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Smethwick, Staffs

Smethwick was a rural hamlet until the Industrial Revolution, when it was at the crossroads of the emerging industrial and communications systems; the core industrial area being adjacent to Rolfe Street and Rabone Lane. The population in 1801 was 1,097, peaking at 84,406 in 1931. Rapid growth was facilitated by major industrial sites such as Boulton and Watt's Foundry in Soho (1796) and Chance's Glassworks in Spon Lane (1814). Two WM societies were formed in the shadow of these works - the 'Foundry' near Watt's foundry and the 'Wharf' near Chance's works. The first was initiated as a cottage class meeting by the Birmingham Circuit about 1807-9; the second as a class meeting subject to West Bromwich about 1821. By 1820 the West Bromwich Circuit (formed 1811) included both societies.

In 1826 the Foundry class, after meeting in Harding Street and at French Walls, built Rabone Lane chapel; initially led by the Middleton family, in 1856 it gave way to a larger chapel in New Street, which became the head of the Smethwick WM Circuit, formed in 1876. The circuit included Spon Lane chapel (1841), which had evolved from the Wharf. Thomas Camm, a local preacher and artist in glass, helped to establish three societies: Halford Lane (1864), Shireland Hall (1878) and St. Paul's Road (1904), which provided the site for West Smethwick in 1928. Shireland Hall was replaced by a chapel in Waterloo Road (1886), which by 1900 was the second largest in the circuit. A mission hall was opened in Sloe Lane in 1889, surviving until 1939. A WM Day School existed in Rabone Lane between 1866 and 1895, when it was given up to the local School Board. After 1918 the Wesleyans partly withdrew from the inner industrial core by replacing Spon Lane with West Smethwick (1928-8) in St. Paul's Road, and New Street with Akrill Memorial (1931) in Broomfield.

The Primitive Methodists built a 'clinker' chapel in Rolfe Street in 1849, after earlier cottage meetings. The origin of this initiative is uncertain, although this chapel and the one at the Cape (1875) were in the Birmingham First Circuit until forming the Birmingham Third Circuit in 1881. Rolfe Street was replaced by Regent Street in 1887. A mission in Pope Street (1886) eventually became Middlemore Road chapel in 1901. There was a short-lived mission in Londonderry (1910-12). A chapel in Morville Street, Ladywood, belonged to the same circuit until its closed in 1953, and chapels in Selly Oak became the Birmingham Sixth Circuit in 1916.

A MNC cottage meeting in Brasshouse Lane (1850) evolved into Baldwin Street chapel, missioned from the Birmingham (Unett Street) circuit. Baldwin Street joined the ex-WM circuit in 1933 and closed in 1957; is congregation merged with the ex-WM Grove on the latter site, until replaced by St. John's (1963) in Price Street.

At Methodist Union in 1932 the ex-WM circuit and ex-PM circuit became the Broomfield and Regent Street circuits respectively, merging in 1954 to form the Smethwick Circuit. This merged in 1980 with the Islington-Quinton circuit to become the Birmingham West Circuit. The addition of Oldbury circuit in 1993 created the Birmingham West and Oldbury circuit. After a series of closures in the '60s and '70s, by 1980 only three churches remained: Akrill Memorial, West Smethwick and St. John's.

Three churches had never been in any of the Smethwick circuits, but were within Smethwick's borders. The West Bromwich PM circuit established chapels in Spon Lane (c.1850) and in Corser Street (closed c.1950). In 1918 the WM Islington Circuit missioned Bearwood, leading to the opening of Warley Woods church in Abbey Road (1929).

Entry written by: GWB
Category: Place

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