25 January 2023

Wolverton Evangelical Church and
a century-old presence in Wolverton

Wolverton Evangelical Church dates back to the formation of Emmanuel Chapel in 1917 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In my search for churches in Wolverton that I wanted to photograph, I kept on missing out on Wolverton Evangelical Church. I finally found the church last week, in a laneway off Church Street.

The story of the church dates back to January 1917 when a new church was founded by eight people in Wolverton and was named Emmanuel Chapel. These eight people had left other churches in the town in protest at what they saw as liberal theological positions and decided to form what they said would be a ‘Gospel-centred fellowship.’

The new group work was supported both by people involved with the Mission Hall in New Bradwell and the Evangelical Chapel in Stony Stratford, which was part the orphanage run by JWC Fegan.

Emmanuel Chapel bought Nos 106 and 108 Church Street over 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

At first, Emmanuel Chapel met in a rented upstairs room at the rear of a property on Stratford Road. But, in order to acquire a more permanent meeting place, the group bought Nos 106 and 108 Church Street, two adjacent terraced houses in Wolverton. A schoolroom was built across the back gardens of these houses and the initial plan was to convert the two houses into a church building facing onto Church Street.

The foundation stones of the schoolroom were laid at a special service on 17 July 1922. At the ceremony, the desire was expressed that the building would be ‘a place for the Lord’s service where the Gospel would be preached in its simplicity and power.’

JCW Fegan from Fegan’s Home in Stony Stratford was to have laid the first stone but could not attend due to ill-health. However, 18 boys from the orphanage in Stony Stratford lead the singing of the hymns.

Emmanuel Hall was formally opened on 9 November 1922. By then, the number of members of Emmanuel Chapel had grown to 30, several baptisms had taken place, and a Sunday school was up and running.

A sign on the laneway running from Church Street to Stratford Road marks this as the ‘Edge of Town.’ Until the 1890s, this alleyway marked the western edge of Wolverton and still runs all the way to the top of the town. Opposite it were fields, footpaths and in the distance the buildings of Warren Farm, with Stony Stratford beyond.

Emmanuel Chapel continued for a number of years, but it was disbanded at the outbreak of World War II and the remaining members transferred to New Bradwell Mission Hall, near the War Memorial on Caledonian Road.

Wolverton Town Council took over the building for use as a recruitment centre for people called up during the war. After World War I, Emmanuel Hall became Wolverton’s employment exchange. When a job centre was established in the Agora centre in 1979, the trustees put the building on the market.

Meanwhile, a new and independent Baptist church was formed in Wolverton in 1972 under the leadership of Bruce Robinson, a missionary from the US who moved to the area because of the development of Milton Keynes.

The members of the new church first met in the Scout Hall in Furze Way and then in the then disused West End Methodist Church. They became involved in door-to-door visits, evangelistic services and children’s missions.

Wolverton Evangelical Church bought the empty Emmanuel Hall in 1981 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The New City Baptist Church, as it became, bought the empty Emmanuel Hall in 1981. Later, a manse was bought and Roger March became as a full-time pastor in 1984. A second property was bought in 1988 to provide more space, including Sunday School work.

The church became involved in planting a new church in Buckingham in 1990. At the same time, the church began supporting Toni Hermano, a church planter and Bible teacher in the Philippines.

The church changed its name to Wolverton Evangelical Church in 1999, and became associated with the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Over the years, the church has been involved in door-to-door visiting, open air meetings and handing out leaflets.

A member of the church, Allan Huxtable, was sent study at the London Theological Seminary in 2002, and was appointed pastor in 2008. Soon after this, the morning services moved to Bushfield school. Sunday Services are held at 10:30 am in Bushfield School, Moon Street, Wolverton, with Sunday school, and at 6:30 pm Here at Emmanuel Hall, 108A Church Street.

One of Wolverton’s original off-licences, the Drum and Monkey, once stood in the laneway beside the hall. The building sold beer, cider and soft drinks through a ‘hole in the wall’ where people could bring their own jugs to be filled and taken home to drink off the premises.

The Drum and Monkey once stood in the laneway beside Emmanuel Hall in Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

No comments: