HISTORY

Raunds Methodist Church results from a joining of the former Brook Street and Marshalls Road Congregations in about 1966, such Societies had met separately from the 19th century the former being "Wesleyan" and the latter "Primitive".

In 1924, writing concerning the Rise of Methodism in Raunds, Mr George Lee stated that "in writing the story of Methodism in Raunds it is unfortunate that the available authentic data necessary for the purpose, especially that relating to the earliest days, is but meagre and incomplete.  No one amongst us possesses any documents, minute books or even circuit plans of sufficient age to enable the story to be told from the beginning.  We do not know, and probably it will never be known exactly, in what year Methodism secured a foothold in our Parish, nor can we place on record the names of those who laid the first foundations of the Church and Cause on which succeeding generations have so successfully built."

This brief account is based on his information and on that given by Rev W Beddard Smith on the occasion of the Valedictory Service for Marshalls Road.  George Lee came to Raunds in 1861.  At that time the Wesleyan community numbered several whose memory went back to the days before any Methodist place of worship was erected, and when Methodist services were held in a cottage in Thorpe Street, subsequently No. 8b and since demolished.  Had George Lee at that time conceived that in 1924 he would have been requested to write  a history, with what eagerness would he have sought information concerning both persons and events connected with those early days.  Certainly there were then living those who could have given much interesting information that it is to be feared was in 1924 (and remains) forever lost.

Wesley's Journal dates back to about the year 1739, and in eight large volumes - the Standard Edition - gives an interesting account of his wonderful life, work and travels.  It appears therefrom that in his evangelistic course he visited all our large towns together with a great number of smaller towns and villages, but he does not mention Raunds.  Most probably he did not know that such a place existed.  Raunds is, however, mentioned in an editorial foot-note on page 448 in the seventh volume under the date 1778.  It reads as follows:-

"Joseph Pescod (1776-1805), one of Wesley's early preachers, wrote in an old book, 'I earnestly pray that whoever comes into this Circuit (Bedford) next year may have more comfort than I have had.  Four places, Alkenbury (Alconbury?), Aston, Marston and Raunds have shut their doors against us, but we have had no new ones opened for us.' "'

Notwithstanding this sad note it is certain that at some time during the last decade of the 18th century, Methodism obtained a footing here.

Mrs Samuel Brown, late of Thorpe House, stated that her great uncle William Ekins and a "William Knighton" were the first followers of Wesley in Raunds.  In its early Methodist days Raunds was associated with Higham Ferrers which, previous to 1793 was included in the Bedford Circuit.  In that year the Higham Ferrers Circuit was formed, to become five years later part of the Kettering Circuit, and so remained until 1802.

From 1802 to 1809 Higham Ferrers again formed a separate circuit.  In the latter year it was joined to the Wellingborough Circuit, an arrangement that continued until 1815.  It was during this latter period, viz., in 1812, that the first Methodist Chapel in Raunds was built.

Though neither John nor Charles Wesly visited or passed through Raunds, nevertheless, a member of the Wesley family was stationed here as a young minister (1842-4), and found a wife here in the person of Ann, one of the seven daughters of Mr. John Knighton.  This was the Rev. Samuel Wesley (1839-1897).  He was a great grandson of a brother of Samuel Wesley, the Rector of Epworth, father of the founder of Methodism and is buried in the graveyard at the Chapel.

As previously mentioned the first Methodist Chapel in Raunds was erected in 1812 on the present site but further back from the road.  It afforded accommodation for about 300.  The Sunday School dates from this same year, with however, no special accommodation.

The oldest Sunday School Registers held in 1924 were dated 1840-45, and showed every sign of having been most carefully kept.  At that time, when the population of Raunds was just over 1600, the Sunday School numbered nearly 200 scholars, the attendance being very regular and punctual, and the morning attendance nearly equal to that of the afternoon.  The accommodation must have been very insufficient and inconvenient, the only pretence for a schoolroom being a lean-to vestry behind the small chapel.

In 1861 the recently erected day school buildings afforded better and more ample accommodation.  The rebuilding of the chapel in 1873-4, still further increased the accommodation, and provided better provision for the children at the public services.  Again in 1895 the enlargement of the Day Schools still further extended the borders of the Sunday Schools.  Finally the County Education Committee having erected new Council Schools in 1913-14, the Trustees were at liberty to adapt the whole premises for Sunday School and allied purposes.  In 1924 there were 396 scholars on register, its teaching staff numbering 57, our Wesley Guild, our Girl Guides, and other religious and social organizations were then now finely and appropriately housed.

To revert to the development of our Church.  Methodism certainly found a congenial soil in Raunds.  The cause continued to prosper, the congregation out-grew the little chapel.  A new and much larger place of worship was urgently required.  The question became a matter of prayer and work, and as a result, at a cost of nearly £3,000, the present commodious chapel, with seating accommodation of about 800 was built.  The memorial stones were laid on  August 4th, 1873, by Mr Wale, of Leicester, and Master R.E. Brown, of Thorpe House, J.H. Nichols, of The Hall and W. Nichols, of The Grange.

The Opening Service was held on May 8, 1874.  The Rev. Frederick Greeves was the preacher.  On the following Sundays the preachers were Revs. G Chapman, Dr. Noble, of America, and E.A. Telfer.  The President, Rev Luke H. Wiseman, preached at the Raunds Feast (historically the first Sunday following 29th June), which has since been considered the Chapel Anniversary.

For many years previous to 1884 the membership of the Raunds Society was considerably greater than that of Higham Ferrers, the circuit town, as also were the contributions to the Quarter Board.  Further, the very wide extent of the the circuit, with the Circuit town on its out edge, made the working thereof difficult.  Hence its division was agreed upon, and thus Raunds, with the approval of the Synod, became the head of the newly constituted circuit, this change taking effect in 1885.

The provision of a residence for the superintendent minister was necessary.  The Old Rectory House was at that time for sale.  The Lay Rector, Mr. Thomas Nichols, of The Grange, was approached, and his offer to sell the house for the sum of £550, at the same time promising to remit the £50 as his contribution thereto, was accepted, and thus the unique fact of the Superintendent Minister of a Wesleyan Methodist Circuit residing in a Rectory came about.  The Rectory, however, is now more commonly known as Berrister House.

The first Superintendent of the new circuit was the Rev. Joseph Howard.  For several years a Lay Agent was stationed at Thrapston, followed later by a young minsiter - a probationer.  In 1904-5 a new manse, Wesley House, was built in that town, and Rev. R.L. Rogers, returned missionary from South Africa, was appointed by Conference as the second married minister.

Methodism, especially rural Methodism owes very much to its spledid body of local preachers, and we cannot close this narrative without a reference to them.  Isaac Dawson, farm labourer of Nether Dean, always heartily welcomed whereever he might be appointed, John Sykes horse keeper and later, roadman, frequently invited to other circuits, even as far away as Aylesbury, where, doubtless, he is still remembered, Andrew Walker, George Berwick, Thomas Mapish, of Hargrave, Sam York.  These and others, though their daily toil was long and laborious, never wearied in serving their Master and their church.  Preachers they were who Sunday by Sunday were to be found carrying the message and Preaching the Gospel of the Book they loved so well and studied so dilligently travelling widely in an age when travel was far from easy.

Thomas Knighton was interrred in the Raunds Parish Church burial ground.  His memorial stone there bears an interesting inscription.  It reads as follows: "Respected be the memory of Thomas Knighton who suddenly departed this life, October 20, 1806, as he was going to hear the Gospel preached at the Methodist Chapel, Riseley, in the 84th year of his age."  Riseley is, of course about 10 miles away - a 20 mile "round trip" on foot or by horse.

A great musical tradition with a choir which could provide from within its membership soloists for the regular performance of all the Oratorios popular between the World Wars winning many competitions & trophies (amongst which is the large 'Cup' which we continue to use as out Christening Vessel), provide many Members of the Raunds Ladies Choir, an Orchestra and an Operatic Society. The organ (no longer in use) was a gift of a Mr Clark Finding and was installed in1911 having formerly been in the home of a local resident (now two homes - Grombold Lodge & Woodlands).

A Tennis Club and Youth Clubs down the years (some still remember early tentative steps on the Stage in the Schoolroom directed by a teenager called "David Frost", son of the then Minister, David of course went on to a larger stage!)  Youth Fellowships,  MAYC Weekends, Sunday School Outings, holidays on Narrow Boats on the canals.

The story of Marshalls Road Methodist Church began in 1863.  It was in that year that Raunds was placed on the Northampton Circuit Plan of the Primitive Methodist Connexion and a Probationary Minister, the Rev William Durance, was sent to “mission” Raunds and the surrounding district.  He first visited Raunds on August 18th, 1863 and at once began holding services in the open air.  He gathered a number of interested people around him, among whom was a Mr William Pendered and a Mr Harry Sharp.  A Sunday School was soon formed and it met in the back room of Mr Sharp’s house under the gate house in Brook Street.  Before long the Rev William Durance came to live in Raunds, lodging with Mr & Mrs George Bass, members of the  Brook Street Wesleyan Church.

At the September Quarterly Meeting in 1863 Raunds reported 4 members and paid to the Quarterly Meeting the sum of 2 shillings & 3d !  Services continued to be held in the kitchen of the home of Mr W Pendered but this soon proved too small to accommodate the worshippers and towards the end of October the Temperance Hall was hired for Sunday evening services.

The first class was formed and the first class leader appointed in January 1864.  This class met in the kitchen of Mr Pendered in Hill Street and it may be assumed that he was appointed Class Leader.  This house in Hill Street was the scene of a number of startling conversions which laid the foundations of the Primitive Methodist cause in Raunds.  The little band of worshippers were given the name of “Ranters” right from the start and it is recorded that they were greatly helped in their work and witness by the members of the Wesleyan and Baptist Churches.  The first Baptisms took place in March, 1864.

Camp meetings were a prominent feature of Primitive Methodism in those days and on May 10th, 1864, and on several successive nights, prayer meetings were held in preparation for the first Camp Meeting in Raunds.  The day began with a prayer meeting at 6 am !  Preachers from as far away as Northampton arrived at 7 am.  A great day was spent in the open air and what must have been a series of Camp Meetings culminated in a Love Feast in the Temperance Hall at 6.00 pm  The meeting in the hall was conducted by Mr William Key (known as daddy Key) and Rev W Durance conducted an overflow meeting from the steps of the hall.  There were many conversions.

Those early “ranters” were quick to seize every opportunity for evangelism and when in August 1864 a travelling circus visited Raunds the proprietors were persuaded to loan their tent for a service.

The rate of progress can be seen from the fact that towards the end of 1864 a Building Fund was initiated and Collecting Cards were issued.  The idea of Building a Chapel was taken up with great enthusiasm.  The first sovereign was promised by Mr Pendered.  When one remembers that his weekly wage was only 9/- one can sense the enthusiasm which the Building Fund evoked.

At the June Quarterly Meeting in 1865 Raunds returned a membership of 33 and paid £3 14s 10 1/2d to the Circuit Fund.  In November 1865 a plot of land was bought from a Mr Ekin Gostick and a Chapel was built on it in 1870.  After the opening of the Chapel the work made even more rapid progress and soon every seat was filled.  Those attending had to be there in good time even to get inside.  Conversions were frequent in those days and what began as “Raunds Mission”  was in a few years securely established as a thriving Church playing its part in the life of the town and in the life of the Circuit.

In 1899 the Chapel was enlarged at the North end at a cost of £295.  The Re-opening services were held amid great rejoicing and the celebrations saw the major part of the cost met.

The first two manual pedal harmonium was installed in  the Chapel in 1905.  The Opening Ceremony was such an occasion of rejoicing that when it was announced that the cost of the new instrument had been met the congregation stood and sang the doxology three times !  One can imagine the excitement.

The work continued to prosper and the Chapel became inadequate to house all the activities.  So in 1907 a schoolroom was built.  At the same time alterations were made to the interior of the Chapel and the centre aisle was replaced by an aisle down each side.

In 1934 a two manual pipe organ was installed.  It was built and installed by John Tanner, a member of the Church (his grand-daughter remains a faithful member), and into it went a consecrated craftsmanship which has made it a much prized instrument.  The organ was sold in 1966 to Denford Parish Church.  Electric lighting was installed in 1935 and switched on at Harvest Festival.  In 1952 further reconstruction and renovation took place and the pews were re-arranged so that the centre aisle was restored.  The vestibule was partitioned off from the rest of the building and this became useful meeting place for the Primary Department.  The renovations were formally opened by Mr William Peck the oldest member of the Church aided by the youngest member of the Sunday School (who remains a Church Member today).  The work of the Sunday School played a major part in the achievements of Marshalls Road.  At one time it is recorded that the scholars numbered 200 and many more could have been received had there been room.  Many thousands of children must have passed through the Sunday School during the years.

Beginning its life as part of the Northampton Circuit it continued as part of the Wellingborough Circuit when the Northampton Circuit was split up.  Subsequent on the Methodist Union in 1932 Marshalls Road was taken into the Raunds Circuit and in the fellowship of this Circuit has played a worthy part.

From the 1966 amalgamation the members moved forward and the Junior Church and family worship services began, the Schoolrooms were upgraded and then in 1988/89 sold (now know as Wesley Court in Hollington Road) and substantial alterations were made to the Chapel with the removal of the steps forming the front entrance, the removal of pews and the construction of a kitchen (the latter have been subsequenly upgraded in 2009) to make a multi purpose building fit for current use.

At the same time Raunds became (again) part of the Higham Ferrers Circuit (then to be know as the Higham Ferrers & Raunds Circuit) and then in 2004 joined with the Wellingborough Circuit to form what is now the Nene Valley Circuit