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The story of religious enterprise in Long Eaton is well worth recording. Up to about 1850 Long Eaton remained a quiet, straggly, old fashioned little place. Its meagre population were pre-occupied chiefly in the boating and farming industries. To give an example of how antiquated Long Eaton and Sawley were at that time, stories were told of how when the postman arrived from Sawley riding on a donkey, he blew a horn as a signal for the people to bring their letters to him. This helps us realise the "speed" at which life in Long Eaton moved along.
In the 16th century, what is now the Parish Church was classed as a "Chapel Of Ease". In 1831 it was re-pewed and repaired at a cost of £300, and it was meant to seat 250 parishioners. It became a Parochial Chapelry in 1841 when an organ was added. The Ecclesiastical Parish was formed in 1864 and in 1869 the church was enlarged and re-opened.
With the opening of St James' Church, Tamworth Road in 1886, Sunday School in 1901, and a Mission Hall in Shakespeare Street, followed by the building of St John's Church on College Street in 1922, more extensions were built to St Laurence's Parish Church.
The Roman Catholics held their early meetings in the Lord Nelson concert room. Their corrugated iron church was erected in 1883 on Tamworth Road, and later on the same site they built a fine new church and refectory in 1929.
Methodism came early onto the scene with the old Top Chapel in 1830, which was improved in 1870. The magnificent Mount Tabor Church dominated the Market Place from 1883 until the 1960s. Owing to the differences during the Methodist Reform, the Wesleyan Methodists built a chapel in Cross Street in 1853. The Central Church was opened in 1882 and the Sunday School premises in 1899. The Derby Road Wesleyan Church also opened in 1882 with the new church in 1903 with its Sunday Schools in 1907.
The Primitive Methodists started preaching in Long Eaton as early as 1847 in a small shop in Gibb Street. Their first chapel was built in 1854 on Chapel Street. Afterwards it became "Temperance Hall". Bourne Chapel opened in 1873, it was built on land given by Mr S. J. Claye, Sunday Schools were built in 1878 and enlarged in 1891. Bethel Church, Derby Road, was a corrugated iron building and opened in 1898. A new church was built in 1904.
According to records, the Zion Church began in the Market Place with open-air preaching by Peter Butler in the Spring of 1859. He came from Breaston and after preaching in the Market Place he conferred with his bretheren in Nottingham and Stapleford regarding the holding of open-air meetings in Long Eaton. Agreement was reached and the first organised meeting was by Mr Thomas Dalley. Later, a house in Station Street was used for the little company, but with the coming of winter the need arose for a suitable place for worship, so Mr Maltby's barn was taken and adapted for use as a chapel. The first Zion Church was built in 1859.
The first records of the Baptist Church at Sawley date back to the year 1766, when meetings used to be held in a thatched house behind the house where Dr John Clifford was born, on Wilne Road. These early Baptists suffered much persecution, but in 1783 Joseph Parkinson provided a larger building, and Mr John Stenson provided the seating. In 1800 the larger part of the present chapel was built at a cost of £300. There was no Baptistry, the candidates were either baptised at Castle Donington Church, or in the River Trent. The chapel was enlarged to its present size in 1843, and in the same year a school room was built for day and Sunday School purposes. Another John Stenson, who was a maternal uncle of Mr John Clifford, was the first Pastor and school master, receiving a salary of £40 per year. He lived in the schoolhouse which has long been demolished to make room for the classrooms.
One of the most noted people to be born in Sawley was Dr John Clifford, whose influence is felt even today throughout the whole of the Baptist denomination. In 1861 the Long Eaton members of the Sawley Baptist Church (of which there were seven) started to meet in a room off the High Street. This meeting place was at the rear of Mr Flowers shop, and had been used as a joiners workshop. By 1864 a site had been purchased in Tythe Barn Lane (now Station Street) and a church built to seat 200 parishioners, and it was also to be used as a school. The church continued as a branch of the Sawley church until 1877. Plans were made for a new church in 1880, at a cost of £1,370, and it would have seating accomodation for 450 people, and it was opened by Dr John Clifford. In 1907, the old chapel was replaced by a suite of Sunday School buildings.
St Johns Baptist Church, Clumber Street, was formed in 1887 by members seceding from Station Street. The first meeting was held in a room over Mr J. Wardle's shop, in Conway Street. Then the old Primitive Methodist Chapel in Chapel Street was taken, fully restored and refurnished to serve again as a chapel until the school chapel was built in Clumber Street in 1895. The Institute Schoolroom was a later addition in 1909.
The Salvation Army commenced in Long Eaton about 1880 in the old skating rink in Orchard Street. They opened their new "Barracks" in New Street in 1901. The Gospel Mission started in the old Primitive Methodist Chapel, in Chapel Street, in 1901/2. They later moved to the old skating rink in Orchard Street for a short while. The next move was to the "Tin Trunk" situated in Queen Street, where they had really stirring times. On one occasion they had to take turns at pumping the water from the boiler house so that the fires could be kept going. They met with other troubles when a number of the members broke away and formed the Rescue Mission. After a time the two bodies got together and agreed to amalgamate under the name of "The United Mission" and continued to meet in the Primitive Church in Chapel Street. Next, the Spiritualists came along and outbid them in rent for the old church and they had to leave.
There had been in existence a "Railway Mission", who had a meeting house in Midland Street, but the cause was now defunct and the building and its furnishings were offered to the United Mission. The meeting house was purchased, moved, renovated and re-erected on Chapel Street where for 27 years it formed the home of the United Gospel Mission. Among the original founders and leaders were: Arthur Tutin, Robert and Frank Palin, W. Clarke, J. Hicton and R. H. Sills.
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