In the early 20th century, the social context of Wigan was that of poverty and deprivation. Many were in great need of moral and spiritual guidance. In 1902, the town was chosen for a very special appointment – one that was a new departure in Methodism as no mission had previously been started under such conditions. A minister was needed to undertake this pioneer work and Rev. W. A. Harrison was chosen. The young minister came with his wife and three little daughters to live in Park Road. There was NO church, NO Mission Hall, NO committee, NO money. He started with nothing but a strong faith and determination to succeed. He began his church in the open air and then transferred to School Lane Hall, a small room, as a new Mission used for weekday work and Sunday worship. It soon became inadequate.
The Hippodrome was a new theatre in Wigan and its proprietor, a member of the Roman Catholic church, was so impressed by the work being carried out that he lent the theatre premises. He promised to do all that he could to help Rev. Harrison and advertised the Mission services on his theatre programmes every night. Sunday worship from then on took place at 3pm and 7pm at the Hippodrome Theatre. School Lane was used for week-day meetings numbering from 14 to 19 each week.
In less than two years the church roll had 600 names including children and by March 1908 church membership was 350. The time finally came to set about building a Mission Hall. Many church workers tirelessly gave of their time and money, and financial help came in from many quarters. A freehold site was found and bought in Market Street. Many people, including children, gave £1 to buy a brick, and considered it a privilege to be helping to build the church premises.
The 1st April 1908 marked the opening of Queen’s Hall as the permanent home of the Wigan Wesleyan Mission. The church building had seating for 2,000 people; such was the vision and enthusiasm for a Methodist place of worship in the very heart of Wigan.
The time came in 1909 for the Rev. W. A. Harrison to leave Wigan Mission and continue his work for God in Sunderland. Much had been done to bring unbelievers to Christ and also to encourage the members to promote the gospel of Christ to the people of Wigan.
From the beginning, the Mission sought to fulfil the needs of the Wigan people, in practical, social and spiritual ways. Christ’s gospel was taught and put into practical use. On Christmas Day breakfast was given to hundreds of bare-foot youngsters. The church started clothing collections for the poor, and soup kitchens. Throughout the Depression the needy were provided for, refugees were helped and support given to young men enlisting for the war.
In 1949 fire severely damaged the main hall which was refurbished and reopened and in 1959 a purpose built Memorial Chapel opened on the church premises.
During the 1950s and 1960s the church was used for School Speech Days by both Wigan Girls High School and Wigan Boys Grammar School.
In 1970 the Help Committee was formed to begin work in identified areas of need. Portobello market raised £1000, as a deposit for Graham House, a hostel/refuge for abused women and their children. It opened in May 1972 and closed in 1980, the work being taken over by the Local Authority.
Throughout the 1970s monthly charity shops were held on Saturdays in upper and lower halls raising approximately £700 per month. Wigan Council was providing housing unfurnished and Queen’s Hall began furniture collections. Storage became a problem. A new member offered his premises in Gidlow Lane for storage. This gave birth to the permanently sited Queen’s Hall Charity shop and the formation of The Queen’s Hall Help Committee which in 1977 became a registered charity, replacing the church-based monthly charity shops.
Monthly Luncheon clubs were started, for representatives of the Police, Doctors, Social Services and Housing officers. Each group had chance to speak of their work in the town and their role in society. It was useful, informative and much appreciated outreach.
Weekly band concerts were held on Saturday nights in the Main Hall and organisations such as Youth Club, Young People’s Fellowship, Brownies, Guides, Cubs, Scouts met on the premises.
In 1972 Centre 65 was started, as a luncheon club for pensioners, with a meal, fellowship and time for devotional worship.
1983 saw the opening of the Queen’s Hall Fishing Net cafe. It was to be a non-profit making concern. Its remit was to offer reasonably priced food, allow people to linger awhile and, if needed, talk to Christian folk with time to listen
The 1984 Mission Anniversary was the last occasion on which the Main Hall was used as a place of worship. In attendance was a congregation of 600. A new bus station was to be built behind the church, incorporating land then occupied by the church. The Mission was to be redeveloped with only the front façade being retained. On June 17th 1984 St.George`s C.E. Church welcomed us. We then held our Sunday services there until our new premises were completed. Midweek activities and weeknight services took place in Crank and Burton’s, a former Builders` merchants` shop.
On May 17th 1987 the last service was held at St.George`s. A processional march took place back to the new Queen’s Hall premises and at 11 am celebrated a communion service. At 6pm the service was one of Baptism. A Special Service of Thanksgiving took place on May 30th.
In 1995 the church started holding Alpha courses and, in 1997, Queen’s Hall at Eight, a special type of modern worship service, held monthly. This was replaced by Café Worship a few years later.
Prayer Without Ceasing, a week of prayer, 24/7 was held in 2005, prompting the provision of a permanent Prayer Room.
In June 2007, following a Cliff College Mission, Songs of Praise was started. This was a weekday service held originally every 2, and later every 3, months, Members of the public choose a favourite hymn or song and are encouraged to speak about it.
The church began to hold social activities for homeless persons, with over-night accommodation during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Outreach to homeless people grew and developed and in 2008 The Bricklayers Arms (The Brick) was opened in Hallgate. This work was carried out under the umbrella of the Help Committee.In 2013 this charity was replaced by Queen’s Hall Action on Poverty, which continues to expand its work.
In September 2001, the first asylum seeker joined the church.Since then considerable practical and financial assistance has been given to people from at least 10 different countries.Many have been helped to attain refugee status and British citizenship.
In conclusion it can therefore be said that throughout the life of the Queen’s Hall, gospel preaching and teaching has determined a variety of outreach which has sought to address the many and varied needs of the people of Wigan. It is clear that what was begun in 1902 continues into the present day.