In brilliant sunshine, on the 25th July, 1885, a joyfully anticipated ceremony took place in Holcombe Brook – the laying of the Corner Stone of the United Methodist Free Church. However, for the actual foundation of this enterprise we must look back some eleven years to a date in 1874 when a few Methodists met together to plan the setting up of a Sunday School and place of Worship in a stable in Pot Green.
Before then, Methodist people living in Holcombe Brook walked every Sunday to attend services in the Patmos (Ramsbottom) Methodist Free Church, for there was no day or Sunday School or Church of any denomination in Holcombe Brook. But there was a Temperance organisation, the Band of Hope, meeting in Pot Green, and so it was resolved at the Quarterly Circuit Meeting of September 12th, 1874, that a deputation of three should approach the Band of Hope Committee to reach an agreement that their meeting room, rented from Mr. Dearden, should be used for “preaching services”. A satisfactory arrangement was made and on October 18th, 1874, the first committee meeting took place when it was resolved “that there be a Sunday School at Holcombe Brook”.
The Sunday School started on 15th November, 1874, with six classes each for males and females; three of those classes were taught the alphabet and spelling. The holding of Sunday Evening Services began in June 1875, with a membership of thirteen. Thus, Holcombe Brook United Methodist Free Church came into being.
In order to provide adequate accommodation for the congregation for the Anniversary Services, or “Sermons”, the Church officials had to find premises other than the room (or stable) in which normal services were held. Mr. James Warburton, one of the founders of the Church, solved this problem by allowing these services to be held in the warehouse of his mill situated behind the “Hare and Hounds” in the centre of Holcombe Brook. (This mill later became Holden’s Towel Mill). Machinery had to be removed and props put underneath the floor to carry the weight of the congregation. After the evening service everything had to be restored to normal, so that the building would be ready for work as usual on the Monday morning.
Some older members of our present church recall how their fathers used to tell them that the boys went early to the Sunday School in Pot Green to have spare time in which to entertain themselves and each other by throwing pieces of coal to the farmer’s pigs – probably the farmer’s own coal! All the same, those boys had respect for authority and showed gratitude for the teaching and guidance of Mr. Thomas Warburton who, when addressing the Sunday School, often warned them: “Now lads, I can do with lads and I can do with ‘fellies’, but I won’t have ‘fellylads’”
During those early years Holcombe Brook shared ministerial services with Hawkshaw Lane Methodist Church, with Patmos (Ramsbottom) as the Mother Church.
It can be seen that the Church had a very humble beginning, but it was felt by many that it created an influence for good and served a valuable need in the area. The foundation was obviously built on faith, wisdom, an understanding of human nature, and great deal of hard work.
After a very short time it became obvious that a “New Chapel” would have to be built, for the little room in Pot Green had become quite inadequate for the progress that the Sunday School was making. There were now 132 scholars, 21 teachers, with 83 members of the Band of Hope. When so few people set about raising money to build a new Chapel they did, indeed, form a band of hope in many ways.
The first contribution was raised in 1879 by carol singers going out on Christmas Eve when they collected £7.6s.8d. The final cost of the building, including the land, was £1,212 – a formidable sum to be raised by so few people in the latter part of the 19th century. Money-raising efforts continued, and in the summer of 1885 the building of the present Church commenced. Mrs. Isaac Hoyle of Prestwich and Miss Florence Rumney of Stubbins laid the Corner Stones. This ceremony was preceded by a procession comprised of scholars, teachers and friends who walked from the old school to the site of the new building. The procession was headed by the Walshaw Lane Temperance Brass Band. During the ceremony a bottle containing copies of The Christian World, The Christian Age, The Bury Times, The Manchester Examiner and Times, and several coins of the realm was placed in the cavity. The builders were Messrs. T. & J. Foster of Ramsbottom.
As the work progressed it was found that economies would have to be made. One such economy was the leaving out of one beam in the ceiling. The remaining beams were then placed so that none would rest over a window. That was the reason for the irregular spaces between the beams.
The New Chapel was opened for Public Worship on Thursday, 17th December, 1885, with an afternoon and evening service, and the following Sunday marked the commencement of regular Worship there.
Inside there was a permanent platform about 2’6″ high in front of the pews. On this platform were placed forms on which the Choir sat. At each side steps led up to the platform and at the rear sides were fancy rails which could be taken out when concerts were held. In the front, facing the pews, stood the pulpit, which was on castors so that it could be wheeled away on such occasions and for the Harvest Festival when tiers of tables were erected to hold fruit, flowers and vegetables. This pulpit is the upper part of the present-day pulpit.
The small organ, worked by a hand blower, was situated at the side where the pulpit now stands. The pews had doors and were numbered. Lighting was by gas. If it became necessary during the service somebody, usually a tall young man who could reach the height of the lamps, had to leave his place in the pew to go round and light up!
When the Anniversary services were held four or five tiers of joiner-made bench seats were erected between the platform (now the end of the organ) and the side door which was locked. These seats were to accommodate the Sunday School scholars.
This new building was intended to provide another service for the community – that of a day school, for none existed in Holcombe Brook in 1885. A blackboard and easel and long bench-type desks with inkwells were bought for this purpose and probably were used as Hazlehurst School did not open until about 1901. Those desks remained in existence until recent years. The toilets were at the bottom of the yard which was divided by a wall to create two playgrounds.
After the Chapel was completed there remained the burden of a huge debt. A Connexional Loan was made, the annual interest on which absorbed the whole of the “Sermons” collections. The year 1890 brought a trade depression, unemployment, and families leaving the area to seek work elsewhere, all of which added to the problem of reducing the debt. However, great efforts were made: personal sacrifices took place, the young men acted as caretakers and, on receiving their allowance, immediately paid the money into the Debt Reduction Fund, and in 1895 a Bazaar was held when the money raised was sufficient to repay the outstanding debt.