John Wesley was born on the 17th June 1703. The 15th of 19 children born to Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, Doncaster, and his wife Susanna. Ten of the children survived into adulthood. John Wesley was baptised at his father’s church, St Andrews in Epworth and worshipped there as a child. He attended Oxford and became a fellow of Lincoln College in 1726 where he established the Holy Club, dubbed ‘Methodist’ due to their prescribed method of studying the Bible. He was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1728.
He went to a meeting in Aldersgate, London on the 24th May 1738, of which he wrote later ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation….’ His life had been changed for ever.
Wesley was vocal about ordinary people being excluded from the church and was often barred from preaching in church because of his views. He therefore began to preach to crowds in open areas and would address many thousands around the country during his lifetime travelling on horseback. He is said to have preached 40,000 sermons and travelled 250,000 miles. Until his death in 1791 he continued to tirelessly campaign on social issues such as prison reform, slavery and universal education. A man ahead of his time.
Around 1739 the Methodists separated from the Church of England. They were faced with some difficulties as the official church was very much against them and they were obliged to hold their prayer meetings in secret in houses and barns. In time they were able to worship more openly and private homes were registered at the Archbishop’s Consistory Court as places of worship.
The origins of Methodism in South Yorkshire dates from 1742, when John Wesley arrived in Sheffield on a preaching tour and founded the nucleus of the Sheffield Methodist Society. The group met in a small wooden meeting house in Cheyney Square which was on the site of the current Town Hall. The meeting house was destroyed in a riot in 1743 during a service conducted by Charles Wesley. A new chapel was built on Mulberry Street at the expense of the local magistrates who had failed to prevent the riot.
The road from Worksop to Sheffield in the 18th century ran across Lindrick Common, down Rackford Road into North Anston. The ‘Turnpike Road’ (Now the A57) was not made until later. John Wesley may have travelled through Anston during his journeys from Worksop to Sheffield. He may well have watered his horse in The Wells or Anston Brook and it is reputed to have preached in the open air at Paradise Square, a small triangular area of land at the junction of Sheffield Road and Hight Street and opposite the Loyal Trooper pub in South Anston.
In Anston on the 8th November 1771 a certificate was issued registering the house of Thomas Smith, as a ‘Meeting House for Protestant Dissenters commonly called Methodists’. In 1812 and 1814 further houses were registered for the same purpose belonging to John Norman and John Laycock. The group became a part of the Worksop Circuit of the Methodist Church.
It is known that one of two semidetached houses in Main Street, North Anston was at one time a Methodist chapel. An engraved stone over the doorway and later removed when the house was modernised announced ‘Wesleyan Chapel’. This is now one house. Anston at the time was a self-contained village with all the trades required, including many farms, millrights, wheelrights, nail makers, stone masons, starch manufacturers, shoe makers, plumbers, blacksmiths, matltsters, tailors, dress makers, butchers, grocers and vets.
The North Anston society flourished and the members decided that larger premises were needed. In 1794, Mr Sikes the local landowner, altered the corn chamber at his farm on Hillside. (The taller blue slate building.) The roof was raised some 10 feet and a floor was installed of which half was level and half stepped up. On the steps were six rows of pews with a central aisle and doors to the pews. Some of these doors were used when the new chapel was built in The Wells. The Ordnance Survey map of 1854 shows the chapel on Hillside, North Anston being Wesleyan Methodist. The Wesleyans worshipped there until 1871 when they joined with the South Anston Wesleyans at the new church at South Anston.
On 31 May 1807, a group of revivalists, led by local wheelwright, Hugh Bourne, staged England’s first ‘camp meeting’ at a hillside in Staffordshire called Mow Cop. Based on a phenomenally successful American style of revivalism, camp meetings with Ranter preachers and exuberant prayer were regarded by some as potentially revolutionary and ‘highly improper’. This meeting in which William Clowes, a Stoke-on-Trent potter and leader of another group of revivalists also shared, led in due course to the formation of a separate church called ‘Primitive Methodist’. In other words, ‘Back to the original format’.
ANSTON PRIMATIVE METHODISTS
The remaining North Anston members joined this Primitive Methodist Church and took over the Hillside church in 1878. The taller building was the church. As there was no pulpit, a ‘rostrum’ was made in 1889 costing £8.14s. (Shown in the interior view of the church.) The preacher must have had a good view of the worshipers as the rostrum had five steps. The chapel heating was by a coal stove and lighting by paraffin lamps. The records from those early days provide an insight into church life then. The men were referred to as ‘brother’ and the ladies, ‘sister’. Only the men attended business meetings. One meeting was attended by J Shipston, W Fisher, H Bland and J. H. Barton, names still in Anston to this day, it was decided that a new harmonium (organ) should be bought at a cost of 24 guineas (£25.20). A large expenditure then. Here are a few more items of expenditure from 1893: 12 Sankey hymn books 6s 7d (32p), coal 8s 0p (40p), 6 lb soap 1s 0p (5p). The church was in the Retford Circuit until 1887 when a new Circuit was arranged, based at Kiveton Park.
SOUTH ANSTON. A NEW CHURCH
In South Anston a room over the stables at the Leeds Arms pub was used for worship. This did not prove very satisfactory so an upper room in Malt Kiln Yard was used for a while. It was a room measuring 20 feet by 14 feet approached by stone steps to an upper floor. The area of this room and the fireplace is still preserved in the same area in the Garden of Remembrance on West St, South Anston.
Eventually it was decided to build a new church so the Duke of Leeds was approached for a site on Sheffield Road. On the 31st December 1871 the chapel was opened as Wesleyan Methodist. It was a rectangular building with no porch or any other rooms for smaller group meetings. The church was packed full every Sunday. This building, however, did not satisfy the members. In 1898 the church was much improved with a front porch, a balcony to provide extra seating, stained glass windows, a new organ and a sloping floor. With gas lighting installed and the addition of new rooms at the rear, the alterations made what was a ‘barn like’ building into a very nice church. This building, now the Methodist Community Hall, continued to be used as a church until 1935 when the new church was opened.
NORTH ANSTON. A NEW CHURCH
In North Anston the members were keen to have a modern building and started a fund for a new church. Land was acquired in The Wells from the Duke of Leeds with a ground rent of £2.00 per year. The new church, built by local builder Mr J Revill of Dinnington, was built as a dual-purpose building at a cost of £851.00 with the intention to build a ‘proper church’ nearer the road sometime in the future. This was never achieved but it does mean that there is room for car parking. Something the members would never have dreamed of.
The church was opened on Saturday 5th April 1913. 300 hymn sheets were printed for the event showing the popularity of church life then. The 1920’s and 1930’s were very busy times for the church. The Sunday School with over 100 children needed many of the adults to be Sunday School teachers. Over the years many changes and improvements were made including a frieze over the pulpit painted by George Booth. Electricity was installed in 1933 and a new vestry and toilet block were added in 1988. The church is a very nice, welcoming building to this day.
The Methodist Church as we know it today was formed at a Conference at the Royal Albert Hall on the 20th September 1932 when the unification of the Wesleyan Methodist, Primitive Methodist and the United Methodist Churches happened. It was many years before this area’s churches came together when South Anston, Dinnington and Wales joined together with the local, ex Primitive Methodist Kiveton Circuit churches.
SOUTH ANSTON, A NEW CHURCH
In South Anston, Mr James Turner (1842-1924) owner of the lime and stone quarry at Kiveton Park, wanted to build a new church, so steps were taken to acquire the condemned houses at the side of the existing chapel. Other land also being purchased at the time. Conditions at that period, however, were not good, so the church was not built until eleven years after the death of Mr James Turner. The four sons of Mr Turner decided to build the church in the Norman style and of Anston stone in memory of their late father. Mr B D Thomson of Worksop was the architect. Mr E Presswood designed and carved the pulpit in memory of his father and mother, the latter being the sister of Mr James Turner. The three windows in the apse are of stained glass, presented by Mrs E Stevenson and Mrs F A Walker, daughters of the late Mr James Turner J P. The construction of the church was caried out by local craftsmen. All the masonry and carving were prepared at the Kiveton Park quarry. The joinery work, particularly the oak pews and doors were made in the joiners’ shop and the ironwork for the doors and screens being manufactured in the blacksmiths shop at the quarry.
AND A COMMUNITY HALL
In 1943 the old church was changed into a very useful hall. The floor levelled and a stage inserted: the building was renamed The South Anston Methodist Hall. The premises continued to be used on a regular basis by the church for Sunday School and midweek meetings and events. In 1979 the hall was altered again with a new entrance with modern toilets to the side of the building and a new kitchen. A proscenium arch was inserted over the stage and stairs to the upper rooms were completed at the same time. (Previously these rooms were only available via an outside staircase.) As the only hall in Anston with a large seating capacity (around 150) and a large stage it was very useful for many village events from parties to shows. As work developed among young people a youth club was formed in the mid-fifties and continued in various guises for many years. Pantomimes were performed in the building. Uniformed organisations – scouts, guides etc. have used the hall for years and it has proved to be a very useful building for the village and its residents. In 2004 the hall was completely refurbished with the stage and proscenium arch removed and a new floor suitable for dancing was fitted, together with wall insulation and a refit of the entrance hall and toilets. At this time a very useful car park was made from the overgrown garden at the rear.
THE REMEMBRANCE GARDEN
The garden was opened in June 1935 as a recreational area for Anston residents. It commemorates worship there by the Methodist people during part of the 19th century. The worship meetings took place in an upper room over some cottages in the area called Malt Kiln Yard. The garden contains a rectangular area showing the size of the upper room. A stone fireplace from the room in memory of the Methodist connection to the area had an inscribed plaque inserted in it. Unfortunately, the stone used has weathered away in the time since its creation and the inscription had become unreadable. The Methodist people decided that, due to the church’s historical connections with the garden, the plaque and stonework should be renewed so that future generations are aware of its history. The garden is the responsibility of Rotherham Borough Council on a 99year lease from the Turner family.
NOW WE BRING OUR STORY UP TO DATE
Before the Covid 19 problems the Sunday Services took place with a Bring and Share lunch once a month. The chapel was used for many other activities.
On Mondays the Girls Brigade met with an attendance of 10 to 12 girls. On Tuesday the Shoe Box drop in ladies of the area met to do craft work, knitting, etc. for items to be placed in shoe boxes for distribution at Christmas. On Fridays the Wells Singers met fortnightly for rehearsals. The group was formed in 1993 with members from North and South Anston. From small beginnings it became a popular group who performed for many churches and charities in the area. They also made 10 visits to the Beamish Museum where they performed in the chapel there.
Every second Saturday of the month ‘Messy Place’ activity happened where children, along with an adult, would meet to listen to a Bible story and do craft work associated with the story. Following Covid we now have Sunday Services where we can sing behind masks. Messy place has reopened, together with the Shoe Box drop in. A Keep Fit class has requested use of the chapel and we hope that other events will return in the near future. Although North and South Anston chapels are separated by the A57 both congregations are very close and would always support the events organised by both.
In recent years South Anston Methodist Church has become well known for its Festival of Trees and Lights. The first one was in 2008 and came about as a result of a church member seeing a similar event in a church she visited whilst on holiday. Over the years the event has grown and now an army of willing volunteers from all over the village spend a frantic week transforming the church. The event has raised considerable sums of money for various charities including Blue Bell Wood, The British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research. This year, 2021, we are hoping to expand the display outside so that it will be seen by people passing by.
As well as Sunday Worship and the Anston Male Voice Choir rehearsals in the church, the Community Hall is used extensively with the Network ladies fellowship, Coffee Morning (with bacon sandwiches once a month), Friendship Club, Exercise Classes, Men’s Breakfast Club, Sequence Dance, Rainbows and Brownies. Unfortunately, the Guides, Scouts and Beavers are not operating at the moment.
Many thanks to Laurence Bland for his work in researching and compiling this article.