From The Bolton Journal and Guardian, Friday, February 21, 1936, reproduced here by the kind permission of the Bolton News.
Methodism has left its mark on the world in spiritual upheaval and social progress, but its most fervent devotee would not claim that it had exercised anything very notable in architectural achievement. Rather the opposite. Its builders have been concerned with the spirit that pervaded the life of their societies. Puritanical for decades in their attitude towards things that savoured of the world, it is not surprising we find the old worthies have left us few buildings that boast anything of embellishment in design.
So while Bolton has many Methodist churches, they mostly possess characteristic qualities – sturdy, plain, and indeed, unlovely, except a few as, for instance, Park-st Victoria, Chorley Old-rd,. Castle-st, and Deane, which show a widening of outlook.
Fletcher-st. Methodist Church is one of the characteristic type. It has a pseudo-Italian front. Inside the layout of the church is typical of most Methodist churches in that the pulpit occupies the most prominent position. It is at the end of the church in front of the massive organ. The choir seats are arranged on either side of the console.
Significantly, the preacher faces a clock on the front of a gallery which runs round three sides of the church. Just below the pulpit is the Communion table, draped, when I saw it this week, with mauve, in memory of King George V. The wood from which the pews and other furniture are made is very finely polished, and the interior is pleasant enough, though plain to a degree.
The present church was built some 70 years ago, having been opened on May 31st, 1861, by the Rev. John Hannah, D.D. It cost £3,500, and has accommodation for 1,150 worshippers. The organ was a gift of Mr. John Howard, and cost 600 guineas. It, too, was built in 1861, but in 1907 it was reconstructed, the expense being borne by Mr. John Smith, the then trustees’ treasurer.
The architect of the present chapel was Mr. George Woodhouse, who designed many Bolton buildings, the contractor being Mr. Joseph Marsden, of Bridge-st.
The chapel is built mainly of brick, with dressings of Yorkshire stone. It is 59ft. wide, 79ft. long – apart from the “orchestra” containing the organ – and 48ft. high. On each side of the organ there is a vestry. The main door is approached by a broad flight of steps off which is a vestibule from which lead two staircases to the gallery.
The school near the chapel takes us back to the early days of Methodism in Bolton, for this building was the original Fletcher-st. Methodist Chapel. When the new chapel was built the old building was altered and became the school.
Early in the 19th century it was evident that there was a definite call to evangelization among the population of Bolton Moor. Cottage prayer meetings had been held in the neighbourhood by the Wesleyans almost from the opening of the century, but it became increasingly obvious that a chapel was necessary.
On May 1st, 1819, a plot of land on Bolton Moor was leased to Wm. Moscrop and on July 10th of the same year this plot was assigned to Messrs. Rothwell, Baxendale and others as a site for a chapel. The land having been secured, the plans for a Wesleyan church to serve Bolton Moor went rapidly ahead. The plans were drawn by a Mr. E. Bowen and the building of the chapel was entrusted to Mr. Joseph Marsden, a local builder and Methodist. The cost of the chapel apart from the cost of excavations for the foundations was £1,345 9s. 8 ½ d.
The ironwork – pillars, stair-rails, palisades, etc. – cost 102. For the illumination of the chapel 80 candlesticks and two pulpit sconces were purchased at a cost of £19.
Nothing is mentioned at the outset about the heating of the chapel but later, reference is made to “the stoves used for warming.”
The chapel was opened for worship on November 19th, 1819, by Dr. Adam Clarke, the first Sunday services being held on November 28th.
The chapel was registered as a place of worship on January 29th, 1820. In 1821 a school, a one-storey building, was built at the rear of the chapel, a second storey being added about 1837.
Conference at Sheffield in 1835 gave permission for the erection of an organ, which was built about 1838. The chapel was one of the first places of worship in Bolton to be illuminated by gas, this being installed in 1836.
An infants’ school was built in the chapel yard in 1848, but was afterwards demolished to make room for the new chapel.
The chapel was licensed for the solemnization of marriages on January 11th, 1859, and about this time it was felt that something should be done to provide extra accommodation for seat-holders who were on the waiting list, and this movement culminated in the new chapel in 1861.
Fletcher-st. Chapel has played a notable part in Bolton Methodism, and its day and Sunday schools have had a powerful influence. A one-time head master of the day school and superintendent of the Sunday School was Mr. J.H. Raper, the well-known temperance advocate. A stated in the “Journal and Guardian” recently, the schools were barricaded to keep him and his scholars out in 1848, when he took up agitation for the Wesleyan Reform Movement.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of its pastors was Dr. Stephenson, the co-founder of the National Children’s Home, whilst one of its notable laymen was Judge Edge.
In past years there had been a tendency for the congregations to diminish, but more recently a marked improvement is again being experienced. Worshippers with long family connexions with Fletcher-st. come from all parts of the town to the weekly services.
It has had a noble history, but is not resting on its laurels. The present congregation is hopeful of great things in the future as in the past.