A history of the United Reformed Church, Gloucester
To mark the centenary of Whitefield’s death in 1870, the Countess of Huntingdon’s congregation, bought land to erect a chapel on the reputed site of George Whitefield’s last open air sermon in his home city. On the centenary of Whitefield’s death, 30th September 1870, the first sod was cut by the Mayor of Gloucester and on the 6th June 1871 a memorial stone was laid by the local MP, S Marling, with a bottle containing coins, a current newspaper and an account of building negotiations buried beneath it. It was intended to seat 450 downstairs with an additional 150 in the gallery and the church originally had a 140ft spire. The total cost was in the region of £3,700. The Whitefield Memorial Church was opened on 7th May 1872. The full cost of the building, including an extra £426 for the spire, was met within one year of opening. The clock was a gift from James Buchanan and the building was completed in the late 1880’s when the organ loft and organ were added at a cost of £225 and £408 respectively.
In 1973 the congregation were joined by Southgate Congregational Church and re named the James Forbes United Reformed Church. In 1976, they were joined by the congregation from the Tyndale Congregational Church in Barton Street and re named the Gloucester United Reformed Church. For a detailed explanation of the history of Protestant noncomformity in Gloucester go to British History On Line.
Since 1964, many discussions have taken place about the future of the building but, when no developer could be found in 1990, the congregation decided to remain in the building but continue to seek alternative ideas for the building’s use. In April 1994, the congregation decided to take the bold decision to undertake a complete refurbishment of the building at a cost of approximately £180,000. The re-dedication service took place in April 1995. The lift, built into the clock tower, was added in May 1998; the clock was repaired in 2002.
During 2005 the organ was renovated at a cost of £33,599 with the aid of a grant of £10,750 from the Council for the care of Churches, £1,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation, £20,000 from a legacy given by Miss Peggy Cooke, a former member of the church, and other gifts from individual members. The church was extremely grateful to those who provided the funds to restore the organ to its present level of excellence and trust it will continue to give the congregation and anyone else who wishes to use it many years of pleasure.
Special features of interest.
The bas relief carved in stone over the main entrance shows George Whitefield preaching to the crowd in the open air. It was carved by R J Boulton of Cheltenham. The inscription reads:
"The Love of Jesus Christ Constrains
Me to lift up my Voice like a Trumpet"
The Presbyterian symbol of the burning bush can be seen outside above the main entrance.
The Alpha and Omega windows are situated in the balcony area and difficult to see from the main worship area.
The Star of David window is also situated in the balcony area but it is also difficult to see from the main worship area. The star can also be found in the outside brickwork at the front of the building.
The instrument was constructed by W. Sweetland of Bath and opened in December 1890. The instrument is spaciously laid out and solidly made. The pitch-pine case, with its three Gothic towers, was architect-designed and is of a much higher quality than was usual at the time. The nameplate on the console identifies patent number 3927. This probably refers to the design of the swell box which controls the sound of the pipes played from the upper manual; it was a very early use of vertical louvers instead of horizontal louvers usual in 1890. The whole design and conception of the instrument makes it the best Sweetland organ known to Dr John Norman, Organ Consultant, who was responsible for overseeing the renovation in 2005.
The renovation, in 2005, was carried out by Keith Jones, Organ Builder, of The Pludds Ruardean. Dr John Norman ‘congratulated Keith on the overall high standard of workmanship’ and the church was extremely grateful to Keith for the love, care and skill shown during the renovation. It is only too apparent that he derived much pleasure from carrying out the task. Incidentally, Keith worked on the instrument as an apprentice in his early years and it was fitting that he carried out the restoration.