This picture was taken in 1906. Click the image for larger picture.
We honour the memory and thank those people, who I believe are mostly on the first picture here, who 100 years ago got together the £400 to buy the church building that up to then, they had been renting. If they had not done that, the chances are that we would not be here now. Other churches have opened and closed during the time –but this one is still here because it was bought and maintained by the committees and members through the years And now we honour them by dedicating the church in Bolton for the continuance of spiritualism in Bolton for the next 100 years and beyond. Probably not in this same building, as in spite of the constant attention by members through the years, it is now showing its age.
When I came to the church there were many rumors about what it had been in the past, chief amongst them was that it was once a Chinese Laundry. It wasn't. It has been a Spiritualist church all its life. The beginning of this church appears to have been in 1872, when the 999 year lease on the land was bought from the earl of Bradford by Three men, David Bell, William Wadesworth and Joseph Jones. At the time it appears that there was what they called a Sunday school in the process of being built, and though it isn’t particularly clear from the deeds, We believe that they must have completed the building, and then let it to the church members at £16 13s and eight pence per year. The last of the three men to pass was Mr Jones and he left it to his daughter, who must have wanted to sell it, because at that time, two church members, Miss Mary Anne Webster and Mr Thomas Lever Bridge, got together £400 pounds required to buy the lease and the building. Then in 1904 the members took out a mortgage and bought the church, with Thomas Lever Bridge's wife Martha acting on behalf of the church. From then on the church was secured for the members, including we who are here today. Being maintained and run by committees and members through the years. And they did not have it easy –in trying to find out from the archives about the history of the church, we found very little about the church and very little positive about spiritualism. Most of the articles and letters from the readers were about how spiritualism fed the lunatic asylums and the jails. And also I hear that they had bricks thrown at them and even their house doors bricked up when they were at services.So let's remember when we honour our pioneers, they were all pioneers! All the ordinary members of the congregation showed courage and persistence in keeping churches open and maintained, and letting the truth of spiritualism be known . In 1883 there are detailed descriptions of two trance seances, held in public at the Co-op Hall and the Temperance Hall (wherever that was),both taken by a medium named Mr Woods from Halifax.. It was clear from the reports that neither the reporter nor the audience had attended with an open mind, and they appear to have been an exceptionally rowdy crowd, the audience constantly shouting and jeering In one of the reports, both "the medium" and "the spirit" were put into inverted commas throughout the report. There were constant references in brackets to (laughter) and (uproar), also (confusion) though I don’t know what confusion sounds like.
However, there were some positive reports, notably by reporters who had come to a church service to see for themselves. In 1913, a couple at Farnworth were convicted of fraud, over a home circle. The report of which I got a copy is far from complete, as well as being on the edge of the paper, so that even what they did was disjointed, but it appears that the reason they were accused of fraud was that some of the evidence was incorrect, and they held a collection.Following this a reporter whose name does not appear in the report attended this church. He attended three services and he was impressed both by the philosophy, and the communication. "There was much that was weird and unexplainable about it all, and the coincidences of the speakers' indiscriminate choice of people in the congregation and faithful description of actual incidents in their lives gave much cause for wonder." He was invited to home circles where he witnessed table tilting, and he gave favourable reports all round.
This picture was taken in 2000. Click the image for larger picture.
In 1922 to mark the 50 year jubilee from the actual beginning of the church, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave a lecture at the Albert Hall Bolton, and the place was packed. His philosophy was just as Spiritualists believe today, and he said he could not understand the opposition by orthodox Christians as all of us believe in the life after death and therefore in the spirit world. He recounted his own experiences speaking to his son, his mother and his brother. He said "If after experiences of that kind, a man cannot make up his mind, he was undeserving to have such things given from on high" The word in brackets this time was (applause) and the only reference to any opposition, was that at the end of the proceedings, Sir Arthur praised the mayor for his moral courage in chairing the meeting.
The church itself was in trust to members of the committee, and over the years there were many changes, with new papers having to be drawn up every time. Probably for this reason, and also because I gather that she was afraid that at some future date some unscrupulous committee members may claim ownership of the church and steal it from the members, in 1960, Mrs Guy, president at that time, put it in sole trust to the SNU, and they claimed ownership. Considering what the members of the past had done to acquire it, this seems a shame, but we should remember that the SNU was formed to support churches, and we still maintain and run it, so it is in effect still our church. The SNU was formed to support churches, and think of the word trust, we have entrusted our church to them for them to look after our interests and those of the church and spiritualism in Bolton for the future. It is our duty to make sure that they honour the trust we have put in them. It may be that help given by the SNU may be the only guarantee that the church will be able to continue in future years
When I came the church was rather different from how it is today. There was just one room with a draughty porch at the back, outdoor toilets, and the office which then served as both kitchen and mediums room. The platform was about 3ft off the ground. It is clear that successive committees have done their best to keep the building maintained, and considering the age of the building and the limited funds usually available, they have done a good job. At some stage the buttresses have been built and ties put in place to stop the wall coming further out, and I know it has not moved in the last 21 years, because it would have shown at the side of the false ceiling. They put in a new roof just before we came and a false ceiling just after. Unfortunately when they had a coke boiler, they put so many cinders on the path that they covered the ventilation bricks and a loyal member Jack Richardson was only just in time to save the floor by removing literally tons of cinders.