Faith and Fun: Free Church Sponsored Social Activities in Edwardian Basingstoke - 1903
Although the primary concern of churches has always been the spiritual wellbeing of their congregations, many have also contributed to the social life of local communities. In the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, this observation applied as much, if not more so, to the Free Churches as to the Church of England, notwithstanding the somewhat puritanical and killjoy reputations they had acquired due, in part, to their antipathy towards intoxicating liquor and gambling. For many Nonconformists, however, there was no contradiction between their faith and having fun, within prescribed limits. Taking a single year, 1903, Basingstoke’s four principal Free Churches at that time - London Street Congregational Church; the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Church Street; the Primitive Methodist Church on Sarum Hill, opened in 1902; and Immanuel (Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion) Church in Wote Street sponsored three broad categories of social activity. First, there were entertainments and concerts. The best examples of this category were the Pleasant Saturday Evening (PSE) concerts organised by London Street Congregational Church, which were held weekly between October and March. A second category was bazaars and sales of work. While their main purpose was fund raising they also served as opportunities for social intercourse and recreation in its broadest sense. During 1903 there were two major events of this kind and a host of smaller ones. In early March the Congregationalists held their Grand “Reformation Times” bazaar and in mid-June the Wesleyans their “Empire” bazaar. In both cases, ‘bazaar decoration’ firms were employed to create the desired ambience, with a view to maximising attendance and, of course, takings. Lastly there were Sunday school treats. Those, for Immanuel and Primitive Methodist scholars, were held in mid July. Both involved teas followed by games, races and competitions.
Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.