For many years Alfred Hancox was the Circuit Archivist and produced a range of interesting articles and pamphlets and short books on a variety of historical subjects related to Methodism in the Sutton Park Circuit. In 1999, when the Circuit was 100 years old he trawled through all the Minute Books and wrote a personal view of those years in a 70 page book. The scanned pages of this book are now made available to this website and are presented as 10 chapters each covering a different aspect of Circuit life. We are grateful to Alfred for sharing this document with us.
Chapter 1 of Alfred Hancox’s History of the Circuit 1899 – 1999 covers the acquisition and building of Erdington, Four Oaks, Stockland Green, Streetly, Walmley – which was never developed, South Parade, Boldmere, Falcon Lodge, Blackwood, Castle Vale, St. Chads and Kingsbury. It harks back to when the Circuit had a mere 298 members, 2 ministers and rented pews.
Chapter 2 covers the history of the ministers of the Circuit. In the start, ministers were invited a year at a time up to a maximum of a 3-year stay up to 1930. The norm was for ministers to serve 40+ years. In the early days, rented houses were furnished by members until the era when manses were bought by or given to the Circuit. The Circuit welcomed its first female minister in 1984. Prior to the founding of the NHS, doctors in the Circuit gave their services for free to ministers’ families. Ministers wore formal attire at all times!
Chapter 3 covers the expansion of the role of Local Preachers in the Circuit. The early form of transport for getting around the Circuit was a governess cart at 4/6d per journey but by 1933 a car was available for reaching the outlying chapels. Our first female local preacher in this Circuit wasn’t until 1947. Even by 1970 only 5 of the 47 LPs were female. Over the first 100 years, 15 went on to be ordained as ministers.
Chapter 4 charts the history of the Circuit Officers. We started with only 2 officers. Up until the 1980s officers were responsible for collecting the assessments and paying the ministers. At one time there was a Circuit Temperance Committee.
Chapter 5 covers the various changes in style and content of worship over the century. This includes the many editions of the hymn books which have been used, the general move away from the use of the pulpit to the lectern, the integration of communion into services rather than it being an add-on at the conclusion and the widespread adoption of including children in communion. Alfred gives his personal reflections on the changes to harvest festivals, Easter, Christmas and funeral services.
Chapter 6 embraces the expansion of the Methodist Union, the abortive union with the Anglican church and the growth of churches together. The 1970s saw the unification of trustees and leaders into one Church Council. The chapter goes on to describe the rise and fall of class meetings along with the changing role of women in Circuit work.
Chapter 7 describes the legendary Sunday Schools of this Circuit with amazing facts such as one church having 123 attending in the morning and 252 in the afternoon! All facets are covered – the anniversary concerts, attendance and good conduct prizes, Prep classes for teachers, the outings and the youth clubs.
Chapter 8 charts the changing ways in which churches have raised funds. In the early days there was a heavy reliance on generous benefactors giving land, manses, organs. Frequent bazaars were held, fetes, sales of work, garden parties, concerts, coffee mornings. On one occasion Sutton Town Hall was hired for 3 days.
This chapter is concerned with the changing role of church choirs over the century and the fashions in clothes worn by the congregation to church services.
The final chapter rounds up the various campaigns and causes with which the church has been involved. The Circuit had a Temperance Secretary in the early years – a prominent cause for nearly 60 years. Membership of temperance groups was reported as 774 in 1915. Over the years the Circuit has passed resolutions on licensing which were sent to the Prime Minister and of course the ban on alcohol still remains. They have also taken up the cause of Sunday trading and of gambling.
This booklet about recent Circuit History was produced in July 2017.