Wesley Methodist Church

A church for all in the heart of the city

Hills Road Methodist Church

Hills Road Methodist Church was opened in 1866 and closed in 1972 when most of its congregation joined the Society at Wesley. David Taylor was brought up at Hills Road and heavily employed as a member until it closed, and during its final couple of years or so he was a church steward. He writes its history.

A new church - The site - a temporary building - permanency desired - opening of the Chapel - financial burden - the Preacher`s House

The first hundred yearsThe Leys School - Sunday School - Young Men`s Fraternal - Cambridge Men`s Fireside - Wesley Guild - Women`s Fellowship - Fellowship Groups - Missionary Society - choir - uniformed organisations - Young People`s Club - influential ministers - Gipsy Smith

Closure of Hills Road

A new church

The site: selection and acquisition

A meeting to discuss the matter was held in the office of Mr. Robert Sayle at his drapery shop where, as well as the Minister, there were present Messrs. Robert Sayle, Chas. Vinter, W. Baker, D. Banham and Joseph Ryder. The outcome was that a solicitor, Mr. Ebenezer Foster, was instructed to attend the sale and offer up to £1,200 for the site. This he did, but the site was sold to the Roman Catholic Church for eighteen hundred guineas: the money for its purchase being principally a gift from the Duke of Norfolk.

Disappointed, but not downhearted, the Hobson Street members were spurred on in their determination to build: their enthusiasm was quickened by their initial defeat. They soon heard that another property a little further along Hills Road, the home of a Mr. Hollingsworth, was for sale. The only objection to its suitability for their purpose being that other property stood in front of it, and to gain a frontage on the main road they would need to purchase this as well. At first this did not seem to be an insurmountable difficulty but it was found that the cost of this double purchase was beyond their means, and the idea was dropped.

In 1865, a plot of ground another three hundred yards farther along Hills Road belonging to “The Master Fellows and Scholars of the College or Hall of the Holy Trinity in the University of Cambridge ……. situated in the Parish of St. Andrew the Less” was let on a ninety-nine-years building lease to Mr. Robert Sayle, and he suggested that this might be a suitable site for the proposed new chapel. There was, however, an immediate difficulty! Another “Religious Body” (not named) had already applied for a portion of the site., and Mr. Sayle was duty bound, by the terms of his lease, to consider their application, as terms had already been quoted to them. They were given a time limit in which to come to a decision, but as they did not decide within the stipulated period the offer was withdrawn. Mr. Sayle then offered the site to the Wesleyans, and upon their acceptance they became tenants of a piece of ground which had

“a frontage to Hills Road of sixty nine feet; a frontage to the roadway known as Norwich Street of one hundred and sixty two feet, a depth at the back of sixty three feet.”

The ground was held on a lease until the year 1925, when the Trustees of the chapel paid Trinity Hall £532 for the redemption of the lease, and the plot became theirs entirely.

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A Temporary Building

In 1866 the Trustees decided that they were unable at that stage to build a “brick chapel”, but that a “temporary wooden chapel should be erected”. The decision having been taken, they lost no time in pushing ahead with their plans, and a building named “The Wesleyan School Chapel” was built and furnished at a total cost of £200. It was illuminated by gas with, “in case of breakdown …… candlesticks for the pulpit”. The furnishings consisted of “wooden benches, a cupboard, a table, cocoa-matting, a fender and fire-irons, and an harmonium”. 

Lengthy discussions took place among the Trustees concerning “the prices to be paid for sittings in the chapel”, and after a meeting which lasted until midnight it was finally decided that there should be

“a few seats free; some at one shilling and some at one shilling and sixpence per quarter,”  ….while…”the amount to be paid for the highest priced seats should be according to what the special sub-committee appointed for that purpose decided that the applicant could pay or what they could get.”

The opening services of this temporary building took place on Sunday 21st October 1866.

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Permanency Desired

It was not long before the members of the new Hills Road Society began to feel dissatisfied with their building, and to remind themselves that it was only a “temporary” structure. Not by any means were they prepared to “sit at ease in Zion” but rather, inspired by their success so far, they were anxious to erect a permanent and worthy structure. Eighteen months after the opening of the wooden building, on 29the April 1868, the Trustees passed a resolution which reads:

“The Superintendent Minister was instructed to convene a meeting of the Trustees in September next to consider the propriety of taking steps for the erection of a New Chapel on the Hills Road Estate.”

This meeting revealed a definite difference of opinion among the members concerning the advisability of inaugurating a new building scheme. One person said:

“I cannot see, nor have I heard, of any reasonable plea for delay. What fortuitous circumstances do the Trustees expect to occur that would make it desirable to wait? NOW is the time!”

Others just as emphatically opposed but the “cream” of the evening undoubtedly came from the lady who said:

“It just comes to this: we must either go on or go back. I have no decided opinion as to which course to take, but am in favour of immediate action!”

Is it any wonder that the record of the meeting ends abruptly after that with the comment:

“The meeting then broke up”.

The next move came in the following March 1869, when the Trustees agreed

“That a subscription be forthwith entered into to raise One Thousand Pounds, to form a nucleus for the erection of a New Chapel”.

And the Minister was “requested to canvass the district for the purpose of raising cash or promises, and to report back in fourteen days”. It seemed to be unusual for the Minister to have to beg from door to door for financial assistance for the Trustees` scheme. He went, however, but did not achieve much in the way of results: the sum total of his efforts amounting to Ten Pounds.

The Trustees had gone the wrong way to work! What they said, in effect, was  -  “Give us some money and we will build a chapel”. What they should have done was to produce drawings of a proposed scheme and ask for help to carry it out. They learned their lesson: an outline building scheme was evolved, and it was decided to carry on with the work. 

Were they over-enthusiastic? To propose a scheme was thing but to raise the money for it was another. The Trustees were brought sharply face to face with reality when the Minister made it quite clear to them that they must be prepared to face the responsibility. In forthright, not to say embarrassing language, he said to them:

“You have been talking about raising this money, and of sending me round this district to collect it. It will greatly further these proceedings if you will each now be good enough to say what amount YOU propose to give.”

It was an expensive privilege to be a Trustee! From those present promises were forthcoming of £1,140.

Financial assistance came from a very wide area, and from people in all walks of life. In 1869 the Trustees had agreed to spend £1,600. When the first tender was received it was £2,938 but the final cost was £5,464.

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Opening of the Chapel

The stone-laying ceremony took place on Friday 13th May 1870, preceded by a breakfast in the large room of the Guildhall. The stone was laid by Sir Francis Lycett and after an address by the Rev. G.T. Perks M.A. and the presentation of the purses and the laying of bricks, those attending returned to the Guildhall for tea and a public meeting presided over by the Member of Parliament for the Borough, Mr. W. Fowler. 

The dedication and opening of the New Chapel took place twelve months later when the District Synod met in Cambridge. On Thursday 11th May 1871, three services were held, at which the preachers were Rev. Luke H. Wiseman, father of the Rev. Dr. F. Luke Wiseman (see later), Rev. M.C. Osborne and the Rev. E.E. Jenkins. The Dedication services were continued the following weekend and there remained a debt of £930, in spite of the magnificent result of a three-day bazaar held in the Guildhall the previous month which raised £450.The outstanding debt was a cause of constant embarrassment and was not finally liquated until 1878.

 This brought to fruition a scheme which had been a tremendous venture of faith undertaken by a devout and far-seeing body of Trustees, backed and encouraged by many friends from near and far. The temporary wooden building was sold and the furnishings transferred to the new school-room beneath the chapel.

Hills Road Methodist ChurchOne feature of the exterior of this new building, the ornamental stonework, was quite a departure from the design of previous Methodist chapels in Cambridge. These carvings on the front of the chapel were not intended to be merely decorative, they were designed to convey a meaning , and are legendary: the terminations of  the labels of the large window being of particular importance. These should be considered, together with the lower terminations of the labels of the doorway below, which are composed of grim looking creatures, in positions as if worming their way of some cavity. These represent evil spirits, while the angels above are driving them out of the building. On the left of the principal entrance, an octagonal turret was decorated with a score of stone gargoyles: the turret being surmounted with a canopy, and its base carried on carved corbels.

At the west end of the building there was a large wheel window, filled with stained glass in quatrefoil tracery. Unfortunately, with the building of the organ later on, this window was obscured from view and, therefore, much of the beauty of the sanctuary was lost. It was hoped that at some time this mistake would have been rectified and that particular part of the building restored to its former glory. The arch that formed the limits of the organ chamber was designed to enhance the beauty of this window and give character to the whole of the building, being lofty and magnificent, with label moulding and carved bosses.

The chapel was initially lit by gas - the fittings being standards of spiral brass, each containing nine jets set on three ornamental branches - was raised above ground level in order that a large school-room could be constructed beneath. There were also class rooms and a boiler room on the ground floor.

With a seating capacity of 750 the Chapel was a prominent building on the corner of Hills Road and Norwich Street and its proximity to the railway station always attracted the attention of visitors to Cambridge. Hardly a Sunday passed without at least one visitor coming in for worship and the stewards always sought to extend a hearty welcome to newcomers. Quite often foreigners slipped into the Chapel to discover to their surprise that it was not a Roman Catholic church and they then sought to make a hurried exit!

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Financial burden: clearing the debt

Money for the building fund never flowed in too freely, and, as is usual, the Trustees found the last part of the amount required harder to raise than the first. While building is in progress the need for money can be seen, and is more freely given. But once a building scheme is finished it is more difficult to convince the public that more money is still needed to pay off the debt. It was almost ten years from the beginning of the scheme before the debts on the building fund were cleared. It was only cleared then by three of the Trustees subscribing the last £60. How much it cost the Trustees in total, and from their own pockets, to build the chapel is impossible to say.

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The Preacher`s House

The full extent of the Hills Road Trustees` financial challenges is, however, not yet fully told. Even while the debt remaining on the chapel constituted a burden on them, they had entered into a commitment in another direction. A piece of ground in Norwich Street, opposite the chapel, had been acquired for a “Preacher`s House”, and whilst this stood barren its desolation presented a challenge to them. Continually the question of building a house arose in their deliberations, only to be as continually shelved owing to the preoccupation with the building of the chapel. When the larger scheme was completed the idea of a further building came to the fore again. Eventually a plan was produced which “was generally considered to be just about the sirt of house suitable to our needs”.

In October 1874 building was begun. The cost was £650 which was borrowed from the “Star Life Assurance Office”, on the security of a “Note of Hand” executed by the Trustees. Once again they committed themselves to financial responsibilities, “It being distinctly understood that no Trustee should be at liberty to decline to sign the “Note of Hand”.” The house was then given “No. 92, Norwich Street”, but at some time between 1901 and 1904 the street was renumbered and was later known as “no. 1”.

The first time this house on the Circuit Plan as a minister`s residence was in the October-December quarter of 1875.: the last time was in 1881. After that, the minister no longer lived there and the house was let and then sold in 1891.

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The First Hundred Years

Hills Road galleryAlthough the site was originally acquired on a 99 year lease the Trustees succeeded in purchasing the freehold from Trinity Hall in 1925 for the sum of £532 after two years of negotiation, during the ministry of Rev. Arthur Walters. In 1944 the property was transferred to the New Model Deed of the Methodist Church, so that it was held under the same legal conditions as all Methodist property throughout the Connexion. 

A problem continually recurring throughout the life of the building was one of draughts and as early as 1875 a letter to the Trustees complained of draughts coming down from the roof. All kinds of remedies were tried but the cold air always appeared to have the last word! The lofty building, probably the cause for persistent draughts did not however detract from the acoustics of the building which were particularly good and before the days of microphones, the speakers from the pulpit were pleasantly surprised at the way in which their voices “came back to them” and were not lost in the vastness of the place.

The maintenance of the premises was obviously an expensive business and much money was spent on re-decorations and structural alterations. A glance through the minutes of Trustees` meetings seemed to indicate important and costly developments every decade and, as the buildings aged additions, improvements and replacements had to be met more frequently. The School premises were increased in 1906 when electric was installed there and this improvement was added to the Chapel itself in 1914. After the war of 1914-1918 the premises were completely re-decorated, while in 1931 new cloakroom accommodation was built.

The Centenary booklet recounted that `in recent years, the most important work was the repainting in 1958 of the Chapel in light colours which served to bring out the details of the interior in a striking fashion`. The cost was over £1,300 and to raise such a large sum the “Ship” scheme was established, whereby the members were arranged in groups, each taking the name of a ship, and were pledged, under a captain and purser, to raise a stipulated sum.  Many ingenious methods were devised for this purpose, and the whole idea was so successful that a modified version was used some years later when the kitchen premises were completely reconstructed and modernised.

No sooner was this work done than serious dry rot was discovered in the Schoolroom floor, the whole of which had to be taken up and replaced. It can be seen therefore that the members of Hills Road had to keep finding large sums to keep it in sound repair in what was described as “the oldest Methodist chapel still in use in Cambridge”. In addition to the major work that had to be done there was of course many day to day smaller repairs and redecoration work that was done by voluntary labour.

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The Leys School

The early history of Hills Road is inextricably bound up with that of the Leys School, the Methodist Public School situated in Trumpington Road. Mr. Robert Sayle had been instrumental in the purchase of Hills Road and he was also an important figure in the building of The Leys School.

In the late 1860`s Mr. Sayle was asked by the Methodist Conference if he would be willing to give up the tenancy of a small farm opposite the new Methodist Chapel in Hills Road to enable a Methodist school for boys to be built. He was not willing but it so happened that he had been offered the chance to buy the Leys estate, off Trumpington Road, and he suggested to Conference that this might be suitable for their purpose. After some hesitation Conference agreed and the estate was bought with Mr. Sayle advancing the money and settled “for all time to be used for Methodist educational purposes under the direction of the Methodist Conference.” The loan of over £14,000 was repaid in 1872 and three years later The Leys School opened its doors to its first pupils.

Although the school saw its first pupils it did not have a chapel until 1906. In the meantime the whole School attended the Sunday services at Hills Road, occupying the gallery. It must have been an inspiring sight for the preacher to see the crowded gallery as he entered the pulpit! 

The School supported the work at Hills Road very generously and faithfully, attending bazaars and sales of work, and in 1881 actually holding a bazaar in the School grounds in aid of the work in the Circuit.

The most important result of this happy link was the installation of the first organ ay Hills Road. The governors of the School offered to defray two-thirds of the cost of the organ and also to meet all the maintenance expenses for the first five years. The organ was opened in 1875 and Dr. Moulton, the Headmaster of the School, was organist for the first fifteen years of its life. 

With the building of the School`s own Chapel, this regular weekly association of School and Church ended, but the chain binding the two continued. Both the Rev. W. T. A. Barber and Rev. H. Bisseker, second and third Headmasters respectively, and their families worshipped regularly at Hills Road after their retirement. The Rev. Conrad Skinner was chaplain at the Leys for 30 years and, with his wife, also worshipped at Hills Road and for many years led a Bible Class for men on a Tuesday evening, an hour before the Cambridge Men`s Fireside meetings.

As well as the connection with The Leys, Hills Road encouraged other young people`s and youth work through its Sunday School, Young Men`s Fraternal, Brownies and Young People`s Club.

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Sunday School

The Sunday School at Hills Road was formed shortly after the church was built although no records appear to have been kept until 1870. Mr. W. Allen was named as Superintendent, an office he continued to hold until 1894. He then took charge of the Sunday afternoon Bible Class whilst retaining the Superintendency in the morning. Mr. C. Kerridge (senior) was named as co-superintendent , having been a teacher in the school since 1873, and he continued as Superintendent until 1913 – a remarkable spell of service. Mr. Walker served as Superintendent from 1902 to 1922 and later returned for a further term of office which lasted until 1935. The length of time that these three men served the church in this capacity showed a great amount of diligence, especially when we learn of the size of the Sunday school.

Great care was taken even in those days in the appointment of teachers and they had to serve “On Trial” for a period before being accepted as fully accredited teachers. The difficulties of Sunday school do not seem to have changed  materially over the years. Problems of discipline among the boys are continually recorded in the minutes of teachers` meetings: misbehaviour, noise and the eating of sweets are reported and there were several cases of temporary suspension and even of expulsion. In 1869 the first Secretary of the Sunday School, Mr. J. Male, was appointed “teacher of the male black sheep” as he quaintly puts it. At least he was appropriately named!

The numbers continued to grow and a large and flourishing school developed with both morning and afternoon sessions. The peak, as far as numbers were concerned, was reached in 1877, when there were 317 scholars on the roll and 32 teachers. The average attendance in the afternoon at this time exceeded 200 and the school was clearly a thriving centre of activity. 

The annual “treats” or “outings” were very popular occasions: in the early days they took place in field belonging to friendly farmers at Trumpington, Shelford and Sawston. College grounds were also favourite venues after the turn of the century with Downing being the most popular because of its proximity to the chapel. Their grounds were off Long Road. 

After the 1914-1918 War attempts were made to hold the outing at Hunstanton in conjunction with the outing organised by the Cambridge Sunday School Union, but difficulties over leave of absence from day school prevented this from taking place until1931 when Skegness was the venue. Other seaside resorts were visited in the years that followed but eventually the School arranged its own outings to Royston, Wicksteed Park or Hunstanton.

During the 1939-1945 War and in subsequent years the attendance fell, but a loyal band of workers continued. The children came into church for the first part of the service and would then adjourn downstairs in the schoolroom for their own teachings. Efforts were also made to establish a creche for the very young children so that their parents could worship together.

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Young Men's Fraternal

The Young Men`s Fraternal at  Hills Road was formed shortly after the end of the First World War as a Sunday afternoon class for middle and late teenagers who were no longer attracted by Sunday School. It grew rapidly and received the enthusiastic support of the minister, Rev. Arthur Walters. Weeknight activities quickly followed and in due course the Y. M. F. had its own orchestra and organised its own private sick benefit fund. It had a football team which soon after the war won the Melbourn and District Football League Cup.

Its popularity and ever growing numbers underlined the inadequacy of the premises at Hills Road for work among young people, and plans were soon being made to build another hall to accommodate the Y. M. F. and its activities. These plans eventually resulted in the building of the Norwich Hall (the church was on the corner of Hills Road and Norwich Street) at a cost of nearly £1,000 and it was officially opened in October 1927.

The Y. M. F. had much more suitable facilities for its activities and its annual suppers were reported as outstanding events in the life of the Church and the Sunday afternoon services were always well attended. This continued until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. This conflict and its casualties, together with the maturing , the marrying and the removable of its members put an end to a very fine organisation, but there is no doubt that it permanently influenced for good the lives and characters of those who belonged to it.

In any case, the Norwich Hall was a permanent reminder of a magnificent piece of work in the 1920`s and 30`s.

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The Cambridge Men`s Fireside

Shortly after the 1939-1945 War finished the Cambridge Men`s Fireside was formed by the Rev.  John Crowlesmith, to perpetuate the  spirit of comradeship fostered by the various voluntary services of wartime, such as the Home Guard and the many activities connected with air raid precautions. Although different in its aims and methods , perhaps it was not too fanciful to see the “Fireside” as the logical successor to the Young Men`s Fraternal.

As the “Fireside” still continues well into the 21st Century it deserves its own story so please see the link to The Cambridge Men`s Fireside under the Wesley Church Cambridge website.

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Wesley Guild

Whilst it is not possible to say exactly when the Wesley Guild first met at Hills Road it is thought to be in the mid to late 1920`, a period when there was a great expansion of the Guild`s work as the result of the vigorous leadership of the Rev. George Allen, the Connexional Guild Secretary at that time. 

The Guild Four “C`s” formed the basis of its meetings – Consecration, Comradeship, Culture and Christian Service and these took their turn on a weekly basis. 

It was certain that in its early days especially the Hills Road Wesley Guild was a very thriving concern as it was reported that over a hundred guests attended the Guild Banquet in Autumn 1930, with even a toast master in full regalia (one of the Hills Road members, Mr. Charles Neal).

The Guild thrived in the 1930`s but, of course, the war took its inevitable toll of young men who were called up. In the event numbers attending never really recovered to pre-war figures. Meetings were held throughout the year with a varied summer programme. The stand out activities that I personally still remember with affection were the “Sausage Sizzle” in the Beech Woods just outside Cambridge and Tennis and Strawberries at the home of Consie Lamb and her father at Impington. This was always well supported!

I also remember being part of a group of younger members in the Guild which gave us the opportunity to not only be responsible for organising meetings but taking the chair, enabling us to hone our public speaking skills. Annually in November we would be driven to Eastbourne for the annual Guild Weekend from Friday evening to Sunday lunch. We were well received as we had usually travelled further than most people to get there and it was an opportunity to meet up with old friends. 

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Women`s Fellowship

A midweek meeting for women at Hills Road first came into being in October 1937, initially named “The Women`s Own” but soon renamed “The Women`s Fellowship” when it joined the wider Women`s Fellowship movement.

It met on a Wednesday afternoon, usually to hear a speaker and to finish with a cup of tea and a biscuit. An annual rally was held in the autumn with a Sunday service when the preacher was invariably a lady. In the summer an annual outing was held which always proved popular and some quite long journeys were undertaken. 

After becoming a part of the Women`s Fellowship movement, the Hills Road Branch was drawn increasingly into other activities, combining sometimes with other Women`s Fellowships and attending their rallies. During her term as President at Hills Road, Mrs. Binney was also chairman of the London North East District Women`s Fellowship, and became known in a much wider sphere, but the Wednesday meeting, with Mrs. Reece as Secretary, remained the centre of activity and operated throughout the year, except for the month of August.

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Fellowship Groups

The most significant development in the spiritual life of Hills Road, albeit the most unspectacular, was the strength of the Fellowship Groups. Two met on Wednesday evenings in the homes of members and another one for men was led by the Rev. Conrad Skinner, meeting on alternate Tuesday evenings before Fireside for bible study. In some years the groups had all followed the same course of study: in others they have gone their own ways. The study of the Bible and the depth of fellowship created thereby can be compared to a power house in which energy is accumulated to keep the life of the Church vigorous and active.

One of the Wednesday groups also made itself responsible for the conduct of services in various parts of the Circuit, and in this way accustomed its members to participating in the leading of public worship.

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Missionary Society

Hills Road was always a strong supporter of the Methodist Missionary Society. Much of the enthusiasm for this was the result of the energetic leadership of Mr. G.H.Jacob in the 1920`s and 30`s. As Circuit and District Treasurer, he gave a fine lead and was very gratified that his own Church`s contributions steadily increased each year. This tradition continued to when Hills Road closed. The children also joined in by making magnificent contributions to the Juvenile Missionary Association (JMA) and the ladies of the congregation enthusiastically supported Women`s Work. (A personal note here as I was an enthusiastic JMA collector, collecting my £5 each year to receive a bar to my medal and, eventually, a 10 year medal. I continue to be a supporter of Overseas Mission to this day).

There can be no doubt however that Hills Road`s greatest missionary contribution could not be measured just in financial terms, but in the lifetime of service by Sister Jessie Kerridge M.B.E. to the West Indies. After training at the Deaconess College at Ilkley, Sister Jessie felt the call in 1928 to serve in Jamaica and went out to work among girls in Kingston. She was very active in many ways, such as the Girl`s League and the Girl Guide movement, as well as preaching on Sundays, but she gradually realised that to make a permanent impact on the social and religious problems of the Caribbean, it would be necessary to train local girls for the work. This idea was gradually developed largely through her initiative and guidance so that West Indian deaconesses worked in all the principal islands of the Caribbean, seeking to spread the Gospel and to raise the moral and social standards of the West Indian women.

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Methodists are a singing people and through the years Hills Road maintained a tradition of musical excellence. The church was well served by its organists and choir. During one period there was much friendly rivalry between the choirs of local Methodist churches and Hills Road often won the annual inter-church competitions. It is impossible to record the names of all who rendered such splendid service but mention must be made of Mr. H.C. Howe who retired from the post of organist in 1963 after serving for 40 years, and of  Mr. T. Merriman who was choirmaster for many years before retiring in 1947.

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Uniformed organisations

Uniformed Organisations were the basis of much of the Hills Road youth work. Scouts, Guides, Wolf Cubs and Brownies all flourished in the 9140`s and 1950`s and the annual Youth Week services were occasions for colourful parades. The 8th Cambridge Brownie Pack was formed in1946 under the leadership of Miss M. Collins and Miss M. Keating. Miss P. Cross, a member of the Sunday School staff, took over the leadership a year later and continued in this work for over 20 years helped by Mrs. Taylor (the former Miss Keating).

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Young People's Club

Non-uniformed youth work at Hills Road followed the same pattern as in many other Methodist churches. The Youth Club movement in Methodism enjoyed its hey-day in the late 1940`s and early 1950`s and most churches attempted, with varying success, to cater for the ever-changing needs of teenagers. 

It was difficult for the traditional Youth Club to succeed at Hills Road but a group of 10-20 young people made good use of the Badminton court in the Norwich Hall on Friday evenings and other activities were encouraged with the help of the inevitable record-player.

On a Sunday afternoon Miss Consie Lamb led a very successful group of teenagers in Bible Study and many of them progressed into other groups within Church, especially the Wesley Guild, where they were able to take leadership roles.

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Influential Ministers at Hills Road

Of all the Ministers who served at Hills Road, the Rev. Dr. J Scott Lidgett was undoubtedly the most famous. He was appointed to Hills Road in 1887 and stayed until 1890. His contact with the young people at the Leys inspired his later work. He himself said that it was on his way home from a midweek service at Quy Chapel, of which the Hills Road Minister then had pastoral charge, that he resolved to dedicate his life to “planting a colony in one of the poorer districts of London, to be carried on as a distinctly evangelical spirit but with the broadest possible social aims and free from all sectarian ends”.

This was the germ of the idea that finally came to fruition in his great work at the Bermondsey Settlement of which he was the founder and where he served as Warden for more than 40 years. In 1908 he was President of the Wesleyan Conference and in 1932 he was unanimously elected as the first President of the Methodist Church, which came into being as a result of the Union of 1932 between the Wesleyan and Primitive sides of the Methodist Church.

Hills Road was particularly fortunate in the ministers who served it in the two post-war periods of the twentieth century. In the unsettled 1920`s, the Rev. Arthur Walters, with his steady faith and manifest charity to all, did much to counteract the reaction which set in after the strain and stress of the war years. He fostered the growth of the Young Men`s Fraternal and endeared himself to all in such a way that his ministry was constantly remembered by all who were there.

From 1945 to 1951, the Rev. John Crowlesmith exercised a powerful ministry, both from the pulpit and in more public activities, to demonstrate the vitality and effectiveness of the Christian witness. He founded the Cambridge Men`s Fireside and was also responsible for the setting up of the Cambridge Marriage Guidance Council.

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Gipsy Smith

A prominent member of Hills Road for many years was the world-famous evangelist, Gipsy Smith. Cambridge always had a very warm place in his heart because of the influence of the Primitive Methodist Society in Fitzroy Street on his father and uncles. Their conversion and building up in the faith undoubtedly affected the young gipsy and in later years he made his home in Cavendish Avenue Cambridge and worshipped at Hills Road whenever he was not engaged in evangelistic campaigns at home or abroad. 

He was often the preacher at Sunday School anniversaries and his daughter and son-in-law were very active in the Sunday School and the choir. Their daughter, Zillah Lean, was still an active member of Hills Road when it closed.

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Closure of Hills Road

It came as quite a surprise to the officers and members of Hills Road that it was suggested that Hills Road should close. There was understandable dismay when the suggestion was first mooted as Hills Road still had a membership of about 200 and played a very active part in the life of the Cambridge Methodist Circuit. However, the church building was over 100 years old and, although regular maintenance was undertaken, a property of that age would undoubtedly need major refurbishment in the years to come. It was probably not viable with other Methodist churches in the city, especially Wesley Church, less than a mile away.

Many meetings were held and there were a number of suggestions put forward for the members. The obvious one was to merge with Wesley but not everyone wished to do this. Most of its members lived in the south of the city and felt that there should continue to be a Methodist presence there. The Hills Road site was sold to the Guardian Assurance Co. and discussions were held to investigate the possibility of incorporating a sanctuary within the redevelopment of the site.

A significant number of members wanted a joint venture with the St. James Church in Wulfstan Way (who would have been happy to accommodate them) but after many discussions at local and Connexional level any scheme was too radical for the early 1970`s! Some members preferred a link up with the Free Church in Cherryhinton Road.

In the event the majority of the congregation had their membership transferred to Wesley but some went to St. James and some went to the Free Church. It was a pity that the congregation became so fragmented.

The opportunity to continue a presence in the fast developing south of the city was, in retrospect, perhaps an opportunity lost.

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