Wesleyan Chapel

Hooley Hill (Wesleyans) Methodist Church 1796 -

By Ralph Smethurst former Steward of the Church

To set the scene, it is recorded by James Butterworth in his book on the 'Parish of Ashton-
under-Lyne' that Hooley Hill was a very populous village connected with Guide Lane.
It contained about 250 houses, and allowing six per dwelling, gave a total population of around 1,500 inhabitants. On Shepley Road stood Shepley Hall, which was described as an "elegant mansion with extensive gardens and pleasure grounds bordered by perennials and hot houses". With that exception, one might say that the people of Hooley Hill were on the whole rather poor.

The Wesley Methodist Society was formed in Hooley Hill in 1786 by a group of members from the Red Hall Methodist Church, Audenshaw. The reason is unknown but could well be the fact that the Red Hall Church had left the Wesley tradition and joined the New Connexion Branch of the Methodist Church. Whatever the reason they had started something that would be a source of Christian Fellowship and Education for over 200 years.

The first meetings were held in the houses of the members as work began raising money to obtain suitable meeting rooms. Nowadays we would say they wanted to get onto the building ladder, I suppose. Well they soon obtained a cottage and loom house (weaving place) and with the dividing wall removed this became what they called the "Preaching Room". It was on the corner of Nelson Street and Print Street which is now Guide Lane. So the Wesleyans, as people called them, could start to plan for the future. It is recorded that a few earnest men, members of the newly formed Methodist Society, seeing the deplorable state of ignorance and lack of education displayed by the children of the village, decided to conduct a Sunday School.

The first-meeting was held in 1797 and so in 10 short years they had moved from house meetings to owning their own Church and Sunday School where they started the teaching of children, which continued until 1950 with great success. The number of scholars increased rapidly with children coming from as far away as Stalybridge, Houghton and Dukinfield. Soon the premises were found to be much too small and in 1806 a new purpose built Chapel and Sunday School was built. Then a large cottage adjacent to the Chapel was converted for school use with the girls taught upstairs and the boys downstairs.
The first recorded attendance figures tell us that on January 26th 1817 17 teachers and 234 scholars attended. Two years later the numbers had increased to 22 teachers and 424 scholars. Obviously parents wanted their children to learn of God's Love as well as learning the 3R's. At this time the following classes were held: -

Bible Class
Alphabet Class
Spelling Book
Reading made Easy
Testament Class

was not, however, plain sailing for the officials and teachers who had many obstacles to overcome. One of these was the narrow-minded Church folk who objected to children being taught on the Sabbath Day. Eventually they got over this by starting evening classes on 2 nights in the week specifically to teach the children to read and write. Could this have been one of the very first night schools in the country? Whether it was or not, this was the start of organised teaching in Hooley Hill and was further reinforced by the building of a new school building in 1855. This building was then replaced in 1901 by the two-storey school which was in use until 1950.

Sit back now while I pick out some items from the Minute Books of history:

The first Hooley Hill Wesley Methodist Church opens its doors. It is recorded that the teachers would collect rushes to place on the dirt floor.

July 18th 1819  
New school occupied for the first time.

February 13th 1820
Teachers and children reminded of their mortality taken from the death of King George III.

Female teachers appeared on the register for the first time. Before this only men could take official positions.

February 21st
At a Sunday School meeting it was agreed that slates be bought for use of the writers now beginning to write. Agreed that boards with pegs be put up for the bays to hang hats on. (200 pegs).

May 10th
Agreed that the girls take off bonnets when writing.

Agreed that the men teachers proceed to the White Hart Hotel for a meal after the Whit Walk. The lady teachers would take afternoon tea in the schoolroom. Quite right!

September 7th 1828        
This morning a meeting took place and James Dickenson was called up, charged with having thrown stones at the fruit trees behind the school. He was dismissed on his acknowledgement and with a promise of better behaviour.

May 23rd
Plans for Whit Friday. There shall be 350 cakes for the scholars and milk as last year. There shall be 500 circulars, 500 hymn sheets and 50 post bills printed.

I could find many more examples which, in hindsight, you would find amusing, or perhaps would make you shed a tear, but at the time they were very serious business. On many occasions a meeting would commence at 7.00pm, adjourned at 10.30pm to come back the next night again. I don't suppose they would have missed Coronation Street or Sports Report would they?
In closing, may I remind you that since the first child went on the register in 1797, many thousands have learned the Love of God in Christ Jesus and received the elementaries of education here at the Hooley Hill Wesley Methodist Church and School. The buildings on Guide Lane are now closed, but the fellowship and teaching goes on. The Church has now joined with Bridge Street United Reformed Church and Red Hall Methodist Church to form 'Trinity Church' on Audenshaw Road, Audenshaw. A warm welcome awaits you if you wish to pop in and see us.
Thank you for your interest. God Bless.

Please click the thumbnail image to enlarge:

Original interior of Chapel

Final upper-floor service area

Chapel 2004

Original School 1855 - 1901