10 August 2023

The Methodist Church
in Stony Stratford has
a history of 250-years

Stony Stratford Methodist Church on Silver Street was built in 1845 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I pass by the Methodist Church on Silver Street, Stony Stratford, almost every day, and live less than three-minutes’ walk away. But I was only inside the church for the first time last week during a meeting in the church hall.

The Methodists or Wesleyans have had a presence in Stony Stratford since the mid-18th century. In the 1770s, a local group of Methodists began to meet for worship in a large barn behind the Talbot Inn, now 81 to 85 High Street.

John Wesley visited Stony Stratford on at least five occasions, and during his visits between 1777 and 1779, it is said, he preached both under the ‘Wesley Elm’ in the Market Square and in the barn off the High Street, behind the Talbot Inn.

The projecting porch and entrance at Stony Stratford Methodist Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Methodists continued to use this barn as their meeting place until 1845, when the present Methodist Church on Cow Lane, near Coffereys Close, formerly Cow Fryers Close and now Cofferidge Close.

Stony Stratford Methodist Church and Church Hall on Silver Street are a Grade II listed building on Silver Street, between Market Square and Horsefair Green, backing onto Cofferidge Close shopping centre.

The church was built in 1845, with a gable end facing south-west onto Silver Street. Two tall round-headed windows flanking central entrance. The projecting porch has an Doric entablature with renewed piers. The church is brick built with a stone plinth and a band at impost level that continues around the window heads. The windows have bracketted sills.

There is a two-storey return on the north-west with four windows on the first floor and three on the ground floor. The features include glazing bar sashes with stone heads and keys and stone sills.

The later brick-built hall was added at the south-east side ca 1900. It has two gables, and the toothed brickwork in the gables forms open pediments.

Inside Stony Stratford Methodist Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Cow Lane was the mediaeval ‘Back Lane’ along the western edge of the old town. It was renamed Silver Street as part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee in 1887. As for Coffereys Close, it became Cofferidge Close.

The ‘Wesley Elm’ in Market Square has long disappeared: this magnificent elm stood in the square for 400 years. It is thought the tree was planted to celebrate the naval victory over the Spanish Armada, and it grew to a girth of 7.5 meters.

John Wesley preached beneath the tree on 30 July 1777 and on several other occasions. He addressed the crowds, declaring the town was ‘Stony by nature and Stony by name.’

A mid-20th century plaque, now on display in Stony Stratford Methodist Church, reads: ‘Wesley’s Tree. John Wesley visited Stony Stratford five times and it is reputed that at least once he stood beneath this tree and preached. This plaque was unveiled by Mr JA Stead, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Saturday 3rd June 1950.’

The church hall at Stony Stratford Methodist Church was added around 1900 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The tree was subjected to attacks of vandalism and arson in the late 20th century and became a charred hollow. The tree then caught Dutch elm disease in 2007, and was removed. A new oak tree was planted on the same spot, and a plaque was unveiled by Ruby Beech, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, on 18 May 2008.

Part of the old tree has been mounted and is displayed in the church.

Today, the Methodist minister in Stony Stratford is the Revd Dr Margaret Goodall. Sunday services at 10:30. The church is also used on Sunday afternoons by the Church of Mount Sinai, a French-speaking African church.

The ‘Wesley Elm’ in Market Square was replaced by an oak tree in 2008 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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