AN historic church will open its doors to the public as part of a prestigious national event for the first time.
Bispham Methodist Church will be taking part in the Heritage Open Days event which sees storied places of worship across the country put up displays for visitors while guides answer questions about the buildings.
The 19th-century church in Billinge, which is thought to be one of the oldest of its denomination in the area, will be taking part in the scheme just as more fascinating information about its history has come to light.
An old copy of the Wigan Observer has revealed how the church was built by William Mills, a Cheshire farmer who incredibly found himself inheriting a fortune from his distant relation who lived in Bispham Hall and passed both the house and estate to him.
Mr Mills, who had to change his name to Holt as part of the conditions of his inheritance, built the Crank Road church in 1845 out of local stone, with many elements of the design such as its central aisle, porch, lancet windows and apse reminiscent of an Anglican chapel of ease.
Mr Mills came to Billinge in 1841 after the hall and estate passed to him due to him being a distant relation of the Holt family which previously owned it.
An 1890 article in the Wigan Observer, which was recently discovered by retired antique dealer John Roby during a house clearance, recorded how Mr Mills was a “poor farmer” who was “hedging and ditching” when the news came to him of his inheritance.
However, church historian David Lythgoe, who has put together detailed literature on the building’s past in preparation for the open days following the recent discoveries, says it is tempting but not quite accurate to describe his change of fortune as a rags-to-riches fairytale.
Mr Lythgoe said: “He was a poor farmer but he wasn’t a peasant. Poverty is relative in this case.
“He would have had quite a comfortable life, but not the sort of wealthy lifestyle he would go on to live at the hall.
“We knew some of the church’s history before but we didn’t know where Mr Mills was from before he inherited the Bispham Hall estate, we weren’t aware it was in Cheshire.
“Joining the Heritage Open Days is something I feel we should have done years ago. It’s exciting for the church because there are only a few Methodist churches around which were built by individuals rather than a group, althoguh in the early days of the church’s history there were quite a few endowed by wealthy families.”
Wiliam Holt built the church at a site almost exactly half way between the nearest places of worship at the time, the Anglican churches of St Aidan’s in Billinge and St Thomas’ in Up Holland.was om
The recently-unearthed Wigan Observer article from 1890 was published to mark the opening of the church’s vestry, which for reasons now unknown was omitted from the original plan.
Visitors will be able to learn more about Bispham Methodist Church’s history during the Heritage Open Days event on September 13 and 14 between 10am and 4pm on the Saturday and 2pm and 4pm on the Sunday. Organ recitals will also be held during the opening hours.
To find out more, visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk