Unexamined Lives

The story of the 20th century as lived by residents in the Derbyshire village of Borrowash


Methodists in Borrowash – 220 Years … and Counting!

The Borrowash Methodist Church has celebrated 220 years of involvement in village life. On June 7th 2015, a service at the Nottingham Road church marked the occasion and an anniversary cake was cut by Brian and Jean Moore.

Brian has belonged to the Methodist family for as long as he can remember. His father, Jack was the Sunday School Superintendent from 1936 -1971 and Brian’s own church attendance record spans 77 years. Whilst his father taught  200 children regularly at Sunday School, Brian was a  football team stalwart, competing in the Sunday league and as match secretary, paying the referee a weekly fee of two shillings and sixpence.

The church had many activities to appeal to Brian and his friends such as a thriving Youth Club and an amateur dramatic group. The ‘Ockash Players’ staged a pantomime every year from 1927 onwards. Brian’s acting stint from 1949 – 1954 included parts in ‘Jack and Jill’ (1949), ‘Red Riding Hood’ (1950) and Dick Whittington (1951); also  later pantomimes and he bid farewell to the greasepaint  with a curtain call as Widow Twankey in the early years of the 21st century. He also taught at the Sunday School, monitored church finances as a trustee and was responsible as a steward, for the day to day running of Borrowash Methodist Church.

It is a church that has served the needs of the village for two centuries. Church member Margaret Barker said:

‘Until St Stephen’s Anglican church was built in 1889, the Methodist church was the only church in the village and the Methodists brought many new ideas. They built the first school in 1830 and enlarged it in 1862. In 1868, a group of Methodists purchased some village land for the first cemetery in Borrowash, used from 1868-1948. By the 1870s, they were running a lending library, open every Saturday after 5pm and some London newspapers were available there. They also ran adult education classes, ‘Borrowash Mutual Improvement Society: Young Women on Mondays and Young Men on Fridays.’ They even put on magic lantern shows!’

The Borrowash Methodists had some generous benefactors whose names are enshrined in Borrowash folklore. Local mill owners, the Towles, supplied the site for a chapel in 1825 and gave a Bible to each one of their employees. The village ‘favourite son’, William Barron, creator of the Elvaston Castle gardens was a member of the church. He was a munificent benefactor of the Sunday School and rests in the 1868 burial ground.

Yet Methodist philanthropy is not an historical footnote. They are breaking new ground today with an ambitious new scheme. In conjunction with ‘Borrowbrook Home Link’ (a registered charity, set up in 2002 to support the older adults of Ockbrook and Borrowash) their ambitious new project is designed to help people who are grieving following the death of a loved one. A group called ‘Stepping Stones’ has been organised consisting of Borrowbrook and Methodist volunteers. It will meet on the second Thursday morning of each month from 10:30am – 12 noon in the Borrowbrook Lounge, leading off from the Methodist Church. Anyone from the villages who has suffered bereavement and would like to talk to a friendly face in an informal setting over tea, coffee and biscuits is welcome to drop in.

Helen Clark, Director of the Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical Society’s Heritage Lottery ‘Unexamined Lives’ project, applauded the venture and congratulated the Methodists upon their anniversary:

‘Work on our 20th century ‘Unexamined Lives’ project has shown how central the Methodist Church was in days gone by. Local people received a good education from the Methodist Church, whether attending Sunday school as children, or catching up later as adults. The annual pantomime, directed by former Parish Clerk, Frank Smith was a highlight of village life and many of the people that we have interviewed remember the excitement of being involved – and the keen competition to secure a part. Recently, performance took centre stage again when in 2014, the villages commemorated the outbreak of World War One with an evening of reading, music and dramatic reconstruction at the Methodist Church. It was a tremendous event and this church was once again involved in uniting many different groups and interests in a national cause.

Above all, I am delighted to learn about the latest Stepping Stones project. A church is not defined by bricks and mortar and we are clearly celebrating 2020 years of Methodist activity and still counting! It will be fascinating to see what this community spirited church decides to do next!


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