and completed in September 1939 within days of the outbreak of the Second World War. The Hall was furnished as a theatre, and in the years after the war, was used by a local amateur dramatic group who put on "some very good" musicals.
After the war, during the late 1940s and the 1950s, the Church flourished and there were many activities.
There was a large choir, with choirmaster and organist. Longstanding members of the Church remember the Boys' Brigade band parading through the local streets one Sunday each month before the Morning service. There was, of course, an evening service as well in those days. There was a busy Sunday School, and a Girls' Life Brigade Company.
Women didn't go out to work then, and the Sisterhood thrived. Once a year, the Sisterhood held a Christmas Bazaar on a Wednesday afternoon. Typically, their hard work raised between £600 and £700, which was divided between their favourite charities.
Items currently in the Church, made by Church members, in
memory of former Sisterhood members.
When Ossie Dendie and his family moved from Stoke on Trent and joined the Church, Ossie started a branch of the Regnal League — an organisation which has its origins during the First World War. In February 1918 Rev Donald Steadfast, a Chaplain to the Forces, was stationed at Bethune in France, where there was a Soldiers Club for troops withdrawn from the trenches for a short rest. There he developed an idea for a movement inviting men to explore "wholeness of life". By the time hostilities ended in November 1918, some 74 branches of the League of Fellowship had been established on the Western Front. The work continued in Britain after the war, with the formation of the Regnal League in March 1919. Soon afterwards a Women's Branch was also established.
The Hampshire Avenue branch won the South of England boule championship many times and the cup was nearly always at the Church!
A new organ was purchased and dedicated in October 1959.
However, by the late 1960s the congregation had dwindled. As the older people died or moved away, and no new leaders came forward, the youth organisations shrank or were disbanded. The buildings were prone to vandalism and the financial burden became too great for the reduced membership.
On more than one occasion the Church faced closure due to membership and funds both being low. Once, the point was reached where even the final service had been planned and the preacher appointed ... but members stepped in and the Church was saved at the last minute.
Nevertheless, in 1970 the Trustees considered various possibilities, including merging with another Methodist Church or with the local Anglicans, and then selling the premises. Reluctantly, with the Hall needing lots of work and the funds not available, the decision was taken in 1972 to demolish the Hall and classrooms, and sell that part of the site (about a quarter of an acre) to the Ealing Family Housing Association for £23,000. Later this became a small block of flats in Rutland Avenue.
The Boys' Brigade held a large reunion in the 1980s attended by many of the young men who had grown up locally.
There were reminiscences about a Local Preacher, Jack Yarrow, "a lovely man" who was keen to encourage the young people to come to church. After the Youth Club closed, Jack used to collect the teenagers in his minibus and take them to his home where they played games and enjoyed cakes made by his wife, Mavis, a wonderful cook (custard slices being one of her specialities)!
In the early years of the 21st century, Hampshire Avenue produced an ambitious development scheme with a vision which was more than just a building project. It was about God, the church and the community, and rediscovering "our calling and our mission". The Circuit Meeting on 30th November 2004 approved the project, costed at £100,000, and including:
- Expanding the worship area.
- Additional facilities for educational purposes; joint LEP events; use by and for the community.
- Replacing the antiquated heating system.
- Facilities for the disabled and for mothers with young children.
The building work was carried out in 2009 - 2010, though the final cost was over £216,000.
The "ground breaking" spade for the 2009 extension,
and the inscription on its handle
The heating system in the new Hall is still underfloor, but it is now fuelled by gas and not solid fuel!
Since the work was completed, the Church premises are being used extensively. The Church members are actively involved in their Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) and the community. The new Hall is used as classrooms for adult learning courses run by the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), by prayer groups and by other Christian groups.
A recent major event was the Flower Festival held in May 2012. Disappointingly, it only raised £700 ... the same sum as raised by a Sisterhood Christmas Bazaar all those years ago …
Over the years, the congregation at Hampshire Avenue has reflected the changing ethnic mix in this part of the world. When it started in the 1930s, the Church was known as "the Welsh Church", reflecting the many Welsh people then seeking work in Slough. Now in the 2010s, roughly half the members are Caribbean, half African, with the English very much in the minority. But on feast days and special occasions, what a wonderful variety of food to enjoy!
With their new building and their links within the LEP, the members are all looking forward to the challenges ahead. Working in partnership with the other two Methodist Churches in Slough, Hampshire Avenue is participating in a joint initiative to show that Methodism is indeed "Alive in Slough".
I am indebted to Brenda Cheeseman for her invaluable help.
In May 2012 Hampshire Avenue Methodist Church held a Flower Festival with the theme Faith Stories. As Christians we draw great strength and encouragement from hearing the stories of how others have found, sustained and adventured in faith. Participants were invited to reflect on faith — their own, or the faith of an inspirational individual or group and then express this through floral displays.
A pictorial record of the displays is included in the Photo Gallery in the album entitled Faith 2012. The relevant pictures should be viewed in conjunction with the information here about the inspiration behind the displays.
With the festival taking place in 2012, special displays were included to celebrate events occurring shortly afterwards:
Burnham Methodist Church's display depicted sixty years of the Queen's reign in flowers.
Windsor Methodist Church provided two displays:
- Engaging with faith at the Olympics
- A celebration of the London Olympics
INSPIRED BY DESMOND TUTU
Desmond Tutu is one of the heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and a man of deep faith, courage and compassion. The member of Hampshire Avenue Methodist Church who created this series of three linked displays, stated that she found his example of profound humanity rooted in profound spirituality both inspiring and challenging, and it strengthened her own faith.
INSPIRED BY THE FAITH, AND MISSION IN CHINA, OF A RELATIVE
A member of St Andrew's Methodist Church drew inspiration for this display from her great aunt, who, in 1862, at the age of 25, left her comfortable farmhouse home in England and on her own, boarded a ship for the three-month voyage to Canton in China. There she married a Wesleyan missionary and helped him in building up the new chapels, schools and missions there. Now, 150 years later, her journey of faith is still an inspiration.
INSPIRED BY THOMAS BROWN'S POEM MY GARDEN
A member of St Mark's Crescent Methodist Church, Maidenhead, drew inspiration from the poet Thomas E Brown, whose poem My Garden shows how the beauty of his garden confirms her faith in God. This is the poem beginning A GARDEN is a lovesome thing, God wot!
ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL
A member of St John's, Manor Park & St Michael's used this theme to demonstrate the influence flowers can have in our lives.
THE ALTAR AND THE FONT
A member of Hampshire Avenue Methodist Church drew inspiration for these displays from the Bible:
- The altar: In faith, Abraham offered his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice.
- The font : If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person if he were to have a large millstone tied round his neck and he were cast into the sea.
INSPIRED BY MARK POLLOCK AND LARRY
A member of Old Windsor Methodist Church drew inspiration from Mark Pollock and his guide dog, Larry (Guide Dog of the Year 2006). Mark says of Larry, "Nothing compares with that first walk alone with a guide dog. I was scared and overjoyed all at once. I can best describe it by saying that I was literally shaking with the feeling that I'd got my life back."
INSPIRED BY FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE
A member of High Street Methodist Church, Maidenhead, drew inspiration from Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910, who is known best for her work in the Crimean war at Scutari, where she produced the background for reform of hygiene in hospitals which still forms the basis of good nursing care today.
Florence Nightingale's biographer wrote: Her zeal, her devotion and her perseverance would yield to no rebuff and to no difficulty. She went steadily and unwearyingly about her work with judgement, self-sacrifice, courage, a tender sympathy and with a quiet unostentatious demeanour that won the hearts of all.
MY GUARDIAN ANGEL
A member of St John's, Manor Park & St Michael's, Whitby Road, tried to represent the first time she became aware of her Guardian Angel. When she was 8 years old, in a situation of fear and distress, her prayers were answered. Love has been a constant companion throughout her journey, holding her in her joys and sorrows and through the stormy periods of life. More and more she is aware that Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13).
THE SYMBOL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
A member of Cookham Rise Methodist Church, drew inspiration from John the Baptist baptising Jesus in the river Jordan, and the Holy Spirit taking the form of a dove (Matthew 3: 16-17; Mark 1: 9-10; Luke 3: 21-22). She knows that the peace, love, gentleness and forgiveness of the Holy Spirit has enriched her life.
CONSIDER THE LILIES ...
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow.
A member of Woodlands Park Methodist Church drew inspiration from Matthew 6: 28-34, where Jesus tells us to have faith that God will provide. The beauty of the lilies each year is like the rainbow, a reminder of God's promise, and a challenge to us to keep faith.
THE GARDEN OF EDEN
Hampshire Avenue Sunday School provided this display. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.
INSPIRED BY THE FAITHFULNESS OF JOB
A member of Ledgers Road Methodist Church based her display on the book of Job, which teaches that God does allow his people to suffer at times, but also reminds us that God is with us in the midst of our suffering and encourages us to cling to Him through it all. Job endured loss of his property and family, but he did not lose hope or, most of all, faith in God. He remained faithful to God, despite devastating and difficult circumstances. In the end God rewarded Job's faithfulness and restored double what he had lost. Persevering in God's faith will therefore cause us to triumph in the end.
The members of Hampshire Avenue are enormously grateful to their partner churches in the Thames Valley Circuit and in the North Slough Local Ecumenical Partnership for their support and contributions to the festival, and to those who gave invaluable advice and support throughout.