Roscoe Church in Chapeltown is due to mark its 150th anniversary next year and in preparation members have drawn together a book chronicling its history.
Founded in 1862, it has always stood out, not least because of it was a Methodist (non-conformist) church in a mainly Anglican area.
The church was born out of the cholera epidemic which ravaged Leeds in 1849 – as a result, one Benjamin Randall Vickers moved his family out of the city centre, building a family home on the corner of Chapeltown Road and Francis Street, part of the building included a Methodist preaching room, which became a Sunday school and when the need for larger premises became overwhelming, in the 1860s, funds were raised to build a new chapel, which opened in 1862.
The area in general was characterised by poverty but the chapel remained a vibrant part of the community, becoming the home of the 13th Leeds Boys Brigade Company in 1903, a girl guide group in the 1930s, along with a choir and a men’s fireside group.
It was during the 1950s and 1960s, however, it became a magnet for immigrants from the West Indies and Africa, who came to Leeds to find work and discovered, at Roscoe, a place of worship similar to those they had left behind. As more people joined the church, a support network developed.
Mary Saddler was one of those immigrants – she came to Leeds in 1959 aged 23 with great energy and enthusiasm, both of which were quickly extinguished by the somewhat frosty reception she received from locals. One of the few places to show the migrant population compassion, warmth and respect was Roscoe Methodist Church.
Mary said: “I was born on Montserrat and moved to St Kitts, I’d heard all about Britain as a child, I wanted to see it for myself. I was adventurous and intrigued by the idea of coming here, even though I was scared of the cold and snow. I also wanted to come and earn to support my family.”
The mother-of-one, who has seven grandchildren and one great grandchild, said: “I was surprised by everyone saying ‘luv’ all the time. It was difficult to find work in the beginning. Roscoe was a place we could worship in a way we were used to.”
The old chapel was demolished in the 1970s after being compulsory purchased by Leeds City Council, ostensibly so road improvements could take place (in the end, the new road completely bypassed where the church had stood but by then it had been demolished).
A new chapel (the present building) was built to replace the old and, indeed, it marked its 37th anniversary last week. On June 13 next year, the church as a whole will mark its 150th anniversary.
The Rev Mark Harwood, who has been at the church for the last five years, said: “Its influence stretches far beyond its location and size. Roscoe church has had an impact on countless individuals and families, on the development of the community in Chapeltown, on politics and cultural life in Leeds.
“Producing the book has not been easy: particular mention has to go to Dorothy Lunn, who instigated the collection of reminiscences, John Vickers, Clarita Wenham, Irene Bottomley, Monica Sanders and Yvonne Herbert, who did the majority of research.”
Mrs Herbert, 70, came to the UK from Ghana to qualify as a nurse, which she did in Brighton, before moving to become a midwife in Leeds General Infirmary.
She collected dozens of memoirs from church members, recounting how they came to Leeds and the church. She said: “I came here to become a nurse and intended staying five years but, like a lot of people, things changed, the country back home changed and I’m still here.”
One of the church’s prodigal sons is renowned organist Mervyn Williams, who recalled learning to play at the church.
“One Sunday in March 1977, Roscoe Methodist Church did a national live broadcast for ITV. As a 13-year-old and organist of a mere few months, the whole prospect filled me with trepidation...
“The broadcast went fine... as we left church, a congregation member stopped my mother and said, ‘He did well, you must be proud.’ On hearing this, she cried.”
He will return to the church for a concert on October 29, from 6pm, tickets cost £5 on the door.
Rev Harwood said: “We printed 200 copies of the book and most of them have been sold, so we will be doing another print run.
“One thing we’d still like to know is where the name Roscoe comes from – several local streets carry the name but its origin remains a mystery.”
l Roscoe Methodist Church Leeds: A Unique History is priced £5 and is available by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org