All Churches have many beginnings. In effect, St Barnabas’ Church started in 1870. On 1 May of that year, the Revd John Gouldie French was ordained by James Fraser, Bishop of Manchester, to become a curate at St James’ Church in Oldham. St James’ Vicar at the time was the Revd Septimus Gooday. He felt aggrieved that for six months he single-handedly had a long spell of cemetery duty in addition to his ordinary parochial responsibilities. In consequence, he applied for a curate to assist his work. Gouldie French was selected and moved to Oldham the very day after his ordination.
As was common then, a curate was given a series of projects to show his mettle. One was to conduct Cottage Meetings in different parts of the parish. He found many people willing to open their doors in the vicinity of the Church, but he experienced more difficulty in finding suitable accommodation on the Lees Road side of the Parish. He received occasional hospitality for his gatherings in Mount Pleasant Street, Marsh Street and Overens Street, and Jackson Street, but it was not always easy to find a room.
After conferring with the Vicar and Church officers, Gouldie French was authorised to rent a room in Back Marsh Street just off Lees Road. This location was demolished some years after the War, but was then near the present-day Lees Road. He started a simple service each Wednesday evening, assisted by volunteers from St James’ School. History records the first helpers as Miss Swailes (who soon became Mrs Gouldie French); Miss A Scholes; Miss Berry; Miss Beilby; and Messers D Simmonite, Josiah Greenhalgh, Walker Whittaker and Joseph Holt.
It was soon evident that scope existed for a Sunday School. The Vicar sanctioned its opening and appointed Joseph Holt as its first superintendent.
Later still, St James’ Church authorised a regular Sunday Evening Service — still at Back Marsh Street — and attracted good attendances. Gouldie French conducted the first such service in December 1872. He also preached, and later noted a ‘pleasing’ collection of £3 4s 7d.
Gouldie French left St James’ Church in 1873 but later returned to become the Vicar of nearby Holy Trinity Church in Waterhead, for which he was Vicar for 48½ years.