Christ Church, Braintree – A brief history

Christ Church, London Road, Braintree is a United Reformed Church and Methodist local ecumenical project which started in 1987 linking two of the oldest non-conformist churches in the area.

Image of Christ Church London Road 2016
Christ Church London Road 2016

London Road Congregational Church

The current church building was erected when the Congregational Church Meeting House in Back Lane, off Sandpit Lane, became too small for the growing congregation. The minister at the time, Rev. John Carter, who owned Blandford House, donated part of the land for the church to be built on.

Reproduction of imaged dated 1833 after erection of new independent chapel
New Independent Chapel London Road 1833

The new Independent Chapel in Braintree is a large and elegant structure of white brick and Bath stone. It has 1600 sittings, and is under the ministry of the Rev. John Carter. It was built in 1832, in lieu of the old chapel, which was built in 1788, and enlarged in 1813, and stood in the burial ground in Back Lane, now well enclosed, and having in it’s wall an inscription showing where the front of the chapel stood. The site of the new chapel was given by the present minister.’ Whites directory of Essex 1848

The new church building was opened on 9th October 1832. It had a central aisle and pews extending from the front of the church with its raised pulpit, right to the windows at the road end of the church.

Image showing interior of London Road URC 1973
Interior of London Road URC 1973

Rev. John Carter died in 1864, having been pastor at the church for over 50 years, and his widow sold another piece of land belonging to Blandford House to the church in order to build rooms behind the church to house the Sunday School. The new rooms included the church hall, which had a stage, and 3 classrooms, one of which had a gallery.

For many years there was a 9.30am Sunday school followed by the morning service, and an afternoon Sunday school at 2 pm. At one point there were over 300 children on the register.

In 1868 an organ was installed at the east end of the church at a cost of £160. It was positioned behind the raised pulpit which had fixed pews either side facing towards the pulpit.

The organ was replaced in 1879 by a better instrument that was still in place in the 1980’s after going through tonal alterations and a complete rebuild in 1963.

During the First World War the military took over the use of the hall to provide a canteen for soldiers billeted in the area.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s the church hall and back rooms were renovated installing a small kitchen and toilets and removing the stage and gallery.

On 10th October 1972, by Act of Parliament, the Congregational Church in England and Wales, and the Presbyterian Church of England became the United Reformed Church.

In 1973 the raised pulpit in the church, and the pews either side of it, were removed. A movable pulpit was purchased and a screen, made from the old pulpit, was installed to screen the organist from the congregation.

Ministers of Braintree Congregational Church/URC 1787 – 1987

1787 – 1812     Rev. David Pritchard
1812 -1864      Rev. John Carter
1865 -1878      Rev. Albert Goodrich
1879 -1883      Rev. Thomas Simon
1884 – 1922     Rev. W. Johnson Cole
1924 – 1929     Rev. John E. Barber
1929 -1943      Rev. Robert P. Campbell  
1944 – 1952 Rev. Emrys Walters
1952 – 1961 Rev. Eric A. Way
1961 – 1970 Rev. Colin E. Richards
1971 – 1974 Rev. David M. Cuckson
1974 – 1981 Rev. Robert W. Murray
1981 -1987 Rev. David Bending

Rayne Road Methodist Church

The Braintree Methodist Church, situated on the corner of Sandpit Lane and Rayne Road, was built on the site of a former silk depot. The land was purchased in 1864 by Miss Elizabeth Gosling and was officially opened on July 9th 1868 by Rev. L. H. Wiseman, who had been originally stationed in Bocking and was married to Mary Gosling.

Image of Rayne Road Methodist church around 1870
Rayne Road Methodist Church @1870

Also in 1868 a three light memorial stained glass window was installed behind the pulpit presented by Hannah Gosling in memory of her parents Oliver and Elizabeth. This window is now in the Christ Church building.

Interior of Rayne Road Methodist Church 1968
Interior of Rayne Road Methodist Church 1968

Between the 1870’s and 1937 the two buildings to the left of the church building on Rayne Road in the picture above, were also used by the church. Purchased by Rev. L Wiseman, one was used as a manse and the other for the Sunday School. During WW1 these buildings were requisitioned for use by the military authorities but were returned to church use in 1921. In 1937 they were sold to the Braintree and District Co-operative Society and a new building, named the Wiseman Hall, was erected to the rear of the church on Sandpit Lane. On June15th Dr L. Wiseman, who was by this time president of the Methodist Conference, opened the premises.

Before 1905 several instruments were used for worship including a harmonium. In 1905 St Mary’s Church in Bocking purchased a new organ and offered their exiting one to Rayne Road Methodist Church. It was purchased with a donation by Miss Catherine Last in memory of her brother, sister and nephew. In 1953 the organ was overhauled and rebuilt and in 1961 an additional manual of stops was added, purchased with a donation by Hedley Norfolk (who was the organist) and his wife, in memory of their parents.

Until 1959 there was a morning service and an afternoon Sunday School. The Sunday School membership was between 50 and 90 children during the 1950’s. In 1959 it was decided to move the Sunday School to the morning to run at the same time as the morning service.

In 1969 the church bought the land used by the RSPCA and the Wiseman Hall was extended adding 2 large classooms.

Rayne Road Methodist Church was demolished in 1988 to make way for the George Yard development.

Ministers of Braintree Methodist Church 1867 – 1987

1867 – 1868    Rev. F. Woofenden
1868 – 1869    Rev. T. Harding
1869 – 1872    Rev. W. Pritchard
1872 – 1873    Rev. W. Jackson
1873 -1876     Rev. J.B. Alger
1876 -1879     Rev. W. Crouch
1879 – 1881    Rev. H.H. Clapham
1881 – 1882    Rev. T.B. Harrowell
1882 – 1885    Rev. T. Horton
1885 – 1888    Rev. J. Edwards
1888 -1891     Rev. G.G. Brown
1891 – 1894    Rev. H.T. Sandford
1894 – 1897    Rev. J.B. Mowell
1897 – 1900    Rev. J. Moffatt
1900 – 1903    Rev. J.C. Craggs    

1903 – 1904 Rev. A.E. Jones
1904 – 1905 Rev. D. Pughe
1905 – 1907 Rev. W.J. Heaton
1907 – 1908 Rev. L. S. Shutter
1908 – 1911 Rev. J.C. Jackson
1911 – 1912 Rev G.J. Chamberlain
1912 – 1913 Rev. H.W. Slader
1913 – 1915 Rev. H. Benn
1915 – 1917 Rev. H.D. Leigh
1917 – 1921 No minister appointed
1921 – 1928 Pastor G. Thompson
1924 – 1928 Pastor T. Mealing
1928 – 1929 Pastor A.E. Stocking
1929 – 1932 Pastor M. Shields
1932 – 1934 Pastor A.R. Braithwaite
1934 – 1937 Pastor A. Ray
1937 – 1940 Rev. L. Hale
1940 -1941 Rev. J.W. Smith
1942 – 1946 Rev. W. Easey
1946 – 1947 Rev. W. Hayes
1947 – 1950 Rev. J. Maugham
1950 – 1955 Rev. R. Merriman
1955 – 1960 Rev D. Gowman
1960 – 1967 Rev. C. Cole
1967 – 1972 Rev G. Cole
1972 – 1977 Rev. J. Searle
1977 – 1978 Rev M. Appleby
1978 – 1983 Rev C. Morley
1983 – 1987 Rev. J. Chambers

Christ Church

Discussions about the two churches uniting had been going on since April 1968. During the 1970’s concern was expressed about various works needed at the London Road Church and how to cover the cost and, after several other options had been investigated, a joint working party was set up with the Methodist Church in 1982 to study whether uniting was feasible. In 1983 it was decided that the churches should unite under both the URC minister, Rev. David Bending and the Methodist minister Rev. John Chambers, and from 1984 the two churches started having united services. On 18th April 1987 the inaugural service of Christ Church, Braintree was held.

The plan was for the two congregations to meet together at the London Road church until a new church could be built on a piece of land next to the new multi-storey car park in Pierrefitte Way, but, after a lot of negotiations with the local council, it was decided that the building would not have enough space for the growing congregation and plans were made to renovate the London Road Church with the funds received from the compulsory purchase of Rayne Road Methodist Church instead.

Image showing interior of Christ Church in 2021
Interior of Christ Church London Road 2021

Extensive renovations were carried out during 1992. The pews in the main body of the church were removed and replaced with chairs, the floor was carpeted, the stained glass window from the Methodist Church was installed, toilets and a small kitchen were put into the vestibule and a sliding partition separated the vestibule from the sanctuary area. The windows in the vestibule were extended to the ground to let in more light and make the church more welcoming.

A reopening and rededication service was held on 10th April 1993.

Ministers of Christ Church 1987 – present

1987 –  1989         Rev. John Chambers & Rev. David Bending
1989 – 1996          Rev. Michael Edwards
1993 – 1998          Rev. Peter Henderson
1998 – 2001          Rev. Tony Perry
2001 – 2010          Rev. Nigel Warner                            
2010 – 2012 Rev. John Hardaker
2012 – 2017 Rev. Peter Goodhall
2017 – 2018 Rev. Stuart Ellis
2018 – present Rev. David Sebley