A Letter from Nantwich

    First written in March 2007  ::  Updated in November 2016

The art of saving a church building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nantwich Methodist Church in Hospital Street as seen (left) from the schoolrooms (right) in a picture taken in 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT is always sad to see a fine church building having to close because the congregation are unable to find the finance to keep it going.

   One that faced that fate was Nantwich Methodist Church, built in 1880, in Hospital Street, and previously known as Central Methodist Church. It was one of only two remaining active Methodist Churches in Nantwich. The other one is the little Broad Lane Methodist Church - in Audlem Road! (See footnote).

   Now (2016) it is still standing empty but workmen have moved in to convert it into eight "contemporary" two- or three-bedroom apartments - a development called The Wesleyan 1880. The apartments are in a "unique historic setting." Regenesis are the developers.

   The Methodist church's members now worship in what was the Wesleyan Schoolrooms (built in 1908) across the road.

   Although the Hospital Street church follows the Wesleyan tradition and the Welsh Row one (now closed - see below) was part of the Primitive Methodist church, the two churches became one in December 2000 and the last service in the Welsh Row church was held in April 2001.

   The former Hospital Street church is a Grade II listed building, which, of course, means it cannot be demolished.

    A campaign group was set up with the aim of turning the church into an arts and music centre. It would certainly have been a good setting for such a use, but nothing came of that idea. A pity because the church was ideally situated for a public venue standing, as it does, right next to a public car park and not all that far from the larger Civic Hall car park.

   The asking price in February 2007 was 400,000, and apparently there were a

number of offers for the building.

 
Lost Churches in Nantwich

NANTWICH has lost a number of Methodist churches over the years.

 

   Ebenezer Church (Free), Castle Street, was built in 1857 and closed in 1908. After being a cinema, it is now a nightclub. This was replaced as a place of worship by . . .

 

   Pillory Street Chapel (United Methodists). Built 1908. Closed in 1966 and demolished in the early 1970s.

 

   The Wood Memorial Chapel (Primitive Methodist), on The Barony. Built 1881, closed as a church in 1965. Commercial premises now stand on the site.

 

   Marsh Lane Chapel (Primitive), established in an already-established building in 1826 by the Ranters. Stopped being used in 1840. There is no trace of the building. It was succeeded by . . .

 

   Welsh Row Church (Primitive), built 1840, last used 2001. Sold by the church authorities, it is now partly housing and partly for sale as offices.

 

(See pictures below)

 

IN the early days of their campaign the group received 300 signatures to their petition and said they had the backing of the National Arts Council, the Rotary Club of Nantwich, Nantwich Historical Society, Hospital Street Association, Nantwich Civic Society, Nantwich Choral Society - and Roger Fisher who used to be the organist at Chester Cathedral.

   The church building, complete with seating (the pews) and a gallery, would be ideal for a concert venue without too much alteration. The organ, useful for many concerts, was later removed.

   I was told - wrongly as it happened - that the pews had a covenant on them and they could not be removed, which would make an arts centre use a little tricky, to say the least. How could you hang the paintings on the walls, making the viewers wander up and down the pews?

   However, having spoken to the Minister of the Church at the time, the Rev Bryan Tolhurst, I now know that the pews could be removed. The church authorities would not be allowed to remove the pews - but once the building was sold and it was no longer a church, it would be up to Nantwich Town Council and English Heritage to decide

 

Welsh Row Methodist Church was sold soon after the last service held there in 2001 and was partly converted into private housing - the part furthest from the road, in Chapel Row. The rest was on the market with planning permission for offices. Today the windows are boarded over.

 

 

 

what could be removed and what had to stay.

    I asked the Minister what he thought about a fine church building becoming apartments - if that was to be its fate. "We have no problem with that," he said. "It

happens to Methodist churches all the time. But the  people are the Church - not the building!" In fact, he told me that Methodist churches are built in a housing style so that if and when they ceased to be a church they would easily convert to homes, although Mr Tolhurst thought the Hospital Street church was more of a town hall-style building. 

   Back in 2004, when Nantwich Town Council started to look around for a town centre venue to replace their edge-of-the-town offices, the Hospital Street church was considered. But they changed their mind when they considered the cost and the size of the building.

   The council offices are now in the Civic Hall after that building was taken over from Cheshire East Council. But council meetings are still held at Brookfield Hall - a single-storey building in Brookfield Park.

 

THE church people went ahead with their plans for an all-in-one building by converting the schoolrooms as they stood.

   Back in 2000, the church announced plans to demolish the schoolrooms and construct a new all-in-one building which would house a chapel, meeting rooms and a kitchen. But the Hospital Street Association - an organisation fighting the use of the street by heavy vehicles among other battles - opposed this on the grounds that, while the building wasn't listed, the frontage was Edwardian and shouldn't be tampered with. It was, they said, a significant part of the street's character.

   The frontage remains, complete with a new entrance. Two years after the protest by the Hospital Street Association there were hopes that work would

    

From church to cinema to nightclub. This is now called The Studio - and was formerly Gregory's Nightclub

 

 

 

 Broad Lane Methodist Church

Still in use as a church - and the District Centre

 

 

 

 

begin within 12 months, at an expected cost of 800,000. But in 2004, the Department of the Environment refused the church authorities permission to demolish the church.

   However, that - as the say - is history.

   The building is flourishing, and even has a miniature railway as an attraction to weekend visitors to the town and church. Not surprisingly it is popularly known as The Church With The Train.

 

THE reason for the misnomer of the Broad Lane Methodist Church - which stands in Audlem Road - is that the road boundary between Audlem Road and Broad Lane changed.

   The road currently changes its name just around a sharp bend further along from the church, making an obvious demarcation.

    Two local historians gave me suggestions for the name change. Church stalwart, the late Joe Pennell said the Nantwich-Wybunbury parish boundary is on the bend in Audlem Road (at the junction with Peter de Stapleigh Way).

   Perhaps that was the original boundary between Broad Lane and Audlem Road.  But that would mean that Audlem Road would have been very short. An L-shaped road up to the junction with Park Road where it becomes Wellington Road.

   But . . . Andrew Lamberton tells me that Wellington Road was not so named until after the Duke of Wellington's victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

    As well as holding services, the Broad Lane church is also a District Centre for the Chester and Stoke-on-Trent District of the Methodist Church. That body's meetings are held there and they have an office.

   The church is properly known as the Primitive Methodist Centenary Chapel, as it was opened in 1907 - the 100th anniversary of a Camp Meeting held on May 31, 1807, at Mow Cop, the location of the famous folly on a hill top on the Cheshire-Staffordshire border.

   This brought about a religious revival known as Primitive Methodism, led by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes.

 

   HOW THE PROPOSAL CHANGED OVER TIME

 

JANUARY 2009

THE 200-year-old Nantwich Methodist Church building would be converted into apartments, according to a report in the Nantwich Chronicle (January 21). The change was being "backed by council leaders",  it said.

    Regenesis, a Nantwich firm, would construct eight apartments and add a three-storey townhouse and garage.

   With the rear of the site hard up against the Gullet car park, and no space at the side, presumably the town house would be built in front of the church building. It would be a pity to lose the view of the front of the church. Some people had hoped that the old church

 

 

 

 

could have become a concert venue. Nantwich Town Council was said to have looked at it as a new venue, but the costs of converting it apparently proved prohibitive.

l The final service at the Methodist church was their Annual Covenant Service on Sunday, January 4. The congregation left the church towards the end of the service and crossed the road to the new church (in the former schoolroom) as a symbol of moving to the building.

   The schoolroom conversion (at a cost of 1.2million) was made possible by the sale of the old church plus the Welsh Row Methodist Church. The building was

 

 

officially opened on Saturday, January 17, but because of the size of the premises, and the number of people who would have liked to attend, the event was by invitation only.

    Nantwich Choral Society gave the last concert in

the old church - singing Handel's "Messiah" on Saturday, January 3.  

 

MARCH 2009

An application by Regenesis had been withdrawn it was reported at the March 5 meeting of Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council Development Control Committee.

 

OTHER CHURCH ITEMS:  A tour of the Church With The Train | A new park and ride idea for town centre | What's On - churches

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