History of Methodism in Didsbury
(Extract from "1985 East Didsbury Methodist 50th. Anniversary Booklet")
Wesleyan Methodism in Didsbury dates back to the latter part of the 18th century, for there are records of a Society Class being in existence in 1790 and holding its meetings in a cottage.
About 1830 appears to have been the time when Didsbury Methodists secured their first preaching place, it being a room over a workshop in the centre of what is now Didsbury Village. By 1839 there were more worshippers than the room would accommodate, so one of the friends' erected a building in Chapel Street, the lower portion of which served as cottages, and the upper portion, which was furnished with a pulpit, was opened as a Wesleyan Chapel and School on Sunday, October 20th, 1839.
In 1840 our Conference purchased ten acres of land and a residence for £2,000. At a further cost of £18,000 new wings were added to make what was known as the Wesleyan Theological Institution, and a separate brick Chapel capable of holding about 300 people was built. This Chapel was opened on September 22nd, 1842, and served the needs of the Institution and the inhabitants of the district until 1877, when the present beautiful Gothic building known as St. Paul's became the centre of worship and the old Chapel was made into the College Library, now in use as the Students' Union.
Albert Hill Street
In 1874 Primitive Methodism entered the field, by what agency is now uncertain. At first a vacant shop at the corner of York Street housed the little company, but it soon grew too large for its premises. A move was then made to Albert Hill Street, and a wooden building, accommodating a hundred people, was erected. It bore the name of "Noah's Ark" given to it in derision; actually, it justified its name, as it proved to be an ark of saving for many more than Noah's few.
In 1877 another site was secured, and in 1878 the present Church was built..
During the nineteenth century Methodism developed in two societies Albert Hill Street and St Paul's.In 1991 the two churches joined to become Didsbury Methodist. Albert Hill Street and St Paul's church buildings were sold and the society moved into a newly modernised building.
The premises at 12 Gawsworth Avenue were first used in 1934 to provide for the new housing estate residents at East Didsbury. Both in Christianity and in Methodism the "Upper Room" has a very deep significance. East Didsbury Methodist Church also commenced in an Upper Room which was situated over an empty shop in Gawsworth Avenue, East Didsbury, and which was kindly loaned to the friends by Mr. J. Scott. We remember with deep gratitude Didsbury Theological College Students whose zeal, and enthusiasm helped to lay the spiritual foundation of our Church. Among these were Rev. J. P. K. Byrnes, B.Sc., Rev. J. H. Blarney, M.A., B.D., and Rev. S. Chapman. After two years in the "Upper Room" from 1934 to 1936, aided by Friends from St. Paul's and all Churches in the Tiviot Dale Circuit, temporary buildings were erected on a site in Parrs Wood Road South. The debt on the premises was cleared in 1943, and additional land, in anticipation of extensions, was purchased in 1948. On 7th September 1952, Oxford Road Society united with East Didsbury. The circumstances in which this amalgamation took place are interesting to recall.
During the winter of 1940 the Methodist. Church on Oxford Road was severely damaged by enemy action.the Church building was declared unsafe and unfit for services. The congregation continued to meet for several years in the extensive schoolrooms at the rear of the church building but gradually it became clear that numbers were dwindling. In a predominantly Roman Catholic area, close to the Church of the Holy Name, the local residents and their children were not attending a Methodist Church. The Sunday School closed through lack of numbers and most of the congregation were travelling long distances to worship and work at the church.
By then the Oxford Road Church had joined the Withington Circuit, the remaining churches in the Oxford Road circuit having been absorbed by the enlarged Manchester and Salford Mission.
In 1952 it was agreed that a church should be found which would accept the Oxford Road congregation and it was suggested that they should join the East Didsbury society which occupied a temporary church and was working to build a new church building. The Oxford Road buildings were sold to the Manchester University for a staff social centre and eventually were demolished to provide land for the new Medical School.
Towards the end of 1952 the Oxford Road society joined the East Didsbury society complete with assets. Because of the damage done to the Oxford Road church during the war the new society qualified for a grant from the Rank Trust for War Damaged Churches and this gave a boost to the building fund.
Initially the new society was named East Didsbury and Oxford Road but soon, happily and logically, the title reverted to "East Didsbury".
From the outset the two societies merged and worked well together and it is perhaps significant that the first wedding in the newly-built church was between an original member of East Didsbury and a former member of Oxford Road.
Among those who emigrated south in 1952 were those for whom this was not their first move. Oxford Road Church had opened its doors to members from the former Methodist churches at Hyde Road and Great Jackson Street. In fact the church itself was originally built as a Baptist Church and had a covered tank in front of the pulpit. Former. Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Social Centre and now providing space for the training of future doctors, Oxford Road Church has served the community well and is remembered with affection. (Rev. T.M.Kerruish and C.J. Oakley)
(Extract from March 1981 issue of "Concord")
Shortly before last Christmas I was in the company of a lady who, as a teenager, was involved with her parents in the beginnings of the Methodist society at East Didsbury. I mentioned that I had heard rumours regarding elephants in the district and she told me she had some photographs of the animals. She sent them to me in January, together with a very detailed diary of the period 1935-36.
The elephants were performing at the local Capitol cinema - now the Polytechnic School of Theatre - and were stabled at Rogerson's in Millgate Lane. Our correspondent says: "We found the show rather nasty. The elephants wore caps and played cricket, had a cannon fired and feigned death and sat on tubs with their front legs raised and trunks held high". The young folk much preferred them in their natural setting in the field. After the show they were led down the lane with swinging lanterns and two rear elephants each had a bicycle tail-light reflector clipped on its tail. The children were able to ride on them, which was great fun until the elephants decided to have a dust bath.
How did the elephants help build a church? The ground on which the original church at East Didsbury stood was planted with trees which were cut down before the building could be erected. The tree stumps with their massive roots posed a problem until the elephants were employed to drag them out with their tremendous strength.
I am grateful to Enid Bandey, who may be remembered as Enid Withers, for her painstaking work on our behalf. Her diary is fascinating. (Extracts are included on the following page. - Ed.) . . . The Methodist Church at East Didsbury was started all those years ago by a group of people who were moved to identify need and to respond to it.
That need still exists. To those whose hard work and dedication provided a centre of worship in the district we owe a great debt - but much more than a debt - we owe a responsibility. (C.J.Oakley.)