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Stourport-on-Severn (Worcs)

The town came into existence when the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal was driven from Wolverhampton down the Stour Valley through Kidderminster to reach the Severn near Lower Mitton in 1771. The hamlets of Upper and Lower Mitton were split between the parishes of Hartlebury and Kidderminster. Ecclesiastical provision was limited to a small chapelry of Kidderminster in Lower Mitton, but there was no bridge allowing access to Hartlebury across the Stour. The building of a large canal basin with its trans-shipment facilities between Lower Mitton and the Severn and the growth of warehousing and housing around the canal basin created Stourport, which soon superseded Bewdley up river as the major Severn trans-shipment point. By 1788 the town had grown to three main streets. One of the better streets is now known as York Street, named after York House, the home of Aaron York, a shareholder in the canal and a coal trader, and a WM who corresponded with John Wesley.

There is no evidence of John Wesley preaching in the area until March 1787, despite its being close to his regular route north from Bristol. Much of the early Methodism in the county seems to have been in the Countess of Huntingdon\'s Connexion. Wesley first preached in Bewdley in 1774, and the earliest society in the area was either Bewdley, from 1769, or Kidderminster, from before 1771. A society was formed at Stourport in 1781 by John Cowell, another coal trader. In 1782 WM joined forces with Lady Huntingdon's Connexion to build a joint chapel behind a house in New Street, with an agreement that they should preach there by turns. This agreement seems to have held at the time of Wesley's visit in 1787, but at some point, according to his Journal for 18 March 1790, 'the poor Arminians were locked out'. Rather than resort to litigation, the WMs built 'another, far larger and more commodious' chapel, in which Wesley preached on 18 March 1790. This Georgian chapel (extended 1812 and 1896) remains the core of the present Wesley Church behind High Street. Cowell and York were among the first trustees. It was turned 90 degrees in 1812, the original chapel being across the central width. The gallery was probably inserted then.

The earliest preacher's house was built adjacent to the chapel.The WM society was always middle to upper middle-class, dominated by the rich and influential families of a commercial trading town. With the old St. Michael's of Lower Mitton at a distance from the town and achieving parochial status only in 1844, the WM Church was the fashionable church of Stourport. Through most of the century the Baldwin family was much in evidence.

The whole of the property was thought to be freehold until in 1988 the holders of the original lease sought repossession. The society moved to the schoolroom while the lawyers sorted things out. All the extensions around the original building were freehold and on the Model Deed, but left the section in contention without even a door. Eventually agreement was reached and in 1991 the freehold was sold at a reasonable price to the Methodists. A renovation scheme was launched early in the 21st century and the new premises were opened in September 2005.

The first PM chapel, a former workshop, was in Raven Street, fitted out in 1833 as a preaching room with a small gallery, and seating about 80. In 1855 the PMs moved to a new chapel in Lickhill Lane, now used by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Always a struggling cause, in 1932 it seems to have welcomed neither Methodist Union nor the somewhat heavy-handed enforcing of a local union with Wesley Church. The building was sold soon after 1932, but some of the members joined the 'Continuing Primitive Methodist Church', while others became the independent fellowship in Vernon Road.

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

March 1787: 'Notice having been given, though without my knowledge, I went over to Stourport, a small, new-built village, almost equally distant from Bewdley and from Kidderminster… At noon, abundance of people being gathered together from all parts, I preached on Isaiah liii.6,7. We have not had such an opportunity since I left Bristol. The stout-hearted trembled; and everyone seemed almost persuaded to be a Christian.'

March 1788: 'I went to Stourport. Twenty years ago there was but one house here, now there are two or three streets; and as the trade swiftly increases, it will probably grow into a considerable town. A few years since Mr. Cowell largely contributed to the building of a preaching-house here, in which both Calvinists and Arminians might preach. But when it was finished, the Arminian preachers were totally excluded. Rather than go to law, Mr. Cowell built another house, both larger and more convenient. I preached there at noon to a large congregation, but to a much larger in the evening. Several clergymen were present, and were as attentive as any of the people. Probably there will be a deep work of God at this place.'

March 1790: 'I went on to Stourport, which is now full twice as large as it was two years ago. .. But [the chapel] was not large enough to contain them in the evening, to whom I explained that solemn passage in the Revelation, "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." They seemed to be all serious and attentive as long as I was speaking; but the moment I ceased, fourscore or one hundred began talking all at once. I do not remember ever to have been present at such a scene before. This must be amended; otherwise (if I should live) I will see Stourport no more.'

Sources

  • John F. Wedley, A History of Methodism in the Stourport Circuit (Stourport, 1899)
  • Methodist Recorder, 22 September 2005

Entry written by: CCS
Category: Place

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