55A St Luke's Road, Old Windsor, SL4 2QL
Minister: Rev Margaret Dudley 01753 - 867117
About 1730, Richard Bateman (a friend of Robert Walpole), who had travelled widely, came to Old Windsor and sought to buy an old inn beside the river. Over the next few years he purchased other properties, renamed the inn Grove House and instigated major building works. He housed his "museum" of the many treasures he had collected on his travels in a grand house on the lines of a Chinese cult. In the grounds he built Chinese Pagodas and Indian temples.1
This house is now known as The Priory.
On Friday, 29th November 1771, John Wesley visited Windsor Park, and then went on to Old Windsor, not to preach, but to visit Mr Bateman's house, which he describes in his journal as "the oddest I ever saw with my eyes. … Everything breathes antiquity … everything is quite out of the common way: he scorns to have anything like his neighbours."2
In the first half of the 19th Century, both Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists tried to establish societies in Old Windsor.
As described elsewhere3, Wesleyan Methodism in Windsor was growing steadily by the 1820s. Old Windsor was listed in the Windsor Circuit Preaching Plan in 1826 — three years before John Higgs took Methodism to Maidenhead!
In the Spring of 1838, ministers of the Reading (Primitive) Methodist Circuit visited Windsor, and established the Windsor Mission of the Reading Circuit on 5th May 1839. Their outreach extended to Old Windsor, with weeknight meetings planned:
- In 1839 at both Old Windsor and Old Windsor Common.
- In 1840 only at Old Windsor.
- In 1841 only at Old Windsor Common.
There continued to be a Wesleyan Methodist presence in the village such that, on receipt of an offer of an Iron Chapel, the Leaders Meeting at Windsor Wesleyan Church held an extraordinary meeting in July 1885 to consider its purchase. The Windsor Methodists formed a sub-committee, which concluded after careful investigation that they were unable to find any land to house this Chapel, and the full meeting therefore turned down the offer. Over 60 years were to elapse before Methodism gained a visible presence in Old Windsor.4
However, a group (under the auspices of the Baptist Church) held house meetings in a cottage in Albany Road. As numbers grew, the group moved to the hall of the Boys' School, sited at what is now Croft Corner.
An indenture exists, dated 23rd August 1888, for the sale of a plot of land by George Henry Long of New Windsor to Rev Charles Cole, a Baptist Minister of Windsor, and others for the sum of £96. The plot had a frontage of 48 feet on what is now St Luke's Road and was 133 feet deep. The agreement included a plan on which was marked the site of a proposed galvanised iron building, 18 feet by 24 feet, for use as a Chapel 5, and this was erected in 1889. 6
In the 16th century this piece of ground was part of "The Moor". Over time this area became the Village Green, the last remnant of which is the patch of grass in front of the Fox & Castle Public House. The junction here between what is now St Luke's Road and Crimp Hill was once known as "Stocks Corner" because the village stocks were on the green immediately opposite. A former member maintained that the church might be on the very site where the stocks stood … as the Christians of that era could have built it there to cleanse the site!
5 years later, Rev Charles Cole and friends sold to Henry John Grove of Arthur Road, Windsor and others, the plot and Chapel for £175 for use as a Gospel Mission.7
This paved the way for the building of a more permanent House of Worship to replace the Iron Chapel, and the Old Windsor Gospel Hall was built and dedicated in 1897, under the auspices of the London Evangelical Society. This was achieved mainly due to the efforts of Mrs Elizabeth Mercy Nicholson who lived at Bishopsgate, Englefield Green, worshipped at Egham Baptist Church, and lived to the age of 92.8
Mrs Nicholson was involved in the setting up of no fewer than five Gospel Halls — Bishopgate Evangelical in Englefield Green, Egham Hythe, Pooley Green and Datchet, as well as the one in Old Windsor. The Old Windsor Hall was built by Mr Groves of Windsor, who apparently underestimated the cost, and lost £100 on the contract.
Mrs Nicholson is reputed to have paid not just for the building but also the stipend of the Church's first minister, Rev Bellchamber and, following his death, that of his successor, Pastor Brown who was likewise appointed by the Evangelical Society.
As can be seen from the preachers' plan for the fourth quarter of 1898, the Gospel Hall — described there as the Mission Hall — enjoyed a rota of preachers. Interestingly, Rev Bellchamber is not listed, although his successor, Pastor Brown, is said to have preached each Sunday!
In the early days the regular weekly events were:
||Bible Class for Discussion
||Bible Class for Lads
||Bible Class for Believers
||Bible Class for Young Women
||Band of Hope
… and Breaking of Bread, the First Sunday in each month.
In the years before the First World War, the work flourished, the membership grew and there were many activities. Anniversaries were celebrated such as the 13th illustrated here.
[Years were to elapse before a Milk Float knocked down the iron railings and the brick wall on which they stood as depicted here … and that started a decline in the appearance of the front of the church … ]
The young people were well catered for, and young and old enjoyed outings on the river Thames!
When Pastor Brown retired in 1928, financial constraints resulted in the link with the London Evangelical Society being severed. The members of the Gospel Hall approached Mr King (a master baker) and Mr Alfred Elisha (the local nurseryman with large greenhouses on the corner of St Luke's Road and Albany Road, and known as "The Prophet"), who both transferred from their Churches in Windsor and, with others, took over the running of the Old Windsor Gospel Hall.
Reminiscing 50 years later, a later stalwart of the church, Mr F W Kimber, who first came to the Gospel Hall in 1914, recalled that Pastor Brown was known as "The Bishop", and also described Mr King as "a very live wire whose voice filled the Hall when singing, and when praying brought us into the real presence of God".9
Selected preachers from various Non-Conformist Churches — Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists and the Assembly of Open Brethren — agreed to come and preach at their own expense. One preacher, refusing public transport on a Sunday, rode over on his horse from Chertsey!
In his review of the year 1936, the chairman of the Management Committee (the Trustees) reported that the congregation at the Sunday morning services was around 25 to 30. Also that year, the Gospel Hall was licensed for matrimony, and its first wedding took place — between Harry Arthur Solley and Freda Elizabeth Ruth Bellamy. The bride was the Church organist, who had "spent her life with us at this Gospel Hall as baby, child and maiden".10
Throughout the years the Sunday School continued to flourish, with both morning and afternoon classes and up to 100 children attending. Every Summer there was a Sunday School outing. At one stage the outings were to Burnham Beeches by horses and carts, and later by charabancs to the seaside. There were days on the river, hiring the "Windsor Castle" (the largest steamer available) to travel to Marlow or Hampton Court. In the 10 year review following the 1928 changes, specific mention was made of "the wonderful Sunday School outings our children have enjoyed".11
In the 1930s the junior section of the Band of Hope, the Little White Ribboners, also met.
Inevitably, the Second World War had a major impact on the society, quite apart from those directly involved in the fighting. For example:
- On 21st May 1940, when the annual election of officers was held, all those then in office were unanimously re-elected for the duration of the war.
- At the meeting on 25th February 1941 the decision was taken to remove the electric bulbs from the outdoor lamps for the duration of the war.
- The numbers attending Sunday School were swelled by evacuees.
- The trustees decided in 1943 to suspend their meetings "till things were cleared up after the war".12
Mr Harold Collingwood recalls his first visit to the Old Windsor Mission. It was 1940 and he was asked to step in as preacher for Mr Bob Anderson of Datchet, who had been called up for fire brigade duty. This was the first of his 55 preaching visits to the Gospel Hall. The preaching plan in those days took the form of a card, on which each visiting preacher was asked to plan his next visit on a Sunday of his choice.13 (This method of appointing preachers was superseded in 1952 by the Methodist Circuit preaching plan.) [However, the Collingwoods' association with Old Windsor did not end there, as in 1979/80, when the church's minister, Rev Donald Mason was ill, Harold's wife, Deaconess (Sister) Daphne, looked after the society for a year.]
The first post-war meeting of the Trustees was in June 1949. Although the church had been kept open during the war years, members were by this time struggling, and many of the principal leaders of the Gospel Hall had died, including Messrs King, Elisha, Badder and Bellamy. A meeting was held on 25th May 1949 "to inform the members what position we stood in, and to try and form a new management to obviate the necessity of closing the Church, [despite it having a flourishing Sunday School]. The surrounding churches have been sounded but are not eager for an amalgamation." 14
A year later members were in a much more positive mood, and, while still looking for help, especially with visiting, they were making plans for improving the premises with a thorough spring clean, providing a rack for bicycles, and planting trees on either side of the Hall. The garden had often seemed more trouble than it was worth! In 1948 one item listed under abnormal expenditure in the accounts was 13/4d "for potato seed to clean the ground"15, and the trustees in 1952 agreed "that weedkiller be used to keep down the growth of weeds, and an attempt be made to economise in the expense of the upkeep of the garden".16
However, the society was having more and more difficulty in finding preachers, and the Gospel Hall members decided to look into union with the Methodist Church, resulting in a visit by Rev James Ingham on Friday, 13th June 1952, to speak about the pros and cons of union. The following week (Thursday, 19th June 1952), at a specially convened meeting the trustees and members of the Gospel Hall agreed unanimously to apply for union with the Methodist Church.
At their Quarterly Meeting, the Windsor and Maidenhead Circuit of the Methodist Church unanimously accepted the application. This was reported to the Management Meeting of the Gospel Hall on 16th September 1952. (Interestingly, the minutes of this meeting were never signed … as it was the final meeting of the Gospel Hall trustees!)
The inaugural meeting of the Old Windsor Methodist Church Trust took place on 28th October 1952 with Rev James Ingham and the Superintendent, Rev Oliver Sutton, both present. The negotiations regarding the Old Windsor Gospel Hall were now complete. The Deed brought to this meeting for signature secured the vesting of the property in a body of Methodist trustees upon trusts of the Methodist Model Deed dated 15th December 1932 so far as they apply in addition to, and in aid of, the existing scheme of trusts. The new trustees (14 local members and 10 from other parts of the circuit) expressed their pleasure in receiving the property within the fellowship of the Methodist Church, and opined that "the society was indeed fulfilling the purposes of those who originally erected the place for worship".17
[Times were still hard … Members decided to purchase only a dozen Methodist hymn-books and one music copy … Two members agreed to ask around the circuit to see whether any Churches had unwanted copies!]
The union with the Methodists had some interesting implications. For example, because of the change of denomination, the previous registration for the solemnisation of marriages had become void. The Trust decided not to re-register immediately (but later did so in 1955). The question of insurance was reviewed, and the existing fire insurance policy with the County Fire Office was terminated on its date of expiry, and a new comprehensive policy was taken out with the Methodist Insurance Company.
Throughout the 1950s the Church's youth work grew rapidly, to such an extent that by the end of the decade the decision had been taken to extend the premises. By that stage, each Sunday saw three Sunday School classes held in the main church and one in the vestry. The annual Sunday School outings required two and on occasion three coaches — in those days going always to Bognor Regis because one of the leading Sunday School teachers, Mrs Belcher, had friends there!
On 16th June 1959 a fête, held on the local recreation ground, raised £200 and the serious business of building the hall was set in motion. Within 3 months (September 1959), Mr E Cox — who had offered his services free of charge — was appointed as the architect for a new hall. At a special meeting of the Trust in September 1961, he presented the plans for a building costing £4,500. The minutes record that "all present agreed they were satisfactory" 18(!) and the go-ahead was given.
Three tenders for the new hall were considered in July 1962, and that from R E Wood of £4,292 was accepted. This figure included alterations inside the church (removing the old slow combustion stove and refurbishing the floor on which it stood, installing new heaters on the walls and disposing of the old tubular heaters) and the provision of a layby.
The money was raised through the efforts of church members (especially the ladies!), through grants from the London Mission, the Methodist General Chapel Fund and the Joseph Rank Trust, plus gifts from members of the First United Methodist Church of Sacramento, California, including Mr and Mrs Bovey (American relatives of Mrs Pitcher, a leading member of the church).
Also in 1962, the trustees took the decision to switch to electricity for heating. No longer must "a long shovel and a full coal scuttle be always left in the vestry"!19
The church gratefully accepted a new pulpit Bible from an anonymous donor, and agreed to give the old one to Cheapside — another of the Methodist Churches in the Windsor and Maidenhead circuit.20
The new hall was built. It was opened and dedicated on 15th June 1963 by the Baroness Schröder from Englefield Green (who had also opened the fête in 1959).
In view of the death of a number of older members, and others not wishing to serve, a new Trust was constituted in May 1970 comprising 16 local members and 8 from other parts of the circuit.
The work among young people continued to grow. Major work was carried out on the building in 1972. The inside of the Church was "turned round" and modernised, a vestry/meeting room was added, and the current side entrance incorporated. Unfortunately, planning regulations then meant that the front entrance porch, a feature of the original building, had to be removed to provide space for car parking.
The re-opening dedication service was held on 20th May 1972, led by Rev Eddie Heap.
In the late 1970s the old wooden pews (bring your own cushion) were replaced by chairs. The pews were sold for garden seats and went like "hot cakes" and the congregation no longer stuck to them during hot Sunday services! Also, a new organ replaced the original (organists, pump with your feet) one.
The 1970s and 1980s were vintage years for the Church. The (Methodist) membership reached its peak of 45, and its Youth Groups, Junior Church and Bible Classes flourished.
The youth clubs were very active; they enjoyed taking part in Old Windsor's annual Carnival, and the Friday Club also took part in Windsor's celebrations for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.
This was followed by a period of decline. With, for example, the growth of alternative youth activities in Old Windsor on Sunday mornings, numbers, particularly of young people, dropped.
In the mid-1990s, under Rev James Booth, members developed a "vision" of how they would like their Church to develop.
In 1995 a new beginning was made in their ministry with the appointment of a lay worker. The Church benefitted from increased outreach, contact with the village's children through the Junior Church and a Holiday Club, and additional pastoral support for the members.
On 17th May 1997, their Centenary Challenge was launched with a "Centenary Challenge" Service at which the Chairman of the London South West District, Rev R Martin Broadbent gave the address. £100,000 project. 50% raised by members with a series of fund-raising events.
Completed in May 2000, this gave the church its current attractive exterior with its glass cross visibly proclaiming to all passers-by that it is a CHURCH (good-bye, 1970s planning regulations).
The hall and vestry/meeting room were renovated. Other improvements included an enlarged, welcoming entrance area, gas-fired central heating, a larger modernised kitchen and revamped toilets, including facilities for the disabled.
The re-opening celebrations on 20th May 2000 centred round a special service led by Rev James Booth. (What a splendid choice of date! The re-dedication following the re-build in 1972 was likewise on 20th May.)
The following year a Flower Festival was held on the theme of favourite hymns, such as "Thine be the Glory".
On 12th April 2007 the Church held the first in its now regular series of Traveller's Tales with 4 or 5 every year since then. It is a method of outreach which provides entertainment and instruction for its members, and brings in visitors.
Noting that a large number of churches, particularly in small rural communities, were closing, in 2008 the Thames Valley Circuit decided to give extra support to the six churches with the smallest, and in most cases, ageing congregations. For further information, see the Smaller Churches page of this website.
Arising from this, Old Windsor was inspired to hold a series of outreach events called "Come, Taste and Sing", as illustrated here:
For details of current activities, such as Open the Book, see the church's main page and the Circuit Diary.
1. For a biography of Richard Bateman, see David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History"
2. Journal of John Wesley, 29th November 1771.
3. See on this website, A HISTORY OF WINDSOR METHODIST CHURCH
4. Windsor Wesleyan Methodist Leaders Meeting Minutes 1873-1891
5. Document in Circuit Safe.
6. Kirkwood, Windsor Centenary Story p. 27.
7. Document in Circuit Safe.
8. Mrs Nicholson died in 1927 and is buried in Englefield Green Municipal Cemetery.
9. Letter from Mr Kimber, 24th February 1969.
10. Minutes of the Management Meeting, 19th January 1937.
11. ibid, 25th January 1938.
12. ibid, footnote appended to minutes of 26th August 1943.
13. Letter from Harold and Daphne Collingwood, September 1998.
14. Minutes of the Management Meeting, 25th May 1949.
15. ibid, 30th June 1948.
16. ibid, 5th June 1952.
17. Minutes of the Methodist Trust, 28th October 1952.
18. ibid, 4th September 1961.
19. Minutes of the Management Meeting, 1st November 1938.
20. ibid, 30th October 1962. For Cheapside, see "Our Circuit's History"