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In 2003 we celebrated our church building’s centenary with a number of special events. We produced a booklet to mark the occasion and some of these details are taken from that. The website for the Sutton Park Circuit of churches, to which we belong also has a history page with lots of information about the development of Methodism in our part of Birmingham.
Early Methodism in Four Oaks
Methodism in Four Oaks did not begin with the building of our church in 1903. Francis Asbury, one of the early leaders in Methodism who went on to found the Methodist Church in the United States grew up in nearby Great Barr.
His home, shown in the picture, is now a museum (you can click on the picture for details).
Asbury established services as long ago as 1765 in the home of Edward Hand in Hill Hook, near to where Blake Street Railway Station now stands.
Methodism had a troubled start and Edward Hand and his family suffered great persecution. Eventually they were evicted from their home, although records show that they continued to hold meetings in the area until about 1794.
In that year some cottages in Belwell Lane were rented to the Methodist Church, which actually bought the site in 1799 and built a chapel. A bible, printed in 1707 which was presented to the Belwell Lane Chapel in 1837 is still on display in our church. That chapel became a school in 1853, and the site is now where the Waitrose supermarket stands.
Meanwhile, local records show that Methodist services continued in various cottages in Long Lane and at the junction of Belwell Lane and Walsall Road.
Our church is built
In the 1880s a racecourse had been built at Four Oaks, but that was not a success and by about 1890 it had closed. More houses were being built in the area and a bold group of local gentlemen saw a need for a Methodist church in the area. With no existing Methodist society behind them, they nevertheless raised money to buy the site and launched a local appeal to raise the £10,000 cost of building the church.
The first stone was laid at 4.00 pm on 22 October 1902 and the church was opened on 6 October 1903 by Mr A J Webb. It was described as a wet and blustery day, and the building has been tested by plenty more of those.
Another £4,000 was raised over the next few years to extend the initial church building and add the transepts and the tower, a vestry and some schoolrooms. This was all finished by 1910 and by 1913 the caretaker’s cottage and the adjoining manse had been built as well.
The picture is a copy of a postcard showing our church in 1909. By then the church entrance was already as we see it today, but there was no tower.
Gifts provided some of the features of the church we still see today, including the lovely stained glass window in the chancel, the communion table and chairs, the font, and the pulpit with a beautiful carving of Christ depicted as the Good Shepherd. The organ we still use, built by Norman and Beard was installed in 1914. Our Church Building and Halls and Rooms pages have more details of the layout of our church and its other rooms, and there is a short glossary of terms used to describe parts of church buildings.
Development of our church
Our church was developing in the years leading up to the First World War. War work was tackled, and a ladies sewing circle met to make clothing for soldiers at the front. Some of those soldiers were local men, and a plaque in the church commemorates the men from the church who died during the war.
The pictures show our church in 1928 and in 1938.
Small changes are apparent. For instance the increasing traffic in the 1930s had led to the introduction of the roundabout.
The 1920s and 1930s had seen a lot of development in Mere Green, hence the increased traffic, but little development immediately around the church itself. But the church building continued to develop. As well as the replacement of the original white wooden fence with the low stone wall we still have, modern conveniences like a microphone and amplifier had made their way into the church, and a gas ring was installed in the kitchen. The current oak pews date from 1930. The Scout and Guide groups who still meet here were formed at this time as well.
The Second World War came closer to home than the first had. For a time after Coventry was devastated by bombing, some evacuees stayed in the church itself. Our area too saw bombing; in 1940 a very near miss prompted the removal of the stained glass window to safety in the boiler room for the rest of the war.
The 1950s and 1960s were a very busy time. Expansion of local housing around Dower Road brought many new families and an expanded community for us to serve. The church responded in 1969 with a development of the church’s additional buildings; this is when the small hall was added along with some additional community rooms, a new kitchen and toilets.
The achievements of those Edwardian gentlemen who saw a need and set about meeting it were recognised in 1976 when the church buildings were given a Grade II listing as of architectural significance.
The buildings were refurbished in 1986 and in 1996, to preserve them, increase their accessibility and to enable us to offer a wider range of activities. Our centenary appeal in 2003 raised £200,000 to replace the central heating, repair stonework in the tower and improve the lighting and wiring. After a big fundraising effort, and with generous grants from Sutton Municipal Charities we also refurbished our kitchen.
In Autumn 2017, with help from many kind benefactors we began a very large project to modernise and extend all the community rooms and halls and fit them out to help us live out our mission to be a beacon of Christ in our community. Those works were finished over the Summer of 2018 at a cost of well over a million pounds, generously donated by many kind benefactors.
We are very excited about sharing our new and improved facilities with the community we serve.