Built in the late 1870s (the foundation stone was laid on 3rd July 1878), the Wharf Road Methodist Church has changed little in outward appearance over the years. A small side vestry was added in the early 1930s and a front porch was added in the 1970s, but these are the only two additions.
The church was built to meet the needs of a growing local population, at a time when new Wesleyan churches were built at Normandy cross roads and in Ash Street for the same reason. Today only Wharf Road Church remains.
It consisted of three rooms: the church, the schoolroom and the vestry which was subsequently converted into a kitchen. A folding wooden screen separated the church from the schoolroom and this could be drawn back to allow for larger congregations. Heating was initially by coke ovens and oil lamps suspended from the roof beams. Lighting in the church was provided by wrought iron chandeliers also suspended from the roof beams though gas lighting was installed by the end of the century.
Inside the building, the pulpit and communion area and the organ were originally situated at the end adjacent to Wharf Road and the congregation faced in that direction. A major change took
place with the building of the porch. The pulpit and communion area were sited at the opposite end of the church, the pulpit and communion table were replaced by furniture provided by local craftsmen, and the organ, which was beyond its sell-by date, was replaced by an electronic model. The congregation now faces in the opposite direction. All in all a complete facelift.
A church, however, is not merely a thing of bricks and mortar. It is the families who attend that give it life. When built, the church was one of the centres of community life. Until more recent years there were always thriving youth groups. Sunday School outings were grand affairs. A horse drawn barge was hired and duly filled with pupils and parents, who set off for a day of games and picnics on the upper reaches of the canal. During the Second World War, when the military dominated the area, the schoolroom was used as a forces canteen. Many of the troops attended Sunday services and were taken home by worshippers to Sunday dinner.
No story of the church would be complete without reference to the Hawkins family - Hawkins the family butchers. Before the church interior was modernised there were two marble tablets on the wall. One was a memorial to Florence Charlotte Hawkins who died in 1939 after 42 years service to the church, "She was beloved by all". The other was to Frederick James Hawkins who died in 1948 after 50 years service, who was, "One of God's Gentlemen". Two metal plaques have replaced the original memorials.
Times have changed and the church has modernised to a degree. At heart, however, it still retains the atmosphere of a village chapel, a living memorial to the many families who have worshipped here and proud of being the second oldest church in Ash.
by Terry Horton, 2005
Sadly the church closed in 2008. After standing empty for a year, it was re-opened in 2009 as a 'fresh expressions' community project jointly run by the Methodists and St Mary's parish church in Ash Vale. The first event was to offer the usual hot cross buns on Good Friday after the annual walk of witness through the village and open air service at Ash Wharf. Please see http://chapel.gutensite.com for more about the project and events in the old chapel.