Wolverton’s Ecclesiastical History – XI The Non Conformist Churches

From the time of the Reformation there were those who wished to move further away from the Roman rites than the majority. The Church of England, with its Book of Common Prayer, became a compromise between the conservative Roman Catholic tendency and the reformers. There were those reformers who wanted to go further and many of these tensions came to the surface in the 17th Century Civil War. In the 18th century passions cooled and preachers such as ~John Wesley were able to gain adherents without being executed for treason. They were however known as Nonconformists and their activities were restricted. They were, for example, not allowed to perform legal marriages and all births and burials had to be entered in the Church of England Parish Register. Nor were prospective ministers allowed to study at either Oxford or Cambridge until 1850.
Nonconformism means that they did not conform to the mainstream churches in the UK, either the Church of England or its predecessor the Roman Catholic Church. It is essentially a negative description and in no way describes their attitude to worship. Sometimes they were called “dissenters” – another negative appellation.
Under this umbrella term came the various methodist groups, baptists, quakers and the Salvation Army. In essence, all of these groups, whatever their particular differences, believed that the individual could communicate directly with God without the intercession of a priest.
In Wolverton there were two Methodist Churches, a Congregational Church, and Emmanuel Hall, which may have been a Baptist Group. The Wesley brothers had great success with their preaching in North Bucks and the 19th century buildings for the wesleyans were amongst the first and largest. A chapel was built in Stony Stratford in 1844 on what is now Silver Street. The picture below shows the first Wesleyan Chapel on Church Street in Wolverton, minus spire I think.

The Methodists in Wolverton at first met in a colleagues home or went to Stony Stratford. Within a few years the Reading Room was converted for their use on Sunday and in 1870 a new church chapel was opened at the eastern end of Church Street. This was redevloped and enlarged in 1892 – the building you see here in this photograph.

This building is no longer used, but the twentieth century West End Methodist Chapel on Church Street at the corner of Anson Road is still in use.

History of Emmanuel Hall

Emmanuel HallThis description taken from the Emmanuel Hall website.

In 1922 a group of evangelical Christians, who had formed themselves into a church and who were meeting together in a rented upstairs room in the back way between Church Street and Stratford Road, decided to acquire a permanent place of worship. They purchased two adjacent properties in Church Street and built a meeting room across the rear gardens. This small meeting place, originally known as Emmanuel Chapel, was later referred to as a gospel hall rather than a chapel, but today it is called Emmanuel Hall.

This group had come together, having withdrawn their membership from the other free churches of the town whose doctrinal position was becoming increasingly influenced by liberal theology. These believers maintained an active gospel testimony in the years that followed and were supported both by The Mission Hall at New Bradwell (in Caledonian Road) and the Mission at Stony Stratford (linked to Fegan’s Homes).
Mainly due to the disruption caused by the outbreak of war, the fellowship disbanded and transferred its allegiance and trusteeship to the Bradwell Mission Hall. Emmanuel Hall was taken over by the Wolverton local authority for use as an employment exchange. Under the new city reorganisation, a job centre was established in the Agora centre in 1979 and Emmanuel Hall put on the market by its trustees.

Emmanuel Hall

Congregational Church

The Congregational Church came into being in 1878 but didn’t even make its centenary, being pulled down in 1970 as part of the authorized demolition of Wolverton landmarks post Milton Keynes. The church, in red brick held a commanding position at the top of the square. I belive the manse for this church was on Moon Street. the church was replaced by a supermarket with some provision for church activity in an upper room. In this photograph, dating from the 1950s, you can see the old Cenotaph, fenced off with a low wrought iron railing.

I have been conscious, while writing this section, how little I know about the Nonconformist churches. More surprising to me has been the difficulty of finding information on their history. If there is anyone who can enlighten me and add to the discussion, I would be grateful