The Gables

All Change at Providence

by Colne Life magazine

One of Colne’s historic buildings has changed hands. The congregation from Providence Independent Methodist Church, in Albert Road, joined those at the denomination’s nearby Bethel church three years ago, leaving its building vacant.

The building has been bought by an architect to be used either as a private home or conversion into apartments. Ironically that will revert the building back to its original use – as a private house.

Built in 1869, the building – then called The Gables – was the home of Nicholas England Junior, an influential businessman in the cotton trade.

After his death in 1852 his younger son, Nicholas, and brother, Thomas, continued running the two mills in the Waterside area of Colne – Spring Garden Mill and St Helen’s Mill.

Nicholas died suddenly in 1875 at the age of 41, and a month later Spring Garden Mill burned down. Thomas continued running the business but The Gables was sold to Thomas Shaw who lived there until it was bought by the corporation to house the town library in 1907.

The site was ideal for the corporation’s requirements. It was alongside the technical school and, more important, the library, then housed in the municipal hall, was outgrowing the area allocated to it. Modifications were made to The Gables and it became the new library and, in 1914, a museum.

When the decision was made to move Providence to the old library it was providential that a trustee of the church was a local councillor and aware of the decision to move the library. The church members had already decided that a move was inevitable as dry rot had attacked the chapel in Waterside and the bill for treatment and remedial work would be at least £700 – plus the cost of necessary redecoration.

With many of the mills in Waterside having been pulled down and cottages and houses also disappearing, a move to a different location seemed inevitable.

The Council too were in a dilemma. While they wanted the library to move they were aware that the town’s imposing war memorial stood outside the building and did not want that relegated into insignificance.

Providence seemed the most suitable organisation to take over the site so a £6,500 fee was agreed and the deal done.

While some members of the church felt the move was not necessary the majority voted for it – their only dilemma being how to position the church organ and communion rail. But their fears were needless, the organ was moved at a cost of £900 and the communion rail, choir stalls and other church fittings positioned in their new home.

New blue tip-up seats – bought from the J Arthur Rank cinema organisation – gave the finishing touch to the perfect move, with members of the church working tirelessly to raise funds to cover the costs. With the sale, those seats have now been delivered to Scotland to be used for their original purpose in a cinema.

In 1972 The Gables became the home of Providence Independent Methodist Church with official members walking in procession after the farewell service in Waterside to their new premises. Two
weekends of celebration followed in May of the following year in their new premises – the delay being because of the necessity to install heating and ensure each of the rooms was decorated.

The move to Bethel was a sad time for many members. It means a move from Waterside where it has been proclaiming its message for about 150 years.

“It was a sad moment,” said 80-year-old Peter Dalby, who had been a member of the church all his life. “My mother was in the choir when I was born and my father and grandfather were long-standing members. But the move was inevitable.”

In fact, Peter’s father was the church archivist and that task became Peter’s when his father died.

His files now cover the history of the church from its beginnings to the present day.

The church had begun in 1821 after two Primitive Methodist preachers visited Waterside and got a group of people interested in their view of church life.

A small church was established, meeting in a rented room and then, with as little as three adherents, in people’s homes. In an area with three public houses, several beer shops and where cockfighting was the major attraction, it was a tough area in which to form a church.

But as it grew in numbers the local blacksmith – a Mr Jackson – allowed them to use the room above his Smithy in Whittaker’s Square, alongside Waterside Day School.

Later another room was obtained and it was there that William Hartley, the grandfather of Sir William Pickles Hartley, founder of Hartley’s Jam, preached the first sermon.

In fact, in 1846 he was to baptise his grandson in a new church building, opened in 1844 – The Garden Street Chapel, in Waterside.

The new church, however, heralded yet another major shift in the church’s fortunes. By 1851 it had decided to leave the Primitive Methodist denomination and for some months became independent, making its own arrangements for speakers and organisation.

As the church blossomed even that building became too small and in 1879 the first turf was cut in Lenches Road and the foundation stone laid for a new chapel and school on the larger site.

For three years the Sunday School children met in the old building in Garden Street while the new building became the church for Sunday meetings but with the eventual sale of the Garden Street premises members began to think of building the church alongside what had always been planned as the Sunday School.

By 1898 the church finally became a member of the Independent Methodist Connexion and became Providence Independent Methodist Church, Waterside.

It was to be another 11 years before the foundation stone was laid for the new church building on Lenches Road, alongside the school building with the Mayoress of Colne, Mrs John Smith, laying the first stone. Her husband had been connected with the church from birth.

The church opened the following year. They were days when the church flourished with football and cricket teams, three choirs, a Drum and Fife Band, and regular concerts and productions for local people. Church members paraded round the area each Whitsun singing hymns and the lively congregation was integral to the life of the district.

But eventually the move to Colne and The Gables occurred in 1972 when the town library was moved to new premises in Market Street.

The Gables became the home of Providence church until, as membership dwindled further, it became evident that yet another move was on the cards – this time to join their fellow Independent Methodists at Bethel Chapel.

Peter said: “The church in Waterside has served us well – and has served that neighbourhood for many years. But it became evident that the Church in Albert Road was far too big for a congregation that was getting older so the move was inevitable.”

Ironically the move to Bethel had another twist to it. When the Waterside Church was at its height a team led a mission which resulted in the formation of a number of other churches including Bethel.

“So it is fitting,” as Peter pointed out, “that we are simply moving on to one of our daughter churches.”