Crewe – a Railway Town
I think most people know that Crewe started as a railway town. In 1843 the Grand Junction Railway Company brought 221 employees with their families to what were then agricultural fields. Everything grew from there.
Crewe was to become 'the railway town par excellence'. It was a new town created in a key era and dominated by a single employer. Railway, Works and Company literally 'shaped' the town. The roads and layout of Crewe were determined by where the rails ran. Unlike some older towns and cities where houses and communities were uprooted to make way for the lines to be laid, Crewe IS the railway.
Crewe Railway Works was, at its peak in the early 20th century, one of the most important industrial centres in Britain. The company held sway over the town. Company-established welfare schemes encouraged compliance.
Let’s talk church and chapel. The Railway management favoured Church of England, but workers broadly favoured chapel. So Christ Church in the middle of the town, paid for by the Railway company, and associated CofE churches sort of held sway, and railway workers looking to keep in with management needed to be seen to attend on a Sunday. It used to be very grand! For example, there used to be about 40 choristers and it was only with great reluctance that women were eventually accepted into the choir.
The chapels had worker support. Crewe's many chapels held different stances on everything from theological teaching, church government and membership. Chapel life differed markedly from chapel to chapel. The town's two Baptist chapels, for example, were divided by their theology.
Today of course there is much diversification in the life of Crewe. The Railways no longer dominate. The town's 150th birthday in 1993 was a very low-key event, despite the best endeavour of many local people, especially the members of the local historical society. Railway company paternalism and along with this railway town politics had definitely ended long since.
Things to think about:
The people of Crewe originate from all over the country. Originally they came to work the railway, but now they come for all sorts of reasons, and they include many from abroad. In a microcosm this is our new multicultural, ethnically diverse world. Not everyone is comfortable, but Jesus preached a gospel for all.
Paternalism is rarely helpful. Thankfully our civic leaders now are from all backgrounds and for all people. That is great.
Sadly, Crewe has significant pockets of deprivation and poverty – as worrying as anywhere in the UK. What are we as Christians trying to do about that? Foodbanks are good – but we need to support the politics which address inequalities.
Church life in Crewe is a curious tapestry. I don’t know how Christian faith is to thrive going forward, but I know that forcing religion is never going to work, as perhaps happened a bit at Christ Church. Gail and I loved serving Christ Church years ago, but I don’t think we would have been so keen if old attitudes had still prevailed. Yet Christ Church was THE Railway Church and in an imperfect way was a monument to Christian Faith, though sadly diminished when the roof was taken down in the late 1970’s due to wood rot (not a bomb as lots of people think). Even the bell tower is not now viable for bell ringing. Ecumenical co-operation between Church and Chapel must be the future.
(Some of the above derived from Diane Drummond: Crewe Railway Town, Company and People 1840-1915. (1995)).
Christ Church c1960