From The Bolton Journal and Guardian, Friday, January 1, 1937, reproduced here by the kind permission of the Bolton News.
The simplicity of design so much loved by the early Methodists no doubt had its value, and reflected their outlook and particularly their attitude towards some outward forms of worship. The zeal for simplicity, however, when carried in excess, produced gaunt and unattractive, in many cases distinctly ugly, churches.
But in certain instances there came a reaction and in such a church as Park-st. Methodist we see a definite break with the old tradition. Here we have an architect designing, not a meeting house, or a chapel – but a church, complete with chancel, stained-glass transepts and even a suggestion of a spire.
The architect, backed by the representatives of certain local Wesleyan families with advanced views, broke away from the old outlook, and went back to the established Church for his ideas. So Park-st. is a church not only Gothic in design but cruciform in plan.
It is not surprising, therefore, that it should have earned the description of “The Cathedral of Bolton Methodism.” Although not a massive structure, it merits that appellation because, architecturally, it was without doubt the queen of local Methodist churches.
Its erection was the outcome of a scheme put forward in November, 1859, by a few influential friends of Wesleyan Methodism in Bolton.
They realized the urgent need that existed for further extension, created by the growing congestion of the old mother circuit of Bridge-st. There was an obvious need for greater accommodation at the old brick building as well as at the old chapel in Fletcher-st.
The North Circuit, as Bridge-st. was then called, was so cramped for accommodation that it was decided to build two new chapels. This decision was reached at a meeting of trustees and friends held at the house of Mr. George Knowles, Tudor Villa, on November 24th, 1859, “called for the purpose of holding a free conversation on the state of Methodism in the Bolton North Circuit, and if possible to devise means for its extension and development.”
The meeting passed the following resolution: “That it is expedient to enter upon a scheme for the building of a new chapel at Fletcher-st., and the conversion of the present one into schools; also, as a relief to the Bridge-st. chapel, the building of a new chapel, school and minister’s house in the neighbourhood of Chorley-rd., the whole involving an outlay of about 11,000.” The estimated cost of the new chapel at Park-st. was £5,000.
This decision having been reached a building committee was formed on which were represented such notable local families as the Knowleses, the Cannons, the Musgraves, and the Marsdens, and Mr. James Barlow, Messrs. John and T.W. Heaton, Mr. George Woodhouse and Mr. James Moscrop.
The building committee met regularly and the scheme was quickly got under way. The zeal and enthusiasm of the local Wesleyans of the day is shown by the generous contributions made towards the scheme. Here are some of them – Miss Rothwell and friends at Sunning Hill £1,200; Mr. R. Knowles £1,000; Mr. John Knowles £1,000; Mr. George Knowles £1,000; Mr. T.W. Heaton £750; Mr. John Heaton £750; Mr John Orton £500; Mr. Thomas Moscrop £500; Mr. W.W. Cannon £500; Mr. Joseph Marsden £500; Mr. James Barlow £500. There were other generous benefactors.
Many of these subscriptions were later increased, so that at that time, Bolton Methodism was obviously not lacking in generous supporters.
In February, 1860, a “monstre tea meeting” was held in the Temperance Hall where the scheme was put before the public and secured a large number of supporters and willing workers.
The corner stone of Park-st. Chapel was laid on October 12th, 1861, by Mr. Robert Knowles, and on March 4th, 1863, the chapel was opened, the preacher being the Rev. C. Priest, president of the Conference.
The first cost of the chapel was £10,933. In 1865 a temporary organ was put in, and a chapel-keeper’s house cost another £612, and in 1871 a parsonage was built costing £2,217. In 1883 the chapel was decorated, a new organ built, and the schools extended, the cost this time being £3,164. Thus the total outlay on park-st. Chapel was close on £17,000.
The style of architecture is the decorated Gothic of the 13th and 14th centuries, and externally the walls are faced with Yorkshire pierpoints in dressings of Wrexham stone.
The plan of the chapel is cruciform, with nave, north and south transepts, and chancel in which the organ is placed. The choir stalls are on each side of the organ in recesses formed by the extension of the nave beyond the transepts, and a large and ornately-decorated stone pulpit, with an extensive Communion, occupy the space between the transepts. There is a gallery over the front vestibule, and one in each transept, the seating accommodation being comfortably 900 in pews that were 70 years ago considered very advanced in design, each with its carved pew head.
The church has a very fine interior with numerous carvings in Caen stone, and the pulpit is a striking one of the same stone. The stained glass in the transept windows, like the elaborate baptismal font, were given in memory of much-loved worshippers.
Mr. George Woodhouse, a generous supporter of the scheme, was the architect, and in addition was responsible for a time for the excellence of its musical service, for he not only designed the two-manual organ, but was the organist up to the time of his death.
The premises also include a handsome church parlour, attractively panelled, commodious schoolrooms for adults and juniors, and a fine set of classrooms. This church and school have numbered half a dozen ex-Mayors of Bolton among their officers, members, and scholars, and several times in its history the school has been under the superintendency of men who were also guiding the town’s civic affairs.