A Brief History
About 1880 William Towers, the newly ordained and first Pastor of Carnforth Congregational Church, became the tenant of Laurel House, Bolton-le-Sands, having permission from the owner to start a mission in the loft above the stable. A Sunday afternoon meeting was started and a number of men attended. These services aroused a considerable amount of anger among some of the residents, who warned those attending that they would be “marked men”. One Sunday afternoon the Ironworks Master, the local Doctor and others stood in the window of the Chestnuts, a house opposite, and with field glasses noted the people as they came out of the service. Mr Towers offered to open a gate on to the canal tow-path so that people could come and go unobserved, but some of the men declined, saying that they had a right to go where they pleased, and stood in a row opposite the Chestnuts staring at the windows with their hands above their brows.
When Mr Towers left for Oldham Rd Congregational Church, Manchester, Mr Langley, for a time carried on the Mission at Croftlands.
For many years Mr Towers remembered the little mission and longed to start a Free Church in the village. In 1908 when his health broke down he retired to “Mansfield” on the Coastal road Bolton-le-Sands and a desire to build a free Church was re-awakened.
One Sunday at a Church Conference in Rochdale, Mr Towers asked if the members might discuss a business matter before his address. They were anxious to possess a hall of their own, and had in mind an iron building for sale on the Fairground at Morecambe, but the proposal was turned down, Mr Towers was assured their decision was final. On his return home on Monday he went to Morecambe and bought the building for £40 along with a wooden hut in order to store the dismantled iron hut in his garden until a site became available, the Vicar and Catholic Squire owning most of the land between them. Later a letter was received from Mrs Ribchester, an R.C offering ½ acre of land behind St Michaels Grove.
Mr Towers mortgaged a house and bought the land and then organized a “Boom day”, neighbouring farmers lent carts and transported the building to its new site. Mr Robinson of Nether Kellet, erected the first free church in Bolton-le-Sands.
Mrs Towers had a Women’s Meeting on Tuesday afternoons with a membership of 80. Women came from Nether Kellet, Halton and Hest Bank as well as from the village. One afternoon a stranger with a notebook appeared, who had been ordered by the Vicar’s wife to take names of all from the village who attended, so that they should not be remembered when the many charities were doled out at Christmas. The pennies charged for cups of tea at these meetings really started the building fund for the present church.
A Sunday School was asked for by some of the young people and a primary was started, also a class for girls and another one for boys; these were well attended. The teachers were met and escorted to school as well as seen home again. There was good fun in those early days - one boy always waded into St. Michael’s well to gather watercress for the teachers’ teas.
A Missionary Sale of Work became an annual event and contributions to the London Missionary Society increased; it was then decided that as Missionary work was the most important job of the church the first £25 from each Sale of Work should always be sent to the L.M.S. In later years this was increased first to £35, then £50.
It soon became apparent that a permanent building would be necessary and with this aim in view a building fund was started.
There were many happy days in the “Tin Chapel”. Concerts, plays – one a shadow play of the Nativity was memorable, and the Fisherman’s Choir came often: “Happy Jack” made us fear for the roof! Once the Fishermen decorated the building with nets and other fishing tackle and held a Harvest of the Sea Festival. Members were friendly with each other and there was a very happy atmosphere of fellowship.
When Mr J Thornton – a local preacher and Mr Towers’ brother-in-law – died, it was found that he had left £100 for a new church if it were built within 10 years. That made building more urgent, and Mr Towers, nearing 80, set about collecting funds. He had a motorized tricycle called “William Tell” and left his rather anxious family whilst he spent days visiting likely donors. He searched St. Annes, Southport, as well as nearer home; the County Union made a grant, and a site was found. With it’s uninterrupted view of Morecambe Bay, backed by the peaks of Lakeland, no more delightful a site could be imagined; and at last in 1930 a sod cutting ceremony was arranged, Miss Dawson of Aldcliffe Hall cutting the first sod. Others were cut at a charge of £5. The Moderator, the Rev T T James, and the Chairman of the Union erected a large sign which proclaimed the site of the new Church.
The next ceremony was the stone laying, and in 1935 the new Church was opened. The name for the New Church was earnestly considered and Mr Towers finally decided that Christ Church would be most suitable for a Church which welcomed all who serve Christ, of whatever denomination.
The Rev W Harrop, whom Mr Towers had sent into the ministry, retired to Bolton-le-Sands to help his old friend, and after Mr Towers’ death became the honorary pastor and did splendid work. Mr Harrop felt in 1945 that owing to ill-health he should retire and that the Church should share a minister with Nether Kellet or Carnforth. The Rev J F Priestly then became joint minister of Carnforth and Bolton-le-Sands, and served us well until his death in 1951.
Through the kindness of Mr Wilton Gardner who became the honorary pastor, the Church has prospered. Under his leadership the Church celebrated its 21st Birthday by extending the premises. Mr J W Towers (great-nephew or the Rev W H Towers) made the plans for the new building and Mr E Stephenson –a deacon- undertook the work. This new extension catered for the growing Sunday School and social activities by doubling the size of the original Social Hall, enlarging the vestry to serve also as a Church Parlour, enlarging and modernizing the kitchen, and providing a dressing room. The platform stage with its various facilities was also improved. Positions for hearing aids to be connected to were installed some years previously, and these were further extended.
On the 29th May 1958 Mr R A Hopley accepted the call to our Church and it was agreed that he and Mrs Hopley would commence their work with us the first week of August. In the meantime, due to the generosity of our Deacons, a suitable house, 5 Broadlands Drive, was purchased for a Manse.
Cross Hill URC, Lancaster
Cross Hill opened on Sept 7th 1938 by Miss Dawson of Aldcliffe Hall, who was the biggest single benefactor having given £1,000. The final cost of all the building was just over £4,000. By the 1950’s membership had reached to over 80 with the largest Sunday School in Lancaster of 220 pupils. Rev E P Wilcocks was the 1st minister, followed by Rev H Clarke who started the uniformed organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
In March 1979 the 4 churches of Bolton-le-Sands, Cross Hill, Hest Bank and Halton joined together for the induction of Rev W R Chapman and Rev J D Westhead to the Lancaster North Team ministry.
The closing service of Cross Hill was held on 19th July 1997. An inaugural morning service for the new fellowship of Bolton-le-Sands and Cross Hill took place on 20th July 1997 at Bolton-le-Sands and was led by Rev A Tomlinson of High Street, our interim Moderator. This enlarged successful fellowship continues to this day.