The history of the Church at Abbey Lane reaches right back to the emergence of Non-Conformity and the Free Church tradition in Britain. John Bradford, one of the first protestant martyrs to suffer in Queen Mary’s reign (he was burnt at the stake at Smithfield in 1555), preached in Saffron Walden a number of times. Doubtless his life and the manner of his death had a great influence on the people of Saffron Walden, causing many to leave the Established Church. These early dissenters remained faithful to their belief through many years and it was largely their descendants who were responsible for the founding of the church at Abbey Lane. This is traditionally regarded as having been founded in 1665, making 2015 the 350th anniversary of the church.
The Toleration Act of 1689 enabled non-conformists to spring into action, with the erection of a meeting house at Abbey Lane being completed in 1694.
Key events in the subsequent history of the Church include:
- The opening of the current church building in 1811
- The election of five members of Abbey Lane Church as Town Councillors in 1835 after the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act which had barred non-conformists from public service. These included Alderman John Player J.P., the first mayor of the Borough after the passing of the Municipal Corporation Act and the Borough’s first Justice of the Peace
- The construction of the schoolroom and classrooms in 1861 to celebrate the Jubilee of the Church building
At the beginning of the 20th century, Abbey Lane was a flourishing church, attended mostly by trades people of the town. The church had a large choir and a good Sunday School which met twice on Sunday as well as attending the morning service. On special occasions such as Harvest Festivals extra chairs had to be placed in the aisles.
We hope that this summary provides some historical context for the congregation that has become the United Reformed Church in Saffron Walden. The last decade has seen us embrace the outward facing, ecumenical spirit of the URC with the redevelopment of the old school room to provide a well-serviced hall and, in addition, a new hall and facilities for the Salvation Army, who now share part of our site. The MethodistChurch in Saffron Walden has recently resolved to join us in 2014.