The Early Days
We know that this is the second Methodist Church on this site; the previous one was too small for the size of the congregation. Records state that the stone laying of this church took place on Thursday 30th October 1879. It began with a procession in the morning from the Town Hall to this site, where the first chapel had stood. The opening of the Church took place on November 11th 1880. The total accommodation was for approx. 900 people, the ceiling being a replica of the ceiling in the Retford Town Hall.
The planners produced a large Church, but the ancillary buildings consisted of two vestries, and a small store room, the minister’s vestry , toilets and kitchen. The main Hall called the “Band Room” housed all social activities. This formed one third of the extension in later years and was renamed the Chapelgate Hall. An old building in the grounds was used at this time called the “Institute” now demolished, giving space to accommodate car parking facilities.
During the Second World War in the 1940’s Celebrity Concerts, Messiah every Advent season, Elijah, Crucifixion, or Olivet to Calvary was performed during Lent. “Toc H” used the Institute to feed servicemen. The Church premises were bursting with activity, because people were able to be both physically and spiritually nourished during a very anxious period.
During these years, German prisoners of War billeted locally attended evening service, they filed in from behind the pulpit to sit in a compact group, and they made a thrilling sound as they stood to sing their chosen hymn, and how it enriched the worship. We visited and entertained refugees from Grove Hall, some were talented entertainers, and they shared their talents, making wonderful entertainment at the social events during wartime years. Soldiers stationed and nearby Ranby Camp walked into Retford to worship regularly each Sunday evening. It was quite an event to see German prisoners worship in the same place as British serving soldiers.
The annual Flower service was an occasion when all four Methodist Sunday Schools from the town filled the downstairs of the church, whilst parents and friends filled the gallery. Visits from the Luton Girls Choir, where friendships were formed by local families with some of the girls who sang.
Time for change
The 1950’s saw the opening of Eaton Hall Teacher Training College on the outskirts of the town. Many of the young lady students joined us and our church services. There were always plenty of young people, especially for the Sunday evening service and the youth fellowship that followed.
After the closure of the Chapelgate Society in 1955, the Chapelgate Hall was built and opened in 1958, and later the Albert Hall, and Rockley Room (now the Circuit Office) along with accommodation for the Caretaker were added in 1992,
1960’s, The annual Harvest Festival brought in the local farming community, it was a colourful event and became so well known that in 1965 it was televised on B.B.C and we all became television personalities for a brief time.
1975, We hosted the Musical “Come together” with other denominations in the town which gave a spiritual awareness of God’s presence and many people made a new commitment through that event.
1980 was Centenary Year – a whole year of celebrations, greeting ministers and people from the past. As part of the Methodist conference, held in Sheffield that summer, we were privileged to host one of the Services of Ordination for new Ministers, a very special occasion, all these events leading to a wonderful celebration in November, on the Anniversary of the opening. The fine organ was completely overhauled in Centenary Year, and Dr. W. S. Lloyd Webber gave a public recital on completion of the work.
In the 1990 pews were removed from the front corners of the Church one to accommodate facilities for children, the other for prayerful activities. In 1997 pews were removed from the rear of the church and a glass screen installed to create a larger foyer and a small kitchen. This made an area for the congregation to chat and have a cup of tea etc. after the service, it still houses weekly Coffee mornings, and mid week meetings. The heavy wooden doors at the front were removed and replaced by large glass doors, enabling us to be visible to people passing by the front of the Church on Grove Street.
Today we strive to make plans for the future of our Christian witness in the town. Our aim is to move on, to change the building from its 19th century mode, to meet the needs of the 21st Century. We aim to make it more user friendly, to serve the community by providing new facilities for the town and to have a smaller, modern worship area, whilst trying to keep much of the splendour of our heritage.