This was published in 1973 for the 150th Anniversary of the Church:
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
Although the present building was erected in 1823 there has been a chapel on this plot of land since 1305, at which time the road at the front was called Tyler’s Lane. (It is believed that the original name for Union Street – Tyler’s Lane – was derived from Wat Tyler).
The present building had an original seating capacity of 800, and as far as is known it had neither vestibule nor porch. The present interior glass doors occupy the position of the earliest external doors. It was in 1865 that a frontal extension was added, and the date “1823” together with the name “Wesleyan Chapel” were affixed to the front elevation at the same time.
Six years later, 1829, three local brewers laid out a new street behind the Chapel, and it was appropriately named Brewer Street; whereupon the Church Officers with a view to beneficial access from that new road, purchased the connecting block to complete a through plot from Union Street to Brewer Street.
By this time a schoolroom had been added, but by 1853 it was proving inadequate, and a more spacious school was built to serve the Church and the Community for over 100 years until, in 1963, it was demolished and replaced by the Centre which we all know and which was opened on 30th January 1965. (The day Winston Churchill was buried!)
The school building of 1858 was intended as a Church day-school, and day-teaching started in 1869, and continued until the Council School was built higher up Union Street in 1907. Even today there are alive those, including one or two of our Members, who attended the Church day-school.
The Garden of Remembrance at the front of the Church and the car park at the rear of the Centre are very modern. They mark the area which for 30 years from 1823 was used as the town’s principal Non-Conformist burial ground; it is quite unusual for a burial ground to be attached to a Methodist Church. Interments, except in family graves, practically ceased in 1856 when the Town Cemetery in Sutton Road was opened.
In 1865 a new Vestibule was added at the front of the Church thus enabling two separate entrances to the galleries.
In 1868, three years later, five old cottages which stood at the Union Street end of the burial ground were bought and demolished, thus opening up the wide front of the plot at the Union Street boundary. Access from Union Street prior to 1868 was through a passageway between those old cottages.
In 1891 the interior was fitted out with new pews, the gallery was reconstructed and the old pipe organ was improved – all for £1,000! In 1901, a coal/coke-fired heating system (the boiler for which was in a cellar situated approximately just behind the position of the present pulpit) was improved, the Chapel Keeper’s cottage was demolished and new classrooms and a Church Parlour were added to the basic School buildings for £1,100.
In 1910 there were general renovations and electric lighting was installed. It is interesting to read that within two years there was an outbreak of fire causing considerable damage to the galleries and interior.
As already indicated, in 1965 the Church and Community Centre was opened and with it there was a newly laid out car park. Within only four years the Church was modernised – the front and side galleries were removed, as were the pipe organ (high at the front of the Church, at gallery level, facing the congregation) and the tall and wide pulpit. Chairs superseded hard upright pews, and the Entrance Vestibule was redesigned to enclose all the area, and the one remaining gallery entrance, behind windows and main doors. The second gallery entrance was removed to make way for the installation of toilets.
In addition, Gordon Higgins Room was created out of a former quadrangle; the kitchen was extended; a new Minister’s vestry constructed and the Church fitted with a suspended ceiling. Following a temporary closure, during which services were held at Holy Trinity Church, the modernised Church with its newly laid out Garden of Remembrance was re-opened and dedicated on 31st May 1969.