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Halliwell Road Free Church (Unitarian)

Compiled by Fred Greenhalgh

The Early Years

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Minister and Congregation of Bank Street Chapel, Bolton, felt that there was a need to establish a mission in the Halliwell area and an Assistant Minister was appointed to undertake the task.
At the end of 1902 the adjoining premises were purchased by J.P. Thomasson, a member of Bank Street chapel, and made over to the Trustees, thus securing a very literal foundation for the present School and church buildings together with a small library containing 144 volumes. (it was Mr. Thomasson who also purchased Mere Hall with its park and presented it to Bolton as a Museum and Recreation Ground).

Early in 1900 a Band of Hope came into being.

Football and cricket clubs were started along with a Ladies Sewing class and Mothers' Meeting. A Mr. Wm. Broughton had presented an American organ to the church and this was in regular use for evening worship.

The first christening Service in the Mission took place on 22nd July 1900 when three babies were christened.

At the end of the first year the average attendance at Sunday Evening Service was 69.

There were 163 scholars in the Sunday School register, average attendance of 114, comprising 10 classes with 13 teachers.

The Sunday school was held on Sunday afternoons commencing, for some unknown reason at ten minutes past two.

In January 1906 the first independent Minister, Rev H.E. Haycock, was appointed at a stipend of £175 a year. Halliwell Road would find £50 and Bank Street chapel the rest.

By the end of 1909 congregation was contemplating the purchase of a site in Wordsworth Street for an extension to the Sunday School but for one reason this project did not proceed.

However, the problem of accommodation was one some urgency and in May 1914 supported by Bank Street Chapel, extensions to the premises were undertaken.

August 1899, after encountering many difficulties, three cottages near the corner of Eskrick Street and fronting onto Halliwell Road were purchased.

Architects, Bradshaw and Gass, prepared plans and supervised the alterations, and the premises, known as Halliwell Road Mission, were opened on 2nd December 1899, under the supervision and management of Ministers from Bank Street Chapel.

The estimated cost of purchase and alterations was £600. The final cost turned out to be £775.

In 1902 the Mission was recognised as a separate Congregation from Bank Street and its name was altered to Halliwell Road Free Church. In 1903 it was licensed for marriages.

The School Building was the first objective and this was completed in April 1930.

By the beginning of March 1931, the Church was completed and the opening ceremony took place on 14th March.

The cost of the new buildings was £7,000 with a further £1,000 for furnishing.

So it was, in the realisation of the dreams of many years, that Halliwell Road Free Church entered upon an era of usefulness and service to the people of Halliwell and beyond.

The Depression Years

compiled by Karen W Diggle

The 1930s and the years leading up to the second world war were difficult times for the church and clearly the church and Sunday school did not avoid the problems associated with the depression.

As early as September 1932 when the final figures of the new building work were published the committee received the information cordially and the secretary records that he literally heard a sigh of relief from the committee when they heard that £7296.7. 1 had been subscribed and £7276.6. 10 had been expended.

Despite this the committee were looking at ways to increase income and reduce expenditure and even the annual choir picnic was postponed. A new minister was appointed, the Rev J E Bright in 1934 on a reduced stipend but the church faced a gloomy outlook. Numbers were declining and month on month the minutes of the GP Committee record discussions centring on financial matters and in 1935 of reducing the bank overdraft. Bank Street were still contributing to the ministers stipend.

One of the only bright spots recorded was the reunion of old members and scholars on the occasion of the 35th Anniversary of the church on Saturday December 1st 1934. A committee was set up to make the necessary arrangements and the weekend was a great success.

By 1936 membership was down to 95 with 14 junior members and the overdraft at the bank reaching the total of £212.00. The financial straits of the church even prevented the movement amongst members to purchase a new organ. Although the proposal received very serious consideration the proposition was turned down until such time as 'we are out of debt.'

Not to be discouraged, however, the activities of the various organisations within the church and Sunday School to overcome the problems were to be admired and in April 1936 a special list of proposed fund raising ideas was prepared:

Draw up an appeal to be given to Church and School Members asking for a weekly contribution on similar lines to the scheme commenced for the building fund.

Line of pennies to be started at every function held in the school.

Hold a Work Sunday Spring Thanksgiving Silver Collection.

Throughout the years up to the second world war the same themes of financial hardship and falling congregations are regularly returned to and clearly the church and its members did not escape the difficulties of the depression years. Every effort was made to save money. The Sunday school committee were asked to consider the using of hymn books rather in place of specially printed hymn sheets for the annual sermons and ways were considered to save heating costs. A two page rather than a four page calendar was produced and subscriptions to the wayside pulpit were discontinued. Subscriptions to the North and East Lancs Mission were reduced by half and the cost of lighting was ascertained 'to see if we can save on that.'

Nevertheless the enthusiasm of the congregation continued undeterred and the committee and minor officials numbered nearly thirty and included an individual secretary and treasurer for the Sale of Work, a Choirmaster, Organist, Deputy Organist and Pianist and no less than seven collectors for the Sunday evening services.

By 1938 thoughts were again turning to the procurement of a new organ providing the purchase price did not exceed £20.00. It was finally decided that the congregation would be encouraged to make donations, however small, to raise the necessary monies with the final £5.00 being met by 'a number of friends,' and that the sale of the old organ and the billiard table would also be put towards the fund. By April the secretary reported that promises amounted to £ 10.14.6 and although still short by 5/6 there were still two weeks in which to raise the amount.

War was soon on the agenda and again the congregation rallied despite the inevitable difficulties. In September 1939 we hear that after a lengthy discussion it was resolved that all the side windows in the School room and sky lights in the crush hall be blacked out and the windows over the platform were left in the hands of the GP committee with the cost to be borne by the Church. At the same time it was determined that the ARP authorities would not be charged for the use of the Church but it would be mentioned that 'a donation to the church would be acknowledged.'

The committee were still anxious to encourage more members and in tandem with the resignation of Rev Bright a special prize known as the 'General Purposes Pioneers Prize' was to be given to the member of the Church and School who introduced any new scholars. The value was to be 2/- for one member rising to 6d for every additional scholar.

The day to day life of the church continued hand in hand with the interruptions caused by the war. In July 1940 the Rev A 0 V Thomas was invited to accept the pastorate of the church at a stipend of £265.00 per annum whilst 'Mr Sumner was asked to interview the Food controller in regard to rations for the Congregational Party.'

Arrangements were made for fire fighting, stirrup pump, buckets, sand and an ambulance box and details of the nearest air raid shelters were circulated. Any member of the congregation who was sick or nervous and would like companionship during the air raid periods were to give their names to the minister as should those persons who were willing to act as companions.

By 1942 the GP Committee had resolved that it was time to develop a new constitution and this is recorded in the Minute Book for February.

There are many instances of the Congregation's willingness to contribute to the war effort. However an instruction by the Ministry of Works that the railings in front of the church and School had been scheduled for removal as scrap was met with dismay. The secretary was instructed to protest strongly against the said removal pointing out that without the railings the buildings could be subject to damage by children.

In 1943 attempts were being made to purchase the land adjoining the Church at the corner of Eskrick Street with a view to possible future developments, but in spite of this and other attempts the land eventually passed into other hands.

In the same year honorary membership of the Church was conferred on all serving members of HM forces for the duration of the war and although little mention is made of any hardship in the GP minutes other sources suggest that the bulk of the male members of the congregation and in fact many of the women were involved in various branches of national service. In addition to this many were involved in working long hours in the production drive as well as offering their services to one or more of the voluntary national services.

Despite this there are clear signs that the social life of the Church continued and that at the end of the war that those who had contributed to the war effort were to be recognised.

The Prospering Year

By 1952 the finances of the church had been returned to a most healthy state and a substantial bank balance was reported. Arrangements were put in hand for a Coronation Night party and during 1956 a request was made to Nelum for a loan for additional building works.

The relatively comfortable financial position of the church during the 1950s assisted in the development of the Church and Sunday School which was thriving and it is during this period that many of the social events, and regular features of the Church Calendar which will be familiar to the congregation of today began to be introduced. At the same time many familiar names begin to appear in the minutes of meetings and in the activities of the church.

In 1957 the Reverend J Maw resigned and it is in February of this year that first mention is made of the possibilities of a Joint Pastorate with Walmsley. After much consideration a Special General Purposes Committee meeting was held after' the evening service on Dec 8th 1957 when it was agreed that a joint ministry with Walmsley would be established with 'details being smoothed out later.' A Joint Pastorate committee was established and in March 1958 the Rev K Wright became the first Minister of the Joint Pastorate.

As the years progressed familiar patterns begin to emerge and as with the 1 930s when the minutes of meetings reflected the difficulties of the depression during the 1960s the records reveal the social life of the church interspersed with more questions regarding the spiritual life of members in line with the increasing liberalisation during the decade.

By 1961 it was decided that the Sale of Work would be restricted to a Friday and Saturday effort which would mean doing away with the Wednesday. This would mean that 'more work will have to be put into it to make it a success from the money angle.'

The spiritual life of the Church was also developing and much discussion ensued before it was decided to purchase a new edition of the Bible and at the same time an appeal was made for more reverence in Church.

The Church took part in the Tercentenary of the Unitarian movement with its involvement in the Pageant held in Queens Park in 1962.

The Rev Len Smith replaced the Rev Wright in 1963 and in 1965 he in turn was replaced by the Rev Leslie Evans.

It is during these years that first mention is made of the Schools Festival, of Congregational trips to Great Hucklow and of the First Nativity play and Young Ladies Christmas party to be held as part of the Christmas celebrations.

The Women's League performed a Black and White Minstrels show and the Scouts produced a gang show. The Sunday School was doing well in the swimming galas and for the first time in 1966 the Church and Sunday School's own members acted as Chairman and Opener of the Sale of Work.

At the same time consideration was being given to the optimum time for Church Services and the future of the morning service in particular was in doubt for some time due to poor attendances. Attendance did improve but discussion still ensured as to whether they should continue.

The Rev Smith declared that the Sunday morning service should be a children's service otherwise there would be a danger of splitting the congregation. Other comments from members included that 'The service was unnecessary.' 'Morning service was the only time that the minister could contact the children' 'We should provide the opportunity for morning worship.'

A motion to suspend morning services did not receive a seconder and therefore they continued and developed to form an important part of weekly worship at Halliwell Road. Rather it was the afternoon session of the Sunday School which were eventually discontinued reflecting a change in people's habits and activities.

In fact the habits of the enlightened society gave the minister some cause for concern in 1967 when he outlined a proposed scheme for the improving of the feeling of worship. He was concerned that there was a danger of the members becoming lethargic and suggested controversially that HUC was 'a marvellous social club - efforts and trips were receiving far greater support than the service of worship and he reminded members that the primary function of the church was the worship of God.'

By 1968 the church had been freed from the shackles of financial worry and from the concerns of worrying if it 'could afford this or that'. This is evident from the easier passage of the purchase of the new organ in September 1967 with the old organ this time being given to Rivington Chapel and the procurement of a new stand for the cross which had previously been supported by a bible.

In all the Church and Sunday School entered the 1970s in good spiritual, social and financial form.

In More Recent Memory

The financial worries which had beset the church for so many years were replaced during the l970s with increasing concerns regarding the spiritual direction of the congregation. At the Annual General Meeting of March 1970 the Chairman stressed the change in direction which was now required. 'Chairmen including myself have devoted most of their space to the financial position of the church. I wish to depart from this tradition and discuss what to me is the most important at the present time. For many years most of our activities have been to raising money in order that our Church could continue with its work. Now we are in the happy position of dividing our loyalties between money raising and promoting love and fellowship and the worship of God. The latter functions are the true purpose of the church. That is to say that our predecessors devoted their entire time to raising events. I marvel at the success they achieved particularly with such financial shackles limiting their true works. It is those past members and many that are present whom we owe so much... Now that the financial obstacle is somewhat overcome shall we set our sights on the true target of the Church. There is no telling what achievements are within our reach.'

Certainly the membership of the Church and Sunday School in the early 1970s was extremely healthy. Attendances at the Sunday morning services often included in excess of forty children and concerns often centred around the shortage of Sunday School teachers rather than a shortage of young people. Sunday school classes were becoming too large and other associated organisations were also booming. The Scouts were forced to restrict intake to those boys coming through from the cubs such was the interest in joining.

The strong membership and activity of the church is reflected in the almost yearly recording of Halliwell Road as winners of the inter-church swimming gala and the BDUREYC festivals and what we hear that other churches were closing, Halliwell Road was thriving.

The resignation of the Rev Lesley Evans in 1972 was followed by a short interregnum when the church was served by Penny Laws and then on 13th October 1973 the Rev Eric Phillips was inducted as minister and was to remain at Halliwell Road for almost ten years.

It is during the years of Eric Phillips ministry that we first read of the Fellowship group at Halliwell Road, later to become the Holiday Fellowship and also of the Junior Fellowship. Of the book sales and of the growing activities of the Women's League and clearly of a very settled period in the history of the church.

It is again the various organisations which were spawned by the church which continued to swell the congregation and the minutes of the GP meetings constantly make reference to the contribution to the congregation by the scouts, the fellowship, the women's league and the youth club. By 1980 the Fellowship and the Women's League were referred to as the mainstay of the Church.

The improved financial position of the church allowed renovation work and decoration of the Church and Sunday school to continue on an ongoing basis and for improvements and modernisation to be carried on. In fact one of the only hardships which is reported during this period is in relation to the restrictions on the purchase of fuel during the oil crisis when 'certain measures had to be taken to conserve fuel... so that warm clothing could be worn if necessary.

In the late I 970s the Nathaniel Hulton Bibles were introduced to be awarded on a yearly basis to members of the congregation who had made a significant contribution to the church or Sunday School and clearly from the continued activity of many hardworking members there were many worthy recipients.

If the 1970s was a period of growth and prosperity then the start of the 1980s once again began to record worries regarding the attendances at church and a worsening financial position. As early as 1980 declining numbers in the Sunday school was causing concern and this theme is returned to time and again over the next decade.

Ideas for a Joint Ministry whereby two ministers would officiate at five churches (Halliwell Road, Bank Street, Unity, Horwich and Walmsley) was proposed and explained to the committee and congregation in late 1980 and although the idea was given full consideration by all the churches involved it was abandoned in September 1981. It is however an indication of the decline in numbers in many congregations and that many other churches were experiencing the same concerns and problems as Halliwell Road.

The funds of the Church were boosted during this period by a grant from the Urban Relief Fund and in 1983 by an Operation Clean Up Grant and a boiler fund reached its target of £1000.Rev Phillips resigned his ministry in 1983 and was replaced by the Rev M Parkinson who was to remain at Halliwell Road for only two years before his retirement which also co-incided with the sale of the manse on Darwen Road.

By this time it is clear that the church was relying more and more on the older part of the fellowship since the younger generation were few in numbers but the wide and varied activities of the church continued unabated and with the same levels of enthusiasm and fellowship was as strong as ever.

The years up to the appointment of the Reverend Alan Kennedy in July 1987 was a period where the church and Sunday school came to lean more and more on its own members promote and maintain the activities of the church. Members of the congregation were largely relied upon to take church services and the minutes of the GP committee meet refer to the bleak prospect of the appointment of a new minister to the Joint Pastorate.

On 1 November 1984 the primary suffered a fire and a figure of £2288 from the loss adjusters was accepted in compensation for the damage inflicted.

The years are marked by a fall off of attendances and the scout group was forced to close.

It is during this time that first mention is made of the fund raising efforts of the flea markets and craft fairs and of talk of a different format for the Sale of Work which had become so much a part of the yearly calendar of Halliwell Road over the last eighty years.

Nevertheless the determination of the church members to maintain the activities and weekly worship at Halliwell Road was a strong factor in ensuring that a new minister would not elude the congregation for too long.

In 1985 new hymn books - Hymns for Living were purchased and these new books soon came into regular use at the Sunday moming services.

The ministry of Alan Kennedy brought with it a period of more sustained involvement with the ecumencial community of both Halliwell and Bolton and the introduction of communion to the congregation.

The various organisations of the Church continued to play an important part in the Spiritual life of the Church and in 1988 a special service was held in which all organisations of the church took part.

The Women's League began meeting on alternative Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday and Saturday dances soon established themselves as a regular aspect of Sunday School Life.

A book stall was begun in the Crush Hall - the forerunner of the Saturday morning book sales and we first read of fundraising ideas linked to the Victorian Market and the canopy in Bolton Town Centre.

In February 1989 a new font and Church banner were presented to the church and by 1990 the Sale of Work had been replaced by the Gift Weekend.

The Last Decade

The last decade has brought its own challenge to the congregation of Halliwell Road and it is due to the dedication and hard work of current members that the church continues to thrive in its current form today.

Many congregations in all denominations are finding the change in social attitudes difficult to combat and the recruitment of young people into the church continues to be a very difficult task. Coupled with this, the church's location within an increasingly ethnic community means that there are different challenges to face in terms of encouraging new blood into the Church and Sunday School.

Nevertheless under the spiritual guidance of the Rev Desmond H Porter who replaced the Rev Alan Kennedy in 1983 the Church remains a strong centre of worship in the district and continues to be active in the ecumenical community.

Many of the traditional activities of the congregation continue to provide welcome funds for the church and the Womens League, and the Holiday Fellowship remain particularly active.

In 1993 a Covenant Scheme was established to provide a further tax efficient way to contribute to church funds and the year to year the congregation have found many diverse ways to raise money and make their own contribution to the running of the church.

The Canopy Sale and the Victorian Market along with the Gift Weekend continue to be the major fund raising events in the Church year but in addition many new events have been introduced each of which make their own small contribution to the continuation of the Church's Service in Halliwell.

Of most significant mention in terms of support for the church over the last few years is the contribution which has been drawn from the City Challenge Fund and which has enabled the members to effect considerable repairs and improvements to the Church and Sunday School including the complete rewiring of the buildings and the purchase of new equipment for the kitchen.

The replacement of the outside railings in 1999 is the latest in the long line of improvements made.

The advent of Halliwell as a City Challenge area brought the church once more into contact with aspects of the wider community and the regular use of rooms in the Sunday School for the reminiscence group, the Befriending Society and most recently the Weekly luncheon club have again promoted a fine community atmosphere within the church and school.

As we now proudly prepare for the Centenary' celebrations which will begin in November and continue well into the year 2000 we can reflect fondly on the service of those members who have gone before us and whose contribution has made Halliwell Road what it is today. We should also look forward to the next one hundred years. If the past is anything to go by there is little doubt that the current and future congregations will rise to meet the challenges not only of the new century but of the new millennium.


1899 Rev Neander Anderton - Assistant Minister Bank Street
1900 Rev E Saville Hicks - Assistant Minister Bank Street
1903 Rev John Evans - Assistant Minister Bank Street
1906 Rev H E Haycock - First Minister Halliwell Road
1909 Rev J Islan Jones
1918 Rev A 0 Broadley
1923 Rev R W Wilde
1928 Rev E G Lee
1934 Rev G E Bright
1940 Rev A F 0 Thomas
1945 Without Minister
1946 Rev I Hodgson
1956 Rev J Maw
1957 Rev K Wright
1963 Rev L Smith
1965 Rev L Evans
1973 Rev E Phillips
1983 Rev M Parkinson
1986 Without Minister
1987 Rev A R Kennedy
1993 Rev D H Porter