VISIT TO THE SIDWELL STREET METHODIST CHURCH
10 MARCH 2016
Eighteen members gladly forsook the glorious sunshine to go for a guided tour round the Methodist Church in Sidwell Street. Our guide, Bob Price, was most entertaining as he explained to us the history of the building. The glorious church that we know was built and opened in 1905. So it is not actually a Victorian building, though the design is of course pure Victorian.
Bob pointed out the architecture on the front of the building and told us of plans for a new front to the side alley on the right. They hoped either to build a brick structure matching the entrance on the left of the building, or else enclose it with plate glass.
Through the door and into the main building we faced with an elegant wooden screen, built to commemorate the soldiers of the First World War.
Big double doors led through to the main chapel area with its wonderful ceiling soaring up to the sky. Bob pointed out to us that the ceiling had no central supports. There were eight pillars built within the outer walls and these were bound together at their tops with a ring beam to provide a strong enough base on which to seat the dome.
Some of our members went up to the gallery - another architectural feat for it seemed to have no central means of support. It is not cantilevered but maintains its strength through a series of criss-crossed supports within its floor. When it was built, there was some concern about safety so 300 prisoners were co-opted to stand there to prove its viability. No Health & Safety concerns there then! In 2004, when the church had been massively refurbished, 100 members of the congregation agreed to crowd-test it and again it was proved safe!
The beautiful organ behind the pulpit is well known for its glorious sound. It has been refurbished over the years at great cost but the result is truly wonderful with over 1500 organ pipes. We were offered the opportunity to play it, but no one volunteered! The pulpit in front of the organ is very dramatic. It is a magnificent Edwardian survival. Carved in oak, there are stairs on both sides leading up to the preacher’s platform which is high enough to enable everyone, below and in the gallery, to see and hear easily.
Few people today know that the original chapel still exists at the back of the church. This was not very elaborate and was constructed to provide a place of worship for the working men and women in the immediate area. On opening, it immediately proved too small and in due course the glorious church that we know was built and opened in 1905. We visited this chapel which was a very pretty room with school rooms off and some members said they preferred its charming simplicity to the grandiose décor of the main church.
During the rehabilitation of the church in 2004, this chapel was again used for worship.
We then visited yet another hall, built in the 1920s and again a simple room but with a magnificent carved panel along one side.
Last of all we visited their garden, with evidence of much entertainment for the younger members of the congregation with charming artwork and evidence of barbecues for the little ones on the summer months.