Many women are named in Abbey Lane’s records around 1811. They appear as church members, as mothers of children being baptized, and as subscribers to the fund for ‘the Support of the Gospel’. But what part did they play in the church’s life? Perhaps they lurk behind an item in the 1811 accounts: ‘Cloth for dusters 1s.2d.’ – guess who wielded those dusters! They would have taught in the Sunday School which by 1820 had more than 170 children attending. Their voices were heard in the singing of psalms and hymns. Practical help for the poor and needy, hospitality for visiting preachers, care for the sick, tea and sympathy – all these were the women’s sphere, unrecorded in the church books. But they couldn’t be deacons or trustees, let alone ministers.
The custom of separate seating at Communion for men and women was long-lasting at Abbey Lane. The change to ‘Mixed Communion’ was voted in (only by men) at a church meeting in September 1811. More than a century passed before women became eligible for the diaconate (October 1919).
Olive Newman recalls a tradition that the clock set in the rear gallery was a gift from the women of the church. In 1817 a man was being paid 9 shillings per annum for winding the clock – a task that Olive and Ena have performed gratis for many years!