Lady Huntingdon's Church

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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The present building is the second church on the site. The first was built in 1773, in the garden of a large town house; the area being much favoured by the well-to-do in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the time of the Church's foundation the area had already declined in status, some of the wealthy moving out beyond the walls to the new houses in Foregate Street and in Sidbury. Their old houses became tenements and the situation of the new church was ideal for the work of the Lady Huntingdon's converts, as it was central and in the most populous district of the city.

Lady Huntingdon's followers came to Worcester first in 1767. William Urwick, in his book Non-conformity in Worcester, states that 'one of Lady Huntingdon's students named English preached at Mr. Skinner's warehouse in the Town Ditch, now Sansome Street'. She visited the city the following year herself and wrote: 'Nearly 200 persons have been united in religious society, may of whom have given decisive proofs of their conversion to God'.
She was asked to build a church, and it was erected in Bridport by subscription and loan; the interest on which she paid, until the congregation could liquidate the whole. At the opening in 1773 crowds had to be turned away. The congregation increased rapidly and a bigger church had to be built. The present building was opened in 1804 to hold 1,000 people, but had to be further enlarged in 1815 to hold 1,500.

The Worcester Church is independent and self-supporting. Though loyal to the tradions of Lady Huntingdon, it is prevented by provision of a trust from identifying itself legally with the Connexion. The Church is governed by the Minister, who is appointed by a committee. It describes itself as 'liturgical and evangelical'. and the order of the service is as in the Church of England, except that the minister changes his surplice for a Geneva gown to preach the sermon.  

Birdport church is in the shape of a Jew's harp, and was well, but peculiarly, re-pewed in 1839 in shiny pine box pews. A deep front gallery was added at the same time, which today creaks as you walk, and Sunday school buildings, with a house for the minister adjoining the church. The tiny walled courtyard at the west end of the building has a curious charm of old-world peace. The entrance at the east is a bland, curved facade, with an oval of early Victorian lettering, and a dignified porch, leading to a panelled hall and the minister's room. This entrance, the main one, was almost unseen in the days before the slum clearances of the 1940s. The altar is a small, bare polished table, dwarfed by two magnificent eagle lecterns on either side. These in turn, are dominated by the high pulpit, the church's centre-piece. In the gallery above the altar is the organ, errected by the Worcester organ builder, John Nicholson, in 1840, and the first to be erected by the firm.

The church's support lay in the crowded tenements of Birdport but its influence in the city was extensive. In 1840, the church was conducting ten Sunday schools in the city, as well as what was described as Infants, British and Ragged Schools in the week-day, though some of these wereevening schools. Even in the 1920's, at the gangways between the pews.