This is a photograph of our family – our parents, Samuel and Dorothy Mills, our brother James Albert, and our sister Dorothy, with Eileen being the youngest. It was taken outside the ‘Tin Mission’ in Neville Street, Oldham, where we went to church when we were children, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (‘Mormons’ or LDS Church).
As siblings we’ve been reminiscing about the ‘Tin Mission’ recently and looking at our 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. Over the years the little tin mission served as a meeting house for LDS Church members living in Oldham and Rochdale, then Ashton and Hyde joined the branch.
Before the Neville Street chapel was built, meetings and conferences had been held in Union Street, Henshaw Street, Horsedge Street and Back King Street, Oldham.
This next photograph of a group of LDS Church members in Oldham in 1907 includes our grandmother, Susan Howarth (nee Boyd) seated on the front row with our mother Dorothy as a baby on her lap. Our grandfather James Edward Howarth is also in the photograph, standing to the right of our grandmother and wearing a flat cap.
They had been introduced to the LDS Church by a member, Mrs Neild, who came to them as a housekeeper.
In 1842 a Church conference was held in Manchester. At this time there were 86 members in Oldham LDS branch. In 1843 the membership was 120. The branch president was a Luke Neild. But many things were happening in Lancashire at this time and people were emigrating to America to ‘Zion.’ In 1894 our great-grandma had taken some of her family to America, although they were not members of the LDS Church.
The Oldham congregation became few in number because of emigration but they somehow managed to build their first chapel on Neville Street. It was completed in 1908.
These are the four full-time missionary Elders who built the chapel: Elder F.B. Meads, Elder C.D. Spence, and the two Elders Glen, who were cousins.
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.
Above, is the interior of the building. There were large pictures on the wall inside the chapel.
One picture was of the prophet and president of the Church, David O. McKay; another was the prophet Joseph Smith. There was no font, so baptisms took place at the swimming pool or at the LDS chapel in Wythenshawe. 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.
The photograph on the left, of a group of Oldham branch members on the front steps of the chapel, must have been taken not long after it was built, as Elder W.S. Glen is the man in the bowler hat.
The photograph on the right is a group of ladies belonging to the Oldham Relief Society (the LDS equivalent of the WI), 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 chape seems to have been taken before the houses in Daintry Road were built.
The smaller photograph was taken in 1937, when Oldham ‘Tin Mission’ was one of sixteen LDS chapels in the UK. At some point in between, the building acquired its black and white exterior.
The group photograph, above, was taken in 1926. Our mother Dorothy is on the far left with the straight fringe.
Our father, Samuel Mills, was introduced to the LDS Church by our mother. They were married in 1934.
Over the following years they were both very actively engaged with the Church, as were our grandparents. Having been introduced to the Church as young people, our mother and father were surrounded by good examples of how to be followers of Jesus Christ. Our mother kept a Book of Remembrance, which she dedicated to Sister Platt, who was the 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.”
We were taken to church along with our brother Jim and sister Dorothy. It was only a few streets away from where we lived in Granville Street, Chadderton. We would also take our cousins, Alan, Walter, and Douglas Howarth and cousin Sylvia Barnes, none of whom were officially members of the Church. Our dad’s brother Harry and his wife Edna would also attend with their daughter Barbara. As a congregation, we were more like a large family, we all knew each other socially as well as in church.
The photograph, above, taken around 1950, shows some of our family outside the ‘Tin Mission.’ The children from left to right are Anne Pearce, Douglas Howarth, myself, Walter Howarth, and my sister Dorothy. Brother William Giles is kneeling. The lady standing on the left is Barbara Wayne.
When we were children at Neville Street, Freddie Fowles, an invalid, was brought to Church in his invalid carriage. It looked like a coffin on wheels. His relatives would push him to and from Sunday School and later in the day to the evening service every Sunday. They lived up a very high and steep hill in Oldham off Middleton Road, and pushed him down to the Neville Street Chapel and then back up again to their home twice every Sunday. I would marvel at how this could be done.
Above, a group photo outside the Neville Street Chapel with Brother Freddie Fowles in the foreground lying in his carriage. Sylvia is the smallest child in the front row.
Freddie had a hard life as he could only move his arms and hands, but since he could see, he was able to make jewellery by setting everything out on his chest. With this ability he helped his family financially, as people were quite impoverished and there was no State Benefit system at that time. But another serious health challenge was about to overtake Freddie. It was discovered that he was going blind. This would have been a total disaster since he would have been unable to see to make the jewellery which had allowed him to earn a small amount of money to support himself. Members of the church and other friends of Freddie bought his jewellery at a cost, which was difficult for them to raise because none of us was at all rich.
When Freddie’s diagnosis of impending blindness was known to the membership attending Neville Street Chapel, our father, Samuel Mills, along with other male members from the branch laid their hands on Freddie’s head to administer a blessing to him. The miracle was that the Lord saw fit to allow him not to lose his sight, and he was able to continue to support himself.
There were always social activities like dances, pantomimes, fancy dress parties. Most of these were run to raise money and local people would attend. We remember Eileen sewing small white satin pouches, filling them with lavender, then closing with a ribbon to make lavender bags to sell. She would be about 7 or 8 at the time, and had an ice cream tray that hung around her neck (like they had in the cinemas). She would walk around the streets selling them to raise funds. We can’t remember how much she sold them for. It could have been an old sixpence. As a family we would also wash out and fill old jam jars with bath salts and cover the top with pretty fabric and ribbons to sell. Sylvia took a suitcase filled with chocolates and sweets to work to sell among her workmates to raise money. Our mother was continually sewing and baking for church events and dad, who was a very good artist, 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, Eileen found this very hard to do, so she would either sit on our mother’s knee, or Mary Giles’ knee who was a close friend of the family, and fall asleep. As we grew older, we would sit reverently on our chairs and not move as dad was usually sitting on the stage, leading the meeting, and would watch us all. If you were seen to move or try to talk, you got the LOOK, which was dad’s piercing blue eyes staring at you, as a warning to be reverent. We loved the Sunday school lessons and the scripture stories.
The photograph, above, was taken outside the Tin Mission in the 1950s. The children sitting in the front from right to left are my cousin Douglas, Dorothy, Eileen, Sylvia Barnes and Anne Pearce.
Our 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 lady standing on the far right is Sarah Kershaw, with Henry Kewley behind her to the left.
The last photograph, below, was taken about 1954 and also shows some of the branch members. As well as our immediate family it includes members of the Finnegan, Newton, and Pearce families, and full-time missionary Elder Russell.
The ‘Tin Mission’ is long gone now, and the Oldham branch of the LDS Church now meets in a much larger chapel in Scottfield Road, but those of us who attended the ‘Tin Mission’ in Neville Street will always remember it with great fondness.
Reprinted with the kind permission
of Eileen (Mills) Taylor & Sylvia (Mills) Cornell.
With many thanks to their 'editor', Jill Morgan,
who sent the 'Memories' to us.
First published, by MLFHS, in the May 2021 Newsletter.