Hest Bank United Reformed Church

History of Hest Bank United Reformed Church

A Chronological History of this Church

Hest Bank at one time was a rather isolated hamlet, then as now part of Slyne-with-Hest, and in 1851 the population of the whole area was only 309, and only 424 in 1901. But there were Christians among the few, some of them Congregationalists, and they took the initiative in the 1850's forming a "Church-in-the-house" after the New Testament pattern. There was a man with the uncommon name of Mr. Tickle living in "Prospect House", and Hest Bank Church was born in his house and family circle. Hence his name deserves to be known and honoured, along with the names of Aquila, Pricilla and others in the New Testament mentioned by Paul, who had a church in their house.

At the same time a Sunday School was conducted at Slyne Lodge, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mansergh.

The oldest document research has brought to light about the church is dates 1878. It was issued by Centenary Church, Lancaster, when the minister was the Revd. A. Scott, and it announces arrangements for Village Services at Hest Bank and Halton, commencing May 5th, 1878, the Sunday Services at Hest Bank being in the afternoon at 2.30 pm. Preachers were planned to the end of August, one of the Services conduted by the Revd. A Scott, and the others by lay preachers. Where were they held? No Church building existed.

No meeting-place is mentioned, so perhaps they were held in a gathered Church-in-house. Mr. Tickle and his family seem to have left the area by this time, but other Free Church Christian homes might have been used. However, a lack of records for some years causes one to wonder whether there was a break down in the Services and of Christian communication, especially as we find that Centenary Church "re-started" its mission in Hest Bank at the end of the century.

The Wesleyans in the area had ideas of building a chapel at Hest Bank, and had offered land for the purpose. A meeting of Wesleyan and Congregational representatives was held on December 8th. 1900, at which it was agreed to canvas the residents for the purpose of finding out whether the Methodists or the Congregationalist were in the majority. When it was found that the Congregationalists outnumbered others the Wesleyans wisely withdrew, so was avoided in Hest Bank that secretarian competition and multiplicity of denominational buildings which has weakened Christian witness, and hindered the coming of a United Free Church throughout the land.

In 1899 Centenary, with its new minister the Revd. H.W.Smith, proposed to organise a "Congregational Mission" in Hest Bank, and to arrange Sunday Services and other meetings in the Victoria Tearooms, a cafe beside Hest Bank station gates, owned by the Robinson family. A committee of 10 was appointed in July 1900 to administer the work, some from Lancaster and some from Hest Bank, with a Mr. Ward as secretary and Mr. Birch as treasurer. Services were started in the cafe in 1900, the year St. Luke's Anglican Church was opened, and a Lay Preacher's Association plan for 1901 shows these services were held at 3.00 pm. and 6.30 pm.. The members of this committee later formed the nucleus of the first Diacanate. "I can remember these services" said the late Mr. JB Chirnside in 1953. They were continued until the opening of the Church building on July 22nd, 1903, the foundation stones having been laid on November 19th, 1902.

The Architects of the above building were Mr. Dan Gibson of Windermere freely aided by Mr TH Mawson of London and Hest Bank. "Little and beautiful" was the aim of the Architects and Building Committee. It was to seat 100, but a finely carved screen was to make a vestibule at the back, able to hold 40, if the 60 seats in front were all occupied. An original drawing of the Church's interior was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1904. The cost of the building was £1,250. There was no porch, parlour or kitchen at first, the latter two being added in 1927. On the opening date of the building £750 had been raised, and most of the balance was raised by a 4 days Bazaar in 1907, held in Lancaster.

"One of the most gratifying pieces of work that Congregationalism is doing anywhere today, is that at Hest Bank. It is here that there has been built, within sight and sound of the sea, a quiet unconventional little Congregational Chapel, with a chaste and beautiful interior, the unique position of which is, that it ministers to the religious needs of all classes of Free-Churchmen - Congregationalists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Presbyterians and Friends, meeting in happy and friendy relationship." This was written by a journalist soon after the opening of the original Church building in 1903, and these unique characteristics have marked all the Church's History. At Hest Bank we really have a united Free Church , though we are now called a United Reformed Church.

The Church started out with a membership of 21, 6 of them from Centenary. On the Roll were several members of the Chirnside family. There was Thomas Chirnside (Senior Deacon) who was father of J Beveridge Chirnside who was Church Secretary here from 1903 to 1933, and for many years (1940 to 1955) Treasurer of the Lancashire Congregational Union. Tom, son of JB was away from 1931 to 1946, but then returned, was made a Deacon in 1947, served as Church Treasurer for many years, then changed office to Secretary in 1977. The Mawson family, also, were among the first members, and some of the family were active and talented members for at least 50 years.

The Church has its own Book of Worship which had been compiled for use by a member when Services were held in homes or in the Victoria Cafe, conducted by a layman. The Liturgical Services were regarded as too "high church" by some at Centenary, and by some lay preachers who refused to use them! During the years they were revised and reprinted, discontinued for a period, and started afresh by request - as in the late 1950's. The journalist quoted earlier went on to say of the Liturgical Service he attended: "anything more chaste, reverent, and well-ordered I have never seen or heard. The Liturgical part of the service was delightful in form and composition, and Mr. Garrett Horder's beautiful hymns and tunes gave a touch of completeness and beauty to the day's services which must long linger in the memories of those present." In the Victoria Cafe a harmonium provided the music, played by Ivy Box, who later went to Australia, and Sankey's hymns were sung. In the new Church an Esty Organ had to suffice, and the Hymn Book adopted was "Worship Song". Later an organ fund was opened, and Grand Concerts, with talented artists, were arranged. Progammes from 1904 and 1905 having survived. At the foot of the latter is a delightful footnote: "For the convenience of friends from Lancaster, the District Superintendent of the L and NW Railway has kindly arranged to stop the 9.55 pm. train at Hest Bank".

"OUR CHURCH AND VILLAGE" is a pamphlet which gives charming pictures and descriptions of Hest Bank as it was in 1907, when it attracted many visitors in the summer, holiday makers from Morecambe walking over the fields from the tram terminus at Happy Mount Park. Church attendances were thus increased, and in his secretarial Church report for 1905 Mr JB Chirnside said:"The average attendance for the months of July and August was 82.:- the eveing congragation being slightly better attended. This average of 82 varied considerably fron 60 at the beginning of the summer up to 140 which was reached on the first two Sundays in August." There were those who dreamed of Hest Bank village retaining its rural chaim, and becoming sort of "garden-city-village!" The rise of building estates and the opening of the Coastal Road in 1933 made this dream impossible of fulfilment. But the large increase in population has brought new possibilities of growth to the Church, and left the old original building too small for the numbers attending.

In the early years, in the summer months, well known ministers often took a holiday locally, and preached in out little Church without accepting any fee. These included Silvester Home, AJ Viner, JD Jones, FW Wrigley, Campbell Moorage and Dr MacIntosh.

In 1906 the mother Church on Lancaster granted Hest Bank its independence. The same year it called and welcomed its first minister, The Revd Herbert Gamble, who was director of OakfielD School, Arnside. The Church has never been long without a minister since, though all of them served only part time until 1949, when the Revd GI Berry served full time and had a Manse. Certain ministers were semi-retired, and some came partly for health reasons. Dorothy Wilson, for instance, suffered from ill-health. She had been assistant minister at Carr's Lane, Birmingham. After a short stay at Hest Bank she went to Honolulu, and late became assistant minister at the Cirt Temple in London.

Times, customs and values have changed in the Church as in the world. For instance, it was not until 1949 that our Church undertook responsibility for providing a Manse. Stipends, too, take one back into a different world, before our era of inflation. Financial statements in the 1920's and 1930's put "annual stipends and supplies" at figures ranging from £157 to £183. The Free Will Offering scheme was adopted in 1920, and the London Missionary Society, the Lancashire Congregational Union and the Lancashire College were well supported each year.

For some years social activities of the Church had been limited to meetings and functions in the parlour, and the need was felt for a hall of some kind. in 1946 it was decided to acquire some such building and the following year an after-the-war army hut was bought for £1,100, and erected along the top boundary of the church garden. It was paid for within 12 months, and used until demolished to make way for the new Church building.

The Revd H Bulcock who was pastor during the difficult years of the World War II was the last part-time minister, and the last to live in private accommodation. Between the years of 1943-1949 the Church was without a resident pastor but enjoyed the services of a retired minister, the Revd E Jessop, who chaired the meetings and took services during this difficult period. Subsequently the Church was given oversight by the Revd FA Asprey, who many years later was destined to become one of our ministers, but who at that time was minister of our Chush at Cross Hill. Reading between the lines of Church Meeting Minute Books and Deacons Meeting Minute Books, one can sense that there were times when the little fellowship had its back to the wall, but always during such periods, names of people arise who obviously helped tremendously in keeping the work alive. In a shoort history such as this, it is impossible to name but a few, but one such was the Revd John Loosemore, a retired minister who, despite ill heath and advancing years, twice "held the fort" in the twenties between ministers. During this period the name of Miss Doris Summerfield appears. Doris in her time held office as Church Secretary, Sunday School Secretary, the President of the Women's Fellowship, to name but a few, and in 1966 she was made a Life Deacon.

In 1949 the Revd GI Berry was introduced to the pastorate and became the Church's first full time stipendiary minister and under his leadership consolidated greatly on the steady progress made through the years. Revd Berry was succeeded by the Revd H Russell during whose ministry plans for a new church hall were first made. The builder, Tom Preston, was a former secretary of the Halton Church, and the architects Miss Elspeth Anderson, daughter of Mr and Mrs Dick Anderson and Ray Bradbury, son of Mr and Mrs Jim Bradbury were married to each other in the year of the hall's opening in 1964!

It was Hest Bank's third full time minister, the Revd Arthur Williams, Chairman of the Lancashire Congregational Union during his Hest Bank pastorate, who, concerned at the lack of ministerial oversight at Halton, resolved to try to help. The Hest Bank Church Meeting gave him its blessing, and thus a most unusual link was forged. Both Churches trace their beginnings to the missionary zeal of the Centenary Church in Lancaster. Halton is the older of the two but has never in its history enjoyed the services, part time or full time of a resident pastor. Now Centenary Church is no more, and only recently Hest Bank made arrangements for its minister to give more service to its sister Church at Halton.

Soon after the completion of the new church hall it was realised that the church building was no longer adequate to meet the needs of the growing congregation and so reluctantly and thankfully the congregation made plans to begin worship in the new hall. The transition was not as painful as some might have expected and few visitors fail to express their appreciation of what they describe as "a beautiful little church". Many bequests in memorium have helped and beautify the church and whilst we cannot obviously name them all, we relate with pride that the new pulpit that the new pulpit is the craftmanship of one of our own elders, Mr Roland Whitaker. This beautiful little church seats many more than the old one did, but now it is feeling the pressure of a growing congregation and chairs in the aisle are a common sight, but now it is not visitors villages who cause the swell!

The village has changed very much since those early beginnings, the world has changed even more and our Church has reflected these changes accordingly. Our previous minister the Revd FA Aspery was the first minister to live in a house owned by the Church, appropriately known as Kirklands! During Revd Asprey's ministry the Church became part of the United Reformed Church, the first coming together of two denominations since the Reformation! Changes great and small but all influencing the effectiveness of our great mission to the world. Our little Church endevours to meet the needs of all ages, and all those are represented in the congregations. Perhaps more important than the mere numbers of young people connected with the Church is the Church's youthful attitude in the face of the tasks facing the Church today. We have already refered to the new arrangement between the Church at Halton and ourselves and in order to facillitate this the Hest Bank service times changed from 10.45 am. to 9.30 am.. Under the youthful leadership of the Revd J David Westhead continued to grow and plans were put in hand at both Hest Bank and Halton to meet future needs. During this time the name Joanne Elizabeth Westhead was added to the Cradle Roll, the first ever bay of the Hest Bank Manse.

During the 75 years history of the Church, it has always looked beyond it's own religious life and has served the village's secular needs in many ways. In the early days it provided a means of social fellowship through the monthly guild, it has assisted the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements, and by means of its social activities has enabled the villagers and visitors, particularly those from Grey Court, to share in a rich fellowship. It has raised considerable sums for the overseas world church, both for missionary work and for Christian Aid. For twelve years the Church provided the missionary organ of the denomination with its National Treasurer in Mr Tom Chirnside.

The Church can look back on its 75 years history with great thankfulness and pride, it can look forward to the future with great hope abd trust in Him whom it seeks to serve and proclaim. - Revd H Russell and Revd JD Westhead - July 1978

The 1970's saw, not only the merging of most Congregational Churches into the United Reformed Church. With a shortage of ministers nationally, coupled with some local financial problems, Hest Bank United Reformed Church linked together with Bolton-le-Sands, Cross Hill and Halton Churchesinto the Lancaster North Team, served by two ministers - Revd David Westhead and Revd Ron Chapman.

Though the Churches were formally linked as one team, the two ministers each concentrated their efforts on two Churches and the Revd David Westhead continued to be primarily responsible for Hest Bank and Halton. Church and Elders Meetings continued in every venue but a Team Council was formed amd some finances dealt with at that level. Links between the Churches were strengthened and various team activities, both spiritual and social, took place.

At this time the congregation at the 11.00 am. service numbered about 120 with 40 children. There were monthly social events of a wide range - concerts, quizzes, treasure hunts, parties, to name but a few, as well as a Summer Fete and a November Christmas Fair which always gave a boost to Church funds. The Revd David Westhead himself led a Good Friday hike - which continues each year - and for a time there was an annual cricket match against St Luke's Church and also a Team outing for all ages. A Team Choir was formed and at Hest Bank, two week-ends a year there continued to be a Men's and Ladies' Weekend, usually with a variety concert on the Saturday evening and special services on the Sunday.

The Revd Ron Chapman unfortunately died immediately prior to his farewell service and he was replaced shortly afterwards by the Revd Colin Plumb. The same ministerial arrangements continued, each looking after two Churches. Numbers attending eveining services fell at this time , with numbers at Hest Bank being about 30, and even lower elsewhere. It was decided by the Team to have just one evening service each week, which rotated aroung the four Churches, Hest Bank from that time held an evening service on the second Sunday of each month.

In 1983 the Revd David Westhead decided to move to the Manchester area and around that time the Revd Colin Plumb also moved away from the Team. Discussions were held with the Provincial Moderator, the Revd Tony Burnham, at individual Church level and with Team Council, to start the process of looking for two new ministers to serve the Team. Prior to his departure the Revd David Westhead had indicated that the existing Manse - 11 Kirklands - was not really suitable, and consequently the Elders at Hest Bank formed a sub committee to look for a new Manse. Besides the Secretary, Tom Chirnside and Treasurer, Chris Fox, it was fortunate that this committee included Roland Whitaker, whose "woodwork" is much to be admired throughout the Church building. New premises at 11 Marine Drive were aquired for £49,000 and those at Kirklands sold. The new Manse is situaated just round the corner from the Church and is much larger in size.

After what seemed a lengthy "inter regnum" two new Ministers were found - a married couple - the Revds Hilary and Stephen Collinson, who were based near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. They moved into the new Manse at Hest Bank in 1984 the Induction Service being held at Cross Hill Church. They split pastoral care for the Team differently - Stephen being primarily responsible for Hest Bank and Cross Hill, but both took services in all four Churches within the Team. Unfortunately, as almost everywhere in the country in nearly all denominations, the attendance at the Churches gradually reduced, especially amongst younger adults and children.

Changes were made to the the fabric of the Church buildings with the original Church being given a false ceiling and both this room, renamed the Summerfield Room after the Summerfield family, whose legacy paid for the alterationsand who gave over fifty years service to the Church, and the Parlour were carpeted and high wall-mounted heaters were installed.

Ecumenical moves occured with a very popular Maundy evening service taking place in the village, involving not only our congregation, but also those of St Luke's and the Catholics. These lasted for a few years until there was a change of vicar at St Luke's. Joint Lenten study was undertaken both at Church venues and within multi-denominational house groups and the Unity service and Women's World Day of Prayer services continued with wide acceptance of all traditions.

At this time the Roman Catholic congregation, an offshoot of Bolton-le-Sands, met for worship in the Memorial Hall. Obviously, this involved shifting a lot of furniture before and after each service and, on occasions, after a Saturday night event, there was not the nicest of atmospheres in which to worship. Discussion amongst our Eldership and then at a Church Meeting led to an invitation to the local Roman Catholic congregation to use our facilities for their Mass. This invitation was accepted and services were held at 9.00 am. each Sunday.

With an ageing congregation and one that was reducing in number, many of the social activities gradually reduced, a Men's Society was reformed buut short-lived, but the Women's Fellowship, Bible Study and Prayer Group continued. Two sons were born into the Manse whilst the Revds Collinson were is post. The Team Ministry continued, but in 1986 Mr Tom Chirnside retired as Church Secretary at Hest Bank, and so ended a line of family office bearers, stretching right back to the beginning of the Church.

Out-reach services were started on a bi-monthly basis at two retirement homes, Slyne House and Greenroyd, led by members of our congregation.

The Church had been fortunate to have regular, reliable and enthusiastic organist, Harold Marsden, for many years, backed up by Harry Radcliffe, but both decided the time had come to retire. Since that time we have been mainly reliant on young teanagers or "piano-players" to do their best and play the organ, and it has been a delight to see the progress made by these teenagers.

In 1992 the Revds Collinson accepted a call to the Reading area and once again we were in an inter regnum. Meetings were held with the Provincial Maderator, Revd Keith Forecast, at individual Church Meetings and at the Team Council, and it was decided to desolve the Team and form two new pastorates. Hest Bank once again formed a pastorate with Halton.

After a delay due to the ill health of his wife, Brenda, Hest Bank and Halton called Revd Clive Davies to be their Minister. Services continued to be held at 9.30 am. at Halton and 11.00 am. at Hest Bank and the Team tradition of an evening service a month in each of the four Churches carried on, as did joint choir services and events as well as the same monthly Newsletter.

The heating in the Church was blown air from under the floor and not really efficient and, after advice, new radiators were installed following a Gift Day. Such was the contribution not only fom our own congregation but also from the Roman Catholics that we were able to install an efficient audio system and a loop system for the hard of hearing.

Ecumenical relations continues seemed better with the Catholics and somewhat reduced with the Anglican congregation.

Revd Clive Davies' ministry was dogged by the ill-health of Brenda and eventually Clive decided he must retire early. Their joint retirement was short lived and everyone was saddened by Brenda's death a little while later. A happier state was reached the next year when the Revd Clive Davies remarried are we were please to count both Clive and his wife, Marion, in our congregation.

An Agape Luncheon group had been started which has been very successful, meeting once a month, with the meal being provided by outside caterers. This continues to this day.

Change and inter regnum were once again the order of the day and a meeting was held with all the local United Reformed Churches convened by the Moderator, the Revd Keith Forecast. Many local ministers were getting on in years, congregations were falling as too was the income of the Churches, and there were fewer Ministers available! Each Church was instructed to take an in-depth look at itself and its neighbouring Churches of whatever denomination. Hest Bank discussed many options and, to a cirtain extent, left the door open but decided they could affordto finance 66% of a minister and like to have an average of 50% of the time available. The Minister at Bolton-le-Sands / Cross Hill also retired at this time as did the Minister of Christ Church, Bare, and so eventually the Moderator suggested one Minister for Bolton-le-Sands, Halton and Hest Bank (Cross Hill being linked with Sefton Road, Morecambe. It was also agreed that any new Minister would also conduct a service at 9.30 am. in Halton every week and at 11.00 am. at Bolton-le-Sands and Hest Bank on a fortnightly basis. However, just prior to the minister being called, Cross Hill announced their closure and said they were joining Bolton-le-Sands, who promotly said they would change their service time.

Thus in 1998 the Revd Norman George moved into Hest Bank Manse as Minister of the three Churches. Falling numbers at evening services resulted in these finishing on a regular basis in that year. A new vicar of St Luke's, Revd Rachel Semper, was appointed just prior to the arrival to the Revd Norman George and with good acumenical relations being present in our neighbouring village, relations with both the Anglicans and Catholics had never been better. In 1999 it was decided to produce a joint monthly newsletter with St Luke's.

The Women's Fellowship has been openned up to men and is now called the Midweek Fellowship.

As we enter 2000 and celebrate 100 years of Worship of our congregation, both numbers and finances are low and the average age high. Our predecessors gave us a lively Church with active out-reach and with out Minister to lead us, we too must use vision, new ideas and relationships to continue to worship God and tell others about Him within this village. - Mike Nelson - 2000

In October 2002 week of Mission Outreach was lead by Sue Peat and a team from Cliffe College with particular attention to the schools in the Team

In August 2003 discussions started with St Luke's Anglican Church about the prospect of sharing facillities. It was found that conforming to the Disabled Persons Act was not practicable on the site as there were three levels within the buildings and the sloping site and elevation from the road made access ramps impracticable. There was also a requirment to undertake work on the roof and under the floor which was difficult to justify, knowing the access situation. The Anglican site is better suited to the requirements of the Act.

The last service was held in the Church on the Crescent on 26th June 2005 and concluded with a meal attended by many past members of the Church. While everyone was sad to leave the old building, the Church continues in the St. Luke's Church with a Sharing Agreement in place, providing the Anglican and United Reformed Churches with joint title to the buildings. We all trust this will strengthen the Christian witness in the village.

Revd Norman George, who suffered periods of ill health in the later part of his minister retired on 30th September 2005. In spite of this illness, he lead the Church through some changing and challenging times and the congregation are thankful for his ministry and glad he chose to remain in the area.

Revd Yolande Burns was called to be Minister of Bolton-le-Sands, Halton and Hest Bank in January 2006. She and her husband, John, took up residence in the Hest Bank Manse in that year

In January 2007 the Church service time was changed to 11.15 am.. Mike Nelson resigned as Church Secretary after 21 years of hard working service and he was thanked for his service to the Church.

Val Gill was elected as Church Secretary on 3rd June 2007.

Yolande Burns retiredon 27th March 2016.


Revd H Gamble, MA 1906-1911
Revd D Inglis, BA 1911-1921
Revd JR Legge, MA 1921-1924
Revd FB Theobald 1925-1930
Revd Dorothy F Wilson, B Litt 1930-1931
Revd AR Stephenson 1932-1937
Revd H Bulcock 1938-1943
Revd GI Berry 1949-1954
Revd H Russell 1954-1961
Revd A Williams 1961-1969
Revd FA Asprey 1969-1974
Revd JD Westhead, BA 1974-1983
Revd S Collinson, BA BD 1984-1992
Revd C Davies, Dip Theol 1993-1996
Revd N George 1998-2005
Revd Y Burns 2006-2016
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