St James' Church
Methodist/URC, Woolton, Liverpool, UK
Methodism in Woolton traces its beginnings to a Class Meeting which began in a cottage kitchen in Quarry Street in 1811. The old farming and quarrying village was becoming a favoured area in which to live, and there was a sudden influx of a new class of people known as the "Gentry". Large estates and houses were built by these merchant princes who, in true Victorian fashion, were making vast fortunes in Liverpool trade. They brought with them large staffs of domestics, gardeners, coachmen etc.
A small number of these families were Wesleyan Methodists and it was they who financed the church at first a small chapel in 1834, still in use today as the local library, and then the present building which dates from 1866. Half its cost was contributed by John Farnworth, a prosperous timber merchant who was Mayor of Liverpool in that year: he also paid for the original Manse, a little way to the rear of the church, and the School premises were put up in his memory.
The first moves to establish Congregationalism in Woolton began in 1818 with a grant of £40, and services began two years later in a schoolroom; but this venture failed to take root. Public worship began again however in 1856 in the Mechanics' Institute, and land for a church building was bought at the corner of Quarry Street South. The church was opened in 1865, and two years later its leaders made the appointment which had immense effects both on the church and on the neighbourhood: the Rev. William Davies, who until his early death in 1893 devoted all his energies in service to the people of Woolton, organising concerts, founding a library, and helping to inaugurate the Village Club.
The new century brought challenges and difficulties to all churches, and the Congregationalists found it hard to maintain their ministers and their buildings. By 1972 when they became part of the United Reformed Church things seem to have become more stable, but a serious attack of dry rot forced the closure of the building in 1986 and the happy marriage with the people of St James'.
Woolton today is a popular and affluent suburb of Liverpool. The old estates have disappeared and their sites developed with detached and semi-detached houses. Most of this has taken place in post-war years. Though not without issues, these neighbourhoods represent a stable residential base and this is evidenced in our church membership.