Black Country Unitarians
Dudley, Oldbury & Wolverhampton Congregations

"Faith is reason grown courageous." Sir Wilfred Grenfell

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unitarian meeting house oldbury

(extracted from Picturesque Oldbury, 1900)

the ministers’ meeting

The Ministers’ Meeting, held occasionally at Oldbury, must be regarded as the successor of what used to be called the Oldbury Double Lecture, a meeting framed on the same lines, only that there were two sermons instead of one. Dr. Priestley took part in this meeting in 1782, also in 1784. The origin of the Double Lecture is doubtful, but the following alternative origins are taken from a sermon preached at Oldbury, by the Rev. James Scott, of Stourbridge, in 1817:

“In tracing back the history of the Annual Double Lectures of Dudley and Oldbury, we are induced to believe that the former owes its origin to the ejected ministers resident in the neighbourhood, and that the latter was instituted by their immediate successors; though we cannot ascertain the exact dates of their commencement. It appears that Mr. John Reynolds, who was ordained at Oldbury Chapel, with three other ministers, in the year 1699, frequently officiated at the Lecture at Dudley, early in the 18th century. … It has already been intimated that there is reason to conclude that this Lecture was instituted in commemoration of the principles and conduct of the excellent persons who have occupied our attention. It is admitted, however, that of its origins another account has been given, which rests upon respectable authority: ‘That the family of Turton, which had resided at the Brades since the year 1688, being in imminent danger, in consequence of the sudden fall of a part of the mansion which they inhabited, to express their gratitude for their deliverance, invited the ministers in the neighbourhood to assist them in keeping a day of Thanksgiving, who from that time annually assembled in the Dissenting Chapel.’ But the testimony of the Rev. Job Orton is of considerable weight in favour of the former opinion. In a letter addressed to the Rev. Samuel Palmer, of Hackney, and dated June 27th, 1755, referring to the ejected ministers, he observes ‘Oldbury Lecture in this neighbourhood used to be preached in the week in which the 24th of August fell, and was instituted on purpose to commemorate these excellent men. I once preached there, and considered their case. But on account of the harvest it was put off to the middle of September, which I think was wrong, as the object of the Lecture was in time forgotten &c’ From the testimony now adduced, we may with certainty conclude that the Lectures of Dudley and Oldbury are of long standing; and it is probable that they are at least as ancient as any similar institution in the kingdom conducted by Protestant Dissenters.”

It must be remembered that the Oldbury Chapel, where the Rev. John Reynolds and three others were ordained in 1699, was not the present Meeting House, but the old chapel in the Market Place, which was pulled down in 1844-5, having been superseded by the Parish Church in Birmingham Street. The ousting referred to above, clearly took place after the ordination of Mr. Reynolds and others in 1699, but in which year before 1708, the date of the present Meeting House, has not yet been determined.

the free school, oldbury

The traditional date for the opening of this school is 1780 or 1781. It was a room about 13 feet by 25, which was afterwards enlarged to about 13 feet by 40. The first schoolmaster appears to have been Mr. Jarvis Booth, who lived in the cottage adjoining, whose name appears as occupying that position in 1784. In 1789, however, Mr. Booth’s name has disappeared, and that of the minister of the Meeting House takes its place. From this date to 1864, the succession of schoolmasters is the same as the succession of ministers at the Meeting House. In that year Mr. J.J. Lynam – who still holds that position – was appointed headmaster on the retirement of the Rev. William McKean. The present minister continued, however, to take part in the teaching for a number of years afterwards, but now there is no association between the ministry and the school, though Mr. McKean acts as School Treasurer under the Trustees of the Charity. It would appear that “Ye Charity children”, in 1791, are put down as 40. There was also a female assistant named Mary Barnett, who received £2. 10s. a year, for instructing 12 children. One of the quarter’s bills (dated 24th June 1789) of Mr. Proctor, the first minister-teacher, is as follows:

One Quarter’s Salary for Instructing ye Charity Children
6
5
0
Coals
0
10
0
Pens and Ink
0
2
6
Copy Books, Acct Books, Slates and Pencils
1
13
0
£8
10
6

The present building was erected in 1851, the cost being £700. In 1864, the school was £800 in debt. The sum was paid by Messrs. Samuel and James Hunt in equal parts. The expenditure still exceeding the income, a considerable debt was again incurred, but after the removal, by the Education Department, of the restriction that no endowed schools could earn grants without having the amount of their endowment deducted, a new financial era dawned, and slowly as the years passed on the deficiency was wiped out. There is now a surplus, which the Trustees are apparently anxious to devote to Higher Grade teaching.

Though called the “FREE School” as far back as 1784, all the school places were not free. A memorandum of 1817 shows that the master was required to admit twenty scholars free, though at that time his free list comprised twenty-six. The distinction was abolished in 1845 by the late Rev. William McKean, but it was revived in 1864, when those who pleased were invited to pay 1d, 2d, or 3d a week according to the Standard, but a large number did not pay at all. The fee grant enabled the Trustees to abolish fees entirely. The accommodation is for 260.

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