A BRADFORD church established on ‘Devil Street’, with a congregation known as ‘ranters’, is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Dudley Hill Methodist Church this week held a special service marking the event, followed by a celebration lunch.

Dr Simon Valentine, a Methodist preacher and a speaker at the service, writes: “The church began in April 1821 when Reverend John Coulson, a Primitive Methodist minister, walked from Leeds with a ‘band of singing pilgrims’ and preached at Dudley Hill.

They faced fierce opposition from local people who threw stones and vegetables and jeered. Coulson, who kept a journal, tells us that local man Joseph Sidebottom, a labourer, “took pity on us and we found refuge in his house” on Rooley Lane. Despite the opposition, converts were gained and a church group was formed, holding services in Sidebottom’s cottage.

Primitive Methodists, also known as ‘ranters’ due to the exuberance of preachers (including women), were a breakaway group from John Wesley’s Methodist Church, with greater lay participation and open air ‘camp’ meetings involving preaching and prayer. Coulson’s journal says that Rooley Lane, known at that time as ‘Devil Street’ because of the crime and drunkenness of inhabitants, was soon renamed Reform Street, mainly due to the influence of the ‘Prims’! Meetings at Sidebottom’s cottage quickly grew so it was decided to build a church, named Ebenezer, meaning ‘stone of hope’. This was completed in 1823. With more locals joining the church, mostly workers at Bowling dye-works and nearby coal pits, a second, much grander building was erected in 1886.

As the church grew in the 20th century an impressive Sunday School was built in 1911 (demolished in 1981). In its heyday over 200 youngsters attended. In 1932 Primitive Methodists nationally, including Ebenezer, rejoined the main Methodist Church. With the redevelopment of Wakefield Road for motorway links in the 1970s Ebenezer was threatened with partial demolition, but saved by protests by Rev Gordon Newton and church members. The new millennium saw declining numbers and the building in need of repair, in 2011 the 1886 church was closed and services continued in the adjacent original church building.

As well as Sunday morning services the church has Saturday coffee mornings and Cubs, Scouts, Rainbows, Guides and Brownies. It’s an important community centre with First Aid, local history and other meetings. As the minister, Rev Graeme Dutton, says: “A warm welcome is offered to anyone who wants to attend”.