Imagine the scene, Winchester Road was a tree lined road with new houses on both sides and the LNER branch line to Chingford ran along the rear of one side. About 40 houses along the side roads were new, as was Newbury Road after that it was fields right down to the North Circular Rd.
These fields were almost certainly owned by a Dairy farmer (John Hitchman) and his cows munched the grass. There were lots of new people moving into the houses and they needed work up at the big factory (British Xylonite) near Highams Park Station, and a Church – the nearest Methodist Chapel was at Shernhall Street.
Mr Hitchman offered to give land for the building of the Church and with Sir William Mallinson’s help agreed the exact location – the corner site by Wickham Road.
In April 1903 a small corrugated iron chapel was erected and worship in this place began. So fervent was the worship that within one year to the day the Church, that we know and love today was opened as a place of worship. Winchester Road United Methodist Church.
The Sunday School started on the same day as public worship.
By 1911 it was felt that they needed more room but it was not until 1920 that the “old “ Memorial Hall was opened. It was a huge building with movable panels inside and Asbestos panels on the outside. It’s main entrance was in Wickham Rd. At that time the Church membership was 165, Sunday school numbered 271, Band of Hope 125 Girls Gym 183 & Boys Gym 31.
In 1931 our minister the Rev W.P. Rhodes died, and for a period the lay leaders of the church kept the Worship and the running of buildings going with some help from the minister of Shern Hall.
The work and worship at this time continued on a fairly easy track morning School and worship, afternoon school, and evening worship. The folk chosen to be Stewards and leaders dealing with the problems as they came up.
When War came the authorities built a brick Emergency Centre on our ground. It stood near Wickham Rd and had no windows, and it was used as a shelter as well as the ARP centre. The church was hit by an incendiary bomb, which lodged in the roof. I lived at 88 Winchester Rd then and can remember our tin bath which had not been put on its hook was full of water next day, from the hoses. The buildings were also slightly damaged later on in the war.
During the war years the Church congregation increased considerably and the Sunday school introduced a Young Peoples’ Fellowship, and a Youth Club was started.
After hostilities it was obvious to all that we needed to extend the premises and plans went ahead for a two storey building to be built on Wickham Rd. over the old ARP centre. It was 12 years later (2nd Oct 1954) that stage 1 was opened. All this time we were raising money for stage 2, replacement of the old Iron Chapel and the Memorial Hall, both these buildings had served us well, with the Hodgson Hall & Memorial Hall we have now. These were opened on 21st May 1960. We had enough space at last.
Many new societies were set up and used the property then, each one had to have at least one Church person in it, and that person held the key. The Badminton Club was started and although the hall is not quite long enough we still play regularly. The Sunday School slowly had reduced in size and the Youth Club which was a very active and large one closed down. This I believe was because, in the case of the School the pupils used to grow and become teachers but since University for all once the youngsters became old enough they went off, and besides learning they found new friends, got engaged and did not often come back. That, coupled with an ageing congregation, reduced the number of new pupils coming along as well as the older teachers giving up. Also very few houses being were sold in this area.
Now it is good to see the Sunday School is increasing as new families are moving into Highams Park.
However it is not the buildings that keep the place going, but people, and Winchester has always been blessed with many of folk who go out of their way to help those in need. In the sixty five years I have been coming I can name many people, some of who were almost saints, that have got on with all the little jobs that need doing, and going about quietly, cheerfully & lovingly in the cause of their belief.
It is a welcoming Church, so come along and join us. I’m sure you will enjoy it.