THE EARLY DAYS OF METHODISTS IN ORE
Ore village as we know it only started to be developed in the early 1800s. The main growth was in what is now the lower half of Rye Road, Middle Road, and Fairlight Road. The first Methodist community was shown on the quarterly Wesleyan preaching plan as “The Down” and almost certainly started in the year 1830.
There had been great opposition to the coming of the Methodist Church to the Hastings area, primarily from those within the Established (Anglican) Church as well as smugglers. Most people took part in smuggling directly or indirectly and it seems that it was looked upon almost as a recognised profession. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had been very clear about his opposition to smuggling, hence the opposition of the locals to Methodists.
Where precisely was the first meeting place of our Wesleyan brothers and sisters in Ore? We don’t know, but we are told that Sussex Methodists showed ingenuity and resourcefulness in their choice of places of worship, including a loft, a kitchen, a cottage, a coastguard boathouse, a carpenter’s shop, and even a lighthouse.
Also we can be confident that a Sunday School was started in 1830 in addition to the ‘preaching’ service. Sunday Schools were the norm in Wesleyan Chapels well before 1830 and the need for even basic education for the poor was recognised generally.
Only 8 years later, a chapel known as Fairlight Down was built presumably to cater for the rapidly expanding population, and growing membership in the area. This was near the ‘black mill’ adjacent to what is now, the Ore Village Primary Academy (Red Lake) School.
This presumably soon became inadequate and plans were prepared to build something bigger and better, albeit with a limited budget.
Before we come to the ‘new’ building, we might note that the preaching ‘plan’ for the first quarter of 1863 shows that Sunday services were held at 2.30 pm and 6.30 pm with fortnightly services on Thursdays at 7.00 pm.
DEVELOPMENTS IN ORE
It may be of interest to note what was going on generally in the area. Various public houses and a theatre had sprung up and were serving a useful purpose for the troops stationed nearby when there was a real expectation that Napoleon would invade Britain. They went on to satisfy some of the needs of those employed in constructing the Hastings to Ashford railway, not least the tunnel stretching three quarters of a mile under the roadway we know as The Ridge.
Significantly, the Hastings Union Workhouse was opened down in the valley in 1837. There had been separate ‘poor houses’ in each parish, and the 13 in Hastings plus those in Fairlight and Guestling were brought into union with all the people transferred to the Ore Valley. This may have been better for Hastings residents, as the poor were now safely out of town and out of sight. Ore did not become part of Hastings until 1897, 60 years later.
The village was considered to be generally dirty and most unsanitary. It mainly housed poor people and after the Hastings Borough boundary was extended to include Ore in 1897, the Council earmarked the money necessary to build a reservoir and provide running water to the district of Ore for the first time.
THE NEW CHAPEL BUILDING – at the top of Clifton Road
When first constructed in 1866, the Ore Wesleyan Chapel stood at the crossroads, except that the road names were different. Clifton Road was Arrow Road with no housing as far as Church Street, right next to the Workhouse. Percy and Greville Roads were Serpentine Road, also with no houses. Victoria Avenue was Queens Road, again, no housing. The Ridge (as far as Baldslow) was all part of Old London Road – until 1934.
The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on 14th June 1866 by dear old Henry Beck (considered to be the father of Methodism in the Hastings area) who by then was 82 years old.
The building was acknowledged to be rather a noble structure, but experience showed a too rigid economy. However necessary it may have seemed at the time, it was not good policy to build it ‘on the cheap’, for the building was buffeted beyond its strength by gales sweeping up the Ore valley. In 1874 payments were made for ‘two iron columns’, and in 1875 the state of the back wall was such that the stewards were given power to act in case of emergency.
The building had regular need for repair throughout its 150 year life as a Methodist place of worship, but it was an important focus for the life of, and the Christian witness to the Ore Village community.
In 1913 the name was changed to ‘St Helen’s Wesleyan Chapel’. The name changes continued, becoming St Helens Methodist Chapel in 1932, and finally St Helens Methodist Church.
THE GOLDEN JUBILEE REPORT (1880)
Sermons in commemoration of the anniversary of the Ore Wesleyan Chapel, were preached on Sunday 25th September.
On the Monday evening, a public meeting was held, when the members were invited to reflect on what they had been doing for God in that place? It might be they had striven to preach the Gospel, or adopted other means; but had they from their inner soul, sought to save souls? Had this been their only aim, the one grand object for which they laboured – to save precious souls? If it had not been, let each of them seek, that they may receive such a knowledge of Christ and what his work was, that they might be so endued with power from on high, that their work might be with one single aim to save souls.
Having had the Golden Jubilee in 1880, the counting back to the birth of the church community seems to have moved from 1830 to the construction of the ‘new’ building in 1866. This happened sometime in the early 1900’s and we hear various reports including the following.
The chapel was depleted of men during 1914-18, but despite the difficulties of the period an effort was made to celebrate the ‘Jubilee’ by making necessary renovations. This was carried out, and in 1924 a further ‘Renovation and Improvement Scheme’ which included an American Organ and the installation of electric light. 1926 was ‘Diamond Jubilee’ year, and when the pastor raised the urgency of improving the heating arrangements, the response was so great that the Jubilee scheme was to build a Minister’s Vestry, alter the rostrum, and choir seats, and fit a communion rail. The foundation stone of this extension was laid during the General Strike.
CLOSED AND RE-OPENED
The years following the alterations in 1926 were spent in great spiritual and evangelistic work in the area, until the 1939-45 war when the evacuation of the town caused the church to be closed. The pews were removed while it was closed and it served as a Youth Club, but after the war, the friends of St Helen’s came together and decided to try to open the church again. The lower schoolroom was renovated first for use as the church. Meanwhile a full renovation was taking place in the church above. On January 10th 1951, the Rev E. Rogers was speaker at the last stage of the re-opening. The church was full to overflowing, the Sunday School children having to give up their chairs and sit on the floor.
MISSION & OTHER ACTIVITIES
Sunday School was a priority for the Methodists right from the start, not just to teach about Jesus, but also to provide basic literary and other educational skills to the poor as well.
Over the years other activities were provided for members during the week. We don’t have much information on the earlier times, but we do know that at the conclusion of the Jubilee Scheme in 1926, activities included a Young Ladies Club, a Sewing Meeting, the choir, the newly formed Sisterhood, the primary class and junior society class as well as the Sunday School.
The (Wesley) Guild was started in the 1930’s. This was primarily for the adults, including the older teenagers, and continued to run right up to the end of the 20th Century. The Guild programme was social as well as spiritual and included trips and visits.
In the 1960’s, companies of The Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades were started. These became the backbone of the youth work within St Helens, and brought numerous people into the wider church community. Arguably the highlight of the year for most of the Brigade members, was summer camp. The BB band was also a key feature for the ‘seniors’, taking part in marching round the adjacent streets before monthly church parade, and also in ‘District’ competitions. Sports competitions were also a great attraction, and in the 1990’s, some of our BB boys took part in national BB competitions, including badminton, chess, and table tennis.
Officers and boys also competed in team sports in the local adult leagues for table tennis and football. The table tennis teams were all made up from St Helens BB members, and progressed well through the 10 divisions in the Hastings and District League. The ‘Stedfast’ football team was augmented by BB people from other companies as well as friends, and it went on to win the Hastings & Eastbourne League division IV in the 1977/78 season.
It was in the 1990s that St Helens had a number of long distant runners. On more than one occasion the St Helens team was awarded trophies for the best unaffiliated clubs in the Hastings Half-Marathon. The Hastings ‘Half’ was / is one of the best run in the country, attracting big entries every year from runners far and wide. On half-marathon Sunday, services at the old church at the top of Clifton Road, were held an hour early, so that everyone could watch the first of the runners flash past and up Winchelsea Road at about 10 past 11, and so that they could cheer on runners we knew as well of course. Cups of tea were sometimes offered to those watching the race outside the old church building. In the 2010s jelly babies were / are offered to the passing runners. Christian music was also played (rather loudly) while the runners came past, and this too was undoubtedly appreciated as part of the event by the runners.
Youth Clubs, mainly of a social nature, were run intermittently from the 1960s onwards.
Both the BB and the GB ceased to function as affiliated to the national organisations in 2010.
Tiny Footprints parent and toddler group was run on a Thursday afternoon for many years, and was instrumental in introducing a number of people to the church community, who would not otherwise have come. This ceased to meet in the Summer of 2016, and had been poorly attended for some time. The decision to close the toddler group was taken prior to our arrival at Ore Community Centre in September 2016, but has since restarted in association with the Ore Community Centre, as from the end of February 2017.
Messy Church is now a world-wide phenomenon but it only started out in 2004. It is aimed at bringing families into the wider church community and then doing stuff together. The key principle is that it is for families, not just for children.
St Helens was the first of the local Methodist Churches to ‘try’ Messy Church in February 2010. It was an outstanding success and has continued to be so ever since. A Messy Church is usually (almost always) for 2 hours. We follow the basic programme pattern recommended by the Messy Church originators, which is a variety of craft activities, followed by a time of celebration (or worship), followed by a simple meal. All children are accompanied by a responsible adult.
Most of the other Methodist churches in the area, together with various churches from the other denominations, now do Messy Church too. It’s a great way to introduce many people to the Christian faith who would otherwise be none the wiser. BUT, another important principle to note, is that there is no expectation that those who come to Messy Church will also come to the traditional Sunday services. Messy Church is church in its own right; where people of all ages can get a glimpse of God, in a warm, friendly, relaxed environment.
JUMP Club is a bit of a spin-off from Messy Church. It is held once a month, and is even more relaxed. JUMP Club meets at the same time as the Sunday service and usually joins the church folk towards the end of the service to show and tell them what they have been doing. This is a great time for old and young to catch up together, and share in the drinks and nibbles provided.
Pantomimes – It was in the 1990s that pantos started at St Helens. The cast of these were primarily from the church and Brigade membership, augmented when necessary from friends at our sister church Calvert. After a lull of around 10 years, pantos were revived in 2008, and the cast for these were / are drawn from a much wider group of people, including friends and relatives of other cast members.
CLOSED BUT OPEN
The old church building at the top of Clifton Road served our church community well for 150 years, but it became evident in 2010 that it would not ‘do’ for the longer term. After much heartache and planning, the church community moved en masse to Ore Community Centre where we have been made to feel very welcome.
Our story continues therefore in the very heart of the village we want to serve. We pray that God will continue to bless those who feel they are part of our church community, wherever they may live, and that others in the North East part of Hastings will catch a glimpse of God through our witness in this place, and will want to know more of him, and the change for the better, that only he can bring to their lives.