Merton Road, Slough, SL1 1QW
Minister: Rev Mindy Bell 01753 - 520742
At the time of John Wesley and the beginning of Methodism, Slough was a small community on the Great West Road, and a staging post with coaching inns in what is now High Street. Although there is no reference to Slough in his journals, Wesley undoubtedly passed through on his way to Bath and the West.
The first successful attempt by the Wesleyans from Windsor to form a Society in Slough was in 1844, meeting in Brunswick Place in the High Street. A Chapel with seating for 120 was built in Herschel Street for £400, and opened in 1847.
In 1875 a new floor and new pews were installed, and the seating increased to 200.
By 1884 the membership had risen to 41, but at the Circuit's Quarterly Meeting the following June, Mr W Williams, a local preacher from Windsor, was appointed as a Lay Agent to reside in Slough for one year and promote the work of God. Although well received, there was no significant increase in membership from his missionary work.
On the recommendation of the Quarterly Meeting of the Windsor Wesleyan Circuit in March 1903, a committee was formed to consider the question of a new Chapel. A site in Chandos Street was selected and purchased for £1100 in 1904. Nothing was done for 2 years. Then, in 1906, an iron building was purchased from Windsor and turned into a Hall for use as a Sunday School and for other meetings.
Having decided that the Chandos Street site would not after all be suitable for a new Church, and with attendance up, in 1913 the Trustees increased the accommodation in the Herschel Street Chapel by 70 — by re-positioning the organ. The heating was also improved and the pulpit altered. The following year the organ was replaced and commissioned on 11th March 1914 with the Trust agreeing to pay the "organ blower" 10/- [50p] per quarter.
At the same time, the Trustees started to look for another site, and in 1917 purchased a large house, Grove Lodge, on the corner of The Grove and High Street, for £1,300. As it was not practical to try and build a Church in wartime, and for financial reasons, the house was let. The let ceased in 1929, the house was demolished in 1930, and the site cleared for the new Central Hall (see below).
In 1919, with the Trustees now owning Herschel Street Church, Grove Lodge (let) and Chandos Street Hall (Sunday School but not a suitable site for a Church), they decided to sell the latter. A deal was negotiated whereby Slough Labour and Trade Unions purchased the Hall and most of its contents for £1,200, with the Trustees renting the Hall every Sunday until 5 pm at an annual rental, including heating, of £5. This arrangement continued until Central Hall opened in 1932. The property became known as the Labour Hall. Redevelopment of the town centre led to a compulsory purchase order in 1967, and the site is now part of the Queensmere shopping complex.
In the years leading up to Methodist Union in 1932, the society flourished. Membership rose to 110. The number of Sunday School scholars likewise topped 100. There was an extremely successful Boys' Brigade Company, and a Girl Guide Company was also formed before 1932.
With the Union imminent, the Herschel Street Trustees agreed to sell the premises as soon as the new Central Hall Church opened. The sale was delayed while issues such as the removal of bodies and tombstones from the Herschel Street burial ground, for reinterment at the Cemetery, were resolved. A suitable burial service was conducted on 25th January 1933, with the sale eventually completed in December 1934.
The Slough Primitive Methodist Society was formed in 1877 as an offshoot of the one established in Chalvey (later Ledgers Road) some 30 years previously. As a temporary measure, it erected a "Tin Chapel" in William Street with corrugated iron walls and roof, plus a little steeple. The inside of the walls was clad with knotty pine. (Counting the knots during a less interesting sermon was a challenge to many a child, and perhaps not just children!)
A Sunday School was started almost immediately, and by 1887 had 14 teachers and 112 scholars. It purchased its own harmonium. Initially teachers were fined 3d if they failed to attend without providing a proper substitute! In 1879, its second anniversary was celebrated with a trip to Burnham Beeches and a treat including cake! This became an annual event.
A Band of Hope was started in 1891 and had 130 members by 1895. At some stage this was disbanded. A Junior Christian Endeavour was started in 1928.
By 1914 plans had been prepared to replace the Tin Chapel with a handsome Church. The war intervened. Afterwards, by the time the project could be reconsidered, negotiations for Methodist Union were well under way. With the Wesleyans also looking to build a new Church, the two Societies got together — unusual as early as this! The outcome: the Central Hall!
The "Tin Chapel" and site were then sold to the Salvation Army, who used it until its compulsory purchase and demolition in 1968 for the Western extension of Wellington Street.
As described elsewhere,1 the Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodist Churches joined together in 1932 to form The Methodist Church. We have seen that prior to the Union, the two Chapels in central Slough, William Street (Primitive) and Herschel Street (Wesleyan), both had rebuilding plans. With union beckoning, they started joint discussions in April 1927, agreeing to merge resources. This was the largest scheme put to, and promoted by, the special Methodist Committee set up before Union for joint building schemes. The site finally chosen was the Wesleyan site at the corner of High Street and The Grove (where Nando's chicken restaurant now stands). Grove House was demolished in 1930. The lowest of 11 tenders (£23,663 with completion in 12 months) was accepted on 30th October 1931. Grants were obtained, including a substantial one from the Joseph Rank Foundation, and the building of Slough Central Hall started in October 1931 … before the Act of Union! The building went up more or less to plan. However, when it had been half completed, it was discovered that it had encroached 9 inches (23 cm) onto the neighbour's land. The problem was resolved amicably with the Trustees buying the nine inch strip for under £50, including both parties' fees.
The Stone Laying Ceremony took place on Wednesday (early closing day), 3rd February 1932. There was a service on the site, stones were laid by ministers from all three connexions — Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodist — and there was a public tea in the Congregational Church Schoolroom, followed in the evening by an Organ Recital and a "Grand Public Meeting".
Slough Central Hall was probably the first new Church opened in the newly United Church and one of the last Central Halls. It is said that the Trustees asked if King George V would open it. They were advised that was not possible, but it was suggested that the Duchess of York might, as "she is a bit religious". It was opened on 9th November 1932 by the Duchess of York, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The building was dominated by its copper covered dome surmounted by a flag staff, from which it was impossible to fly a flag(!) The glass canopy over the main entrance (at the corner of the two roads) had to be removed 20 years later for safety reasons. (Yes — Elf and Safety even in those days! … but the seats were of a tip-up pattern through which small children fell all too frequently during the next 30 years … )
The Hall had seating accommodation for 1,000, and the Sunday School rooms catered for 750 scholars. There was tiered seating for a choir of 70 and space for a large organ. Initially music was provided by a concert grand piano. One of today's members recalls an evening service in 1945 when he was an eleven-year-old: The minister, Rev Shipham Elliott, recently returned from service as an army chaplain, began by announcing the prospect of acquiring an organ from a bombed-out London Methodist church. Could he have a show of hands as to whether this was a good idea? The support was overwhelming. (Did he bypass the Trustees and Leaders in making this announcement?) Then he said "we must try and put this excitement aside, calm down and concentrate on the service"! Only after the war (1946) was the organ installed. It was dedicated as "a memorial to those who went from its fellowship and returned not".
The early days of the Central Hall, with the dynamic preaching of Rev Reg Brighton, were very successful — indeed, 400 adults attended morning worship, the Hall was packed for the evening service (then the principal service), and 200 children attended the afternoon Sunday School.
In the 1960s an elderly trustee mused that in the early days, the Hall was packed with members of other churches in the town curious to see for themselves what this new place was like! One of the ideas behind Central Halls was to make them seem less "church" to people coming in "from outside". To that end variety concerts were held on Saturday evenings. That first year, the Hall was packed for each of four concerts, with one of them attended by 1,000 people and a further 800 turned away.
There were many organisations in those early days, including Rangers, Life Boys, football and cricket teams, a prize-winning choir and a drama group. Some, such as The Boys' Brigade, the Girl Guides and the Women's Meeting are still running (now at St Andrew's). Others came and went, reflecting the needs of the Church and the community, such as the Regnal League, Men's Institute, and the Rangers.
The social mix of the membership was interesting: the ex-Primitives were largely working class with a significant number of railwaymen and their families, whereas predominant among the Wesleyans were a number of shopkeepers, small businessmen and more than one bank manager.
The Hall was heavily involved in outreach. On New Year's Eve 1932, the Regnal League entertained 70 unemployed men, living in Slough, but away from home. No Welfare State in those days. The Trustees allowed Slough Social Services Council to use rooms as a depot for receiving and issuing clothes to the unemployed and others, and as a recreation centre. This voluntary Council was also running three soup kitchens, serving over 2,000 people per week. In February 1934, members of the South Wales contingent of the National Hunger March were fed and housed overnight. In 1935 the Church held a Christmas party for 250 of Slough's poorer children.
The Second World War took away many of the young men, but there was also an influx of Service personnel and workers into Slough. The congregation responded by providing a Forces' Canteen.
The life of the Hall went on, and important decisions were still being made. It was in 1944 that an organ fund was started (see above), and the Central Hall set up as a separate Mission Circuit.2 That December, in a time of fuel restrictions, the Main Hall was so cold that, for two months, morning services were held in one of the School Halls.
After the war, the Hall did not regain its former success. The rooms on the third floor were let as offices. With the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1947, rooms were let to the Education Authority to help it resolve its shortages, with the Authority applying for the necessary extra fuel allowance.
Congregations dwindled, use of the premises by Church organisations fell, and rising fuel and maintenance costs were worrying. The name above the entrance was changed from Methodist Central Hall to Central Hall Methodist Church. The Trustees rejected an offer to purchase the entire premises in 1956 and another in 1962. However, a third offer for the site, this time including the re-housing of the Church as part of the deal, made in October 1962, led to negotiations, and the deal, including the new site further down The Grove, was agreed in December 1963.
The new Church agreed in principle and the site fixed! However, it took a further two years to finalise the details, obtain planning permission, and commence work.
The foundation service took place on 27th November 1965. There was no official stone-laying, just a simple blessing of the concrete base. The building, which includes a 250 seat Church with organ, school and meeting rooms and a caretaker's flat, took a year to complete. The Trustees of the Central Hall welcomed "the more ecclesiastical appearance" that the new Church would have. They agreed that it should be dedicated in the name of a saint, and chose the first missionary, Saint Andrew, who brought his brother to Jesus. It was a happy coincidence that the Church was opened just after St Andrew's Day, 30th November.3 Subsequently, however, little has been made of the Saintly dedication!
The final service in the Central Hall was held on 4th December 1966, after which the Hall was demolished. The organ was sold to an Anglican Church in Haddenham, North Buckinghamshire.
St Andrew's was opened officially on 10th December 1966. The formal opening was to have been by Her Majesty the Queen Mother (who, when Duchess of York, opened the Central Hall). Unfortunately she was taken seriously ill four days earlier. Dr Eric Baker, Secretary of the Methodist Conference, performed the official opening, and Lord Soper preached the sermon. A year later, on 3rd December 1967, the Queen Mother attended an ordinary morning service, then toured the building and talked to members of the congregation.
The new Church was very active, with innovations as well as continuing with the work and organisations from the Central Hall. In 1970 the Church held its first Flower Festival. Every year for over a decade there was a Flower Festival or Collector's Fair or both.
The Borough Council's redevelopment plan in 1975 led to the building of a new road, St Laurence Way, plus a roundabout, causing the Church to "move" from The Grove into Merton Road!
Improvements continue to be made. In 1986 the amplification system was modernised and an induction loop system for the hard of hearing was installed.
Over the years, the congregation at St Andrew's has reflected the changing ethnic mix of Slough. Immigration from the 1960s onwards brought people from the Caribbean islands, notably Anguilla, but also St Kitts and Jamaica, into the church. Their sons and daughters swelled the ranks of the Boys' Brigade and Guides. Later came Christians from Pakistan, and from the 1990s Ghanaians and Zimbabweans. This coincided with older white members retiring away from Slough.
In addition to services in English every Sunday, Methodist services are held in Urdu for the Asian Congregation and the Methodist Church Zimbabwe Fellowship provides worship in Shona.
Emphasis continues to be placed on work with young people. The pattern of worship has changed. At the Central Hall, the Boys' Brigade had a separate Bible Class before morning worship and the Sunday School met in the afternoon. At St Andrew's the separate gatherings were abolished and children join with their parents for the first part of Sunday morning worship before going to their separate activities, with the Young Church meeting in the Church Hall for lively sessions of singing, handwork and Bible learning. This reflects changing social patterns — families using Sunday afternoons for outings and sport — but has reduced the number of children without church-going parents. There is also a Sunday School session during the Urdu service. Weeknight activities for children are provided by uniformed organisations — Boys' Brigade, Rainbows, Brownies and Guides.
As part of its outreach, the Church continues to offer the use of its premises. A Disabled Men's Club meets fortnightly. In 1992, at a time of high unemployment in Slough, on the initiative of the Industrial Chaplain, Bob Nind, Slough Town Employment Action Movement (STEAM) was formed to offer support for the unemployed. Members continue to meet and share information on jobs, courses and benefits, and to plan projects. They organised the first One World Festival in Slough. In 2003, STEAM staged an exhibition at the Slough Museum entitled The Factories That Changed Slough, and in 2005 a second exhibition Another 22 Organisations that Changed Slough and District. Other publications have followed, the latest being Slough's Sporting Heritage. Nowadays STEAM meets fortnightly at St Andrew's for a bring-and-share lunch on alternate Fridays, and continues to try and help job-seekers.
St Andrew's also has strong links with other Churches in Slough, and bears witness ecumenically at, for example, the annual Good Friday procession down Slough High Street.
In recent years, St Andrew's members have joined with Ledgers Road for their evening services. Now they and Hampshire Avenue — the three Methodist Churches in Slough — have started a joint initiative to show that Methodism is indeed "Alive in Slough".
Is it only 25 Years? A History of Methodism in Central Slough by Colin Shepherdson JP, 1991
- See the companion pages:
A Brief History of Methodism
A Brief History of the Thames Valley Circuit
- Anecdotally, it is also claimed that the name was chosen because the building work was scheduled for completion on St Andrew's Day 1966.
This history, up to 1990, is based extensively on Colin Shepherdson's book
I am also indebted to Richard Hall for his invaluable help.