History of St John's URC
St John's traces its roots back to 1796 when the former minister of St James' Church in Knutsford Road set up a new church, owing to a split in his previous congregation over the teachings of his successor. The new congregation initially met in Stepney Independent Chapel.
The new church's congregation grew very quickly and larger premises were sought. With support from the Countess of Huntingdon (at the time a well-known patron of theological colleges) a new church was founded in Winwick Street in 1808, with the first minister being the Reverend Alexander Hay. St John's Chapel was opened on Thursday, January 7th 1808.
Mr Hay seems to have been a tireless minister, preaching six times a week in addition to his other pastoral responsibilities. For his services he was paid 80 guineas annually - equivalent to a little under £7,500 today. In 1814, St. John’s began Bible classes for adults and quickly Sunday attendances rose to around 150. Unfortunately, Mr Hay died in 1827, aged only 47.
St John's clearly felt the loss of their dynamic minister, and within five years attendances had fallen to around 50. The church was put up for sale.
St John's was bought by Robert Barbour, and in 1854 it was admitted into the Presbyterian Church of England. Mr Barbour remained a generous benefactor to the church, and nineteen years later donated the building as a gift to the St John's trustees. He also made donations for the upkeep of the chapel.
In 1877 a new minister, James Warnock, was called to St John's. He served the church and community until he died in 1900. After Mr Warnock's passing, no new minister was inducted and financial problems meant that the trustees felt they had no option other than to sell the Winwick Street building.
In 1908, exactly 100 years after St john's chapel had opened, it was sold for £1,150.
The final service was held on 7th January 1909. The building has since been used for a variety of business purposes, and is currently known as "The Boultings".
However, the loss of the buildings was not the end for the congregation. For the next 15 months the St John's congregation met every Sunday for a service at Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel. From this base, St john's built up its membership and finances - and appointed William Reid as preacher-in-charge. In 1910, the building of a new church - the current St John's URC - commenced on Wilderspool Causeway.
St John's remained within the Presbyterian Church of England until 1972, when the Presbyterians merged with the Congregational Church in England and Wales. St John's was received into the new denomination, which was named the United Reformed Church.
The current St John's Church on Wilderspool Causeway
(Photo: Andrew Page)
Rev Alexander Hay
The former St John's Chapel in Winwick Street today (left) and Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel (right).
(Photos: Andrew Page)