History of The Lees Chapel
Release date: 1st December 2012
This extract from Chapel Life.
The Lees Chapel is situated in the area of Lapworth which is shown on O.S. maps as being Kingswood from which we get Kingswood Close, Kingswood Lodge, Kingswood Canal Junction and originally Kingswood Station. It was also the reason that the original name for the church was Kingswood Mission Rooms as can be seen from the words above the front door. At some stage the area of Kingswood was subsumed into the village of Lapworth but had for many prior years been a part of the Parish of Lapworth. The origins of the church are with the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the heart of what was the true village of Lapworth. Sometime in the 1880s the people of St. Mary's recognised the need for a Christian witness in Kingswood. It has been intimated that a place of worship was needed for the understairs people i.e. the menservants, maidservants and the labourers (railway and canal workers) in the area but whether this is the case or not is lost in history.
William Lees, whose home was at Mountford Farm in Church Lane, was a lay reader in the Church of England and he was asked to start a new Christian meeting in Kingswood. Initially the meetings were held in the drawing room of the home of a Mrs Allen at Gowan Bank in Station Lane. This house no longer exists having been replaced by one or more bungalows between the church and the station. Gowan Bank was also the home of Edith Holder, the writer of 'The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady'. The meetings quickly outgrew the drawing room and so Mrs Alien built a small hall adjoining the house. This in turn soon became too small leading to the need of the present hall in 1886. The rapid growth of the work proved that the need identified by the people at St. Mary's was absolutely correct and those who lived in Kingswood benefitted from hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lees Chapel grew out of a mission work commenced by members of St. Mary's Parish Church in Lapworth and was initially known as Kingswood Mission. William Lees, a C. of E. lay reader led the work. As the work flourished the church building was erected and known as Kingswood Mission Hall.
In 1886 subscriptions were raised to purchase land and erect the building. The Trustees were: Rev Kenrick Prescot (Rector of Lapworth), Henry George Heathfield (Edgbaston), Samuel Sanders (Snitterfield), George Gordon Brodie (Handsworth) and William Lees.
Initially links with the Church of England were maintained but from 1897 through to 1907 there were some tensions which led to the Rector Frank Bell stating that he had been prevented from preaching in the Mission Hall.
William Lees died on 29th January 1907 and after a period of time in which a new minister was sought it was decided to sever links with the Anglican Church to establish an evangelical undenominational church. It was then that the church became known as The Lees Memorial Hall and the erection of a plaque in memory of William Lees was erected - this remains to this day on a wall in the Chapel. The buildings and land were sold by auction and were purchased for the sum of £630 by the congregation themselves. These were words from Rector Frank Bell: "The place was built as a Church Mission Room and so it will remain, with simple services and evangelistic preaching. No one will be turned out of it. It will be free and open to all, and I trust, always a centre of spiritual life, as it ever has been. As such there could be no more fitting memorial to Mr. Lees, for whose personal goodness and devotion I have genuine admiration; and myself to see a tablet erected in the Mission Room recording his life's work."
Confirmation of the 'new' work was completed via trust deed in November 1909 and from then on an independent evangelical witness has been maintained. The Trustees were: John Elwell (Knowle), Rev Frank Brodie (Christ Church, Coventry), John George Dunn (architect, Birmingham, Edwin Clutterbuck (Kingswood), Albert Coote (Leamington), John Mansell Smith (draper, Stratford) and Joseph Palmer (Railway Agent, Kingswood).
From its beginnings at the end of the 19th century the church we know as The Lees Chapel thrived for 50 years and more. Initially it was known as the Kingswood Mission Rooms and then after the death of William Lees it became known as The Lees Memorial Hall. It's only in recent times that the name The Lees Chapel has been adopted. Throughout those 50 years there was a full time minister who preached at regular morning and evening services. There has been a Sunday school of 15 and more youngsters and a regular Bible Class for the entire congregation.
An annual event was the Kingswood Convention with large crowds attending to hear well known preachers from around the country. Conventions continued until the end of the 1950's. There has always been a keen focus on Missionary work both at home and overseas with several Mission Organisations being supported on a regular basis. There were many meetings of a more practical and social nature such as a ladies sewing meeting, men's and women's fellowship groups and young people's groups. We have a number of photographs of the Sisterhood (yes, that's what they were called!) outings and Sunday School outings.
Communication was considered important for the fellowship and into the local community. It is recorded that the church even had a modern telephone in 1937! A monthly magazine called The Kingswood Messenger was produced for many years. It contained local news, church news, teaching from the minister and other items of interest as well as a diary of future events.
Having a full time minister also necessitated accommodation for him and his family so in 1921 the property next to the chapel, Kingswood Lodge, was purchased and maintained in the church's ownership until 1979. Throughout the years from 1886 The Lees Chapel has played a significant part of life in the village and the gospel has been declared faithfully to all who came into contact with its members.
The church suffered serious decline during the late 1960's and 1970's. It had its own minister until the Rev C H Stevenson retired in September 1969. A decision to close the work was made in August 1976 when the congregation had dwindled to just a few elderly folk. Somewhere between 1975 and 1977 the church premises were put in the hands of an organisation called The Datchet Fellowship (today it operates under the name of Rural Ministries and is involved in rejuvenating churches in rural areas). Not only had the congregation declined but the buildings (the church hall and Kingswood Lodge) were also in need of considerable renovation having been neglected due to insufficient funds. Kingswood Lodge in particular was declared unsafe in 1970 due to neglect, damage and vandalism. Plans were drawn up to renovate it including a proposal to build flats. Eventually it was sold via auction in September 1978. The proceeds were used to renovate the church itself at a cost of £1300.
Things took a turn for the better when a new phase of the work commenced in 1977. Rev Bill Rogers and a few people from the Solihull Christian Fellowship decided to recommence regular meetings at the church. Bill's full time occupation was as a Probation Officer in Solihull but he decided to take the church work on in a voluntary capacity. Bill and Betty Rogers moved into 179 Station Lane and informed neighbours in April 1979 that they were seeking to re-establish the work at The Lees. Bill was the main instigator in selling Kingswood Lodge to raise funds for the renovation work. At that time it was expected that Lapworth would see some significant house building which would place the chapel in a strategic position. Bryant homes submitted plans in 1978 to build homes on 25 acres of land at Kingswood Farm but this was subsequently refused in September 1978. During the tenure of Bill and Betty (1977 - 1987) the work grew steadily with regular Sunday Services and a thriving young people's work. Many of the activities started by Bill and Betty are still in operation today. Throughout the years the church continued as an independent evangelical non-denominational work. During 1984 the church fellowship became a member of the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches). The FIEC links together many similar independent churches to provide advice and assistance. Also in 1984 a baptistry was installed for the purpose of conducting adult baptism. Bill resigned from the ministry in August 1987 and took up ministry at Henley-in-Arden Baptist Church.
A highlight of Bill and Betty's ministry was the Centenary Celebration held on 17th May 1986. The Speaker on that day was Dr Alan Redpath, a well known preacher at the time. Guests included Captain & Mrs John Metcalf (Cpt Metcalf had been the minister up to the outbreak of the WW2) and Rev & Mrs Harry Stevenson (Rev Stephenson was minister until 1969). There were special church services and a luncheon at the Village Hall. The church congregation performed a musical called 'A Grain of Mustard Seed' written by Roger Jones and many from the village enjoyed coming to hear it. The Centenary was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the fact that a faithful Christian witness had been maintained for over 100 years in the Kingswood area of Lapworth. That work continues today as we seek to declare the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to a sceptical and predominantly secular world. Some of Jesus' last words were: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" - the good news that Jesus died for everyone and that his resurrection brings life forever with those who accept him. This continues to be our aim in 2013.
Today, the church is still independent and undenominational. We are affiliated to the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches). But what we see as important is that we remain faithful to the ministry of God's precious word and provide a place of public worship to Almighty God - this was the intention of the founders and of William Lees himself.