26 February 2023

The former Congregational Church
was once a landmark in Wolverton

Foundation House on the Square in Wolverton was once the Congregational Church … notice the two crosses on the upper storey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The United Reformed Church presence in Wolverton dates back to the Congregational Church built in Wolverton in 1878, and the church on the Square was once a landmark building in the town.

The Square was laid out on land owned by the LNWR railway company. Radcliffe Street and Stratford Road were laid out in the 1860s, and the Catholic Church of Saint Francis de Sales was built on the corner of these two streets in 1867. Buckingham Street and Aylesbury Streets were developed in the 1870s and 1880s, and Moreland Terrace was built in the 1890s.

The Congregational Church bought a large plot on the south side of the Square in 1878, but it was not until the late 1880s that shops and houses were built on the other three sides of the Square.

The Congregational Church commanded the south side of the Square and the west side was made up of houses of mixed size. It was called Market Street, indicating initial plans for the Square to have a market.

The Congregational Church was expanded in 1890 to accommodate a growing congregation. The red-brick church had a commanding position at the top of the Square, and there was a manse on Moon Street.

Meanwhile, the old Market House beside Glyn Square remained in use until 1906, when it was largely destroyed in a fire. The old school on Creed Street became available that year, and the market immediately moved there. After that, there were no further discussions about using the Square as a market.

The War Memorial erected in 1921, with the former Congregational Church building in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Wolverton’s War Memorial was unveiled in front of the Congregational Church in the Square, on Saturday 10 July 1921 in the presence of a large crowd. The memorial was made of Portland stone, stood at 28 ft 8 in, and the cost of £500 was met entirely by public subscription.

Later views of the church show the tower and the corner of the memorial garden.

One of the pioneering ministers in the Congregational Church in Wolverton was the Revd Constance (Todd) Coltman (1889-1969), the first woman to be ordained in a mainstream Church in Britain.

I have written in the past about this pioneering woman. She had been brought up as a Presbyterian and was a suffragist and a pacifist. When she tried to explore a vocation to ordained ministry she met resistance from the Presbyterian Church of England. She then applied to Mansfield College, the Congregational college in Oxford, and was accepted because of her deep sense of God’s call, although there was no certainty that she would be ordained by the Congregationalists.

She was ordained alongside her fiancé, the Revd Claud Coltman, into the ministry of the Congregational Union on 17 September 1917. They married the following day, and Constance and Claud later ministered in Wolverton from 1932 to 1940.

A plaque recalls the former Congregational Church in Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The 1890s Congregational Church on the Square was last used on 5 April 1970. The church was pulled down in 1970 as part of the authorised demolition of Wolverton landmarks during the development of Milton Keynes. The church was replaced by the Merit Supermarket, with the upper floor reserved for church activities.

The United Reformed Church was formed by Congregationalists in England, Wales and Scotland, English Presbyterians and members of the Churches of Christ in unions and mergers in 1972, 1981 and 2000. Three years later, West End United Church on Church Street was formed in 2005 by Wolverton Methodists and the United Reformed Church in Wolverton, and since then it has used the former Primitive Methodist Chapel built at the west end of Church Street in 1907.

The Roll of Honour from the former Congregational Church is now in Milton Keynes Museum. The old Congregational Church on the Square, Wolverton is now the premises of the local-based charity Milton Keynes Christian Foundation. Foundation House, on the corner of the Square and Aylesbury Street provides space for growing people and community. As well as being the home of the Christian Foundation and a base for a number of social enterprises, it has a range of spaces for activities that benefit our local community.

Two crosses on the upper floor and a plaque on a side wall clearly mark this out as the former Congregational Church in Wolverton.

Since January 2022, the minister of West End United Church is the Revd Jo Clare-Young, who trained at Westminster College, Cambridge. She is the Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church, the Mead Centre, Newport Pagnell, and West End United Church, Wolverton.

Crosses on the upper storey mark the former Congregational Church in Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (5)

Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald’s statue of James Boswell (1740-1795), the biographer of Samuel Johnson, in the Market Square in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This morning [26 February 2023] is the First Sunday in Lent, and later this morning I hope to be present at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Wolverton.

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

In the days leading up to Lent last week, I quoted from poems by John Keble and Christina Rosetti on love. Johnson wrote in the Rambler on 4 January 1752: ‘It is always necessary to be loved, but not always necessary to be reverenced.’

In his biography of Johnson, Boswell recalled the following conversation:

I regretted that I had lost much of my disposition to admire, which people generally do as they advance in life.

Johnson: ‘Sir, as a man advances in life, he gets what is better than admiration – judgement, to estimate things at their true value.’

I still insisted that admiration was more pleasing than judgment, as love is more pleasing than friendship. The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne.

Johnson: ‘No, Sir, admiration and love are like being intoxicated with champagne; judgement and friendship like being enlivened.’

Continued tomorrow</b>

Yesterday’s reflection

In Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on the First Sunday in Lent two years ago