The Methodist chapel in Marlowes is the oldest of the buildings in that part of the town centre scheduled to be demolished to make way for new long-awaited ‘civic quarter’ development, so it’s an appropriate time to look back at its history of service.
Methodism spread rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and many of the ministers who could not afford transport such as a pony and trap were noted for walking miles on foot, attending to the members within their circuit.
In Hemel Hempstead, the work was growing at such a rapid pace that new churches were needed.
The population of the town expanded from just under 3,000 in 1801 to more than 11,000 in 1901.
A chapel in Redbourn Street is recorded in 1836 and the next building was built in Queen Street (Queensway), at Fensome’s Alley, in 1839.
The area covered by the circuit at that time stretched from Wheathampstead to Watford and from Bovingdon to Hatfield.
Obviously it was too large an area and so, in 1886, a new circuit just for Hemel Hempstead was inaugurated.
It was still served by only one minister – the Rev Albert McTie – and as well as Hemel Hempstead it included Nash Mills, Two Waters, Berkhamsted, Kings Langley and Abbots Langley.
Fundraising for a brand new chapel in Marlowes got under way in April 1882 and the Gazette recorded the opening eight years later, on November 15, 1890: “The chapel is entered through well-planned vestibules, the swing doors being so arranged as to avoid the possibility of the entrance of a gust of cold air…”
The Gothic-styled architecture of the new building was noted and the ornamental iron work, which was removed to support the war effort during the Second World War.
Its near neighbours were the water works and the public baths.
Pews were rented in those days, but there were 50 free seats and 100 places for Sunday School attendees.
The pews had little frames on the ends into which cards were inserted with the names of their ‘tenants’.
There was an upper floor, which housed the church library, three classrooms and a wash room. The most distinguishing feature of the new church was the writing on the wall behind the pulpit.
Words from Psalm 84 were inscribed around a vine. Mr Cooper, one of the local preachers, was responsible for the work.
Changes took place over time, both internally and externally. The replacement of the old slate roof with tiles was not one for the better, since blocked gutters and down-pipes were the result.
The old gas lamps were replaced by electric lights and then by fluorescent tube lighting in the early 1970s.
Other innovations included a gas boiler for heating, and microphones, amplifiers and a loop system in the 1980s.
The organ has been a feature since at least 1907.
The Boys’ Brigade and Life Boys held their meetings in the school hall.
The grand piano was a gift from the Society at Wesley Church in St Albans and much other hard work and renovations have been carried out over the years by the members themselves.
The church entrance was altered in 1989 when a large vestibule was formed, making it more suitable for large gatherings, such as weddings.
When the Olympic Flame was carried through the town last summer, churches in Marlowes opened their doors and refreshments were available at the Methodist Church.
Although the building is due to disappear because of the town centre re-development plans, a brand new church is being constructed in Northridge Way, on the site of the former Bourne Methodist Church.
The local congregations will then join for services in the new church, but members will still keep fond memories of the Marlowes chapel.
Compiled from the booklet Marlowes Methodist Church 1890-1990, courtesy of church members. Next week – The Bourne Society.