The Early Days
The roots of Horfield Methodist Church are not in Gloucester Road but in Ashley Down Road in a building which became the Salvation Army Citadel but is now in commercial use. A school was opened in 1875 and the original owner of the building offered it to the Wesleyan Methodists for use on Sundays. The Sunday School grew in numbers and the property became that of the Wesleyans. In the last quarter of the century the population grew hugely and the King Street Circuit, of which Ashley Down Road Chapel was a part, decided to build a new chapel in Horfield as part of the centenary celebrations.
The building was opened on 22nd January 1899 at a cost of £2906 19s. and 11d. It was constructed in French gothic/arts crafts style by La Trobe who designed various secular buildings in central Bristol. The west front has two large windows and a rose window and a notable feature is the small spire. Then it comprised the existing Church and back downstairs rooms all intended to cater for 450 children, presumably extremely tightly squeezed in!
The Pre-War Years
In the years leading up to the First World War the building changed very little due to financial constraints caused by the debt of the original building. An interesting feature of this early era is that of Seat Rents. Until 1921 the charge was 1s.6d. per quarter and about 60 people took up this option. A sidesman showed the members to their seats whilst others went to seats not taken up.
The First World War
The Church luckily suffered no war damage. In 1919, in memory of those who had died and the increasing need to expand, an upstairs hall was built. The money was raised in two years by private collection, bazaars, organ recitals and special events.
Horfield Methodist Church was Wesleyan and the interior setting reflected the period. The preacher would mount a platform located under the arch and the pulpit was in the centre. The music was lead by a harmonium set beneath the pulpit and the choir sat just outside the communion rail facing each other. In 1923 the chapel acquired a new organ for £380 and the pulpit was moved to the left of the dais, before it was removed in the early 2000s.
The School Classroom
The original Trustees of the church (who would not have been members of the church but were made up of the professional middle classes) had bought the land on the corner of Churchways Avenue for future extension. Plans were drawn up in 1926 for a new school classroom which was completed in 1935. Over 400 scholars were taught in the Sunday School.
In 1948 a tenancy agreement was drawn up with the Education Department whereby they used some of the church rooms during the day. Events had turned full circle from the time when the original members had rented from someone who had a daytime school. The hall was used for badminton and the church also had access to tennis courts nearby. The church was very vibrant and the minister, who had no car, had to cycle to visit the congregation. The Korean war had a big impact locally, with the stand of the glorious Gloucesters, and when the Brabazon aircraft took off from Filton during one morning service, some thought the Luftwaffe had returned [updated to include information from Mike Male, son of Rev D Male, minister in the immediate post-war period].
The heavy use of the building during the Second World War had left it in a state of disrepair so large scale redecoration was carried out in the late 1940’s.
The 1950’s saw a shift in emphasis in attitudes and lifestyle which was mirrored in the way Horfield Methodist church functioned. The original church trustees were all professional, in 1925 the balance had shifted to half tradesmen and half professional, and by 1948 virtually all the trustees were tradesmen. Up until this time the church had employed several people including an organ blower, a full time caretaker, chimney sweep, gardener and window cleaner. Most of these jobs are now undertaken voluntarily by a Church member.
The 1950’s also saw a rapid increase in membership from 200 before the war to 297 in 1962. But other churches were beginning to be disturbed by a trend in declining church attendance and particular problems in attracting young people.
In 1960 Berkeley Road Methodist Church closed and donated their organ to Horfield. A balcony was built and the new organ was installed at the back of the church. It was dedicated to the Glory of God on 1st May 1960, and Horfield’s old organ was donated to Hartcliffe Methodist Church.
The New Parlour
The next major building project required a lot of faith as membership and attendances were declining. A new extension was built incorporating the parlour, new kitchen, toilets and crush hall and opened in September 1966. By 1980 the membership roll numbered 130 whilst attendances had plummeted to around 60. However there was a revival in the 1980’s with numbers increasing to 100 – 120 on a Sunday morning but the membership roll remained the same. The financial condition of the church also vastly improved enabling a substantial redecoration program which included the renewal of the steeple. The large wooden cross adorning the front arch was installed.
Horfield has more symbolism than most Methodist churches but this is mostly a result of acquirement over the years. Several memorials are evident including the font, silver cross, stained glass window and the plaques dedicated to those who died in the Great Wars.
The new Millennium
Further improvements to the building were made with a reconfiguration of the side entrance, new toilets, and an updated kitchen. Updating in the sanctuary included the removal of the elevated pulpit, which was replaced by two modern lecterns. The fixed communion rail was also removed and replaced by free standing portable rails which enable greater flexibility for worship activity. A new sound and projection system was also installed.
Despite a significant decline in Methodist membership nationally, Horfield membership has been sustained around the hundred mark with weekly attendance ranging from 50 to 70. The church has maintained a diverse ethnic congregation and there is still a healthy junior church and, a now more recently established strong Messy Church.
As part of its outreach the church joined the Bristol Churches Winter Night Shelter scheme in 2019, which provides accommodation for homeless people over the winter months.
The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 resulted in church buildings being closed accelerated the use of new technology, with the outcome that a greater number of people were linked into worship and the church’s communication.
Taken from Horfield Methodist Church – A Short History 1899 – 1989 compiled by Rev. Clifford Newman, and updated to 2020 by David Bainbridge.