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History

Part of the enduring fabric of Westgate, GMC has stood proudly at the heart of Guisborough for 115 years.

Read on to delve into the history of this building as the church now considers the future of the building for the next generations.

Our building has attracted many diverse - even divisive - comments over the years.

 

WM Patterson in his “Northern Primitive Methodism” (1909) described it as “one of the finest places of worship in the locality” whereas the distinctly unimpressed Nikolaus Pevsner in his “Buildings of England, Yorkshire, the North Riding” (1966) called it “the unforgivable Methodist Church”.

 

At the time it was built it was an imposing structure that dwarfed the cottages beside it. It is said that the residents of Sunnyfield House across the road were not too pleased at the new building’s height as it obstructed their previous view of the hills. It also blotted out views of the Priory, no longer visible when travelling east along Westgate.   

The church building was opened in 1907 as a Primitive Methodist Church following 10 years of careful planning. It was built to accommodate the increasing number of members and Sunday School scholars following the expansion of the town due to the development of ironstone mining in Cleveland.

 

The original Primitive Methodist chapel, built in 1860, was situated on Chapel Street and is now used by the Conservative Club. The Wesleyan Methodists, representing another strand of Methodism, had their own building called Centenary, built in 1811, on the north side of Westgate, set back from the road and accessed from Westgate through a gap between the buildings. The new PM Church became known as Southside, being on the south side of Westgate.

 

The two distinct Methodist chapels co-existed until 1961, when Centenary was closed and later demolished.

 

As early as 1894 when it became clear that larger premises than the existing chapel on Chapel Street were needed, plans were made to buy adjoining houses but these came to nothing. However, in 1897 the chapel trustees were given permission to acquire and demolish three houses in Westgate, numbers 67, 69 and 71, for an entirely new building.

 

This seems to have been linked with a scheme for new premises that were being built for the Guisborough Provident and Industrial Society at no. 73, Westgate, which were opened in 1905. Two of the most influential men in the Provident and Industrial Society, the secretary and the treasurer, who was also Chairman of Guisborough Urban District Council from 1902, were Primitive Methodist trustees. 

At the front of the building over the door are the words “Primitive Methodist” and the date of 1907 with the word “Church” inscribed above.

 

Other Primitive Methodist chapels labelled themselves “chapels” and there may have been a particular reason for the use of the word “church” here in 1907. In 1902 it was decided by the Primitive Methodists nationally to adopt the name “Primitive Methodist Church” instead of “Primitive Methodist Connexion” and this new wording appeared on class tickets.

 

Perhaps this new building was recognising its position as belonging to Primitive Methodism as a whole. It may be significant that the years 1907 to 1910 were chosen to celebrate the centenary of Primitive Methodism and this led to a wave of Primitive Methodist chapel building all over the country.

 

It would not be too surprising if this Circuit made the same leap of faith as many others and thought that a new chapel at the head of the Circuit would be a fitting tribute. Having decided that more room was needed and moves begun to extend on Chapel Street, the idea changed and grew in scope – a new building on the main street which would serve the needs of the congregation for another century.    

  

Although often remarked on by visitors today, the design of the building with schoolroom below and church above was not unusual for its time.

 

What is unusual, and perhaps unique, is the sloping hall floor. Locating the worship area on the upper floor allowed the construction of a balcony and gave a high ceiling to make the most of the Methodist singing.

 

But it was not without controversy. The chapel trustees asked the architect to alter his plans regarding the choir stalls and when he refused, he was locked in the Chapel Street vestry until he relented. Stories passed down through the architect’s family say that these alterations were responsible for the fact that coffins cannot be brought upstairs. 

Sheila Crossman

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