The information in this section is mostly taken from A Little Older than our Teeth: Langford Methodist Church, c 1835–2012, by the late Rev Jim Broadbridge by kind permission of Mrs J Broadbridge.
Jim Broadbridge was a primary school teacher for 13 years and was ordained as an army chaplain. His final posting was to DISC in nearby Chicksands and residence in Langford. After retirement as a ‘paid’ Methodist minister he preached on the North Bedfordshire circuit and worshipped at Langford Chapel and was a great supporter of the village football and cricket teams. He also led the annual service of remembrance at the Langford War Memorial in November in recent years.
Founding of the Chapel
In 1835, a mere 44 years after the death of Rev John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, Langford’s Wesleyans had their own place of worship. According to the Beds Courier of 17 April 1962 the first Methodist Chapel in Langford was built in what came to be known as Chapel Street. That side street was re-named The Leys after the erection of the present chapel, which now stands on a gentle S-bend called Chapel Hill.
It seems surprising that a small group of villagers would have had the organisation and money to build their own church. However, Methodism was well-established in Biggleswade by now, their Sunday School having opened in 1811. So Langford may have been a ‘church plant’, to use the modern term.
If a benefactor had given sufficient money a modest chapel could have been put up. By way of possible comparison, Ralph Turner [the village historian and president of the History Society] said that the Salvation Army’s first ‘barracks’, erected in 1887 near the former ‘Red Cow’ public house, was a corrugated iron hut on a brick base. That would justify the term ‘modest.’ The original Methodist building was sold in 1862 and converted into two cottages, which were demolished after the Second World War.
The new building fulfilled the need for a non-conformist meeting-place at a time when the distinction between Church and Chapel was considerable. Nothing has come to light about the person(s) behind the financing and building of this first chapel, nor of its capacity. However, the statement in the Courier is substantiated by details from the volume of Schedules to be kept in every Circuit of the Methodist Church, as stipulated by the Minutes of Conference 1835, p. 118.
At the end of the Michaelmas (September) Quarter in 1838, the first returns for the Biggleswade and Hitchin Circuit reveal that Mr Taylor was the Steward at Langford, where the membership was 13, a ‘net increase of members this Quarter of two.’. The first known registration of a chapel in Langford was in February 1854 by ‘Robert Maxwell, Wesleyan minister from Biggleswade.’ He registered chapels at Biggleswade, Sandy, Shefford and Stotfold on the same day.
The earliest records
Here is a representative selection of entries from the earliest available Circuit Schedules between September 1838 and December 1852, which are stored at the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives. The information required from the Chapel Steward was for Numbers in the Society, and Money for Subscriptions and Collections. Numbers given are those ‘Now in Society’ (i.e. full membership) with ‘Those on Trial’ not included.
30-09-1838: The Steward was Mr Taylor and there were 13 full members.
31-12-1839: New members 1. Backsliders 2. Members 15.
31-12-1840: Steward now Mr Field. Members 17. On trial 3.
The Quarter ending in March was referred to as Lady Day. It was also called Annunciation Day because 25 March (one of the four Quarter Days) was the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. This means of dating shows the continuing influence of the Anglican Liturgical Calendar at that stage of Methodism’s development.
31-03-1842: Backsliders 3. Members 7.
31-03-1845: On trial 12. Members 10.
1846: Ten people in the Sunday School subscribed to ‘Early Days.’ [So there must have been a Sunday School, probably of adults.]
31-12-1849: On trial 1. New members 3. Backslider 1. Members 24.
31-12-1851: The Steward was Mr Tansley. Deaths 1. Members 15.
31-12-1852: On trial 2. Members 24. Net decrease on last Quarter: 2.
The year’s subscription in aid of Wesleyan Day Schools was
8 shillings and a farthing.
The entry for Michaelmas (September) 1842 reveals that the Hitchin and Biggleswade Circuit, to which the chapel initially belonged, was split up and Langford was assigned to the new northern circuit. It comprised 12 churches, listed in this order: Biggleswade, Baldock, Beeston, Shefford, Stotfold, Steeple Morden, Ashwell, Newnham, Hinxworth, Norton, Clifton, and Langford.
Over the years the circuit has gained and lost quite a number of chapels. At the time the Biggleswade Circuit was absorbed into the new North Beds Circuit in September 2011 its constituent churches were at Biggleswade (Trinity), Beeston, Sandy, Upper Caldecote, Langford, Henlow, Shefford, and Moggerhanger (since closed).
Looking at the bigger picture, for many years the circuit was in the London North-West District. However, when the London District was formed in 2006 Langford became part of the Bedfordshire, Essex, and Hertfordshire District, the office of which is at Stansted Airport.
Building the present Chapel
Less than a quarter of a century later the decision was taken to build a new and bigger church, and a subscription list was started on 29 July 1861. Within a year £225 had been raised and this was spent on constructing the chapel. The total cost, including the gallery at the front end, was £525, of which £50 came from the sale of the old chapel round the corner in The Leys.
Enlargement and the first organ
By 1869 the congregation had grown to such an extent that a further £220 was spent on enlarging the building at the far end by about one-third of its length. In 1881, a Choir Gallery was built at that end facing the other gallery. A vestry and a small schoolroom were included underneath, and the total cost was £52. Despite the ongoing capital expenditure the finances must have been healthy: an organ was purchased in 1871 to replace the harmonium. This new instrument was bought from a pleasure ground for £60 and had no keyboard as it was operated by four cylindrical barrels. These barrels presumably accepted the thick card rolls of punched tunes of the sort still seen on fairground organs. For church use the barrels were removed and sold for £5 and with that money a keyboard was fitted. Additions were soon made to the organ at a cost of £40, which would have pleased the youthful organist, Sidney Smith. He began playing at the aged 10 in 1890, and was still playing over 70 years later.
The second organ
The organ was built by Gray and Davidson in 1845. It is recorded in the National Pipe Organ Register, and has been certified to be of ‘Historical Interest.’ It was bought from Windsor Parish Church in 1906 for £203. An article in the Beds Courier on 17 April 1962 had this to say:
STILL PLAYING AFTER 72 YEARS
Few organists, playing three times a Sunday, in the whole of the country can boast a longer record of service than Mr Sidney R Smith of ‘Perivale’ on Cambridge Road, Langford. He began as organist of Langford Methodist Church at the age of 10 and is now approaching his 82nd Birthday. With the church anniversary next month his 72 years as organist will be complete. For a man in his 82nd year, Mr Smith is remarkably active, and when I called leapt across the room with hand outstretched to welcome me. He walks up and down to church three times on Sunday and at any other time he is wanted. He has earned his living all his life as a market gardener but he rather agreed when I suggested that it was his organ music which was his main interest in life, leaving his livelihood to take second place. He followed his father, Mr Charles Smith, as organist and between them they have held the position for almost 100 years. . . .
The Organ pipes were damaged in 1942, together with some glass in the windows and stonework at the front of the chapel, when it was hit by the blast from the bombs which fell over the other side of the river. In 1954 the organ had its first complete overhaul since it was installed in 1907.
bomb damage 1942
Description of the Chapel
The new church had been built in three stages at a cost of £797. It was of typical non-conformist design and must have been a very impressive addition to the village amenities.
By the turn of the century it looked something like this: wooden double doors led into a dark vestibule which was so narrow that coffins had to be brought in by the back entrance! There were two doors into the worship area, where the congregation sat in straight-backed pews. The centre pews seated seven, divided 3/4 and 4/3 alternately. They had their own low-level wooden doors, as did the pews under the choir gallery on either side. These seats were rented by members and had their names affixed to the outside of the pew. Rents were paid annually.
High up in the traditional, centrally-placed pulpit, below which was the communion table, stood the preacher. Behind him the choir gallery stretched the full width of the building, and facing it was a gallery for the congregation which was entered from stairs on the right of the vestibule. Early in the 20th century the choir gallery was slightly enlarged, with the straight front being replaced by a curved one.
Changes to the internal structure and the fitments of the chapel 1972–2012
In the last 40 years the main changes have been:
1. Replacement of the wooden partition and doors separating the vestibule from the worship area with a glass screen, and glazed doors. This was a huge improvement on the old dark and unwelcoming entrance, and took place during the ministry of Rev Fred Warwick, circa 1970.
2. The floor carpeted, the pews replaced by upholstered chairs, improved lighting installed, and the pulpit put at ground level and to one side. When these improvements took place in 1991–1992, Rev Jim Gorringe was the minister. The pews were sold for £25 each, some of them to members of the congregation. Jack Street said that after the old platform (on which the pulpit stood) and the steps leading to it had been removed, all this well-turned, ornate woodwork was sold to somebody in Japan!
3. Improved lighting and heating.
4. Installation of flushing toilets (indoors at last!) between the chapel and the schoolroom. This happened in the early 1960s once a new sewer had been laid in the village. Enlargement and renovation of the kitchen area at the side of the schoolroom took place at the same time during the ministry of Rev Peter Neatham in the late 1960s, and further improvements were made in 2006.
5. Building of a new minister’s vestry on the left of the vestibule in 2005. This was driven by the loss of the original vestry under the choir gallery in order to accommodate wheel-chair users in a large new toilet required under the Government’s equality regulations.
6. In the summer of 1997 a public address system was fitted, much to the appreciation of the hard of hearing, who benefited further in 2001 when the ‘loop’ system was added.
These windows commemorate three of the chapel’s well-known servants.
Charles Wright. There are only two references to Charles Wright, other than the tribute on the window, which tells of his 25 years’ devoted service as Sunday School Superintendent, in the days when Sunday Schools were big. These say that he progressed through Sunday School to adult membership and eventually became a Sunday School teacher. On 5 October 1900 the Chronicle reported that the builder of the new Sunday School Hall was Mr C Wright. He and his men must have done a good job because the schoolroom is still in regular use today. His son, Hugh, was the builder of the Cambridge Estate at the south end of the village. Charles died in 1947.
Ezra Street. Neither is there much information about Ezra Street (1883–1956), but we do know that he and his brother Albert were pillars of the church for many years. In January 1920 Ezra offered to take the 5th Boys’ Sunday School class, and he progressed to become Sunday School Superintendent when Charles Wright retired. He was a local preacher, and his daughter, Marjorie, married Ron Jefferies to whom the third window is dedicated.
Rev Ronald Jefferies. Ron was a Langford boy, born and bred, who attended Sunday School and Chapel from an early age. At the age of 23 he went to Richmond Theological College in Surrey, and received a presentation from the chapel when he left. Three years later a farewell meeting was held here before he sailed for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on 22 September 1941.
For his first demanding year he lived in Bangalore, South India, learning the Tamil language, and then moved to Jaffna in the North Ceylon district. His time as a probationer was spent at Vannarpannai, where, in addition to his circuit duties he had responsibilities at the Kilner Institute. This was a school-cum-college named after Rev John Kilner, who did great work in the area in the 1860s. (The first Methodist missionaries had arrived in Ceylon in June 1814.)
Langford’s own missionary returned to the village in 1944 to marry Marjorie Street, daughter of Ezra and Elizabeth. They were married at the chapel on 16 December 1944. In mid-May a farewell meeting was held for them, and they sailed for Ceylon on 1 June 1945.
The last 15 months of Ron’s life were spent in the Kalmunai-Kallar circuit, where their son Andrew was born. In September 1946, Ron contracted a tropical disease, and after a short illness of 10 days he passed away on 20 September at 5 p.m. Marjorie returned to East Beds and worshipped at Trinity Methodist Church, Biggleswade, until her death in 2006.
Stewards and caretakers
One of the first and foremost leaders was ‘the saintly’ John Elderkin, the first Chapel Steward. He held this post until his death on 9 July 1871. His successors included the ‘energetic’ Mr Jefferies of Biggleswade and then Mr Seward. In 1896 Charles Smith ‘took over the onerous duties, and a slight debt’. This was soon paid off, and ‘the barometer of improvement began to rise again.’
The first Chapel Keeper (caretaker) was George Edwards, who ‘worthily held this position until incapacitated by old age’ in the late 1890s. His children then took over his responsibilities, the longest-serving being Joe, who appears in several photographs.
Memories of the Sunday School: thoughts from a past scholar from about 1940
Most children started Sunday School at about the age of 3 and were put into the Primary Class until they were 5. This was a mixed class of boys and girls. From the age of 5 they were put in classes of boys and girls and were mainly kept separate. The classes were divided by curtains which were suspended from the schoolroom ceiling by long chains.
The first Sunday School superintendent that I remember was Mr Charles Wright, who was a builder by trade and owned his own business. It was Mr Wright who built the Sunday School Hall. He was followed by Ezra Street, a market gardener who also owned his own business. So it appears that you had to be a man of substance to be a superintendent in those days.
It was quite a large Sunday School for the size of the village (population 1,100–1,200 people) and used to average 40 to 50 children. Some of the Sunday School teachers were quite characters in their own way and although not very well educated, were very loyal and faithful to their calling.
As far as we children were concerned there were four high days in the year, namely: the summer outing, the winter tea, the anniversary and the prize-giving.
Apart from the war years, the summer outing consisted of a day trip to the seaside either by coach or train according to the venue. This was a great day and we spent many months saving our pennies so that we had some spending money. During the war years the outing was either held in Mr Potton’s meadow or at Russell Park, Bedford.
The winter tea was the usual cakes and sandwiches and, of course, ice cream and jelly and this was followed by a film show, usually given by Mr Wells from Biggleswade – or sometimes we had a conjuror.
The prize-giving was looked forward to by all those who had attended regularly. We were all issued with a star card which we presented to the star markers on arriving at Sunday School. If you attended on 50 of the Sundays in the year you were awarded a prize, usually a book, for full and early attendance.
The anniversary was another highlight and usually took place on a Sunday in May. We had to practise special hymns and choruses for about six weeks prior to the anniversary. On the great day itself we were allowed to sit in the front rows of the choir gallery, where the organ is, and the choir were relegated to the back pews of the gallery. This was a great occasion, not only for the Sunday School, but also for the village itself. The Church was always almost full and a special preacher was invited to lead the worship. On one or two occasions the Church was so full that forms had to be brought from the hall and placed in the aisles at 90o to the pews.
On the whole the time spent in Sunday School was a happy time – a time when friendships were made and we learnt much about the Bible and Jesus Christ.
Memories of the Church c 1945 onwards – Ralph Kilby
The Sunday School met in the schoolroom, where about six classes were taught behind a curtain. Children were seated on two forms in each class. After classes we would assemble in one big gathering and a member of the church would lead a session of probably about 20 minutes. People who took those sessions were Charles Wright, Bill Rooke, Will Newman, Marjorie Jefferies, Jim Lockey and Doreen Clapton. There will have been others I’m sure. I remember reading the lesson in one of those sessions, being reluctant at first, but my Sunday School teacher, Charlie Pateman from East Road, said to me ‘I’ll give you a sixpence if you’ll do it, Ralph’. I took the sixpence and read the lesson. He only offered it once, but I’ve read many lessons since!
After Sunday School in the afternoon many of the children would stay for the afternoon service in the main chapel at 2.30 pm. We would assemble in the rear gallery on the front row. Invariably we would tear up a piece of paper into small squares and place them on the front ledge of the gallery. Over the course of the service, we would gently blow or push these pieces of paper over the edge, never more than one at a time, and at the end of the service look down to see whose hat had caught the most pieces. All of the women attending wore large hats, and Mrs Martha Champkins’ hat usually caught the most.
Sunday School Outings. We all looked forward to what for all of us was the only holiday we had in the year. Children and teachers would fill usually six buses and leave early on a Saturday morning to visit Clacton on the Essex coast. Sometimes we would go by train from Biggleswade railway station to Skegness in Lincolnshire. In the town we would go on the fairground entertainments, including the Ghost Train and the shaking walkway. Candy Floss was a must once or twice during the day. Lunch was usually in a local restaurant. Who paid I do not know.
Sunday School Anniversaries. Under the guidance of the Church Organist, Sidney Smith, most if not all of the children would attend choir-practice once a week for six weeks. At first the new songs and hymns sounded awful, as if we would never learn them. But after six weeks we knew them so well that we couldn’t wait for the big day. How often we have seen members of the congregation sit on those schoolroom forms brought in and placed in the aisles of the church, for the evening service at six. Once I remember a few people sitting on the bottom steps of the pulpit and in the side room with the door open. The girls would have a new blouse or frock as they sat on the front row of the gallery, and the boys might have new shirts or trousers or perhaps shoes. As Bernard Miles said in one of his records,’ the Angels were singin’ fit to bust ‘emselves’.
The Band of Hope. Memories of Langford Methodist Church must include the ‘Band of Hope’ and the ‘Magic Lantern’. The slide-shows told sad stories of families where the father/husband wasted money on alcohol. One gripping tale called ‘The Last Shilling’ told of the man on his way home from work on payday who was unable to go past the public-house. He stopped outside for a while and then went in to spend even his last shilling. The scene at home afterwards was sadness indeed. Also on the agenda at the Band of Hope were the poems and memorable statements like: ‘The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine’. The Band of.Hope was led by Mr Alan Brown and his son Reg.
Visiting Ministers. My best and more serious memories were during my early teens, when Ministers in training visited Langford from Richmond College in Surrey. I listened to them in Sunday School and in church services at 2.45 and 6pm. By then I was beginning to be attracted to the Christian message and much admired these men and particularly their preaching. Amongst those who came were the Rev John P Horner, Rev James Grottick, Rev Raymond Jones, Rev Gerald Cole. Also very influential in those day was the Rev Bob (Bert) Morris who was temporarily our Shefford minister.
Sunday night youth group. Every Sunday night after service the youngsters, all teenagers, would assemble in the home of Bill and Eva Rooke at Chapel Hill Farm, near to the church until about 9.30 pm so that we could all be home by 10pm. Some would walk home, whilst others would all crowd into Bill’s car and be dropped off one by one around the village. We were all able to meet the visiting preachers from Richmond College who invariably came to the Youth Group.
Tuesday Night Fellowship and Prayer Meeting. At 14 I joined this fortnightly meeting, which was the nearest we had to the old Class Meetings of traditional Methodism. Here I was most impressed by the spontaneous witness of the older members of the church who would pray and give their testimonies. I have never forgotten listening to Ben Jefferies (father of Ron) praying with tears in his eyes for the young people of the church. Or Jim Lockey, who in his prayers looked forward to ‘heaven with estasies of joy’ (missing out the c) and to the heaven where we would ‘breathe a purer hair’ (adding on the h). Or Minnie Brown whose frequently used phrase asked ‘for grace, day by day’.
By the time I was 17 I was very keen to be a preacher and was given a ‘Note to Preach’ by our Superintendent Minister, Rev Mark Lund. I started early because I had serious intentions of entering the ministry. Examinations followed, which I passed comfortably in Old Testament, New Testament, Christian Doctrine, and Preaching & Worship. I took those examinations while I was studying for ‘A’ Levels at Bedford School where I went from 1948–1956. I was glad to accompany Ezra Street, a well-loved Local Preacher, who has a window in the chapel. I used to accompany him to his appointments in the Biggleswade Circuit and remember hearing him preach on the text ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’. I remember hearing him give out the text for the fourth time and thinking ‘No not again’. But I have never forgotten such a wonderful and important text and it has become one of my most revered Christian beliefs-of all, maybe largely due to hearing Ezra preach it so often when I was a boy.
Visiting Preachers. For a relatively small English village, Langford Methodism was able to persuade some very big names to visit the church. It was nothing to have District Chairmen visit Langford, but other prominent and well-known names also came. For instance, the Rev Donald Soper, Rev William Motson, Superintendent of the Deptford Mission, and Rev Ira Goldhawk to name but a few.
Mr Joe Edwards. Joe was quite elderly when I was a teenager, but he had a distinctive role to play. He was invariably on the door at the front of the church on Sundays, and it was his habit to stand at the back of the church leaning against the side of the back pew. If the sermon was a good one, Joe would inch forward still holding on to the side of the pews with one hand. He has been known to have reached the front and stand in front of the pulpit looking with awe at the preacher. I do remember him locking up the church at the end of meetings or services, and on one occasion, when we were later than usual, Joe opened the back door and totally ignoring what stage the meeting had reached, probably because of his poor hearing, said quite loudly: ‘Shut all the doors, put all the lights out and doern’t be late, there’s gooduns.’ David Lockey recalls that Joe suffered a serious head injury whilst working on the railways and had to retire from that work. He was quite a ‘character’, who, in his role of caretaker, was not slow to chide misbehaving youngsters.
One of the enduring features of the church has been the continuing strength of the ladies’ meetings, as they were called then. In Irene Rutt’s informative booklet, the earliest reference is February 1892. This was about a Clothing Club collection which raised 18s 9d (94p. today). Other entries in the Minute Book include the following:
05-01-22: The Ladies’ Sewing Class meeting is on Thursday at 2.30pm. Ladies are requested to bring their own work.
17-02-40: It was agreed that a letter of thanks be sent to the Ladies’ Sewing Guild (new name) for their gift of £43 to the Trust Fund.
This entry and the next two come from the Chapel Minutes Book.
11-05-44: Arrangements are to be made to clean the chapel for the coming Sunday School Anniversary. As it is in a very bad condition the men were asked to do the sweeping and dusting and the ladies were asked to do the scrubbing, etc.
23-11-48: The Sisterhood (new name for the Sewing Class) had raised sufficient money to buy and install an electric water heater.
Here are some later notes from the Sisterhood Minute Book.
October 1953: £90 proceeds from the Bazaar were given to the Trust Fund. It was agreed that the weekly subscription should be 2d. Today it is 50p. (At 10s. 0d in old money this is a 60% increase, but the ladies now only pay if they attend.)
September 1958: At the AGM officers were elected as before and Mrs T Swain was proposed to do a Birthday Book. (This meant that every lady received a card on her birthday, and the custom continues today.) The balance in hand was £42 13s 4d. New tablecloths and crockery were to be purchased. On 16 April there was a visit from the Linden Singers. A few stalls raised £27 5s 3d for the Kitchen Fund.
May 1975: A ‘knit in’ raised £119 58p. for curtains for the side windows in the schoolroom. These cost £99 36p from the shop of Shefford Methodist Stuart Hodgson. A teapot from Larkinson’s cost £3 20p. (New curtains for the stage were bought in 2010.)
May 1991: Mrs. Vera Brown was presented with a hymn book by Rev Jim Gorringe in appreciation of all the work she had contributed to the Sisterhood for over 40 years. (Vera died, aged 100, in February 2012.)
Chapel Anniversary No 150
Celebrations began in July 2011 with the Annual Gift Day. Outside the chapel was a banner announcing the Chapel Anniversary, and inside, fixed to the front of the Choir Gallery a banner proclaiming the theme of the festivities:
‘GOD’S KINGDOM COME IN A CHANGING WORLD.’
An exhibition included photographs; Baptism and Marriage registers; old medals, certificates, and books won by or presented to Sunday School scholars; printed lists of significant events during the last 120 years; photocopies of newspaper cuttings. All of these were on show on Sunday mornings, at monthly ‘Oasis’ Coffee Mornings, and at the various extra meetings. Also displayed was the famous ‘magic lantern’, just about in working order thanks to the best efforts of Chris Rutt and David Brown.
In the evening of Saturday, 24 March 2012 there was a Celebratory Meal in the Schoolroom. Next day, after Ralph Kilby had spoken in the morning, the President of the Methodist Conference, Rev Lionel (Leo) Osborn was welcomed to the Evening Service. He was accompanied by District Chair, Rev Anne Brown.
The Wesleyan Methodist 20th Century Fund and Langford Children
The unreadable name on the fold is Lilian Simms
The Wesleyan Methodist Twentieth Century Fund
Between 1 January 1899 and September 1909 when the fund was finally closed, over one
million people donated a guinea (£1.1s, now £1.05p) to the Wesleyan Methodist Twentieth
Century Fund. The majority of the donations were made between 1899 and 1904.
The names of the contributors are contained in the Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll, a
unique set of 50 large leather bound volumes, housed in a specially made bookcase in the
Visitors’ Centre at Central Hall.
The fund was started to celebrate in a spectacular way the Centenary of the death of John
Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.
Sunday School scholars attending named Wesleyan Chapels donated one shilling (5p).
They would have saved their farthings and halfpennies to collect their shillings for which they would have received a John Wesley medallion. The Children’s Collection raised £4,162.0s.1d and 90,000 medallions were struck.
A master index of the more than 6,900 Wesleyan Chapels listed in the Historic Roll can
be consulted either at Westminster Methodist Central Hall or on the Westminster Methodist
Central Hall website: www.methodist-central-hall.org.uk.
Names of the Langford children
As they appear on the list
Alphabetically by surname
The Band of Hope in Langford
A diploma, above, was awarded to the members of the Langford Wesleyan
Band of Hope by the Bedfordshire United Temperance Council in 1912 for having made an
increase in members in 1911.
The Band of Hope Movement was formed in Leeds In 1847 to teach children the importance and principles of sobriety and teetotalism. The Band of Hope spread tremendously and, in 1855, a national organisation was formed. Meetings were held in churches throughout the UK and included Christian teaching.
Founded at a time when drinking spirits was regarded as one of life’s necessities, and as
important as eating and fresh water, the Band of Hope and other temperance organisations
tried to oppose the influence of the pubs and brewers to rescue people whose lives were
blighted by drink and teach total abstinence.
Christians and temperance societies saw that if they provided activities for children this
would encourage them to avoid the problems that came with alcohol. They provided alcohol free premises and rallies, marches and demonstrations were held to fight the evils of hard
liquor. These were attended by thousands of supporters, and coffee taverns were established to keep teetotallers on the strait and narrow path.
‘Signing the pledge’ was a promise not to drink alcohol and millions of people signed it.
There were also magic lantern lectures and well-known speakers were invited to public
meetings to support the cause.
Music played an important part and competitions were held between different Band of
Hope choirs. Members of the local temperance societies also organised outings for the
children and, with the growth of the railways, trips were arranged to nearby seaside places.
‘The annual treat, held always on Whit Wednesday, was a great feature of the year, and after listening to a special address by a noted minister from elsewhere the children would form in procession and march through the town. They halted at various places where special hymns, learnt for the occasion, were sung, generally led by a violin or two.’ (East Grinstead).
The movement steadily grew to nearly three million members by the 1930s, but by the
early 1950s, a changing society and cultural habits nearly saw the end of the temperance
movement. Lack of support for the Band of Hope brought about its change into Hope UK,
which remains concerned with children's welfare.
The above photo from the Handscombe Collection shows the Chapel members in Edwardian times. It was taken in the field which was directly opposite the chapel, now occupied by houses.
A selection of events by year
1871: Mr John Elderkin, was buried in a grave at the front of the Methodist Church. His wife, Mary, carried on their bakery business until her death, and she was buried on the same site in 1883. We can only wonder as to how this exceptional situation arose. ‘Saintly’ as John was, it is surprising that permission for the interment was given for the Elderkins, but for nobody else. When the frontage was smartened up in 1995 their headstone was moved to one side, retaining its horizontal position. At the same time a new side gate was put in and the pathway to the schoolroom paved to enable easy wheelchair access.
1899: The final edition of the Chronicle contained as usual a report on the old tradition of ‘Fairing’ or ‘Gooding’ or ‘Thomasing’ which was observed on 21 December (St Thomas’s Day) each year. This was the day when poor women walked around the village hoping that some of their better-off neighbours would give them money so that they could ‘keep a good Christmas’. Sometimes a farmer would offer grain rather than money, and so the exercise was called ‘Corning’ in some parts of the country:
‘The widows of Langford perambulated the village and collected £5 4s 4d from the inhabitants. When divided up this came to 3s 4d each with 1s left over, which was given to the most needy of their number. Bread, beer, and cheese were consumed afterwards at the Boot Inn by a few friends [probably none of them Methodists].’
‘Fairing’ was still observed in Langford in 1928, much later than in most villages. That Christmastide 22 widows received 3s 8d each.
A big event of 1900 was reported thus in the Chronicle dated Friday, 5 October:
‘The laying of the foundation of the Wesleyan Chapel Sunday School took place on Tuesday afternoon. There was a large gathering and an address was delivered by Rev J Posnett of Leicester. A public tea followed and about 140 attended. The Rev Posnett preached again in the evening to a crowded congregation. The stone was laid by four gentlemen whose names and subscriptions were: Mr Allen Jeeves and Mr James Odell £5 5s each, Mr Joseph Hall £5 and Mr Alfred Inskip £4.’
There followed the names of 10 people, including Mrs C Smith and Mrs F Hawkins, who ‘subscribed for guinea stones’ (£1 1s = £1.05). Five men contributed half-guinea stones. (10s 6d = 52.5p). Another 33 men gave five-shilling stones (all those donors were named.) ‘The Sunday School stone was valued at 13s 10d.’
‘The amount thus taken was £41 11s 4d. The collections at the two services were £8 1s 4d, and profit on the tea 9s 7d. Total £50 2s 3d.’ The cost of this fine new hall, which was opened the following year, was £500. The architect was Mr T Cockrill, AMICE, and the builder was an old scholar of the school, Mr Charles Wright.
1904: The chapel was ‘thoroughly renovated and beautified at a cost of £126, which expense was cleared off within the next two years.’
1905: In a village whose population was about 1,100, the membership now stood at a very impressive 110, nearly half of whom were in the choir. There were now eight society classes to provide care and support for the members, compared with three classes for 25 members in 1876. These figures raise the question as to how the small numbers of 1876 could have decided both to enlarge the chapel and to raise the necessary money. Payments to the Circuit Board (the Assessment?) had increased in those three decades from £3 16s 9d to £10 7s 7d. This information is in a one-page article from a booklet about Methodist Churches in the Biggleswade Circuit in 1905. It is signed by ‘C.S.’, i.e., Charles Smith, the Chapel Steward.
1906: On Wednesday 21 March the church was ‘filled in all parts’ for the opening of the new organ. Our local paper stated that: ‘The organ was purchased from St. John’s Parish Church, Windsor and with fittings etc. cost £203. So far £150 has been raised by the Langford Wesleyans.’ The old organ went to Stotfold Primitive Methodist Church where the opening recital was given by Sidney Smith.
1909: On Christmas Eve the Chronicle reported: ‘A party of the Wesleyan Sunday School and Choir intend parading the village in the early hours of Christmas morning Carol Singing on behalf of the National Children’s Home and Orphanage.’ Before the service on Christmas morning it was normal for members to collect donations from houses whose occupants did not want to come to the door the night before.
1911: ‘On Tuesday evening 24 October a Society Tea was held, between 60 and 70 being present, after which a well-attended meeting was held addressed by the Rev C H Bateman.’ But this Tea may have had a smaller attendance than before. In 1911 the Methodists of Henlow had finally found a meeting-room in their own village, so they no longer walked across the fields to worship in Langford. By 1924 they had built their own chapel, and in 1968 the present building opened (with its own car-park!).
1912: This brought the 50th anniversary of the building of the chapel, and some acknowledgement of the half-century could have been expected. The Chronicle of 12 April reported that: ‘Mr W Moyle, district evangelist, who recently conducted a mission in the village was the preacher at the anniversary services which took place at the Wesleyan Church on Sunday when good congregations were present and the services were most successful.’
There is much information to be had about the life of the church, thanks to a Minute Book of ‘Teachers and Committee Meetings’ from 1911–1920. This was given to the church by John Smith, whose father, Sylvester, survived the Somme and the rest of the Great War. On his return (aged 21) he was made Secretary of the Sunday School, and some of the Minute Book is his work. It was lent to me by Valerie Cooper, in whose care it resides, and it gives an insight into how they did things a century ago.
1914: Both the Wesley Guild and the Band of Hope were in existence at this time. The latter was a ‘temperance organisation’ for children which held regular midweek meetings in the schoolroom. Jack Street says that all the village children were invited, not just those in Sunday School. Also that year Miss Eva Rutt took over running the Junior Foreign Missions, later to become the Junior Missionary Association (JMA), and now known as Junior Mission for All.
1915: 16 June: Nine months into the First World War ‘Mr Chas Wright read several Letters from Old Scholars, who are serving King & Country, thanking the Officers and Teachers for Presents received.’ This followed a decision on 7 June when ‘It was unanimously agreed that a Letter, a Hymn Sheet, and a Handkerchief be sent to every scholar now serving in the Army’. (These last three words were deleted in purple at the next meeting, so perhaps there were also some men in the Royal Navy.) It was also decided that ‘the Names of all should be read out on Sunday Evening.’
1916: 12 September: ‘Proposed & Seconded that Master Albert Street be appointed Infant Class Teacher in the Afternoon in the place of Mr Jesse Brown, on Active Service.’
1919: 21 May: ‘A discussion took place upon having a Memorial to the fallen who had passed through the School, but was left over.’ There is no further minute on this subject.
Life at the chapel probably proceeded much as before, allowing for recovery from the effects of the Great War, the Depression, and the Second World War. The state of the agricultural industry, especially market gardening, would have given many village families cause for concern during the 1930s.
1951:31 August: Installation completed of a new blower for the organ. David Lockey remembers his father, Jim, regularly pumping the bellows which had previously powered the organ.
1953: 13 December: First mention of a Toy Service. The toys went to needy children in Stevenage or to Dr Barnardo’s at Dunstable.
1954: 18 March: Chapel Anniversary worship was led by Rev William Motson, father of the TV football commentator, John. Organist Mr Sidney Smith was presented with a gift to thank him for his loyal service of 50 years.
1955: 28 June: Local Preachers. Mr Ralph Kilby preached for the first time, and was planned to be there again as part of the 150 celebrations on 24 March 2012. Ralph is one of Langford’s home-grown local preachers, the others being Albert Street, Ezra Street (his brother), Ron Jefferies, and Marjorie Street (daughter of Ezra Street and Ron’s wife-to-be), John Smith, and Doreen Clapton. Victor Rankin, though not born in the village, qualified as a local preacher whilst living here.
1957: 21 April: Rev W A A Tutt unveiled a window in memory of Mr Ezra Street.
1959: 12 April: This was the first Sunday when the afternoon service (2.30 pm) was switched to the morning (10.45 am). The evening service continued until 1984 or 1985.
1961: 5 October: The diary of Jesse Smith (Valerie Cooper’s father) revealed that the Centenary celebrations began on Thursday 5 October to coincide with the re-opening of the Guild. Mr Horace Dilley was in the chair, the speaker was Rev Jones from Baldock, and the soloist W Rooke.
16 March: Another piano was bought for the Schoolroom.
1 June: Despite the inclement weather there was a good congregation at the Methodist Church Sunday School Anniversary services on Sunday. The special preacher was Rev J Grottick BD of Coventry.
29 June: Last week 30 members of the Methodist Sisterhood went to Clacton for their annual summer outing. The weather was rough but they had an enjoyable day.
30 June: The Sunday School’s outing was to Yarmouth. Other venues for a day out were Clacton, Walton-on-the-Naze and Wicksteed Park. David Lockey said that the Band of Hope were having annual outings before the Sunday School introduced them. He recalls a trip to Skegness that left Langford at 7am on five double-decker buses to Biggleswade Station. Swelled by a contingent from Henlow it required three railway carriages to accommodate all the travellers for a very long day out.
21 December: The Church Choir and members of the Youth Club toured the village for their annual carol singing on Christmas Eve, and a house-to-house collection was made on Christmas morning. In 1963 this raised £45 3s 9d for the National Children’s Home and Dr Barnardo’s Homes after the carollers had been out from 8.45 pm. until 00.45 am.
For many years there were meetings at the church on five nights of the week. Sunday: Evening Worship; Monday: Youth Club; Tuesday: alternately (i) Preaching Service, (ii) Fellowship Group; Wednesday: Choir Practice; Thursday: Wesley Guild. David Lockey recalls occasional trips with the Guild on one of George Endersby’s coaches to Steeple Morden (12 miles) and Ashwell.
During the 13 years’ ministry of Rev Jim Gorringe (1986–99) the church took some spiritual steps forward. Until 1992 it had been the custom for the minister to read lessons in church except at the ‘special’ services. In October that year Valerie Cooper found a Church council minute which recorded the decision to invite members of the congregation to read. Five years later the Wednesday meetings, which had lapsed, were restarted with a Bible Study and a Prayer Group.
Jim next (in 1997) introduced an annual Prayer Week, which continues to be much appreciated in the village. Letters are delivered to every house inviting residents to tell us if there are any people or issues they wish us to pray for. Their responses are collated and then used during the hour-long meeting held on every day of the week at varying times.
Further developments took place during the ministry of Jim’s successor, Rev Phil Snelson (1999-2008). In 2004 Phil held a service for anyone who had been bereaved during the year.
Five years later the Chapel shared in the national initiative for a ‘Back to Church’ Sunday based on the theme ‘Come as you are.’ Invitations were sent out to people who had not worshipped with us for a while and this brought a good response.
In the ‘good old days’ Harvest produce was auctioned on what David Lockey remembers as an entertaining Monday evening. The time came (1964) when that procedure was replaced by the distribution of goods to the elderly, sick, and lonely of Langford. This practice ended in 2005 when Phil arranged for the goods, by now including tins of food and other non-perishable items, to be taken to a local Christian Care Home for families.
This brought a variety of celebratory events. On New Year’s Day, a Saturday, a service was held at 10.45 am. Those members who had gone to bed in the middle of the night were able to have a delayed breakfast after the service. During the year two trees were planted in the front garden, one by the Sunday Club and the other by the congregation. A time capsule was placed beneath each tree in September 2001; that by the adults contained a very old song book, and various documents reflecting the workings of the Chapel for the year.
Ecumenically, the ‘them and us’ attitudes of a century ago are long gone. The Christian Aid service (in May) and Remembrance Sunday are always shared with St. Andrew’s, whose members also attend our Covenant Service.