On Ilkeston Common we find Ebenezer Chapel.
Adeline remembers this chapel well, although she was born in the year following its opening. She writes ….
“Ebenezer Chapel, on the Common, has very interesting memories for me. As a child I often accompanied my father when he was appointed to preach there. The chapel was a commodious room with forms for the congregation.
“I remember going one Sunday afternoon to the chapel. A young man, a probationer for the teaching plan, was to preach his trial sermon, and my father was deputed to attend, and give a report to the committee. William — not his real name — opened the service very well indeed, then gave out his text, and began to preach. After a few minutes he stopped, looked round the chapel, and then laying his hands on the Bible, put his head on them. It was a tense moment. The congregation sat perfectly still, but my father, without any hesitation, went up, spoke a few quiet words to William, placed him on the pulpit seat, and then finished the service.
“I have never forgotten that incident. William was encouraged to try again, and was successful”.
“The neighbourhood…. was perhaps more neglected than any part of the town, for young men in their teens attended the (Sunday) school, and what they there learnt, along with the writing class held on Monday evenings, was all the education many of them received.
“So ill-informed were some of the scholars that the superintendent said, on one occasion, they reminded him of a lad being attended by a doctor, and being told to put out his tongue.
“The lad gazed at the doctor, not understanding him, upon which the lad’s mother told him to open his goblet and put out his lollypop, which the doctor at once examined”. (Bullock-(H)edge Nook 1893)
The old chapel 1806-1853
The 1851 Religious Census records the Wesleyan Methodist Reformers at Cotmanhay occupying a chapel, 30 feet by 24 feet, built in 1806, with space, standing and sitting, for a total of 275 people.
Average attendance on Sunday afternoon was a general congregation of 30 with a Sunday School of 130, while the evening congregation numbered 70.
A new chapel 1853
In autumn, 1852, work was begun on the new Wesleyan Reform chapel in Cotmanhay (Awsworth Road) when the foundation stone was laid on Ilkeston Common by the Rev. James Everett (see the Fly Leaves) and the chapel was eventually opened on Sunday, January 23rd, 1853.
The building, 33 feet by 21 feet, was suggested by Mr. Richard Evans of Ilkeston Pottery on land owned by him.
In his diary of the time, John Cartwright records the first days of this new chapel.
With her friends, his sister Martha was helping in the preparations for the grand opening of the building, which was ‘situated on Ilkeston common by the hot-water course running from the colliery pumping-engine higher up’.
The Rev. J. Youngman (afternoon) and Mr. Seth Peace (evening) led the congregation for the first services and there were full houses, with many standing and others being turned away.
“The clear, honest, original, exposition of New Testament doctrine and usage by Mr. Youngman, and the warm-hearted and soul-saving influence that accompanied Mr. Pearce’s(sic) devotional exercises, were productive of great good” (NR January 1853)
A tea meeting at the new chapel on the following Monday evening was attended by about 250 people — at two sittings!!.
This was followed by ‘ a most animated, social and instructive public meeting, on the value of Sunday school tuition, in connection with the preaching of the gospel’, presided over by Henry West and during which one of the speakers was John Columbine.
The collection on Sunday and the proceeds of the tea meeting totalled more than £30.
The Mutual Improvement Society
John Cartwright remembers joining the Mutual Improvement Society when it was established at the beginning of February 1853, and at its second meeting, hearing Adeline’s father give a lecture on the Bible.
He led a discussion on the question ‘Is the Bible of human or of Divine origin?’, supporting the latter view.
‘The pros and cons were well discussed then and at the following week’s meeting’.
(Bath Street stakes a claim to being one of the original founders of the Society, 1849-1851, with master of the National School John Ryder, and John, later the Rev. John Richardson, Vicar of West Ham, and others.
However, in January 1852, the local press was reporting on a meeting at the Independent Chapel at which the formation of a Mutual Improvement Society was mooted.
Mr. Thomas Walton, British School master and lecturer of the Mechanic’s Library, informed the gathering that a preliminary meeting for such a purpose was to be held in mid-February.
At that meeting it was proposed, and unanimously carried, that a Mutual Improvement Class be formed, ‘which has been carried into effect’.)
On the following Tuesday evening there was a further, teachers’ meeting, for the appointment of officers for the Ebenezer Sunday School.
Both school and chapel flourished such that seven years later the premises were enlarged to about double the original size — again Richard Evans providing the land.
In 1872 the old building was pulled down and a new Ebenezer Chapel and School built at the same site.
1873; Bleak Cotmanhay
A year later and a letter in the Pioneer, penned by a Looker-on, painted a very bleak picture of this area and its hinterland …
Sir, I have long heard speak of the demoralised state of Cotmanhay. Circumstances have caused me to pass through this village several times of late, so I have proved what I have heard to be true.
I was passing through one day about 12 o’clock am. when I saw women coming out of a public house, with their children in their arms. Women will go and sit in a public house, and call for ale like men, while their families are woefully neglected, running about the streets nearly naked, and also deprived of common education. Parents seem to care nothing about their children, neither body or soul, so long as they can get plenty of drink, whilest most of the men are getting plenty of money to make their families comfortable. A Colliery Manager says that there’s scarce one in ten of the boys in Cotmanhay that can write their own name when they start work.
One night whilst passing through the village I saw twenty to thirty young men all gathered together, near Longdon’s gate. Allow me to ask what can be done to bring about a better state of things ? Can the Vicar do anything in the matter ? Cannot the dissenters in Cotmanhay do something ? I beg leave to ask, where is the force of the Education Act. If the parties mentioned above can do anything for the village, it is quote time for them to wake out of their sleep