Here is a brief time line of HMC’s history – see below for a potted narrative!
1800 – Methodist Sabbath school set up at farm of Samuel Burgess in Helsby – used for worship
1835 – Split in Methodist church nationally
1840 – Wesleyan chapel set up in small thatched cottage in Helsby
1846 – Anglican services taken in newly built National school by Alvanley incumbent
1850 – Two Wesleyan groups reported in the village
1853 – Wesleyan Trinity chapel built at Frodsham end of village
1858 – Methodist receders built new church – Zion chapel – in centre of village
1902 – Primitive Methodist church built at Chester end of the village
1932 – On Act of Union the first Methodist minister appointed to all Helsby chapels
1958c – Trinity chapel closed and members transferred to Zion
1964 – Primitive Methodist church closed and members transferred to Zion now known as HMC
1965 – New HMC church building opened
1976 – New schoolroom opened and later attached to the old chapel
1982c – Church starts house groups in members homes
1993c – Church starts Alpha Course/Holy Spirit awaydays
2006 – New Link extension opens to join all buildings together
2009 – Redevelopment of bottom hall kitchens completed
2016/7 – refurbishment/rebuilding of bottom hall including new roof, flooring and heating
A Brief History by Prof John Dearden
Methodism was the first organised Christian denomination in Helsby. Samuel Burgess, a farmer who lived at Underwood, Chester Road, started a Sabbath school in 1800 in a room in one of his farm buildings; the room was also used for divine worship. George Slater (Slater’s Chronicles of Lives and Religion in Cheshire, 1891) recorded that, around 1840, “the Wesleyan chapel in Helsby was a little thatched cottage, close to the road, and one of the meanest little buildings in Helsby”. Slater also commented that on the occasion of his first visit to Helsby in 1837 “there was a good number of earnest praying people”.
In 1835 the great division in the Methodist Church took place, and Samuel Burgess and almost the entire society and congregation joined the seceders known as the Methodist Free Church, leading to the comment in Bagshaw’s Cheshire Directory for 1850 that “there are two Wesleyan chapels in Helsby”. These are not the existing chapels, which were built later. A photograph of the thatched cottage mentioned by Slater is in the Helsby Women’s Institute Scrapbook compiled in 1951. The building that was Trinity Church (opposite the Horse and Jockey public house on Chester Road), now a private dwelling-house, was erected as the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in 1853.
The seceders built their own church in 1858 (the present Methodist Church Hall); it was known as the United Methodist Free Church, or Zion Chapel. Mr. Thomas Lewis, a great friend of Samuel Burgess and a local preacher for many years, gave the land for it, did a large share of the work and paid a large proportion of the cost. The Primitive Methodist Chapel (known as “Avenue”), on Chester Road at the south-western end of Robin Hood Lane, was built in 1902. Thus for the first half of the 20th century there were three Methodist places of worship in Helsby.
Over the years (the dates are not known) the 1858 building (known later as Central) had extensions at the front to provide a vestry and organ loft, and at the back to provide a Sunday School. Also, as the three Methodist congregations grew closer, it became clear that to amalgamate was the right thing to do. However, the size of Central was still restrictive, and a decision was taken in the early 1960s to build a new church close by, together with a Manse (the Manse at the time being 18 Chester Road), and to retain the original building as a Sunday School. This was completed in 1965, with Trinity Chapel having closed in 1963 (somewhat prematurely owing to the boiler’s failing!) and the Primitive Chapel having closed in 1964, with both congregations transferring to Central, now known simply as Helsby Methodist Church.
Some years later, it became clear that the Sunday School premises were inadequate, and a further large extension was built, which was opened in 1976. The original building was later found to be in a poor structural state, with rot in the floor joists and the roof. A refurbishment programme was undertaken, with the different floor levels in the two parts of the building being made the same, to give a very large room. In 2005-6 a very large building programme was carried out to link the church with the Sunday School premises, thus providing much more space for church and ancillary activities.