This is a photograph of my family – my brother James Albert, and parents Samuel and Dorothy Mills in the back row, and me and my sisters Sylvia and Dorothy in the front. It was taken outside what we called the ‘Tin Mission’ – the LDS chapel in Neville Street, Oldham, where we went to Church when I was a child.
My siblings and I have been reminiscing about the ‘Tin Mission’ and it prompted me to search my mother’s old photographs relating to the building.
This is Neville Street as we knew it as children, with the chapel on the left side of the street, behind the large corner building. It sat on the corner of Daintry Road with Neville Street. Over the years the little Tin Mission served as a meeting house for Oldham and Rochdale, and then Ashton and Hyde branch joined us.
Before the Neville Street chapel was built, meetings and conferences had been held at various locations in Oldham: Union Street, Henshaw Street, Horsedge Street, and Back King Street.
This photograph of a group of Oldham Saints was taken in 1907. It includes my grandmother, Susan Howarth (nee Boyd) seated on the front row with my mother Dorothy, as a baby, on her lap. My grandfather James Edward Howarth is also in the photograph, standing to the right of my grandmother and wearing a flat cap.
My grandparents had been introduced to the restored gospel by member Sister Neild, who came to them as a housekeeper.
Elder James H Platt baptised my grandfather and my uncle Fred on the 21st May 1908. Elder Jesse W Owens baptised my grandmother and my aunt Mary Elizabeth, also on the same day.
In 1842 a conference was held in Manchester. At that time there were 86 members in Oldham branch. In 1843 the membership was 120. The branch president was Luke Neild. But many things were happening in Lancashire at that time including people emigrating to America to Zion. In 1894 my great grandmother had taken some of her family to America, although they were not members of the Church. The Oldham saints became few because of emigration but they somehow managed to build their first chapel on Neville Street. It was completed in 1908.
The photograph above was taken on the day the chapel was dedicated. These are all missionaries, and the four who built the chapel can be seen in the picture: Elder Spence on the back row; Elder W.S. Glen in front of Elder Spence in the middle row; and Elders Meads and William Glen on the front row. Mission president Charles W. Penrose, seated with his wife in the centre, gave the dedicatory prayer.
This is the interior of the building. I remember that there were large pictures on the wall inside the chapel. One was of the prophet David O. McKay wearing white clothing; another was the prophet Joseph Smith. There was no font so baptisms took place at the swimming pool or Wythenshawe chapel. The chapel had wooden floors and wooden seats, so every little noise echoed. The classrooms at the back of the stage were very small and could be very cold; there was an old electric bar fire for heat, that didn’t work properly. There was a mat well at the front door as you entered the building. Non-members would say it was a trap door that people would fall into and be shipped to America.
My mother Dorothy Howarth was baptized on 15th October 1921 by Elder Frank Nish. She was confirmed by Elder Criddle on the same day.
My father Samuel Mills was introduced to the gospel by my mother. They were married in 1934.
Over the following years they both served in different callings in the branch, as did my grandparents. Having been introduced to the gospel as young people, my mother and father were surrounded by good examples of how to be followers of Jesus Christ. My mother dedicated her Book of Remembrance to Sister Platt, who was called as branch Relief Society President in 1926:
“In the memory of Mary Ellen Platt, whose life was one of love and kindness to everyone. Therefore I dedicate this book to her in the hope that I might live a life as pure and humble as she.”
I was taken to church along with my brother Jim and sisters Sylvia and Dorothy. It was only a few streets away from where we lived in Granville Street, Chadderton (now demolished). We would also take our cousins, Alan, Walter, and Douglas Howarth and cousin Sylvia Barnes, none of whom were members. My dad’s brother Harry and his wife Edna would also attend with their daughter Barbara. As a group of members, we were more like a large family, we all knew each other socially as well as in church.
A group of Relief Society sisters who took part in a concert at the chapel in 1910: Relief Society president Sister Mortimer, with Sisters Annie Wiseman, Elizabeth Pearce, Gladys Ward and Mary Platt
This photograph of the chapel seems to have been taken before Daintry Road was built.
This appeared in the Millennial Star in 1937, with Oldham ‘Tin Mission’ featured as one of sixteen LDS chapels in the UK. At some point in between the building acquired its black and white exterior.
This MIA group photograph was taken in 1926. My mother Dorothy is on the far left with the straight fringe.
This photograph, taken around 1950, shows some of our family outside the chapel. The children from left to right are Anne Pearce, Douglas Howarth, myself, Walter Howarth, and my sister Dorothy. Brother William Giles is kneeling. The sister standing on the left is Barbara Wayne.
There were always social activities like dances, pantomimes, fancy dress parties. Most of these were run to raise money and local people would attend. I remember sewing small white satin pouches that I filled with lavender, then closing with a ribbon to make lavender bags to sell. I would be about 7 or 8 at the time. I had an ice cream tray that hung around my neck (like they had in the cinemas) and I would walk around the streets selling them to raise funds. I can’t remember how much I sold them for. It could have been an old sixpence. I also collected old jam jars that we as a family would wash out and fill with bath salts and cover the top with pretty fabric and ribbons to sell. My sister Sylvia took a suitcase filled with chocolates and sweets to work to sell among her workmates to raise money. My mother was continually sewing and baking for church events and my dad made scenery for shows.
As children we were taught not to talk, or wriggle about in our seats or leave the meeting while it was in progress, we always had to be reverent and under no circumstances was food or sweets to be eaten in the chapel. As a small active child, I found this very hard to do, so I would either sit on my mother’s knee, or Mary Giles’ knee who was a close friend of the family and fall asleep. As I grew older, I would sit reverently on my chair and not move as my dad was usually on the stage in his serving capacity and watch us all. If you were seen to move or try to talk, you got the LOOK, which was my dad’s piercing blue eyes staring at you, as a warning to be reverent. I loved the Sunday school lessons and the scripture stories.
My cousin Walter Howarth worked on the Preston Temple and fitted the kitchen equipment in as well as sinks and waste pipes. He got the contract because he was asked if he was religious. He said that he’d attended the Church Sunday School, so the interviewer said, “You’ll do,” and he got the job! How great is that! His memories of Neville Street are of being in a boxing match and hiding in a box that held all the bibles. He nearly suffocated as someone sat on the box, but eventually let him out before it was too late! His younger brother Douglas told my sister Sylvia when he was young that he had done a really wicked thing. She eventually got him to tell her what it was. Apparently he’d taken a handful of bread off the sacrament tray instead of one piece. The reason for this was that he was diabetic and was very hungry.
This photograph was taken outside the chapel in the 1950s. The children sitting in the front from right to left are my cousin Douglas, my sister Dorothy, myself, Sylvia Barnes and Anne Pearce. My father is kneeling on the left and his brother Harry is kneeling in the middle. Sister Lizzie Pearce is standing in the middle at the back, with Dorothy Newton and Eric Heaton to the left. The sister standing on the far right is Sarah Kershaw, with Henry Kewley behind her to the left.
This photograph was taken about 1954 and also shows some of the branch. As well as my immediate family it includes members of the Finnegan, Newton, and Pearce families, and full-time missionary Elder Russell.
An experience my father Samuel Mills had at the Tin Mission was during a hot summer. During a service a dry storm started; all the windows and doors had been opened to let the air in. Suddenly flashes of lightening were followed by thunder which startled the members. As my father stood at the pulpit the lightening flashed through the door of the chapel, what appeared to look like a fireball came towards the pulpit. He prayed as he said in his mind, ‘I’ve had it.’ As it reached the pulpit the fireball turned and went out of the window at the side. During that storm a chimney was knocked off a house at the side of the chapel and the fire brigade had to be called. And Dad said he knew he had been spared from injury or death.
Oldham branch now meets in a much larger chapel in Scottfield Road, but those of us who gained our testimonies of the restored gospel while attending the ‘Tin Mission’ in Neville Street will always remember it with fondness