15 November 2023
Church in Bletchley was
built in 1908 but has a story
dating back to 1813
Queensway Methodist Church is the main Methodist church in Bletchley, a constituent town of Milton Keynes. Bletchley is in the south-west of Milton Keynes, and the town is split between the civil parishes of Bletchley and Fenny Stratford and West Bletchley.
Bletchley is best known for Bletchley Park, the headquarters of the codebreakers during World War II and now a major tourist attraction.
Queensway is the main shopping street in Bletchley. Bletchley Road was renamed Queensway after a royal visit in 1966 and part of it was redeveloped as Stanier Square. This area became the new high street in Bletchley with wide pavements where there were once front gardens.
Before Bletchley Road was renamed Queensway in 1966, Queensway Methodist Church was known as Bletchley Road Methodist Church. But the history of the church goes back to 1813, when a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was first built on the High Street in Bletchley in 1813.
The Methodist Chapel on the High Street was rebuilt in 1845 and was refurbished in 1882, with new seating for at a cost of £155. A site for a new church was bought in Bletchley Road in 1907 from a Mr Lee and the trustees of the Duncombe Estate, and the Methodist trustees set up a committee in 1908 to build a church with seating for 300.
The new church was designed by the Birmingham architect Ewen Harper at an estimated cost of £1,851 10s.
Ewen Harper (1853-1920) was born in Darlaston, Staffordshire, on 31 May 1853 and was articled to David Smith & Son in Birmingham in 1870. He also attended Birmingham School of Art. He was awarded the Queen’s Medal in 1872 and won a South Kensington Art Master’s prize in 1875, having been a teacher of science and art for some years while studying architecture.
Harper established his own practice at 27 Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham, in 1875. He was in partnership with his brother, James Alfred Henry Harper (1866-1952), from 1897 as Ewen & J Alfred Harper, also known as Ewen Harper, Brother & Co, at Ruskin Chambers, 191 Corporation Street, Birmingham.
The Harper brothers were fervent Methodists, and most of their work was in the Birmingham area. As well as designing many commercial, industrial, public and domestic buildings, they designed a large number of non-conformist churches.
Ewen Harper was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA) in 1907. When he retired in 1919, his son Leonard Ewen Harper (1886-1954) became a partner in the practice. Ewen Harper died in Birmingham on 5 February 1920. The firm continued as Ewen Harper, Brother & Co, until 1937.
Works by Ewen and J Alfred Harper include: the Wesleyan Chapel, Willenhall (1889); Hart Memorial United Methodist Chapel, Gravelly Hill (1890); the Wesleyan Chapel, King’s Norton (1891); Wolverton Methodist Church (1892); the Baptist Church, the Green, Stafford (1895); the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Waterloo Road, Smethwick (1896); Headless Cross Wesleyan Methodist Church, Redditch (1897); the Mission Hall, Hockley (1897); Friends’ Institute, Balsall Heath (1897); Birmingham Town Mission, Tindal Street, Birmingham (1897); Bournville Almshouses (1897); Ruskin Buildings, Corporation Street, Birmingham (1899); the former Methodist Central Hall, Birmingham (1900-1903); the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Llandrindod Wells, Wales (1903); and the Methodist New Connection Church, Blackheath, Rowley Regis (1904).
The former Methodist Church in Wolverton is one of the four major Grade II listed buildings in the town.
By 1909, 250 circulars had been sent out seeking subscriptions for the new Methodist church in Bletchley. The foundation stone was laid on 10 July 1909, with music from the Luton Town Band, and singing by the Wolverton and Woburn Sands choirs. There was a similar ceremony at the official opening then church by the Revd William Perkins in November 1909.
Meanwhile, the older Methodist chapel was sold in 1912 to Barber’s Picture Palaces. It became a popular entertainment venue during World War I, when a large number of troops were based in the town.
A recreation room known as ‘The Hut’ was built at the back of Bletchley Road Methodist Church in 1919, providing accommodation for a Sunday School and social functions. A wooden hut in the grounds was used by the Methodist Girl Guides from 1934.
At the outbreak of World War II, hundreds of evacuees arrived in Bletchley and ‘The Hut’ became the Rest Centre, or Bletchley Refugee Reception Centre. The large vestry room was also used in the early months of the World War II to cope with the evacuees arriving in the town.
For the most part the evacuees received a genuine welcome in the town. But when the hut began to be used as the ‘Bletchley Refugee Reception Centre,’ the notices were ripped down.
The wooden hut was destroyed by fire in 1955. The foundation stones for a new Sunday school hall were laid in July 1961, and it was built alongside the church.
When Bletchley Road was renamed Queensway after a royal visit in 1966, Bletchley Road Methodist Church was renamed Queensway Methodist Church.
As for the cinema in the former Methodist chapel in Bletchley, it was known successively as the King George Cinema and the Picture Palace, and then became the County Cinema in 1932. County Cinemas were taken over by the Oscar Deutsch chain of Odeon cinemas in 1941.
The cinema closed in 1957. The building was empty and unused when it was demolished ca 1972, and the Durrans Court housing development was built on the site.
The Revd Edson Edson Dube is the Methodist minister in Bletchley and Superintendent Minister of the Milton Keynes Methodist Circuit. Queensway is grouped with the Freeman Memorial Church and Newton Longville Free Church. Sunday worship in Queensway Methodist Church is at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm. Weekday church activities include ‘Queensway Toddlers’, prayer, Bible study and fellowship meetings, coffee mornings with books and fellowship, and Bible study meetings.