Saturday, November 23, 2013

100 Years And A Day


Between 1920 and 1942 within a quarter of a mile, there were three Methodist Chapels which were all situated on the southern side of Easington Colliery's main road - Seaside Lane. By the 1930s, the Colliery (in County Durham) reached its peak population of some 10,000.

The first of these Chapels was opened on 22nd November 1913. It is shown in the above picture and it is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. It was initially called the United Methodist Church, which was a title which arose out of the amalgamation of two previous Methodist sects. But at that time a further distinction existed in Methodism between the Wesleyans and the Primitives. The Wesleyans established their own local chapel on 7th November 1917. Then the Primitives purchased two ex-army huts in 1920 which they used as the basis for their own chapel.  When Methodism was united in 1932, the local Primitive Methodists renamed their chapel; calling it the "Bourne Methodist Chapel", after a prominent former leading Primitive Methodist. They were keen to keep their heritage.

The three chapels co-existed and were drawn into the same Methodist Circuit, sharing preachers and various local activities. When the ex-Wesleyan chapel closed in 1942 their members moved a few hundred yards down the street into the building that is shown above, which was renamed St. John's Methodist Church. Then when the Bourne Methodist Chapel closed in 1956, they moved into the same Church which then changed its name a second time to the Easington Colliery Methodist Church.

The initial three chapels, did not of course suddenly spring for nowhere. Paradoxically, the United Methodists first held services in Easington's pioneering days in what is now 22 Bourne Street and also had open air meetings on the grass which later became Bede Street. On 11th March 1911 their society was officially formed at what is now 6 Byron Street. The two women in the above photo are walking in the direction of these places, which are just a short distance away. The Wesleyians and the Primitives were equally active and by 1910 were holding separate meetings in the Colliery's first temporary tin schools.

The Colliery's initial Miner's Union and leading Labour Party activists were often prominent in the local Methodist Chapels; especially George Bloomfield the local Lodge's Secretary (and Checkweighman) from 1911 to 1939 and also George Walker the Lodge President - whom I knew.  Both were amongst the group of six who met at nearby Murton just after the First World War to establish a Constituency Labour Party. They also became active and prominent Labour Councillors. Like-minded Labour activists in County Durham (such as Peter Lee and Jack Lawson) also travelled into Easington Colliery to preach from its Methodist pulpits.

I picked up many of my own political commitments from several years of activity in Bourne Methodist Chapel, until I left Easington Colliery to do my National Service at the age of 18.  By I returned to Easington two years later, I had rejected my former religious beliefs; but I was left with what had been a local Methodist-socialist heritage. My mother was also active in the Bourne Methodist Chapel and she moved to St. John's when they amalgamated. The last time I visited what is now the Easington Colliery Methodist Church was for my mother's funeral service, which was held on my 63rd birthday. Hence my need to record these matters. Although I happen to be a day late in  discovering this anniversary.

(Many of the above facts come from "Methodism in Easington Colliery :1913-1963", which is a Jubilee Brochure. My mother obtained my current copy almost exactly 50 years ago)

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