A personal account: By Malcolm Poole
A Personalised potted History of Holbrooks
If you were to look at an old A-Z street map of Coventry, it shows churches in 3 different positions in Parkgate Road – one each end and one in the middle. We are familiar with our own Church at the east end, and Holy Family RC Church at the west end, but what about the one in the middle?
At the turn on the 20th century there was only that one, a Primitive Methodist Church, situated near to where the school is now. The lintel stone with its engraved name and dated 1847 now lies at the rear of our Church. For many years it was kept in my uncle’s garden in Wheelwright Lane. He claimed it when the Church was demolished because many of my father’s family attended that Church.
However, about 1910, various members became so dissatisfied with the preaching or teaching that about 20 men and their families left and formed a new Church. The first meetings were held in a shed at the rear of my great-uncle Joe’s shop – Wilkinson’s Stores just around the corner in Holbrook Lane.
In 1911 a corrugated metal building was erected and the Holbrooks Congregational Church was established under the ministry and pastorate of Rev George Wickes whose brother Ernie was Church secretary. Incidentally, George was an alderman of the City of Coventry and was instrumental in getting Foleshill Bridge built over the railway where previously there had been a level crossing. This bridge helped the development of the north of Coventry and the City boundaries were extended to include the hamlet of Holbrooks.
In those days Holbrook Lane was just a country lane with The Old Brook (now culverted) running across it. Roland Ave, Park Ave, Whitmore Park Ave etc were not in existence. The area was mainly farmland. One original farmhouse is still in occupation just inside Holborn Ave. The development of Holbrooks as a residential area saw a growth in the congregation and so it became necessary to a have a larger building. In 1928 a wooden building (formerly a canteen at Dunlop’s) was purchased and became the main Church building.
George Wickes remained as minister until 1933 when he moved to a Church in Tamworth. Rev Frank Baxter became the next minister and stayed until 1947. During his ministry a vital change took place. In 1940 a campaign was held with the evangelist Mr Roy Hessian and many people were truly converted, including the church secretary, Mr George Cook and his wife. Just imagine – a long-standing deacon coming to know the Lord for the first time!!!
Prior to this, many people, including my relatives, regarded the Church as a place to meet for social events. Many non-spiritual activities took place, the choir put on secular concerts, there was a “Glee Club”, sales of work, bazaars etc.
But after Roy Hessian’s visit God really worked in transforming the lives of members, and those things were discontinued. By this time Ivor Owens was one of the deacons and helped to bring about a more spiritual and scriptural standard to the Church.
I started coming regularly to Holbrooks in 1946 – first to the Young People’s Club on Thursdays. At the time this was just a social evening; we played table-tennis and party games. Later it was decided that we had to have an epilogue. Usually this meant the secretary repeated a formal prayer.
I then joined the Sunday School which was over 400 strong, only to find that some of the teachers were more interested in talking about model aircraft than in teaching Bible stories, or so it seemed.
One result of the Roy Hessian campaign was the formation of an N.Y.L.C. branch. Meetings were held each Saturday and were well attended by young and old. After my conversion in 1948 I became a Vice-President and was encouraged to lead the meetings.
Mr Baxter resigned in 1947 and Ivor Owens was invited to become the part-time pastor. Just after the change-over the deacons decided that the YP club must now become 100% devotional – no more games! We were told that there was plenty of scope for sport and recreation outside the Church. This was true and we often had a crowd to go cycling, swimming or playing tennis or putting.
However, the majority of the YPC were not born-again Christians and so left the Church. From 40 plus we dropped down to 5 or 6, or whom only Elaine Aitken and myself remain in membership.
The deacons appointed a new Youth Leader, Harry Potts, recently out of the merchant navy, and the son of one of our very godly ladies. Through him God gradually built up the numbers of young people and we were encouraged and trained to take part in the meetings, and also to take meetings in other churches.
Mr Owens encouraged us to hold open-air meetings – at Hen Lane corner, Hen Lane bus terminus, on the grass at the front of the Church, and in Foleshill Park. When I came out of the army in 1952 I was appointed as Open Air Secretary and had the responsibility of organising the outreach activities of the Youth Fellowship.
So you see, in the space of a few years, the emphasis of the Church changed dramatically from social to spiritual. Souls were coming to the Lord and the Church was growing numerically as well as spiritually. So much so that we had to consider expanding. An additional wooden hut was purchased to accommodate, first the Bible Class with Mrs Owens in charge of the girls and Mr Owens the boys, then the Primary Sunday School of which I was superintendent with over 70 children under the age of 8 years.
In 1955 one of our Church members, Mrs O’Nions, and her husband bought a plot of land adjacent to the Church and presented it to the Church with the suggestion that it be used to erect a permanent building.
A “New Church Building Fund” was launched and 15 years later the present Church building was opened as the Holbrooks Evangelical Church. Ralph May, a joiners foreman at Gallifords, gave up his job for 12 months to supervise the building which was mainly carried out by our own members.
By this time I was the Church Treasurer and it was a delightful headache to cope with the accounts. Delightful because of the way the Lord supplied all our needs, but still a headache because of the sheer volume of book-keeping to be done. (No computers then!)
The new Church was opened by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones on 14th March 1970. Six days later the old wooden building went up in flames. Divine timing? We had planned to use the old building for Sunday School and Youth work, but now we had to start again from scratch. Four years later the present hall was erected, and opened by Ralph May.
Rev Ivor Owens retired due to age and ill-health in November 1979 after 31 years as full time pastor. But it was another four years before another Welshman took his place. Jim Jackett was with us for only three months before he resigned. Then another wait until yet another Welshman, Rev Peter Phipps, who became our minister in 1984. He stayed for 4.5 years. Within 12 months the Lord brought a Scotsman, Rev Ian McNaughton to be our sixth minister in 80 years. He was with us for 14 years.
I believe that God has His man for the moment. From each of these men we have learned valuable lessons and we are still learning. Some lessons have been painful, some pleasant; I trust all rewarding.
Our present pastor Ben Holmes, came from Doncaster as a young man to join the church at Holbrooks. This was after meeting Liz, the girl who was to become his wife, at the FIEC annual assembly. In time he became our youth leader, then a deacon, before going to Bible College.
It was during his time at London Theological Seminary that Ben was given many opportunities to preach and, subsequently, the church invited him to be our next pastor. His induction was in 2010. Through his ministry the Lord has been pleased to bless the folks at Holbrooks, even though some of us are still struggling with his Yorkshire dialect and odd pronunciations.
The church buildings and carpark underwent a major refurbishment in readiness for our centenary celebrations in June 2011. I was amused when one visitor asked if I was “one of the founder members”!
I count it a privilege to belong to this local Church, but it is a much greater privilege to belong to the Church in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 19-22. My question to you, reader, is “Are you a member of that Church?”.
Jesus said, “I will build My Church”. But to do so He uses ordinary people like me and you. I wonder if someone reading this will be able to give a similar personal potted history to the next generation, and testify to how God has used you to help build His Church.
Parkgate Road, Holbrooks,
Coventry, CV6 4DG