United Methodist Free Church and Pole Street Baptist Chapel

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

We have two places of worship to struggle with “on the present occasion,” and shall take the freest yet most methodistical of them first. The United Methodist Free Church – that is a rather long and imposing name – is generally called “Orchard Chapel.” The “poetry of the thing” may suffer somewhat by this deviation; but the building appears to smell as sweetly under the shorter as the longer name, so that we shall not enter into any Criticism condemnatory of the change. This chapel is the successor, in a direct line, of the first building ever erected in the Orchard. Its ancestor was placed on precisely the same spot, in 1831. Those who raised it seceded from the Wesleyan community, in sympathy with the individuals who retired from the “old body” at Leeds, in 1828, and who adopted the name of “Protestant Methodists.” For a short time the Preston branch of these Methodists worshipped in that mystic nursery of germinating “isms” called Vauxhall-road Chapel; and in the year named they erected in the Orchard a building for their own spiritual improvement.

It was a plain chapel outside, and mortally ugly within. Amongst the preaching confraternity in the connexion it used to be known as “the ugliest Chapel in Great Britain and Ireland.” In 1834 a further secession of upwards of 20,000 from the Wesleyans took place, under the leadership of the late Dr. Warren, of Manchester. These secessionists called themselves the “Wesleyan Association,” and with them the “Protestant Methodists,” including those meeting in the Orchard Chapel, Preston, amalgamated. They also adopted the name of their new companions. In 1857 the “Wesleyan Association” coalesced with another large body of persons, who seceded from the original Wesleyans in 1849, under the leadership of the Rev. James Everett and others, and the two conjoined sections termed themselves the “United Methodist Free Church.” None of the separations recorded were occasioned by any theological difference with the parent society, but through disagreement on matters of “government.”

The ministers of the United Methodist Free Church body move about somewhat after the fashion of the Wesleyan preachers. They first go to a place for twelve months, and if they stay longer it has to be through “invitation” from one of the quarterly meetings. As a rule, they stop three or four years at one church, and then move off to some new circuit, where old sermons come in, at times, conveniently for new hearers. The various churches are ruled by “leaders” – men of a deaconly frame of mind, invested with power sufficient to enable them to rule the roost in ministerial matters, to say who shall preach and who shall not, and to work sundry other wonders in the high atmosphere of church government. The “members” support their churches, financially, in accordance with their means. There is no fixed payment. Those who are better off, and not stingy, give liberally; the less opulent contribute moderately; those who can’t give anything don’t.

After an existence of about 30 years, the old chapel in the Orchard was pulled down, in order to make way for a larger and a better looking building. During the work of reconstruction Sunday services were held in the school at the rear, which was built some time before, at a cost of £1,700. The new chapel, which cost £2,600, was opened on the 22nd of May, 1862. It has a rather ornamental front – looks piquant and seriously nobby. There is nothing of the “great” or the “grand” in any part of it. The building is diminutive, cheerful, well-made, and inclined, in its stone work, to be fantastical. Internally, it is clean, ornate, and substantial. Its gallery has stronger supports than can be found in any other Preston chapel. If every person sitting in it weighed just a ton it would remain firm. There are two front entrances to the building, and at each end red curtains are fixed. On pushing one pair aside, the other Sunday, we cogitated considerably as to what we should see inside. We always associate mystery with curtains, “caudle lectures” with curtains, shows, and wax-work, and big women, and dwarfs with curtains; but as we slowly, yet determinedly, undid these United Methodist Free Church curtains, and presented our “mould of form” before the full and absolute interior, we beheld nothing special: there were only a child, two devotional women, and a young man playing a slow and death-like tune on a well-made harmonium, present. But the “plot thickened,” the place was soon moderately filled, and whilst in our seat, before the service commenced, we calmly pondered over many matters, including the difficulty we had in reaching the building. Yes, and it was a difficulty.

We took the most direct cut, as we thought, to the place, from the southern side – passed along the Market-place, into that narrowly-beautiful thoroughfare called New-street, then through a yet newer road made by the pulling down of old buildings in Lord-street, and reminding one by its sides of the ruins of Petra, and afterwards merged into the Orchard. To neither the right nor the left did we swerve, but moved on, the chapel being directly is front of us; but in a few moments afterwards we found ourselves surrounded by myriads of pots and a mighty cordon of crates – it was the pot fair. Thinking that the Orchard was public ground, and seeing the chapel so very near, we pursued the even tenour of our way, but just as we were about sliding between two crates, so as to pass on into the chapel, a strong man, top-coated, muffled up, and with a small bludgeon in his hand, moved forward and said “Can’t go.” “Why?” said we; “Folks isn’t allowed in this here place now,” said he. “Well, but this is the town’s property and we pay rates,” was our rejoinder, and his was “Don’t matter a cuss, if you were Lord Derby I should send you back.” We accused him of rudeness, and threatened to go to the police station, close by; but the fellow was obstinate; his labours were concentred in the virtuous guardianship of pots, he defied the police and “everybody;” and feeling that amid all this mass of crockery we had, for once, unfortunately, “gone to pot,” we quietly walked round to the bottom of the ground, for the crates and the pots swamped the whole _place, came up to the chapel door, within four yards of the Lord-Derby-defying individual, and quietly went into the building.

There are about 300 “members” of the church. In the Preston circuit, which until recently included Croston, Cuerden, Brinscall, Chorley, and Blackpool, and which now only embraces, Cuerden and Croston – the other places being thought sufficiently strong to look after themselves – there are about 400 “members.” What are termed “Churches” have been established at all the places named; Preston being the “parent” of them. A branch of the body exists at Southport, and it was “brought up” under the care of the Preston party. Orchard Chapel will accommodate between 700 and 800 persons; but, like other places of worship, it is never full except upon special occasions; and the average attendance may be put down at about 400.

In the old chapel the father of the late Alderman G. Smith preached for a time. The first minister of the chapel, when rebuilt, was the Rev. J. Guttridge – an energetic, impetuous, eloquent, earnest man. He had two spells at the place; was at it altogether about six years; and left the last time about a year ago. Mr. Guttridge, who is one of the smartest ministers in the body, is now residing at Manchester, connected regularly with no place of worship, on account of ill health, but doing what he can amongst the different churches. The congregation of Orchard Chapel consists principally of well-dressed working people – a quiet, sincere-looking class of individuals, given in no way to devotional hysteria, and taking all things smoothly and seriously. They are a liberal class, too. During the past two years they have raised amongst themselves about �800 towards the chapel, upon which there is still a debt, but which would have been clear of all monetary encumbrances long since if certain old scores needing liquidation had not stood in the way. The members of the choir sit near the pulpit, the females on one side and the males on the other. They are young, good-looking, and often glance at each other kindly. A female who plays the harmonium occupies the centre. The music is vigorous and, considering the place, commendable.

On Sundays there are two services at the chapel – morning and evening; and during the week meetings of a religious character are held in either the chapel or the adjoining rooms. The present minister of the chapel is the Rev. Richard Abercrombie. He has only just arrived, and may in one sense be termed the “greatest” minister in Preston, for he is at least six feet high in his stocking feet. He is an elderly gentleman, – must be getting near 70; but he is almost as straight as a wand, has a dignified look, wears a venerable grey beard, and has quite a military precision in his form and walk. And he may well have, for he has been a soldier, Mr. Abercrombie served in the British army upwards of twenty years. He followed Wellington, after Waterloo, and was in Paris as a British soldier when the famous treaty of peace was signed. His grandfather was cousin of the celebrated Sir Ralph Abercrombie, who defeated Napoleon’s forces in Egypt, and his ancestors held commissions in our army for upwards of four generations. Tired of military life, Mr. Abercrombie eventually laid down his arms, and for 33 years he has been a minister in the body he is now connected with. It is worthy of remark that, before leaving the army, he occasionally sermonised in his uniform, and 35 years ago he preached in his red jacket, &c., in the old Orchard Chapel. Mr. Abercrombie is a genial, smooth-natured, quiet man – talks easily yet carefully, preaches earnestly yet evenly; there is no froth in either his prayers or sermons; he never gets into fits of uncontrollable passion, never rides the high horse of personal ambition, nor the low ass of religious vulgarity – keeps cool, behaves himself, and looks after his work midly and well. He has two or three sons in the United Methodist Free Church ministry, and one of them, called after the general who defeated the Napoleonic forces, is the only man belonging the body who has a university M.A. after his name.

Very good schools are connected with Orchard Chapel. The average day attendance is 140; and on Sundays the average is about 350, In the last place, we may observe that the people belonging Orchard Chapel are, generally, getting along comfortably in all their departments. Formerly they had feuds, and fights, and church meetings, at which odd pieces of scandal were bandied about – they may have morsels of unpleasantness yet to encounter; but taking them all in all they are moving on serenely and well.

Passing not “from pole to pole,” but from the Orchard to Pole-street, we come to the Baptist Chapel in that, thoroughfare – a rather dull, strongly-railed-off place, which seems to be receding from public sight altogether. About 45 years ago, a small parcel of Preston people, enamoured of the Calvinistic Methodism which the Countess of Huntingdon recognised, worshipped in a building in Cannon-street. In 1825 they built, or had raised for them, a chapel in Pole-street, which was dedicated to St. Mark. At this time, probably on account of its novelty, the creed drew many followers – the new chapel was patronised by a somewhat numerous congregation, which kept increasing for a period. But it gradually dwindled down, and a total collapse finally ensued. In 1855 a number of General Baptists, who split from their brethren worshipping in the old Leeming-street chapel, struck a bargain with the expiring Lady Huntingdon section for their building in Pole-street, gave about £700 for it, forthwith shifted thereto, and continue to hold the place. There is nothing at all calling for comment as to the exterior of the chapel; and not much as to the interior. It will accommodate about 900 persons. The pews are high, awkward to sit in, and have a grim cold appearance. The building is pretty lofty, and is well galleried. The pulpit is at the far end, and the singers sit on a railed platform before it. The congregation seems both thin and poor. Very lately we were in it, and estimated the number present at 84 – rather a small party for a chapel capable of holding 900. The building possesses about the best acoustical properties of any place of worship in Preston. The late Mr. Samuel Grimshaw, of Preston, who, amongst many other things, had a special taste for music, used to occupy it at times, with his band, for the purposes of “practising.” He liked it on account of its excellent sounding qualities. Once, after some practice in it, Mr. Grimshaw offered a “return” – said he would give the brethren a musical lift with his band during some anniversary services to be held in the chapel. His promise was accepted, and when the day came there was a complete musical flood. The orchestra, including the singers, numbered about 50, and the melodious din they created was something tremendous. “Sam” had the arrangement of it. There were tenors, baritones, bass men, trebles, alto-singers, in the fullest feather; there were trumpeters, tromboners, bassooners, ophicleideans, cornet-a-piston players, and many others, all instrumentally armed to the very teeth, and the sensation they made, fairly shook and unnerved the more pious members of the congregation, who protested against the chapel being turned into a “concert-hall,” &c. The music after all, was good, and if it were as excellent now there would be a better attendance at the place. The present orchestra consists of perhaps a dozen singers, including a central gentleman who is about the best shouter we ever heard; and they are helped out of any difficulties they may get into by a rather awkwardly-played harmonium.

The Rev. W. J. Stuart is the minister of the chapel, and he receives from £70 to £80 a year for his duties. He has a gentlemanly appearance; looks pretty well considering the nature of his salary; is getting into the grey epoch of life; is not very erudite; but seems well up in scriptural subjects; is sincere, mild, primitive in his notions; has fits of cautiousness and boldness; is precise and earnest in expression; has an “interpretational” tendency in his sacred utterances; is disposed to explain mysteries; likes homilising the people; can talk much; and can be very earnest over it all. He has fair action, and sometimes gets up to 212 in his preaching. We won’t say that he is in any sense a wearying preacher; but this we may state, that if his sermons were shorter they would not be quite so long. And from this he may take the hint. We are told that the attendance at the chapel is slightly increasing; but as compared with the past it is still very slender. The admission to either the platform or pulpit of the chapel, not very long ago, of a wandering “Indian chief,” and a number of Revivalists, who told strange tales and talked wildly, has operated, we believe, against the place – annoyed and offended some, and caused them to leave. The minister, no doubt, admitted these men with an honest intention; but everybody can’t stand the war-whooping of itinerant Indians, nor the sincere ferociousness of Revivalists; and awkward feelings were consequently generated in some quarters by them. In the main, Mr. Stuart is a kindly, quiet, gentlemanly person, and barring the little interruption caused by the dubious Indian and the untamed Revivalists, has got on with a small congregation and a bad salary better than many parsons would have been able to do.