First, some snippets from our past:
“The First Sixty Years”
– taken from the ‘handbook’ produced on the occasion on the Cherry Tree Congregational Church’s Jubilee, in 1947
“Cherry Tree sixty years ago was a village which was becoming more active and prosperous due to work in the cotton mills. Even so, the village iteslf had no place of worship, either Anglican or nonconformist. Between Witton and Feniscowles, on the Preston New Road, there was no Church of any kind. Consequently, many Cherry Tree people were to be found amongst the most devoted worshippers at Chapel Street, James Street and Mill Hill Congregational Churches, Paradise and Griffin Street Methodist Churches, and the Anglican Church at Feniscowles. Obviously there was a need to be met in Cherry Tree.
The stimulus came from the handful of Noncomformist residents in the village, who found it inconvenient very often to walk the good two miles into Blackburn to worship. In addition, they felt that Nonconformity ought to be represented in what promised to be a growing locality. At first there was an occasional evening service on Sundays conducted by Mr. Boden, Headmaster of the Clitheroe Grammar School. More definite organisation showed itself with the arrival of Mr. David Critchley in the village.
David Critchley was born at Whiston, near Prescot, and educated at Huyton Park Congregational School under a Blackburn man, Mr. T. Smalley. In his youth, David Critchley showed signs of unusual ability, and it was suggested to him on many occasions that he should present himself as a candidate for the Christian Ministry. He was, however, seriously handicapped in that he lost his father at the age of five. On leaving school, therefore, he became apprenticed to a joiner and builder, coming to Blackburn in 1871. Soon after his arrival in Blackburn he went to a meeting at Park Road Congregational Church presided over by the late Alderman Eli Heyworth. The address delivered by Mr. Heyworth made a profound impression on the lad from Whiston and directed his life into a new channel.
In 1885 the few Nonconformists in Cherry Tree met, and, with Mr. Critchley as their leader, they discussed the situation and decided to hold services and form a Sunday School. Under the guidance of the Holy spirit they became a Church and appointed Mr. Critchley their leader. The first sign of growth was when the Church decided to pray, praise and search the Scriptures in a place set apart rather than in their own cottages. It was on November 22nd, 1885, that they first met together for public worship in the Cherry Tree Reading Room. Fifty persons were present, and Mr. Critchley was elected Superintendent of the School, and the services of worship were entrusted to him. He pledged himself to obtain suitable supplies when he himself was not free to officiate. At that time Mr. Critchley was an accredited local preacher and a member of the Paradise United Methodist Church, Fielden Street, Blackburn. Evidently the Methodist Churches in Blackburn were not greatly impressed by the Cherry Tree venture, for there is no record of their showing an interest in Mr. Critchley’s enterprise. Suffice it to say that the members of the first Church at Cherry Tree knew not to which, if any, denomination they would ultimately belong. In due time, however, they decided to attach themselves to one of the denominations, and at an early Church Meeting they became a Church of the Congregational Faith and Order. The Reading Room was granted free of cost to the pioneers in the faith by Mr. Joseph Dugdale. One Anniversary Day was celebrated in the Reading Room, in November, 1886, when the Revd. Isaac Davies, of Mill Hill Congregational Church, was the preacher. The offerings amounted to £16.
One of the earliest pioneers, Mr. James Haythornthwaite, felt that the means of grace provided by the Reading Room gatherings was inadequate. He was keen, therefore, to encourage as many of the young folk in the infant Church in Cherry Tree as possible to accompany him to the Anglican Church at Feniscowles for evening worship. It is good to know that, from the very beginning, leaders of our Church have been sensitive to the fact that there is something of value in public worship in a House made sacred by the prayers and praises of generations. In this fact, too, we detect the seeds of tolerance and the appreciation of the mode of worship of Christians who belong to communions other than our own.
During the two years’ life in the Reading Room, success attended the efforts of the people and the Church “increased in numbers daily.” The growing Church was compelled, after this short time, to make the decision that alternative accommodation must be sought. Delighted with the progress being made, Mr. Dugdale decided to erect the present building for the use of the growing Church. In 1887 our beautiful sanctuary, which cost over £2000, was finished. A stone edifice, it has a quiet dignity which is further enhanced by the delightful natural setting in which it is placed. On entering the building one is immediately impressed by the worshipful atmosphere created by the interior design and tasteful furnishings. The roof and pews are products of the true craftsman. Close examination of the ends of the pews reveals that they are hand-carved, with a different design on each. Surely it is significant that David Critchley, who came to Cherry Tree full of a passion for Jesus Christ, should have done this carving and acted as foreman in the building of our Church. His was in very truth a labour of love, and ours is the privilege to enter into his labours. We remember him with gratitude. The lines of the windows blend with the main architectural design and are most pleasing to the eye. If we, in this generation, could replace but a few with good stained glass, it would be to our credit that we had made even more beautiful the sanctuary of which we are so proud.
Thus completed, the Church was opened on Sunday October 2nd, 1887, and the first sermon was preached by the Rev. J. P. Wilson, Mr. Dugdale’s Minister, and at that time Minister of James Street Independent Chapel, Blackburn.
On the first Sunday in July, 1888, the Rev. Benjamin Hargreaves, who was trained at Nottingham Congregational Institute, and had previously held the pastorate at Great Broughton, Chester, for three years, entered upon his successful 19 years’ ministry. Under his ministry the work prospered greatly, conditions being ideal. The ground was “new”, the beautiful Church was presented free of debt, and a band of enthusiastic pioneers helped and encouraged the Minister in his work.
Ministers of Cherry Tree Congregational Church
1888-1907 Revd. Benjamin Hargreaves
1908-1916 Revd. T. J. Barker
1916-1924 Revd. R. K. Postlethwaite
1925-1939 Revd. W. Grey Williams
1939-1951 Revd. F. Bakewell
Union with Presbyterians in 1972, to form the United Reformed Church
1951-1976 Revd. Merion Williams
1976-1982 Revd. D. Netherwood (also minister at Mill Hill)
1976-1982 Revd. H. Gibson (interim moderator)
Joined with Mill Hill in 1984, to form Woodlands
1982-1985 Revd. Brian Jolly
1985-1988 In vacancy
1988-1993 Revd. Lois Sundeen
1993-2006 Revd. Eric Kirkman
2006-2009 In vacancy
2009-2010 Revd. Geoff Townsend
2010-present Revd. Alan Barnes (in group pastorate with BRS Kingsway)
Sixteen young men from the Congregational Church were lost in the First World War:
James Richard Helliwell
Robert George Tuck
John Robert Seed
In 1919, following a big effort and special donations and subscriptions, a Memorial Pipe Organ was erected and dedicated to the memory of those sixteen who had lost their lives in the war.
In 1925, a grand bazaar raised money to install electricity, and in 1939 a Lych Gate was donated to the Church by Mr. and Mrs. James Haythornthwaite. The memorial organ was replaced in 1942. In 1985 the Lych Gate was removed, due to being unsafe.
For many years, the beacon on the corner of the Church roof was a landmark, but in 1980 it was deemed unsafe and taken down.
The stonework on the beacon was used to build the retaining wall of the Remembrance Garden.
The design for the cover of our first Church magazine, published in 1946, was taken from this prominent landmark.