A short history of our church
The church and fellowship owe their existence to the events that followed the Act of Uniformity in 1662. John Payne, vicar of St. Michael’s, was ejected from the living, and although he was prohibited from preaching within 5 miles of St. Michael’s, his followers are believed to have met for worship in Basbow Lane.
The Act of Toleration of 1689 legitimised the Independent and Presbyterian Congregations. The first record of the Independents (fore runners of the Congregational and later United Reformed Churches) is in 1706 when they met in a barn. This barn was purchased and converted into the first Meeting House on part of the site of the present church in 1717. The trust deed of 1730 makes the first mention of Congregationalism.
The old Meeting House was demolished in 1767 to make way for a brick replacement. Built for the sum of £700.7s.8d, it measured 44′ x 40′. It was replaced by the existing building, when in 1858 it required repairs estimated at £1,200. The new building, which cost £2,500 to erect, was opened in 1860. Although the membership numbered only 200+, the new building had seating for 850 adults and 300 children. Congregations were much larger than the membership and the Sunday school numbered over 400. These children filled the upper gallery, which was reserved for them.
During the 1920’s the northern end of the church was remodelled: the then pulpit was lowered, the communion rail removed and seating provided around the pulpit for a choir. During the 1980’s further changes were made. The pulpit, which was infested with woodworm, was removed; the space in front of the organ curtained and the dais and aisles carpeted. Finally the modern movable pulpit was installed allowing the whole platform to be used for musical concerts and recitals.
In 1998 it was decided to bring the Church building up to date by improving the access, by opening up the existing circulation space, to form a new welcoming area, and by providing much needed toilets and a vestry. In 2000 the design and funding was in place and the work commenced. It was decided that due to the condition of the existing slate roof, (some of the slates from the 1767 Meeting House had been used to roof the 1860 building) that all the roof coverings should be replaced with the best welsh slates available. During the six months or so that work was in progress the congregation used the Church Hall for worship and in February 2001 a service was held to celebrate the completion of the works and the reopening of the Church. Since the alterations, the Church has become an increasingly popular venue for concerts, etc.
About the organ
The church purchased its first organ in 1850 and replaced it in 1860. The present instrument, a typically English organ, was rebuilt and installed by Wm. Hill in 1898. The organ has two manuals and a pedal organ. An electric blower was added in 1923. The organ has been refurbished and renovated by Hill, Norman & Beard, three times since 1952. During the 1952 refurbishment the tracker action manuals were converted to pneumatic action. The latest refurbishment carried out in 1995, involved the removal of the built-in console and the installation of a freestanding console, together with some work on the case to improve the tuning and maintenance access. These works provided space to enable the addition of much needed Pedal 8ft and 4ft stops.
Much of the above information is derived from the history of “The Congregational Church” written by Miss M.G. Lewis in 1962.
The Bishop’s Stortford and Thorley History and Guide website has some more information and pictures. Visit their website to discover more about the history of our Church, church hall and the old manse. A map from 1896 shows the many changes that have taken place in the vicinity of the Church including the diversion of the river which gave Water Lane its name.