It has been 60 years since St Paul’s Church opened its doors to worshippers in Northgate and beyond.
Parishioners Geoff Ridgway and Martin Bower researched the following article about the history of the church and how it established itself in the New Town.
Crawlev Methodist Church – Our Beginnings
In 1946 The New Towns Act identified Crawley as a suitable location for a New Town, one of eight which the Government created in a circle of between 20 and 30 miles from the heart of London.
In 1951 the following newspaper advertisement appeared:
“CALLING ALL METHODISTS: It is intended to build a Methodist Church in the Crawley New Town and an attempt is being made to contact Methodist people now living in the Crawley area.
“If you have any connection at all with Methodism please attend a meeting of Methodists in the Crawley Congregational Church Hall, Thursday April 19 at 8pm. Why not come in at the beginning?”
In addition to the Superintendent minister at that time, the Rev J Eric Dixon, the minister at Horley the Rev John W Davis and a supernumerary minister living in the area, 11 people attended that first meeting when it was reported that a site for the erection of a new Methodist church had been secured in Northgate.
In fact, the Crawley Development Corporation had offered two sites for the building of Methodist Churches, but in the end it was the Northgate site that was purchased at a cost of £1,056 2s 10d, including legal expenses.
While the work of planning the Northgate site went ahead, meetings were initially held at the Congregational church and then both services and meetings in a room above a barn in the garden of the Rectory, named by the worshippers as The Upper Room, just off what is now The Boulevard.
In September 1951, the first Harvest Festival was held in the Upper Room on a Monday evening followed by a supper and social well attended by not only members but also representatives from other churches in the area including the rector and his wife.
Highlights of the social, according to a newspaper report, were ‘a mannequin parade, an any question team, an auction of produce and some excellent shadow acting’.
In February 1952, it was agreed that a united Sunday School for children under eight years old would be opened, meeting in the Barnfield Road school until such time as the new Methodist premises were availableFollowing publicity, over 50 children were waiting to enrol when the Sunday school was opened.
The Northgate site was dedicated in August 1952 when over 50 Methodists gathered.
The first Methodist minister, the Rev Anthony Thorpe was appointed the following month.
The initial premises costing £23,000 were dedicated at a service on Saturday October 31 1953 by which time the name of St Paul’s had been adopted.
By the early 1960s, the congregation was sufficiently well established for the building of the church to proceed.
Although The Methodist Church authorities recommended a Methodist architect from Sevenoaks, the St Paul’s Trustees Meeting decided to appoint a local architect, Mr Cyril Greening of KC White and Partners, who had been responsible for designing many of the buildings in the New Town, including Three Bridges Free Church.
It was felt that being a local resident, he would design a building in keeping with the rest of the architecture of the town.
The building of his design for the octagonal church went ahead, the stone laying by Mrs Hilda Bartlett Lang taking place in March 1965, with bricks being laid by representatives of the various departments of the church.
Saturday January 29 1966 saw the fruition of all the planning when the new sanctuary with additional vestries was consecrated and opened, the list of officiating ministers numbering 13.
It was decided to build a manse for the Minister and family, rather than renting premises elsewhere in Northgate and it was erected on land adjacent to the new church.
Anniversary week events
St Paul’s Church anniversary weekend will be October 19 and 20.
Celebrations will involve displays in the church buildings of the various activities in which the church is involved as well as memorabilia from the past.
Previous members of the church have been invited to join the celebrations and, on the Saturday, a variety of social areas are planned to allow people to catch up with old friends over a coffee. There will also be a talent show on the Saturday evening.