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Wesley Church and Luton Industrial College

The Wesley Church and Industrial College in 1968 [MB2338e]
The Wesley Church and Industrial College in 1968 [MB2338e]

Irving Rumbles in his pamphlet tracing the history of Methodism in Luton in the 20th century records that in 1954 the Methodist Church Home Missions Department met representatives from Chapel Street and Waller Street churches to select an appropriate location for an industrial mission in the town. Chapel Street was duly selected and the Luton Industrial Mission and Community Centre was created based at the chapel and its Sunday School buildings. The chapel remained a place of worship at the heart of the college. The college had it own circuit.

In 1957 the mission was renamed Luton Industrial College. A leaflet – The History and Heritage of Luton Industrial College [MB2385f] summarises the story of the church and college up to 1990 as follows: “In 1957 the re-named “Luton Industrial College” was opened and given its Charter by the Rev. Dr. William Sangster M. A. Although still operating within the existing buildings, the Church was closed to enable major alterations to be carried out including the “about face” of the interior. The re-opening ceremony was performed by Lord Rank in 1960. Between the years 1957 and 1968 residential accommodation for course members attending the College was found locally in private homes pending the building of the first stage of the new premises”.

“In September 1968 the opening ceremony took place of the new eight storey building comprising 23 bedrooms, lecture hall, library, refectory, lounge, steward’s flat and two offices” [this is the white building in the photograph above].

“In 1976 the second phase building extension was completed. This incorporated the transfer of Wesley Church to the Chapel situated at the heart of the College. This extension, which cost £600,000 comprised lecture hall 2, refectory 2, auditorium, 30 bedrooms, lounge 2, kitchen extension mezzanine area and 4 offices, in addition to the Chapel. A striking feature of the Wesley Chapel is the stained glass window which expresses the College’s work in Industrial Mission”.

“Although since its inception Luton Industrial College has only known one change of Principal from the founder, the Rev. William Gowland, the appointment of the Rev. Harold Clarke in 1985 marked the beginning of a new image destined to become the “Focal centre for Industrial Mission””.

“In contrast a number of ministers over the years have taken on the marathon task of dividing themselves up into several roles, namely that of Minister of the Wesley Church, College Chaplain and in more recent years Assistant to the Principal”.

“In 1988 an historic landmark was reached to determine the future of Luton Industrial College. A commission was set up resulting in a report with recommendation for expansion incorporating the Focal Centre for Industrial Mission within the Luton Industrial College”.

The extended student accommodation block in 1979 [MB2385c]
The extended student accommodation block in 1979 [MB2385c]

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. The entry for the Methodist chapel in Chapel Street [HER 1089] notes that it was derelict in 1980. This is not mentioned in the positively spun leaflet quoted above. A Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service newspaper cutting album makes interesting reading in this context. A cutting for 10th April 1979 reveals that a fire had: "gutted the derelict chapel of the neighbouring Luton Industrial College in Chapel Street". It was a case of arson and the College Principal William Gowland was quoted: "We started the mission in that chapel 24 years ago. It was due to be knocked down but it is still a depressing moment".

In fact both the college and the Wesley Church did not have much of a future. Irving Rumbles in his leaflet on Methodism in Luton in the 20th century notes that in the end the decision was made to close the college and the Wesley Church (presumably in a different building to the gutted chapel) thus moved back into Luton Circuit in 1996. This was only for one year, however, as in 1997 the Wesley Church closed. The building was sold to Coleman Properties and was handed over on 15th July after the last service [MB2385g]. The sale proceeds were divided equally between the Methodist Home Mission and Luton Circuit for a ministry in the town centre, though no building would be acquired as High Town Methodist Church was identified at “The Town Centre”.

The chapel property was divided between a number of sources [MB2385h]: Saint John’s Methodist Church got 2 communion chairs, an overhead projector and ten stacking chairs; Strathmore Avenue Methodist Church got hymn book, 20 stacking chairs and screen from the auditorium; Mount Pleasant Methodist Church got 44 stacking chairs, the communion rail and kneelers; Leagrave High Street Methodist Church got an overhead projector; the pulpit Bible; books of offices; a wooden stand; a metal flower stand; a flower vase with a wooden base and hymn number cards; Saint Margaret’s Methodist Church got two metal cabinets “for archives”; a table and a communion tray. The chapel was then demolished.

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has the following sources for the Wesley Church and Industrial Mission:

  • MB2299: Trustees’ minute book: 1954-1968;
  • MB2322: Extension Fund account book: 1955-1965;
  • MB2335n: agreement for caretaker’s tenancy of the Chapel House: 1955;
  • MB2335o: plan for new entrance hall and alterations to the chapel: 1955;
  • MB2338c: ten photographs of the new community centre: 1956;
  • MB2335p: front elevation of the Industrial Mission Community Centre: c. 1956;
  • MB2335q: souvenir brochure for the reopening of the Community Centre: 1956;
  • MB2313: Sunday School Council minute book: 1956-1963;
  • MB2321: Chapel Street Extension Scheme Sub-Committee minutes: 1956-1957;
  • MB2335r: mortgage: 1957;
  • MB2376: Leaders’ Meeting and Society Meeting minute book: 1957-1964;
  • MB2311: Finance Council minute book: 1957-1960;
  • MB2337: disposal of the old pipe organ to Irchester [Northamptonshire] and acquisition of a new electronic organ: 1957-1964;
  • MB2302: Leaders’ Meeting minute book: 1958-1965;
  • MB2285: marriage register: 1958-1962;
  • MB2315: Women’s Bright Hour minute book: 1958-1959;
  • MB2986: Women’s Work Missionary Meetings minute book: 1959-1987;
  • MB2307: Society Steward’s account book: 1959-1968;
  • MB2377: Industrial College and Mission Committee minute book: 1959-1970;
  • MB2316: Women’s Bright Hour minute book, continued as Women’s Afternoon Fellowship minutes: 1959-1997;
  • MB2379: missions account book: 1959-1997;
  • X843/3/22: chapel renovation photograph 1959-1960;
  • MB2338d: six photographs of the chapel after refurbishment: 1960;
  • MB2385a: reopening and rededication of the rebuilt church at Luton Industrial College, Mission and Community Centre: 1960;
  • MB2291: Disciples Roll: 1960-1968;
  • MB2329: collections journal: 1960-1973;
  • MB2331: collections journal: 1960-1980;
  • MB2377: Industrial College Finance Committee minutes: 1961-1962;
  • MB2286: marriage register: 1963-1966;
  • MB2292: Cradle Roll: 1965-1985;
  • MB2287: marriage register: 1966-1983;
  • MB2238e: six photographs of the opening of the new Industrial College: 1968;
  • MB2308: Society Steward’s account book: 1969-1979;
  • MB2333: pulpit notice book: 1969-1971;
  • MB2323: Family Church Council minutes: 1970-1976;
  • MB2380: register of donations to the Industrial College: 1971-1982;
  • MB2283: baptism register: 1971-1988;
  • MB2378: Industrial College management board minutes: 1972-1975;
  • MB2330: collections journal: 1973-1996;
  • MB2381: Wesley Church membership roll: 1974-1978;
  • MB2314: Sunday School register: 1974-1977;
  • MB2338f: 4 photographs of the new Industrial College incorporating the Wesley Church on the site of the 1880 Sunday School building: 1976;
  • MB2385b: souvenir brochure for the opening of new extensions at Luton Industrial College including the Wesley Church: 1976;
  • MB2324: Holy Communion Fund account book: 1976-1993;
  • MB2334: pulpit notice book: 1976-1979;
  • MB2327: Wesley Church Community roll: c. 1976-1988;
  • MB2382: Wesley Church membership roll: 1978-1989;
  • MB2325: Forum Meeting minutes: 1978-1989;
  • MB2325: Wesley Church flower register: 1978-1991;
  • MB2385c: prospectus of Luton Industrial College: 1979;
  • MB2309: Society Steward’s account book: 1979-1989;
  • FSD/PC24 newspaper cutting of fire at Chapel Street: 1979
  • MB2384: Industrial College community roll: c. 1980s-1990s;
  • MB2332: collections journal: 1980-1984;
  • MB2288: marriage register: 1984-1990;
  • MB2389:report of the Commission on Luton Industrial College and Mission Circuit: 1989;
  • MB2328: Wesley Church Community roll: c. 1990;
  • MB2385f: leaflet: The History and Heritage of Luton Industrial College: 1990;
  • MB2383: Wesley Church membership roll: c. 1990-1993;
  • MB2385d: thanksgiving for the life of Rev. William Gowland: 1992;
  • MB2388: notes on the history and heritage of Luton Industrial College: 1992;
  • MB2385e: 25th anniversary of the college buildings: 1993;
  • MB2385g: final Church Council meeting minutes: 1997;
  • MB2385h: dispersal of Wesley Church property: 1997.