The social engagement of the church in Grimsby is not a trendy post-60s liberal activity. The early Parish Magazines of St John’s, New Clee turn out to show this above anything else.
As the population of Grimsby exploded from the middle of the nineteenth century, housing began to be built which crossed out of the town itself eastwards across what had been fields in the north western corner of the parish of Clee (either side of the present Cleethorpes Road). These closely packed terraces were some of the nearest housing to the docks. A new Curate held a first service in a schoolroom in June 1872 and a new church had been built and consecrated within seven years; it stood where a police station has recently been built.
Its very first magazines record providing a clothing and coal club and a lending library. These are followed by the establishment of a winter soup kitchen (with a sixty gallon copper); it benefited those who did not want to appear to take charity who paid a small amount for soup and bread, but initially about a third and eventually about half was given away free. Within a few years there are records of ‘maternity bags’ available to loan those near giving birth, and a Juvenile Benefits Society where subscription of 1.5d a week secured future medical attention and medicine, one year’s sick pay, and a death grant.
St John’s came down when Cleethorpes Road was widened in the 1970s. So did the subsidence ridden neighbouring parish church of St Stephen’s (which, like our St Michael’s, had been designed by Sir Walter Tapper). The new St John & Stephen’s (church and youth centre) was built to replace them on the St Stephen’s site. It serves one of the most deprived areas of town. Today about 175 young people access it each week and about 700 each year, provision which those who attended the original St John’s would fully appreciate.
This week, at the annual gathering of Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire, plans were launched for a Street Angels scheme to care for some of those who get in trouble pouring out of night clubs on Friday and Saturday nights in Cleethorpes. Some people appeared to feel that the church should use this as an explicit opportunity for evangelism rather than simply a demonstration of the value Christians and others place on each person; I suspect they have missed out on some of this local history of the church.
The picture of the inside of St John’s (with a temporary chancel screen erected for Harvest decorations) is tucked in the back of its bound volume of early magazines.