A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHURCH   

 

 

On 24th July 1763, John Wesley wrote "I went with a few friends to Blaise Castle. The woods on the side of the hill, cut through in various directions, are the pleasantest I ever saw". He evidently rode through Westbury-on-Trym and along Passage Road for his 'passage' over the Severn on his way to Wales and Ireland. In those days it was a rural village surrounded by hills, dominated by the ancient Parish Church whose Christian foundation went back 1000 years. 

There was no local Methodist Church until 1811 but in the City of Bristol there were 3 or 4 chapels which sent preachers out to address a small class of believers in Westbury-on-Trym.     

   

Despite the fact that this was a period of bigotry, intolerance and religious oppression, this small group succeeded in buying a piece of land right in the centre of the village, from the Manor of Henbury. The elegant Georgian chapel cost £1,650 which had a Sunday School of 10 teachers and 49 pupils. Later it was reported that the church membership was 54 with 5 classes. 

There were midweek and Sunday services and occasionally a Love Feast. 

The church members served the community by distributing tracts, visting the sick and conducting cottage prayer meetings. 

In 1850, along with other churches nationwide, a large majority of church members followed the Reform Movement and split to form a new church. They finally took over a disused Baptist Chapel, Trym Road, a short distance away. Despite this, both churches prospered.

The original 1811 chapel was deteriorating and because of village expansion, was no longer big enough.

In 1889 the old chapel was demolished and the present church built and opened in the same year!  From then on, both churches continued to grow. The membership at Trym Road Chapel had increased, but they could not extend the building, so as early as 1903 the Trym Road congregation was wondering whether to re-unite with the Wesleyans with whom they were on good terms 

The First World War intervened and it was not until 1930, two years before National Methodist Union, that the delicate operation of uniting the two congregations took place.

The minister of Trym Road, Rev Pointon Dale, was the guiding influence in making both congregations accept each other and work together. Since then the income from the rental and the eventual sale of the Trym Road building enabled further expansion to occur. The church was renovated and a secondhand pipe organ was installed.

In 1942 The "National Children's Home" obtained a large Mansion, Holmwood, in the village and for 45 years provided a home for needy children, and there were many links between the chapel and Holmwood.

In 1946, Didsbury College (for ministerial training) moved from Manchester to Westbury since when close connections between the church and the college, now known as Wesley College, have been established.

A church hall was added in 1953, the Portland Lounge linking the hall to the chapel, and an enlarged kitchen were built in 1975.

In 1990 the premises gained a £250,000 extension comprising foyer, activity rooms, church office and a caretaker's flat in addition to the older halls, lounge and kitchen. These are used all week by church and community organisations from parent and toddler groups through ballet, several uniformed organisations, youth club, wives' group, W.I., Wesley Guild, Women's Fellowship and other meetings for older people, some ecumenically organised. Coffee mornings, Thursday and Saturdays, provide an informal opportunity for passers-by to drop in and meet members of this and other local churches.

 

In 2003 the Church completed an ‘Open Doors’ project the aim of which was to make the church more accessible and user friendly. Church members wanted more comfortable seating, greater flexibility of use and to be able to have a clearer view of events at the front of the church. 

The project included a new entrance and associated work to the foyer, removal of the pews, creating a raised area, redecoration, heating, new chairs, a disabled ramp and the reworking of the church furnishings. 

 

[1], As part of the "Open Doors" Project the Church commissioned an artist, Simon Thomas, to create an artwork ‘Stardust’ which could be seen on the wall opposite the new door into the worship area.  It was Simon’s aspiration that "STARDUST" would promote a sense of perspective within which one might try to measure and position the importance of the soul. 

 

Stardust was completed and dedicated at the morning service on Sunday 4th July 2005.

 

A further enhancement of our church in 2006 was the refurbishment of the small Waters Lane foyer. The old, dark shelves were removed and anyone entering that way is now greeted by this cross which was designed and made by Ann Hayes.

The design with its linked arms and multi-coloured silks,  represents unity, peace and light.

 

 

 

Despite all the social changes of the last 200 years Methodism is still very much alive in Westbury!

 

 

 

 



[1]

Simon Thomas is an artist in Residence at Bristol University School of Mathematics

 

 



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