Church History

by John Cook

At the time our work began in 1944 there was no Church, no school (the children travelling to school in Watford by special bus), and virtually no community life other than a Social Club.

Among the residents of Carpenders Park were a small number of Methodists who were active members of our Bushey and Oxhey Church. Our Minister, the Rev. Leonard F Webb, called these friends together on 1st November 1944 to discuss the possibility of developing some religious work on the Estate, at least among the young people. No public buildings were available, the only building other than private dwellings being a converted cow shed, known as "The Barn", on Oxhey Lane. This building was used throughout the week by the Social Club but was available on Sundays and, after some negotiation, it was made available to us for Sundays only at a rental of 5/- per week (25p in modern money!) plus heating and lighting. The development of the work was undertaken with the blessing of our Bushey Church and on Sunday 1st December 1944 the first service for public worship was held. The Owner of the Estate stipulated that the services must be entirely undenominational and much against our wishes we were obliged to advertise them as 'Free Church' services but they were always in effect Methodist services.

The memory of this opening service will live forever in the minds of  those who were present, particularly those who were actively connected with the project. The weather could not have been worse: torrential rain, a howling gale, and the structure of the Barn at its very best never weatherproof. At mid-day the electricity service failed on the Estate, the barn was heated by electricity, and as 3.00 p.m. approached (the time of the service), conditions gradually deteriorated. As one might expect few people not directly interested were present and those who ventured into the storm reached the Barn very wet to find a building without heat and light and with an assortment of candles, supported in a variety of holders, strategically placed around the building flickering bravely in the indoor breeze.
Under these most unusual conditions we made our new beginning. We were honoured to have the interest and presence of Mr S J Turner, the President of Watford & District Free Church Federal Council to conduct the service, the sermon being preached by our own Minister, Mr Webb. As he opened his address the electric lights came on, surely a good omen.

Such was our beginning, services were held regularly at 3 p.m. each Sunday. The weather did not encourage large congregations and these at times were very disappointing.

On 14th January 1945, some six weeks later, a further venture was started in a Sunday School which preceded the afternoon service. The teaching staff of 6 arrived that Sunday to find 7 scholars awaiting them. Small beginnings maybe, but built on firm foundations. I should mention that this venture of faith was started without any financial assistance from cut-side; the six friends each made a contribution and we started with £3 capital and have never yet been in the red!

One very important feature of this early work was the weekly meeting for fellowship and teacher's preparation. Having no premises we visited each other's homes and found rich fellowship, with new friends joining us from time to time. Our work, especially among the children, soon became known and the Sunday School grew quite rapidly, though at first mostly with junior scholars. Many parents were concerned at their young children having to cross the main road, which could be quite busy on a fine Sunday afternoon. Soon we had our own "policeman", a member of the staff who in all these years, no matter what the weather, was on the spot to shepherd the youngsters across the road.

During these early days of afternoon services we were greatly privileged to have many well-known visiting preachers; most of the Free Church Ministers in the Watford District favoured us with their presence and we earned the reputation of being "sermon testers" at the Barn.

By the beginning of May 1945 we had decided that the time had come to have an evening service instead of that in the afternoon. We felt that this might attract more people and the first such service took place on 13th May 1945, which was Thanksgiving Day for V.E. Day. We had freely publicised this service and were encouraged by a splendid congregation.

Many people who had never visited us and knew the Barn only as a venue for whist drives or dances wondered how we could worship in such a dilapidated building. Those who later were encouraged to join us were surprised at the spirit and atmosphere which prevailed and continued throughout our stay there. After all, Christ was born in a stable; surely we might worship in a barn.

This does not mean to say that we were making rapid progress; on many occasions we were reduced to the original band of pioneers but we never gave up hope. One service comes to mind: it was Whit Sunday, only a handful of people awaiting the commencement of the service and we were feeling a little sorry for our visiting preacher. Suddenly, along came a troop of Methodist Boy Scouts who were camping near by; they had heard of our service and came to join us, considerably increasing our numbers. When the church was later built, we had a visiting student from Richmond College in our pulpit one Sunday and he surprised us by  referring to this occasion - he had been one of the Scouts.

So the years passed; we had our Sunday School Anniversaries, Outings and Harvest Festivals. Remembering that we could make no preparations until that Sunday morning, these latter were remarkable occasions as all the gifts had to be cleared from the Barn  after every evening service. We had no motorcars and until late in the evening mysterious convoys of garden barrows could be  found moving about the estate.

Eventually it was decided that we should constitute ourselves as a separate Society within the Watford Circuit and so the original band of friends transferred their membership from Bushey & Oxhey and became Carpenders Park Methodist Church. Despite all our efforts it was impossible to obtain a site on which we might erect our own building. The plot which we would have liked on the estate, could never have been ours. When we approached the owner we were told the price was £30,000.

A year or so after the War unexpected developments took place on the other side of the railway in that the L.C.C. developed the South Oxhey Estate. Soon the London and Home Missions Department were interested in the erection of a Methodist Church and for the first time we had visions of a church of our own, though not at Carpenders Park. Visits were paid to us by the Rev. Robinson Whittaker and eventually a site was obtained, the cost of the building to be provided by a transferred War Damage Grant from the bombed St. John's Wood Methodist Church. However, some years were to pass before this early dream became a reality.

Gradually the new council houses began to spring up and people moved in from all parts of London, and realising that a shortage of materials and lack of priorities would prevent an early start of our building, we began to show concern for the spiritual welfare of the people coming to South Oxhey. With this very much on our hearts, investigations were made, and eventually permission was obtained from the contractors and the L.C.C. to hold services in a Nissan hut used as a workman's canteen. We therefore agreed that the evening service should alternate between this hut at South Oxhey and the Barn and thus a new venture was begun. lncidentallv i should add that this hut was also used as a watchman's headquarters and it was not unusual during the service, maybe during the sermon to hear sounds off stage, as George talked to Jim, often in very unparliamentary language! Unfortunately these services were not as successful as we hoped and were discontinued after about three months. Some time afterwards as the new Council Schools began to be erected at South Oxhey, other Bushey friends obtained permission to start a Sunday School in one of these schools. This grew rapidly among the quickly growing population and formed the basis of the Sunday School now at South Oxhey, transferring to the Church when it was opened.

Christmas Day 1949 was another milestone along our journey. A communion service was held at the Barn at 9.00 a.m. conducted by Rev'd. Douglas Thompson, when two of our Sunday School Scholars were publicly received into Membership. Our first new members.

So we journeyed on with many ups and downs, joy, and disappointments, the new Church seemed as far away as ever when, quite unexpectedly in July 1951 there came as it were a bolt out of the blue - the Barn was condemned as being unfit for public use and we were given 24 hours to quit. By this time we had purchased an American organ, hymnbooks and sundry equipment for both Church and School and it became necessary to make arrangements to store and remove these. It was hoped that repairs might be possible but before we could remove our property worse was to happen. At 10 o'clock one Thursday evening, my telephone rang. All the caller said was "'The Barn is on fire" - there was no time for more. Quickly we were all on the scene helping to save some of our things but the blaze which we found was quite spectacular, the fire brigade was completely helpless and just had to let it burn. The building had been maliciously set on fire by some youths and with it our equipment worth £80 was destroyed. It was uninsured; no one would take the risk. So it appeared our work for the present was at an end.

Not to be daunted, we decided to carry on our Sunday School in the open air in a nearby field. The first Sunday we had a thunderstorm and after a few attempts the idea had to be given up. Fortunately however, at this time a new lnfant School was opened at Carpenders Park and permission was eventually obtained to use part of these premises both for Sunday School and evening services. Here, too, we were faced with problems, we had become inured to cold at the Barn, but fuel restrictions did not permit the use of normal school heating during the weekend and in wintry weather School and Service were often held in temperatures of 35/40°F. We must have been hardy folk at Carpenders Park.

The foundation stones were laid on 30th August 1952 and the Building opened after many delays and frustrations on 28th March 1953. The Society that had been built up during the years formed a solid nucleus of the new Church. New  beginnings indeed. Who could tell what their impact would be on future generations. One is reminded of the famous words of that great English sailor Sir Francis Drake, written on 27th April 1587: THERE MUST BE A BEGINNING TO ANY GREAT MATTER. BUT THE CONTINUING UNTO THE END UNTIL IT BE THOROUGHLY FINISHED YIELDS THE TRUE GLORY.

Taken from 'The Golden Anniversary of Carpenders Park & South Oxhey Methodist Church 1953-2003' booklet.

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