Non-conformity at the beginning of the 19th century was beginning to be well established. By 1813 “Protestant Dissenters” called “Independents” (later to be called Congregationalists) worshipped at Queen Street Chapel in Wolverhampton; certain members of the congregation were Wombourne residents. These included Mr and Mrs Stephens, who lived in a cottage on High Street in front of our Church. This meant long journeys on foot or by pony and trap so they decided to hold a meeting in their own home. Friends joined them and other homes too were used for their meetings. Preachers frequently came from Queen Street Chapel to lead their meetings.
A retired exciseman named Thomas Brain joined their group and he and others in the group arranged with a Mr Hill, who ran a boys day school, to hire the barn there for worship on Sundays. It accommodated about 140. This school was located at the bottom of Gravel Hill opposite Common Road and is still there today, now a dwelling place. Sadly the school eventually closed and the group took the building over on lease for 21 years. It was plastered, a ceiling put in and a pulpit and forms installed and the group used it for their services and to run a Sunday School. Mr Samuel Cartwright ran this and there were over 100 children in attendance.
In 1849 property belonging to Mr Clark of Wolverhampton was offered for sale. One of the lots was in Mill Lane and the members purchased it as it was suitable for building a chapel. Mr Cartwright, a longstanding member of the group consulted with Reverend Watson Smith, the minister of the Parent Church at Queen Street, Wolverhampton, to gain his approval in buying the land and building a Church. A meeting was called and Mr George Bidlake, a young architect who was just entering into practice offered to prepare the plans at no charge. The offer was gratefully accepted and the building of the Church was completed in 1851.
In this year, Wombourne was described by William White as a large village, “occupied chiefly by nailers, who work for the neighbouring manufacturers”. (History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, Sheffield, 1851). Nail-making remained important into the 20th century. As White implies, it was mainly the preserve of outworkers who operated small-scale machinery in, or attached to, their own homes, fetching iron sheet or rod from the foundries and returning the finished product.
As late as 1889 it was reported to the House of Commons that there used to be “a thousand nail shops in Wombourne, a village near Wolverhampton, and there is not one left there now.”
The new Church opened for worship on May 6 1851. There are plaques in the Church to commemorate the founder and other Superintendents.
Mr Samuel Cartwright – Founder who died in 1856
Mr Samuel Cartwright became the first Superintendent and held the position until his death six years later.
Mr Thomas Stephens (1856 – 1869)
Mr Stephens, the nephew of Samuel Cartwright became Superintendent in 1856. He was the grandson of Mr and Mrs Stephens. He died in 1869 and there followed a period of time when, without a Superintendent of their own, the Church was looked after by representatives from the Parent Church in Queen Street, Wolverhampton. Many improvements to the building took place. In 1870 a vestry and schoolroom were added and in 1927 electricity was used for lighting.
Mr Henry Thomas (1910 – 1934)
In 1910, Mr Henry Thomas who lived in Arbour Tree House became Superintendent until he died in 1934. The spiritual life of the Church progressed and along with many social events and outings the Church flourished.
The Large Stained Glass Window
The stained glass windows were dedicated in 1921, mainly to former well known members of the Chapel. However, the dedication in the centre does raise some queries:
“IN LOVING MEMORY OF LESLIE G. SHAW WHO GAVE HIS LIFE FOR KING & COUNTRY OCT 13TH 1915″
This is because Leslie’s name doesn’t appear on the War Memorial Tablet in the Church which was dedicated in 1921 to members who gave their lives during the First World War. The answer could be that the Shaw family connection was through their membership at Queen Street Congregational Church which was of course the Parent Church of Wombourne and members from there came to Wombourne to preach and chair meetings. The Foundation Stone on the front of the Church was laid by John Shaw Esq. of Wolverhampton. This may have been Leslie’s grandfather.
In 2005 Peter Rhodes, the Express and Star journalist, asked if he could photograph the window as he was writing an article on Sedbergh School in Cumbria which Leslie and his two older brothers, Hamilton and Malcolm had attended. The three brothers would have been trained in the military at Sedbergh so when war came a few years later they were ready to fight for their country. Malcolm was wounded in 1917 but survived and Hamilton came home unscathed. Leslie could have trained as an officer but instead he signed up as a Private in the South Staffordshire Regiment. In 1915 he was commissioned as an officer in the South Staffs Fifth Battalion and sadly he died six weeks later. On 13 October , aged 25, he fell with hundreds of North and South Staffords in the Battle of Loos. His body was never found. Sedbergh’s book of military honours records that a former pupil met Lieutenant Shaw shortly before his death and noted “…his utter disregard for either personal safety or comfort, so long as our cause was progressing satisfactorily.”
Mr and Mrs Shaw in donating the window to their son who died so bravely must have wanted, in their grief, his memory to live on through the generations.
After the death of Henry Thomas in 1934 it was decided by Queen Street that a committee of members would run the Wombourne Church in future with Pastor Wilson presiding at Church meetings. At the end of that year it was agreed that Reverend H B Jutson who had been recently appointed minister responsible for Tettenhall Wood, would preach at Wombourne twice a month and would also do some visiting in the village. When Mr Jutson left the area in 1947 the possibility was explored of raising the necessary stipend for the Church to support a whole time minister.
Unlike today in the United Reformed Church where finances are centralised and the ministers are paid whether the individual Churches can afford the whole stipend or not, the local Congregational Church needed to make sure that it had sufficient finances to support a minister.
Raymond Porter (1951 – 1959)
It wasn’t until 1949 that the members were able to make an application for a full time minister and in July of that year Mr Raymond Porter, who was a student at Paton College, Nottingham, accepted the post of student minister for three months, preaching each week and visiting in the village. After this he continued to preach on alternate Sundays. On 12 February 1950 a call was issued to Mr Porter to become the first full-time minister on completion of his college course in July 1951. The Lindens in Station Road was purchased as a manse and Mr Porter and his wife Ivy and baby daughter, Mary-Rose moved in. He was Ordained and Inducted to the Ministry of Wombourne Congregational Church in July 1951. It was fitting for the Church to have called its first minister in time for the centenary of the Church which was celebrated in May 1951.
There was already a thriving youth club which continued during Reverend Porter’s Ministry, many of the young people becoming church members; he also conducted the weddings of some of them.
During Mr. Porter’s ministry, the possibility of buying land at the back of the Church was first looked into as early as 1952. Mr A. J. Allen, a businessman who lived at Greenhill House generously bought the land and subsequently the Allen Memorial Hall was built in memory of his wife Nan who died in 1953. The hall was opened in 1957 and it was Mr Allen’s wish that it be used mainly for the youth of the Church.
In 1958 a change to the interior of the Sanctuary took place when the pews were altered to allow a centre aisle instead of two side aisles.
Reverend Porter left Wombourne in 1959 as he felt that God was calling him to work in a different direction and he took up a position as lecturer at Wolverhampton Technical College.
Reverend Stuart Gibbons (1960 – 1969)
Reverend Stuart Gibbons became the next minister, coming straight from Mansfield College, Oxford, in 1960. Family Church replaced Sunday School and a programme for altering the Sanctuary was proposed with the front door to the Church being blocked off, pews being turned around and the pulpit moving from beside the choir stalls. The door was positioned at the side of the Church as it is today.
Reverend Stanley Light (1971 – 1977)
Reverend Gibbons moved from Wombourne in 1969 and Reverend Stanley Light came in 1971. Talks on union had been on going for some time at a high level between the Congregational Church and the Presbyterian Church. The commissioning took place in October 1972 and the name of the Church then became Wombourne United Reformed Church. Mr Light retired in 1977.
Reverend Ian Jones (1979 – 1985)
Reverend Ian Jones became the next minister in 1979, also having oversight of the nearby United Reformed Church in Swindon. This was his first ministry, having trained at Westminster College, Cambridge. It was during his ministry that the Old Manse, the caretaker’s house, now The House on the Green, was sold and from some of the proceeds a much-needed porch was added to the door of the Church.
Reverend Dennis Williams (1987 – 1995)
When Reverend Jones left in 1985 discussions took place regarding ministry and it now became apparent that there was a shortage of ministers and more grouping of Churches was inevitable. When Reverend Dennis Williams came in 1987 he became the Minister of three Churches, St. Andrew’s, Wall Heath, Swindon and Wombourne United Reformed Churches. A new manse was bought at 1, Waverley Gardens, Wombourne. The grouping worked well with the Churches retaining their individuality with certain areas being covered as a group pastorate and joint services, with meetings and social events taking place.
During Reverend Williams’ ministry discussions began with Mr Kelvin Haden regarding the possibility of building some shops and a new meeting room for the Church on the land where the old schoolroom stood. The schoolroom, having been built in 1870, was in a considerable state of disrepair. Discussions continued on and off into the ministry of the Reverend Jean Spragg.
Reverend Jean Spragg (1996 – 2013)
When Reverend Williams retired in 1995 the Reverend Jean Spragg was waiting in the wings to receive the call to the group pastorate and she was ordained in July 1996. The three Churches then came under the title of the “Smestow Brook Group Pastorate.”
At the beginning of 2004, architect Eric Hudson and builder Terry Boorer cam on to the site and work began on the plans first discussed with Reverend Williams. The old schoolroom was demolished and replaced with two shop units with flats above. The foundation stone, which was built into the old schoolroom, was laid on 31 October 1870 by the then Mayoress of Wolverhampton, Mrs T. Bantock. During the demolition of the building the builders carefully preserved it, cleaned it and built it in to the new meeting room.
On 5 December 2004 Reverend Jean Spragg held a dedication service when the congregation moved from the Church into the new Meeting Room. The Elders shared in the reading of a prayer of dedication and Reverend Jean sang “As we are gathered, Jesus is here.” On Sunday 13 February 2005 the Meeting Room was officially opened when Reverend Elizabeth Welch, Moderator of the West Midlands Synod conducted the service.
At the architect’s suggestion a Biblical text was pained on the wall above the door leading into the choir area of the Church. Several alternative suggestions were listed and Reverend Jean asked the congregation to make their choice. The reading gaining most votes was, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew Ch. 18 v. 20)
Dedication Prayer: 5 December 2004
As we dedicate this room we offer God our thanks and praise: For those whose vision and commitment inspired the birth of this Church 153 years ago and the schoolroom, now gone, 134 years ago. And for those whose faithful service continued the Church’s life and worship.
Today, in another new chapter of our history, we give thanks for those whose foresight and planning of this building have come to fruition. And we praise you Lord for those whose clear-sightedness enabled your people to withstand disappointment, to smile at frustration and to continue to move forward in faith. We give thanks for all those who have helped us along the way and we especially thank you for the creativity and craftsmanship that have given us a room beyond our expectations and one truly built to Your Glory.
We thank you Lord for your gracious love to us and we pray that we will accept the challenge that you have given to us in providing this new room. And that all activities held here by all ages in our Church community will help faith and love to grow.
Jesus said “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
We offer all our thanks and praise in the name and through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Redevelopment of the Allen Memorial Hall
In November 2003 the Church members were most grateful to receive a generous bequest to the Church as stated in the Will of Mrs Daphne Doreen Cornelius (nee Allen). Mrs Cornelius was the youngest daughter of Mr A.J. Allen who had the Allen Hall Memorial Hall built in Mill lane in 1957 in memory of his wife, Nan (during the Ministry of Reverend Porter).
It was decided at a Church meeting that the money should be spent on the refurbishment of the Allen Memorial Hall and that the same team who had built the new Meeting Room should be contracted to carry out the work. Eric Hudson and Terry Boorer were again appointed and work commenced in January 2005. The work to be carried out included converting the kitchen into a storeroom and the coffee lounge into a kitchen. The toilets were changed and brought up to date, central heating was installed and a new false ceiling and lighting were put in place. The hatch was repositioned to suit the new kitchen and the space it left was changed into the storeroom door.
The Church was grateful to receive a grant of £2,000 from Staffordshire District Council towards the cost of replacing the steps outside the hall to a ramp for disabled access. New double glazed windows were installed on the Mill Lane side and the flat roof over the kitchen and toilets was built over with a new pitched roof to match the existing roof. New stage curtains and window blinds were purchased and many other improvements were made ending with the whole building being redecorated.
The work was completed in April 2006.
A plaque to show the Church’s grateful thanks for this bequest was placed on the inside north wall of the Allen Memorial Hall and this was dedicated by Reverend Jean following the morning service on Sunday 18 November 2007. On this occasion the Church was delighted to welcome Miss Rebecca Allen and Mrs Edwina Watkins (nieces of Mrs Cornelius). They were most interested to see photographs of their grandfather and family in the Church archives which were on display. The photographs were taken at the Church garden parties in the 1950’s which were held at Mr.Allen’s home at Green Hill.
Reverend Nadene Snyman (2015 – 2019)
Reverend Nadene arrived in 2015. She attended Rhodes University, Grahamstown in South Africa (1990 – 1993) and achieved a BA in Theology as well as achieving a Masters in Practical Theology in 2015 at the University of Cardiff. She also attended the University of Johannesburg (2004 – 2009) in South Africa and achieved a Masters Degree in Technology: Homeopathy. Between 2009 – 2013 she had a private practice in Newport, Wales, as a Qualified Homeopath and during this time in 2012 she volunteered in Botswana for a UK based Homeopathy Charity called The Maun Homeopathy Project. She also held teaching posts in South Africa and volunteered in several Churches there as well as in Wales.
Under Reverend Nadene’s ministry the Church moved even further forward, with the introduction of the Website for the Smestow Brook Group Pastorate, the Messy Church and the ECO Church and Garden Award, as well as the Tea and Chat and Crochet Groups. She moved on in 2019 to Christ Church United Reformed Church in Orpington, Kent.
In 2019, Penn United Reformed Church became part of the Pastorate and a new name is being discussed with the advertisement for a new Minister to be issued soon.