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Round Green Wesleyan Methodist Church Luton

The original chapel of 1865 shown on an Ordnance Survey map of 1901
The original chapel of 1865 shown on an Ordnance Survey map of 1901

On 10th August 1867 Lilley [Hertfordshire] resident William Bradberry or Bradbury was attacked by William Worsley and Levi Welch a few yards from the new Wesleyan Methodist chapel at Round Green. He died at the Jolly Topers public house shortly afterwards.

The chapel had been built two years before, in 1865. In 1959 a new chapel was built for the use of Methodists of Round Green (the Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodists had joined together in 1932 to for the Methodist Church of Great Britain). The souvenir of the dedication of the new chapel [MB759] described the church’s earlier history as follows:

“Round Green in the year 1864 was a little hamlet on the outskirts of Luton, but even then the town and its industry were making inroads on the countryside round about. In that year, Mr. George Cox, a hat manufacturer built a workroom at Round Green quite near to where the original Chapel was later built on the corner of Ramridge Road. Mr. Cox was a great man of God and gave his services as a preacher to Churches in Luton and in country villages for miles around. He often took with him a group of promising young men to assist in the services and many of “Mr. Cox’s boys” later became Methodist Local Preachers”.

“Luton Methodists then, as now, were concerned to reach out from the Town centre to people living on the outskirts. In the year that Mr. Cox built his workroom to make hats the Waller Street Methodists borrowed it for God’s work and began to use it for Church and Sunday School. Soon they had a congregation of 80-100 worshippers and a Sunday School whose oldest scholar was said to be 80 years of age”.

“The following year, 1865, saw the building of the old Chapel on the corner of Ramridge Road and this continued in use till 1911. By this time there was an average Sunday Congregation of 130, a Sunday School of 284 Scholars and a Brotherhood of 40 members. A report of the time refers to the building as “Small, badly lighted and ventilated and without a vestry or other necessary accommodation”.

“The people decided that a new Church should be built and the plot of land where the present Church now stands was purchased for the sum of £250. The building was designed by Mr, Guest Hubbard and built by Mr. A. Cole”. The old building became a parish hall as soon as the new one was built. This was on the corner of Turners Road South and Hitchin Road, as shown on the map below. The site of the old chapel now lies beneath the Round Green roundabout.

The 1911 chapel shown on an Ordnance Survey map of 1924
The 1911 chapel shown on an Ordnance Survey map of 1924

By 1957 it had been decided that the 1911 building, in its turn, was to be replaced. The souvenir programme stated that the new chapel was “a bold experiment in a new form of construction which has not hitherto been used for a MethodistChurch. It is a solid permanent structure with a life of at least 100 years and has achieved considerable savings on the estimated cost of a brick building with similar accommodation”.

Exterior of the 1959 chapel [MB759]
Exterior of the 1959 chapel [MB759]

The cost was, in fact, £8000 excluding pulpit and pews and was undertaken by Reema Construction Company who provided a pre-fabricated concrete structure. Work began on 31st March 1959 and the completed building handed over in the following August. The church seated between 230 and 250 with seating for 30 more in a gallery. As well as the church itself, there was a store room, large kitchen and cloakrooms to the front and rear. A corridor connected the building to the Sunday School (the 1911 chapel) behind.

Interior of the 1959 chapel [MB759]
Interior of the 1959 chapel [MB759]

Sadly, the chapel did not last for a hundred years. By October 1996 membership had dwindled to just forty [MB2870]. At the Annual general Meeting on 15th March 1997 the sad decision to close was made, as the minutes make clear under the heading To look at the situation that the church finds itself in and the future: "The Circuit Meeting is very aware that there are probably more Methodist Churches in Luton per member than in any other town of equivalent size in the country, in other words we are spread far more thinly in Luton. The Circuit is aware that it is costing a considerable amount of money to keep all these buildings in operation. When looking for a new superintendent last year one of the things we were very much aware of was that ministers looking at the circuit were saying they would be interested if there were not so many churches. The Circuit Leadership team were very conscious that unless something happens we are just storing problems up for ourselves in the future". It was felt that Round Green was "one of the churches that needed to seriously consider its future". The church only broke even because of lettings. The dwindling congregation made worship difficult and officers very hard to find. The minutes read: "After 1¼ hours of discussion for continuing or accepting the inevitable of not being able to continue as there were not enough people willing to hold office" it was suggested that a private ballot take place. After a break the following motion was put: "This meeting feels that the Kingdom of God can best be served by the time, talents and energy of this congregation being used to help other churches in their mission and witness. The result was ten votes in favour and eight against. Therefore in faith we go forward in love to serve Christ in his church". The vote was ratified, narrowly, by a meeting on 12th May.

A final service was held at the church on 9th November 1997. The church was then for sale for around £80,000  and was eventually sold for £131,000 to an industrialist. The 1959 building was subsequently demolished. The old 1911 building, ironically, is still standing and is currently [2010] used as Little Hands Day Nursery.

The 1911 Wesleyan Chapel now Little Hands Day Nursery June 2010
The 1911 Wesleyan Chapel now Little Hands Day Nursery June 2010

The following is a list of sources for the chapel held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service

  • MB748: Trustees minute book: 1893-1932;
  • MB2445: Baptism register: 1897-1988;
  • MB2457: copy deeds: 1903-1959;
  • MB2462: Leader’s Meeting minute book: 1905-1937;
  • MB2468: Sunday School account book: 1930-1977;
  • MB749: Trustees minute book: 1933-1963;
  • MB2467: Sunday School minute book: 1935-1959;
  • MB750: Leader’s Meeting minute book: 1937-1964;
  • MB2447: Marriage register: 1937-1948;
  • MB765: Glass plate negatives of church property: c. 1945;
  • MB2448: Marriage register: 1948-1963;
  • MB2453: Cradle roll register: 1950;
  • MB2465: Pulpit notice book: 1950-1954;
  • MB2471: Women’s Happy Hour minutes: 1950-1978;
  • MB751: Building fund pass book: 1952-1959;
  • MB752: Building fund account book: 1957-1960;
  • MB756: Correspondence regarding the new church building: 1957-1960;
  • MB2458: New Building Committee minute book: 1957-1959;
  • MB2459: File of papers regarding the new church: 1959-1960;
  • MB757: specification for the new building: 1958;
  • MB758: plans by Reema Construction Company: 1958-1959;
  • MB753: Building fund envelope scheme collection account book: 1959;
  • MB754: Building fund weekly gift scheme account book: 1959;
  • MB755: Miscellaneous papers regarding subscriptions to the new building: 1959;
  • MB759: Souvenir booklet on the opening and dedication of the new church: 1959;
  • MB760: Correspondence regarding the fence between the church and adjoining property: 1960;
  • MB2460: file of papers regarding the new organ: 1960;
  • MB761: Bequests in the will of Elizabeth Hemsley: 1961;
  • MB762: Programme for centenary celebrations: 1964;
  • MB2449: Marriage register: 1964-1968;
  • MB1768: Minute book with minutes of Leader’s Meetings and Society Meetings: 1964-1973;
  • MB2461: Trustees minutes; Property Committee minutes; Property and Finance Committee minutes: 1964-1986;
  • MB2455: Cradle roll transfer book: 1965-1980;
  • MB1641: Sunday School minute book: 1966-1983;
  • MB763: Licence and correspondence regarding use as an Infant Welfare Centre: 1967-1973
  • MB764: Correspondence, contract and plans for alterations to the school hall: 1968-1969;
  • MB2450: Marriage register: 1968-1983;
  • MB2466: Collection journal: 1970-1996;
  • MB2470: Sunday School roll: 1972-1978;
  • MB2464: Church account book: 1975-1985;
  • MB2469: Sunday School account book: 1977-1986;
  • MB2472: Women’s Happy Hour minutes: 1979-1997;
  • MB2451: Marriage register: 1983-1989;
  • MB2474: Women’s Happy Hour attendance book: 1983-1997;
  • MB2473: Women’s Happy Hour account book: 1985-1997;
  • MB2463: Church Council minutes: 1987-1995;
  • MB2446: Baptism register: 1988-1997;
  • MB2452: Marriage register: 1989-1996;
  • MB2454: Cradle roll register: 1990-1997;
  • MB2456: Register of reception of people into church membership: 1990;
  • MB2870: Church Council minutes: 1994-1998.
  • MB2506: Marriage register: 1996-1997.