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Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, an ancient Sherwood Forest Village recorded in Domesday

The Story of the years, compiled by Rev’d J A Leafe in 1861


Much history crowds into a hundred years of existence, whether the existence be that of an individual or an institution. And let the historian be as careful as he may, there will always be those things which escape the attention of his pen, partly through limitations of space, and partly because there are things associated with personalities the value of which can only be truly assessed by God, and which will only find their true record in the Lamb's Book of Life.

The story attempted here is one of which any church could be proud; indeed, it is not the least part of our purpose in telling it that it might provoke a sense of pride in the younger generation now worshipping in the church, and be an inspiration to them in all their work to make the present and the future worthy of the past.

West End chapel, for so many years as “Primitive” chapel, had its beginnings in the evangelising labours of William Clowes, the Staffordshire potter who was one of the founders of the Primitive Methodist Connexion. In 1817 he visited Woodborough and preached in the street, but he met with a stormy reception. He was pelted with eggs, and a lady who showed her sympathy with the preacher had her silk shawl spoilt. The bells of the parish church were rung to drown the preacher's voice, and a good deal of commotion was caused. Calverton, Blidworth, Oxton and Epperstone were visited, and societies established, but no immediate result followed at Woodborough.

About 25 years later the village was visited by the Rev’d Edward Morton, who was stationed at Arnold. He also had a rough reception, and only his powerful physique saved him from being thrown into a filthy dyke. But his courage, and the powerful message he delivered made an impression, and his mission had lasting effect. A class was formed which met in the cottage homes of its various members, and preaching services were held in the house of William Bradley.

Soon the congregations outgrew the accommodation and a barn standing at The Field off Roe Hill, was secured. It was a simple building, and its furnishings and equipment were equally as simple. It was seated with rough planks, and a layer of straw on the floor did duty for a carpet. Illumination during the winter evenings was provided by a homemade chandelier, consisting of a wooden wheel, with candles stuck around the edge. A rope was passed through the centre, flung over a beam, and balanced at the other end with half a brick, the chandelier being raised or lowered as occasion required. During the service the tallow candles needed snuffing, and one of the members was appointed the official candle snuffer.

But to the humble, earnest souls gathered within its walls, the barn, with all its crudeness and discomforts, was in “none other than the house of God, and the gate of Heaven”. At times spiritual emotion ran so high, and the presence of God was so intensely felt, that the “Barn glory” was talked of long after the barn had been abandoned. It was in the barn, kneeling on the straw, that a youth named Joseph Marriott, a frame-smith’s apprentice, was converted. He became a local preacher and remained a local preacher for over sixty years, as well as being a devoted worker and wise councillor in the society to the end of his long life, triumphing over many physical infirmities.

The prosperity of the society continued, and in the autumn of 1851 a chapel, on the site of the present one, was opened. It was 24 feet square and the cost was £122. 10s. The opening services were conducted by the Rev. John Petty, of London, the Connexional Editor. The Sunday School was held there, and in some measure did duty as a Day School also, where with the aid of slates and pencils, the boys and girls wrote their pothooks and learned their A.B.C. It was the only education which some of those who afterwards stalwarts in the chapel, ever received.

During the next few years there joined the chapel a remarkable trio of men, whose influence, together with that of Joseph Marriott, was to be the great moulding factor in the chapel's life and affairs. They were James Leafe, organist for 36 years, James May and William Orange, who served to the end of their days as Sunday school teachers, stewards and class leaders. They were men of fine quality and devotion, who, in the words of George Eliot: “Live again in lives made better by their presence”.

The society was unable to afford an instrument for their new chapel, so the tunes were started by James Leafe with the aid of a tuning fork. Hymn books were not in general use, the custom being for the preacher to announce the hymn and read two lines at a time. In this way the congregation plodded through the hymns. Mr Leafe used to tell the story of a preacher who chose as one of his hymns “On Jordan's stormy banks I stand”. The hymn had fourteen verses, which were dutifully sung through two lines at a time. The preacher then announced, “We'll sing the last two verses over again”, to which the man with the tuning fork, “We won't, because I wont start it; we've been on Jordan's stormy banks long enough”.

In 1871 another step forward was taken. The chapel was enlarged, and with the installation of an organ and rostrum, the building was given the appearance it has today. Another acquisition to the ranks of the enthusiastic workers came shortly afterwards with John Clayton, who, in the course of half-a-century’s association, filled every office, and held an honoured position in the life of the circuit and of the village. The wives of these stalwarts, together with other “mothers in Israel”, too numerous to mention, in faithful succession, lent willing hands. They scrubbed and polished, collected donations, managed the teas, offered hospitality to the preachers, and much of the warmth and homeliness of the services was due to their presence and their prayers.

The society not only provided spiritual fellowship for its members, but social fellowship as well, notably through its teas. The Sunday school Anniversary teas on Easter Monday and the Chapel Anniversary teas at Michaelmas were great occasions. In 1885 the teacher's meeting, which arranged the Anniversary tea decided to have two stones of hot cake, one and a quarter stones of seed cake, and the same of plum cake. Also included in the order was one gallon of milk and half-a-gallon of cream. In 1889 the tea committee were instructed to provide 30 pounds of plum cake at 4½d. per pound.

There was one other task which the growing population had made urgent. It was the building of new Sunday school premises. Land at the back of the chapel was secured, and a splendid schoolroom, with classroom, kitchen and outbuildings was opened in 1900. Looking at the premises today one can hardly realize that the total cost (exclusive of the land) was only £353. Certainly the whole buildings are a credit to village Methodism.

With the coming of the new century the fortunes of the chapel fluctuated. There were times when work was scarce and loyal members had to leave and go farther afield in search of employment. Large families were no longer common. But the loyalty of those who remained never wavered, though the church never regained the strength of those mid-years. Its members today face the difficulties which, are common to all the churches, with a spirit of resolution and hopefulness.

In 1926 a thorough renovation of the premises took place. A central heating system was installed and a new Communion rail was put in, with appropriate furnishings and a new Trust was formed. Later in 1932 electric light was installed.

Looking back over the century that is gone one is struck by the fact that this village church has made a considerable contribution to the wider life of the church. During the years no less than five men have entered the ministry….the Revs. Charles Leafe, Joseph Hucknall, John Bradley, who all rendered useful service in a variety of circuits; Tom Gamble, who became a Congregational Minister in South Africa, and occupied high positions in the denomination there; and John Arthur Leafe, now ministering at Borrowash, in the Derby (Derwent) circuit.

Fifteen other men have become local preachers and exercised a ministry of great usefulness, not only in the neighbourhood of Woodborough, but far beyond. The name of Joseph Marriott junior. was known from one end of Sheffield to the other as an able preacher and vigorous temperance advocate. His commanding personality and powerful voice were used unsparingly in the service of his Lord and Master.

The West End Church at Woodborough has inherited a legacy of gracious memories and of wonderful service, which many a larger church might envy. One thinks with joy and thankfulness of its Sunday night prayer meetings, with the veterans gathered across the front; its class meetings, and its Sunday School Anniversaries at Eastertide.

But a church cannot live on memories. We need to remember that God has still a work for it to do. The memories of the past, so fragrant and so abundant, should be a definite challenge from God. May we begin the new century of work and witness in the spirit of Sylvester Horne’s hymn:

“May the shadow of Thy Presence around our camp be spread.
Baptize us with courage Thou gravest to our dead;
O keep us in the pathway their saintly feet have trod;
For the might of Thine arm we bless Thee, our God, our Father's God.”


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Methodist Church - The Primitive Methodists



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