Part I England And Wales (chapters 34-44)

Chapter 34
In South Wales

More than eighty years have passed by since a few believers began to meet simply in the Lord’s name in a private house in Cardiff. God blessed that humble beginning, the fruits of which are to be seen to-day. In Cardiff district alone there are about twenty-four assemblies, while in South Wales they number eighty-five in all, not including a number of other gatherings who meet on more or less “Exclusive” lines. Development in Cardiff was greatly helped forward by Edwin H. Bennett, a prominent business man at Cardiff Docks, and son of one of the original three who started breaking bread in 1852. A devoted and able leader of assembly life, Mr. Bennett was the mainstay of the work at Adamsdown, and proved himself a zealous worker throughout the district until his Home-call in 1903.

But let us go back to the beginning. In 1852 two brethren and one sister—William Bennett, his wife and a Mr. Bright—came to reside in Cardiff, and at once commenced a meeting for the breaking of bread in the home of Mr. Bennett, where numbers steadily increased. The commodious hall in Adamsdown was then provided, and the opening service took place in 1877. This assembly was the first known in South Wales, and some sixteen years ago there was gathered from Church records a list of over two thousand names of believers in fellowship in the district who had early association with the Adamsdown Assembly.

About the time that this assembly moved into their new hall, John Fry, a merchant at Cardiff Docks and residing at Penarth, commenced to break bread in his drawing-room with other brethren. After a period of testimony in hired premises, Plassey Street Hall was built at Penarth, and subsequently a similar-sized building, Hebron Hall, at Cogan, an adjacent parish. As a result of those beginnings, active assemblies with flourishing and comprehensive activities are progressing in these places to-day.

In the late sixties or early seventies a few Christians of the seafaring class were exercised as to gathering to the Lord’s name. They had been converted in the old ship Thisbe, an obsolete man-o’-war then moored in the West Dock, Cardiff, and used as a Mission to Seamen. The little company acquired a large apartment, capable of seating two hundred persons, situated over some stables in Eleanor Street, near the docks. For some years there was a meeting in the morning from 11 to 12 o’clock, conducted by Mr. Gale, a missioner to seamen, which was followed by the breaking of bread. At a later period the meeting was conducted on simple Scriptural lines. A lively work among the young attracted large numbers, not only to the Sunday School but to specially convened Gospel meetings. This resulted in many being brought to the Lord, among whom were pilots, boatmen and others of the seafaring class. Those faithful brethren were known by the rather ungracious sobriquet of “Plymouth Rocks.” “Oft-times the horses in the stables underneath disturbed us,” says one of the brethren in a letter to the present writer, “but we look back with joy to those happy days. We may not have known the truth as fully as we know it to-day, but we knew what it was to feel the presence of God in our midst. Those were indeed times of refreshing, and we recollect how the tears of joy would fill our eyes as we remembered our Lord around the Table.” In 1899 a more commodious hall, capable of seating about six hundred people, was built in Corporation Road, and in this place there have since been evident signs of divine approval, as shown by the large number who have been saved and added to the Church.

Another Church of those days was that meeting in Windsor Hall, a very commodious, hired upper room, for years blessed with an able ministry and pastorate with crowded Gospel meetings, and still continuing.

In the building up and shepherding of the Lord’s people the names of notable pillars in the Church are remembered with affection: James Buck, a godly schoolmaster, was greatly used in Grangetown; Peter Evans at the Docks; Thomas Cross at Canton; John Pry, Frederick E. Hallett, William Howe and others at Penarth and Cogan; George Willie, A. McLay and W. J. Burt at Mackintosh; while visits from such honoured servants as R. C. Chapman, Henry Dyer, Henry Groves, George Müller, James Wight and others, and the pastoral work of E. J. Tapson left an impression on believers that could hardly be gauged. The Gospel platform was not neglected, and men like John Hambleton and Plarry Moorhouse were brought into requisition from time to time.

A feature of the Movement in South Wales—pleasing evidence of the spiritual growh and development of the work—has been the branching off from existing assemblies. The assembly now meeting at Mackintosh Hall was started in 1885 in a little shop in Cathays by a few young men from Adamsdown, including George Willie, Thomas Brookes and Charles Pullin. Interest and numbers increased so that larger premises had to be taken, till in 1897 Mackintosh Hall was built and opened. The district proved to be a fruitful one and numbers continued to increase to such an extent that further subdivisions became essential, with the result that other assemblies were formed from time to time, including those meeting in the Heath Gospel Hall, Welcome Hall, Glanyllyn, Minster Hall and Rhubina.

Development was largely due to the fact that reaching out into the open-air, tents and neutral halls with the Gospel was ever kept before those who had a care for the Church as their duty and privilege. United missions were held with marked success, David Rea, John Brunton, Ferguson and Hamilton, Alex Marshall, Fred Glover and other well-known evangelists taking a leading part in the proclamation of the Gospel and the gathering in of souls. During recent years large Tent Missions held in the centre of the city have been signally blessed of God. These activities have done much to keep the assemblies together, and to build up a strong, virile testimony in the district. Special attention has been given to. Sunday School work, Young People’s meetings, Women’s meetings, Saturday afternoon tract bands and open-air meetings, which has fostered gift and a sense of responsibility amongst younger believers. Nor has the fellowship of neighbouring assemblies been lacking in the arrangement of united conferences for the furtherance of the Lord’s work, as well as for the spiritual edification of believers. To all this has been added pioneer work in suburban housing estates. At Ely, in West Cardiff, a hall erected in 1930 proved inadequate and was doubled in size in 1936. Here there is a school of over one thousand two hundred held in two sessions every Sunday, a Women’s meeting of two to three hundred, and an assembly approaching one hundred. The story of the assembly gathering in the Mission Room at Mumbles may well be prefaced by another story, being the conversion of James Henry Burgess and his wife Laura, who eventually formed part of the first company of believers gathered to the name of the Lord. In the year 1875, being in considerable affluence and at that time members of the Church of England and attending formally the Parish Church, Mr. and Mrs. Burgess went to a fashionable ball at Newport, Mon. While there, they received an urgent summons to return home, where they found that their eldest son, a boy of six years, had fallen into the fire. The child died a few days later. Shortly afterwards heavy losses were experienced in Mr. Burgess’s business, which was that of a sailing ship owner. Reduced to poverty, the pair were compelled to abandon the large house they then occupied and take a small house at West Cross. These afflictions brought them into much distress, and Mary Dalling, wife of Captain Dalling, of Barnstaple, a relative and a woman who knew the Lord, came over to comfort them. She was the means in God’s providence of leading them both to the Saviour.

Mrs. Dalling was at that time meeting with Christians in Bear Street, Barnstaple, the spiritual home of Robert Chapman, and it was not long before a few such souls in similar cases were found in West Cross, a hamlet adjacent to Mumbles. The breaking of bread first took place in the house of E. J. Grayson, at Beaufort Place, West Cross. The little company consisted of E. J. Grayson, J. H. Burgess, S. C. Johnson, with their wives, Dr. Nicholls and one or two others. A year or two later the assembly moved into what became known as the Mission Room, the building having originally been a Congregational Chapel called “The Tabernacle.” The assembly Minute Book contains the interesting record that the first baptisms took place on the 12th and 15th April 1883 at Langland Bay. The testimony continued with evident blessing, and in the year 1903, the company having considerably increased, the present hall at Castletown was erected as a testimony unto the Lord by James Henry Burgess, the story of whose conversion I have just recorded.

Chapter 35
Light At Tredegar

The lamp which had been set burning in Cardiff about the middle of last century did not long remain a solitary illuminant, for scarcely had a decade passed by before the divine light, piercing the mists of religious uncertainty, found its way across the hills and through the valleys of South Wales, leaving in its course a beacon light here and another there, which to-day continue to send forth their gladdening rays.

Round about this time there was indeed a spiritual atmosphere which could be felt. Thoughtful Christians, hitherto fervent enough in the ordinary routine work of church and chapel, were now turning to the Word for a solution to the inward promptings of a conscience not wholly attuned to God. Thus it came about that many believers, enlightened by a fresh revelation, became conscious for the first time in their Christian experience as to the will of God in relation to many New Testament passages, which, up to that time, had been to them truths yet unrevealed. The result was a return to the simplicity of apostolic ways and doctrine, so clearly defined in the Word of God.

Such were the thoughts and feelings that disturbed a Sunday School Superintendent of the Church of England in the town of Tredegar. His name was Ebsworthy D. J. Tapson, and as it was mainly through the step he took at this particular time that the assembly at Tredegar was subsequently formed, it seems fitting that the story should be told here. Converted as a lad of twelve through reading Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, he began a few years later to serve the Lord in lowly spheres in his native town of Newport, Mori. In 1868 he accepted an appointment in Tredegar, where his real activity as a Christian worker began. It was while here that, through prayerfully reading the Bible and allowing its light to lead him in the paths that the Lord has marked out for His people to walk in, he saw it was his privilege as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to be baptized. Thus, in faithful obedience he, with William L. Hamilton, his brother-in-law, walked to Abergavenny, a distance of twelve miles across the hills, and publicly confessed Christ in the waters of baptism. This was 12th August 1876. On the following Lord’s Day, at Mr. Tapson’s house, Queen’s Square, a few met in that Name alone, apart from all denominations, to worship God and shew forth the Lord’s death according to the pattern given in the Scriptures.

As the two men held fairly responsible positions under the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company—one being the Surveyor and the other Property Agent—besides being prominently identified with Church activities, this new departure created some considerable stir in the town. Amid much opposition and no little persecution several Church members joined them, including Evan Williams the choir master. Brought together in an altogether different spiritual atmosphere, and freed from the traditional ways and formalities of the state Church, the little company seemed to feel and realise the Lord’s presence in a manner never before experienced. Thus they continued, happy in the knowledge of a Father’s smile as in simple obedience they sought to carry out His will.

When the numbers increased so that Mr. Tapson’s house became too cramped, a room was taken in the Temperance Hall, where a company continued for some years. Later a Primitive Methodist Chapel was acquired. In 1918, because of the need of road improvements, the local Council offered a sum for the removal of the hall. Just at this time the Lord intervened in a remarkable way. A disused Congregational Chapel, seating about two hundred and fifty people with excellent accommodation, was offered for £100, and subsequently came into possession of the assembly.

David Jones, of Llanelly , an evangelist well known in South Wales, came to Tredegar in the early days, and as a result of his faithful labours in the Gospel many were led to put their trust in the Saviour. This was followed by a season of helpful ministry, when quite a number were added to the local assembly. Mr. Jones did not remain long in the district, but returned to his native Llanelly where the Lord used him in establishing a healthy assembly.

For some years Mr. Tapson continued at Tredegar, and while diligently fulfilling his daily vocation he gave himself assiduously to the tender care of the young flock. On his removal to Cardiff he became associated with the assembly of believers in Plassey Street Hall, Penarth, where he at once interested himself in the growing activities of the Sunday School. He also conducted a Men’s Bible Class on Lord’s Day afternoons. In this service the Lord greatly blessed him. Gospel work was carried on continuously on simple Scriptural lines, hundreds were converted and added to the assemblies and these multiplied greatly. In 1895 Mr. Tapson’s health gave way, and a voyage to South Africa was undertaken. Here he had opportunities of seeing life in many forms and of visiting lone and widely sundered children of God in the rising townships of the colony. Returning to South Wales in better health he gave himself unstintingly to visiting the various assemblies, which were continually increasing in number and needed just that well-balanced ministry of grace and truth in which Ebsworthy Tapson excelled.

“Tender and gracious as a mother with her children,”writes one who was associated with him in the work, “Mr. Tapson never surrendered the Truth nor lowered the claims of His Word, but clave to all that God had taught him and passed it on intact to others.”

How the Lord wrought in a wonderful and what might be considered a rather mysterious way in the building up of a neighbouring assembly is worthy of being placed on record. A family from Tredegar immigrated to Scranton, U.S.A., and were instrumental in the hand of the Lord in commencing a testimony at that place, where an assembly was also formed. An Abertillery family by the name of West—Abertillery is a Monmouthshire mining town six miles from Tredegar—went to Scranton about the same time, and among others a lad of about twelve years was saved and received into fellowship as a result of the preaching of the Gospel by the members of the Tredegar family whom they met there.

A year or two later the West family returned to their native place in Wales. Longing for the fellowship of other Christians, the young convert was disappointed and grieved to find that none of the denominational places which he visited remembered the Lord in the simple way that he had come to learn was the only true way. So he decided to stay at home on Lord’s Day morning to read his Bible and give away tracts in the afternoon. One day, when handing Gospel messages to passers-by, he seemed to be drawn in a peculiar way to a lad of about his own age, with whom he entered into conversation about his soul. So anxious did his new-found friend become, that he took young West to his home, which was above a public-house. Here our young brother pointed the lad to Christ. This first fruit still remains and is to-day one of the elders of the meeting. Gradually others were added till they were ten to twelve in number. A Gospel testimony was commenced both in open-air and indoors, and it was decided to meet together to remember the Lord. So they rented a place for the purpose. That summer Douglas Perry arrived in the district with a tent, and a number were saved and brought into fellowship. Truly “the wind bloweth where it listeth, thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth.” How wonderful are the ways of the Lord!

But to return to Tredegar, Baptismal meetings were an interesting feature of this assembly. The services took place at a pond called Cefn Golau, at the top of a hill 1200 feet above sea level. To these meetings large numbers of unsaved people came out of curiosity, and a favourable opportunity was presented for preaching the Gospel. “While the ministry of those days was fresh and invigorating,” writes Mr. D. J. Stephens, “the need, of separation from worldly principles and associations was constantly affirmed by our esteemed brother William Laurie Hamilton, who by his own separated life was a pattern to the rest of the believers.” His consistent testimony in the neighbourhood, as well as his unremitting labours in the Gospel and in Church government, are still remembered.

The result of Mr. Hamilton’s first step of obedience on that afternoon in August, 1876—already referred to—when he passed through the waters of baptism at Abergavenny, was a great spiritual enlargement and sense of liberty he had not previously enjoyed. On that occasion, so filled was he with the joy of the Lord that he was unable to constrain himself from openly testifying for Christ. And this he did to all he met as he walked the twelve miles to his home at Tredegar. His faithful service in the years that followed in and around Tredegar, Rhymney, Ebbw Vale, and in the villages of “the valleys,” was marked by much of the Lord’s blessing, and is remembered by many who were helped by his ministry. In happy fellowship with Edwin H. Bennett, of Cardiff; H. G. Lloyd, of Newport, and E. J. Tapson, many small assemblies of believers were established by means of meetings for ministry, and in gatherings of Brethren for mutual help and godly counsel as to the shepherding and guiding of the Church.

In the Spring of 1861, George Davies removed to Abergavenny from Grosmont, Herefordshire, His thoughts had been working along lines which had given some spiritual concern for a considerable time. Constant attendance at Church services brought no peace to his distressed mind but seemed to accentuate the cloud of perplexity. While in this unsettled state he found a family from Hereford of like mind to himself. With William Lewis unexpectedly coming into his life at this juncture, George Davies was directed to a prayerful study of the Scriptures. They were joined by R. H. Hill, a civil engineer, the son of a Devonshire clergyman, and William Green, both of whom were at that time engaged in the construction of a railway in the neighbourhood. The former afterwards became the first secretary of the China Inland Mission, and the latter was associated in later years with missionary work in Spain.

The first meeting for the breaking of bread was held in the drawing-room of William Lewis, when seven sat down to remember the Lord’s death. In the following year a few more having been added to the number, the assembly was removed to a building which had been used as a schoolroom; and there to the present time the company of believers meet around the Lord’s Table.

Chapter 36

There would doubtless be those in Merseyside—independent of what had taken place elsewhere—who, previous to the seventies of last century, were exercised regarding the true interpretation of New Testament Scripture as applied to the Lord’s Supper and Believers’ baptism; and yet it was forty years before the light of the great spiritual Movement found its way from Plymouth Sound to Liverpool. The first gathering of believers known as Open Brethren, at which there were present several men well known in Christian activities in the city, took place in a meeting-room in Crown Street.

Begun in a quiet, unostentatious way, it became the happy centre of believers in search of the Truth, which at that particular time of spiritual revival in Britain was gradually being revealed. The Moody and Sankey Mission to this country had startled the apathy of Christians and sent them to their Bibles with a vigorous expectation never before experienced.

It is interesting to recall that it was in the city of Liverpool that the first prayer meeting of that great mission was held. Harry Moorhouse, Douglas Russell and John Houghton met the American evangelists on their arrival, and the party made their way to the Great Western Hotel, where, in a private room, a time was spent waiting on God in earnest intercession. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that in a comparatively short time much spiritual progress could be observed amongst those whose hearts had been drawn to the source from which there came a fuller realisation of the treasures to be found in Christ Jesus.

Dr. Owles and Dr. Eddis, who were known to have taken a notable part in the formation of the first assembly, were also actively engaged in the Burlington Street Medical Mission, where opportunity was afforded to preach the Gospel to patients. The work spread, and Gospel efforts in small halls in the neighbourhood led to the opening, in 1878, of Boaler Street Gospel Hall. Since its formation there has been a steady and fruitful aggressive work carried on. As evidence of this, it is worthy of note that from Boaler Street Assembly there are to-day ten missionaries in the foreign field.

Radiating from this centre of activity, workers with a zeal for the Master carried the Gospel to the south end of the city, where Alexander Hall, Park Road, was engaged for meetings. This building, however, proved to be unsuitable for the purpose, and a move was made to Admiral Hall. Here the testimony continued for many years, and as numbers increased it became necessary to secure a more commodious building. The assembly now meet in David Street Chapel, Park Road.

In the year 1878 attention was directed to the north end of Liverpool, where a testimony for the Lord was established by a number of brethren from the parent assembly who built, in Church Street, Kirkdale, what was known as the Iron Room. This iron structure has now given place to a well-built brick building, where a faithful testimony to the Lord still continues. In the following year the work spread to the Cheshire side of the Mersey, and a number of Christians from the Claughton Mission joined with Rice T. Hopkins and other brethren in Atherton Hall, Birkenhead. Some two years later, another hall was opened in Ebenezer Street, Rock Ferry.

The labours of those faithful brethren in this important corner of God’s vineyard, away back in the seventies, have not been in vain. The seed sown has borne fruit, sinners saved, saints gathered to the name of the Lord; and to-day there are nearly thirty assemblies of His people in what is known as the Merseyside district.

Chapter 37
Isle Of Man

Although sparse documentary evidence is to be found, it is reasonably supposed that the first gathering of Brethren in the Isle of Man dates back to about 1840-1850. “My earliest recollections of Brethren,” Edward C. Quine, when about eighty years old, told the writer, “goes back to the late sixties of last century. When a boy, I have seen some of these people, but being in a Methodist family I was taught to look upon them as very queer people indeed. At that time they held their meetings in a room in Athol Street, Douglas. Another company met in Ramsay, both being ‘Exclusive’ meetings.”

With few, if any, gifted brethren able to take the helm and pilot the drifting vessel through troubled waters, the testimony, over a long period, owing to dissension and kindred evils, was one which bore evidence of stunted growh and senile decay. Indeed it is only during comparatively recent years that assemblies at Douglas and Ramsay have shown signs of healthy development; and this mainly through the spiritual help and guidance of Mr. Quine, who has moved amongst assemblies of the Lord’s people for upwards of fifty years, nearly half that time having been spent on the Isle of Man.

Chapter 38

In the days when people called Brethren were little known in the religious activities of Lancashire, four Christians, members of a Presbyterian Church in Manchester, discovered through a careful reading of the Scriptures, that there was much in the doctrines of the Church they attended which was not revealed in the Word of God. They also found that it was in a very simple manner that the disciples first gathered. Thus enlightened, the four friends decided that nothing should be done in a hurry, but that they meet together one evening a week, to enquire further into these matters. With an open mind and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, their desire was to search the Scriptures and see what God had to reveal to them of His will as to how they should meet. They had several such gatherings, and in due course it was made known to these men that God would have them leave the Presbyterian Church and meet together in an appointed place to obey His command: “As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup—ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.” Search was made, and a suitable apartment over a coal-shed that could be rented at a low figure was found in Rumford Street, in a poor part of the city. This small beginning was the nucleus of a large and continuous work of God in the city of Manchester.

These four, brethren, John Winn, John Pickering, James Pickering and Arthur Lorimer, not knowing at the time of any other such gatherings, were simply led to take this step, through their study of God’s Word, without any thought of giving the movement a distinguishing name. They met on Lord’s Day morning to break bread, in obedience to His command, and in the evening for Gospel testimony. “The meetings were of a very simple character,” writes a brother whose father was one of the four, “but God

blessed the testimony and some were truly saved, and added to the little company, without any question of ‘The Fellowship’ or ‘The Church’ to which we have become so accustomed these days. They were shewn from the Scriptures, that so soon as they received the Truth and were born again, God would have them to be baptized; and that it was His will they should meet together to remember the Lord’s death in the breaking of bread.”

After some little time, these brethren discovered that there was another meeting of the same kind in a different part of the city—in a hall in Walter Street—which had been started some years previously, and that there were quite a number of believers attending this place. The thought that they were not alone in the step they had taken seemed to give them new life, and they were much refreshed by the fellowship they had with these Christian believers.

The work at the Rumford Street Hall grew until the meeting-place was too small to accommodate the numbers coming to hear the Gospel, and it was very evident that a larger building would soon be required. “I remember,” continues my correspondent, “on many occasions going with my father on Sunday mornings, an hour or so before meeting time, carrying the wood for the fire in the hall. One of these times we noticed some building operations had commenced in Warwick Street, where we had to pass along to reach Rumford Street. As the weeks went by and the building progressed, it looked to us as if they were erecting some kind of a hall, and I remember my father saying: ‘Arthur, that would make a fine Gospel Hall.’”

It was later found that the building was intended for a contractor’s office, with a ground floor, a business office, and behind it another room for storing timber and building equipment, while the large room upstairs was to be used as a carpenter’s workshop. As the building went up, the brethren cast covetous eyes across the way. They were of one mind that such a place would be ideal for a Gospel Hall. But, of course, it was foolish to think that the new erection should interest them knowing the purpose for which it was being built. Just when the building was completed and the brethren were still searching for a larger meeting-room, a card with “To Let” appeared in one of the windows. It was afterwards learned that the owner had died suddenly and the agent was anxious to get a tenant for the premises. Soon afterwards, the agreement of tenancy was signed by the brethren, and after some structural alterations, the building was converted into a commodious Gospel Hall. From that time a testimony for the Lord was maintained for thirty years and many souls were converted to God.

It was not long before the upstairs room had to be almost doubled in size as the attendances increased, and by the time of which we write, the Assembly Roll contained two hundred names.

After long years of happy fellowship and blessing, the enemy of the Church crept in through the seed sown by the advocates of the “Needed Truth” doctrine, which brought about dissension. Many sought sanctuary in the assembly at Walter Street. Of this meeting our brother writes: “It had been used for an upper-room meeting-place for some years, but could hardly be called very suitable. The entrance was down a small dark street, after which there was a long spiral sort of staircase which had to be climbed before reaching the hall, an operation which taxed the strength of some of the elder members of the assembly. Furthermore, the downstairs portion of the building was used by a candy manufacturer—a man who also sold cough mixture in the market on Saturday nights—and often the smell of horehound and other ingredients became almost suffocating as we met in the upper hall on Sunday mornings.”

The brethren decided to put forth a special effort in the Gospel. A large tent was obtained and Alex Marshall was invited to conduct the meetings. A splendid site was secured on which to erect the tent, the ground being rented from a Roman Catholic lady. The position being central—at a point where four principal roads met, leading from the city—the ground rent was very high; but when all arrangements were made and it was made known to the lady owner the purpose for which the ground was to be used, she informed the agent that the ground was free of all rent for so long a time as it was required.

The tent was erected, and wonderful times were experienced during the time it remained at Ardwick Green corner. Crowds came to hear the Gospel, and on Sunday evenings the sides of the tent had to be let down so that the people unable to gain admission might be reached. Considerable numbers were made new creatures in Christ Jesus during the four months the meetings were held, and many were added to the different assemblies that were now in the city.

By this time the old Walter Street Hall, which had stood the test for forty years, was now in a very unsatisfactory condition. This did not escape the critical eye of the pioneer, Alex. Marshall, who ever deprecated the renting of a hall in a back street or up the proverbial “close,” and it was his suggestion that the old hall be abandoned and a new building, worthy of the Gospel, be erected on the site of the tent.

Plans were prepared, and when the lady who had acted so generously on a previous occasion was again approached as to the sale of the land, she would only accept a very nominal ground rent. Thus the way was opened up, and the Hope Hall, Ardwick Green, became the centre of an aggressive testimony in the city.

Chapter 39

The first meeting for the breaking of bread at Warrington took place in the kitchen of Thomas Brocklehurst in the winter of 1883. Previous to this a few Christians, who had recently withdrawn from the denominations, were meeting for Bible study in a workshop. Fred Podmore, a native of Warrington, in fellowship with one of the Manchester assemblies, hearing that these friends were seeking light, came over on several occasions, and opening up the Scriptures, taught the little company the principles of gathering to the name of the Lord. They continued to meet for a brief period in the home of Mr. Brocklehurst, but the Lord wonderfully prospered the evidence of Truth in bringing many into the Kingdom through their activities in the Gospel. There are at the present time three assemblies in Warrington all in happy fellowship.

Chapter 40

Towards the close of the year 1872, Thomas Robinson—who in later years was to become so closely associated with assembly life in the home of his adoption—came from London to commence business in the North Lancashire town of Barrow. His stock-in-trade included something more than the everyday commercial paraphernalia, for Thomas Robinson had a heart which at once went out to the perishing. At that time there was very little open-air preaching in the town, except by the advocates of the Temperance question, and although their opening hymn was invariably:

    “Rescue the perishing …

    Tell the poor wanderer a Saviour has died,”

it was rarely, apart from the hymn-singing, that a word about the Saviour was heard.

Thomas Robinson had a better story to tell, and lost no time in finding an opportunity of preaching the Gospel. Along with James Wharton, who joined him, he took his stand at what was known as The Fountain, where his voice was often heard as he told forth “the old, old story.” The testimony in the street was honoured by God saving a few souls. Soon afterwards a number of Christians met for the breaking of bread in the house of W. B, Hargreaves, a devout Christian bank manager.

Later a room was rented, but it was soon crowded out. The provision of a portable wooden building where larger numbers could be accommodated, seemed to be the next step to take, but they were confronted with the difficulty of finding a suitable position for its erection.

John Hambleton, known as the converted actor, was holding successful Gospel meetings in the Town Hall just then, and when the. Christians told him of their difficulty, he at once asked them where the land was they thought would be suitable. On being told, John went with them to the place. Arriving there they all knelt down on the ground and asked the Lord to give them the piece of land for His work if it was His will. That prayer was answered and there the work went on for twenty years, during which time many eminent servants of God such as Robert C. Chapman, Henry Groves, Henry Dyer, Henry Moorhouse, George Groves, and others ministered the Word to the edification of the saints and the conversion of sinners.

With the development of the Lord’s work and the subsequent increase in numbers there came a need for a larger building, so a piece of ground was secured on the Abbey Road, the principal thoroughfare in Barrow, where the present hall was built. As evidence of the remarkable development of the work begun over sixty years ago, there are now five healthy assemblies in Barrow and district.

Chapter 41

The testimony at Walney Island, across the river from the parent assembly at Barrow, began in 1904 by gathering together the children of believers living there. Thus a Sunday School was formed, which continued and increased until their meeting-room in a little wooden hut, rented at one shilling a week, was filled. Encouraged by the Sunday School work, Christians living on the island commenced a Gospel effort, but few unsaved could at first be persuaded to venture into “the black hut,” the name by which the meeting-place was known. Nevertheless, after-years proved that fruit was gathered. Later, the building being required by the owner for other purposes, the testimony was transferred to the old ferry waiting-room, a place which was none too attractive. At times, the tide could be seen surging through the floor, but it was the only available place within the limited means of those faithful workers.

But brighter days were in store for those who, amid trials and difficulties, had borne the burden for long years. The Lord prospered the work begun in the little wooden hut, and twenty years later the Walney Assembly entered into their own new premises with a Sunday School numbering nearly four hundred children. Surely an indication of the spiritual growh of a testimony upon which God had set His approval.

Chapter 42

Periodical visits to Kendal in 1876 by Isaac Kelson, a Lancaster printer, led to the formation of an assembly in his native town. On the occasion of these visits, he was invited to attend ministry meetings in the Sand Area Meeting-Room, The truth learned there, led to his publicly confessing the Lord in baptism and to an enquiry along Scriptural lines towards gathering to the Name alone, apart from human systems. Following a prayerful study of the Scriptures, and being fully persuaded that the step he was about to take was in the will of the Lord, Mr. Nelson, along with a few other Christians, came together in the sitting-room of his home, where a table was spread and the symbols partaken of in apostolic simplicity.

Henry Groves, who at that time was resident in Kendal, came over to join the brethren at Lancaster during those early gatherings; and from that time until his Home-call, his honoured name was associated with the assembly’s spiritual progress. The character of these gatherings was truly spiritual and edifying. A woman who happened to be present at the meeting, although not one of those who were breaking bread, was saved on the first Lord’s Day morning. This happy occurrence was followed by the husband confessing Christ in the evening of the same day during a talk in the home of one of the brethren. A small hall was rented in Church Street, where morning and evening meetings were held with apparent blessing, and as numbers began to increase it was found necessary to remove to a classroom in the Palatine Hall. The well-known evangelists Weaver and Sylvester paid a visit about this time. A wave of blessing attended their activities in the Gospel, which brought much joy and gave a stimulus to the little assembly in seeing souls saved and added to the Church.

Although the assembly continued active in the work, the membership never attained to large proportions owing principally to the fluctuation in the town’s industry, consequent upon which there was a constant exodus from the town of those who made up the assembly. For many years after the commencement, the small gathering received much spiritual help and edification by regular pastoral visits from W. H. Hunter, of Manchester, and A. J. Holiday, of Bradford, as well as other esteemed brethren who gave refreshing ministry, and thus contributed to the building up of a testimony for the Lord, which has since been maintained in a commodious hall of their own, situated in a large artisan population.

Chapter 43
In Westmorland

In the early thirties of last century, a journey of three hundred miles from Devon to the north-west corner of England, over roads which had not up to that time received the patient care and engineering skill of later days, was indeed a formidable undertaking. And yet, incredible though it may seem, in a comparatively short time from the start at Plymouth, brethren were to be found in the town of Kendal in distant Westmorland, assembling themselves together on the first day of the week for the purpose of remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread. While it is generally assumed that the assembly came into being as a result of personal intercourse with early Brethren at the very commencement of the spiritual Movement in the South, yet there appears to be no documentary evidence extant to support this. Who can say but that those believers may have come together solely under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit, quite independent of what had already taken place elsewhere.

About this time, or soon afterwards, what was known as the Fell Side Sunday School was started in the poorer part of the town by William Wilson, an influential gentleman of high Christian character, who was greatly respected in Kendal. It was an undenominational school, assisted in later years by teachers from Kendal Assembly, which then had and still has its meeting-place at Sand Area. Under the spiritual care and guidance of Mr. Wilson, the school became a powerful influence in the neighbourhood. Many who in after years went forth to preach the Gospel, were brought to the Lord at those primitive services. As an indication of the large numbers attending the Sunday School, it is stated that at the annual summer outing to Levens Hall, some three or four miles distant, to which place the journey was undertaken by canal boat, there were usually about a thousand passengers, including parents and friends. The present Sunday School at Sand Area was commenced by Thomas Wales, who, along with his wife, afterwards went forth from Kendal to serve the Lord in Demerara.

In reviewing the early days of the Movement, it will have been observed that in the majority of cases—strange though it may appear to readers of the present generation—those early gatherings were for the most part composed of Christians who had formerly been staunch Church members, but had left the denominations because of spiritual convictions as to what should be the true attitude of the child of God in relation to the Scriptural meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While this in a measure appeared also to be the case in the present instance, still it was mainly from the old established body of Quakers in the district that the young assembly was largely built up. The work at Kendal greatly prospered, and before the passage of many years, the meeting was a large and flourishing one. Many of its members belonged to the leading families in the town, and we find the following names well represented: Wakefield, Crewdson, Wilson and Rhodes. The present hall at Kendal was built by Edward Wakefield, a local banker, who also provided halls for Brethren at Bowness-on-Windermere and Keswick.

Among early brethren sometime resident in Kendal, whose names are remembered because of their labours in the Gospel, and in the ministry of the Word in the upbuilding of the assembly, were the brothers Henry and William Dyer, Henry Groves and James Showell. The latter resided there for a number of years. He was well known as an evangelist and pastor, and exercised his gifts in and about the Kendal meeting. On one occasion during special services in the neighbouring town of Bowness-on-Windermere, the attendance was so great that the floor had to be propped up from below, lest it should give way.

“Both Mr. Groves and Mr. Showell used to visit our home at Bowness in my young days,” writes Mr. G. N. Birkett, “and I remember them well. Mr. Groves was of the stern ‘valiant for the Truth’ type, but mellowed much in his later years. Mr. Showell was a very kindly, gracious man. He spent the closing years of his life with his daughter, who married George Brealey of the Blackdown Hill Mission.”

In 1868 Henry Groves came to Kendal with the intention of staying for a few weeks, but here he settled, and though for nearly a quarter of a century he continued to travel across the country in the service of the Lord, the secluded town among the hills of Westmorland became his home until, in the summer of 1891, he passed into the presence of the Lord. The story of the early years of Henry Groves teems with exciting episodes, brimful of heroic moments and unparalleled endurance in face of war, famine and flood, the recounting of which reads not unlike highly coloured fiction from the pen of a novelist. He was the eldest son of Anthony Korris Groves, notable as a pioneer missionary, a record of whose life has already been given in a former chapter. Henry was born at Exeter in 1818. At the age of ten, along with a younger brother, he accompanied his parents in the perilous journey to Baghdad, through St. Petersburg and Moscow and the brigand-infested wilds of Southern Russia. The terrible experience of those torturous years in Persia, and particularly the dreadful months the heroic little band of missionaries passed through during their stay in the plague-stricken city, made a lasting impression. So deeply did the experience fix itself upon the boy’s mind that in later years Henry pathetically recalled the fact that after leaving England he could not remember ever having: been a boy.

Henry Groves and his brother Frank followed their father to India, and joined in a noble effort to establish a self-supporting mission. For some time the venture prospered, but after years of strenuous labour, the father’s health broke down, difficulties arose, and despite privation and personal loss the scheme failed and had to be abandoned. But those difficult and trying years were for from barren, for the Lord was truly laying the foundation of a great building, which to-day has left its mark in many parts of India.

In the year 1857 Henry Groves came to Britain and took the opportunity of visiting many assemblies throughout the country. He afterwards crossed to the United States, and the deep impression created in his mind regarding the work of revival which he witnessed in this country, was accentuated by what he saw in America. He now felt on fire for the Master and longed to go forth at His call. In 1863 the way became clear and the step was taken at Bristol. Five years later we find Henry Groves at Kendal. As a teacher and writer, the name of Henry Groves is notably associated with the activities of Brethren during the second half of last century, and he is still remembered as the editor of The Golden Lamp, a monthly which had a considerable circulation amongst Brethren. Lie was also joint editor with Dr. Maclean of Echoes in the early years of that missionary journal.

That the Kendal meeting has ever kept before them the importance of the work in the foreign field is strikingly evinced by their splendid record of service. From this assembly eleven have gone forth to many parts of the world, three of whom belong to the medical profession, while one of the number was married to a daughter of Dr. Livingstone and died in Sierra Leone.

Since its birth a hundred years ago, the assembly at Kendal has maintained a steady and consistent testimony. Brethren, many of whom rank amongst our “chief men,” have had happy fellowship in the development and furtherance of the Lord’s work in this somewhat isolated corner of England. Among those who have enjoyed a life-long association, the name of Theodore Wilson is lovingly remembered. He was a son of William Wilson, one of the founders of this assembly, and during his long and useful life, the welfare and shepherding of the flock to which he was endeared engaged his wholehearted attention up to the time of his Home-call in 1933.

The original Trust Deed drawn up upon the purchase of the property where the neighbouring assembly of Bowness-on-Windermere now worships, is an interesting document, and is worthy of setting down here. It stipulates that those who meet at Bank Terrace Room-—the meeting-place of the assembly—shall be:

“Those who are sound in the Faith, proving it by their works. Holding the True Divinity of Our Lord as well as His perfect Manhood and depending wholly upon His Atonement and Intercession for their Salvation. Holding also the True Godhead of the Holy Ghost as distinct yet one with the Father and the need of His Work for the conversion of the Soul to God for sanctification of believers. Holding also the ruin and. utter corruption of man by nature through the fall of Adam and especially for the ministry of the Word at which meetings for worship and fellowship shall be permitted in accordance with directions in the twelfth and fourteenth chapters of the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians for any Christian who can speak to edification of which the body at large shall be the judge as stated in Chapter 14 verse 29 to exercise his gift at suitable times and in the said place for the purpose of preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God by any person approved by the Church.”

This Trust Deed, as is usual with legal documents, is without punctuation; hence some tendency to being involved.

The assembly at Bowness-on-Windermere, in the heart of the English Lake District, appears to have commenced shortly after that of Kendal. There are records of a meeting, and a list of the names of those in fellowship, as far back as the year 1836. The meeting took place in a cottage near what was then known as the Bazaar, opposite St. Martin’s, the parish church of Windermere. The place of meeting seems later to have been in a house at Low Side, but later still a Dr. Paisley fitted out a room at a small hydro known as “The Douche,” on the site now occupied by the town’s gas works. Among those in fellowship at this time was John Pattinson, father of the late Mrs. Herd of the Ambleside Assembly.

George Müller was among visitors who had fellowship with the meeting while at “The Douche.” About the year 1851, Edward Wakefield, of Kendal, built the hall at present occupied by the assembly, and it was handed over for their use, rent free. There are records about this time of visits by Robert Chapman, of Barnstaple, and of the then well-known evangelist, William Carter, a converted chimneysweep, when the hall becoming too small a gallery was erected. Some years later, during structural alterations, the gallery was removed; and in this primitive meeting-place, hallowed by memories of other days, the testimony still continues.

Chapter 44
Carlisle And William Reid

Famous in Border warfare, and for three centuries the habitation of Roman legions keeping ward and watch along the great wall of Hadrian, the historic city of Carlisle, with its ancient cathedral, its decayed abbey and its memories of the prison-house of George Fox the Quaker, has not been without its days of religious glamour and vicissitudes. But we are living in happier times, and gladly we leave the story of those bygone years as a page of history unread, that we may enter upon an era when the light of the Gospel through the liberty of an open Bible became our lasting heritage.

It was to this city, in the year 1867, that a Scottish Presbyterian minister, in the prime of life, came as pastor to the Warwick Road Church. His name was William Reid. In after years he was to become known as the author of that book of intrinsic worth. The Blood of Jesus. It was mainly through the faithful preaching of the new minister and his remarkable exposition of the Scriptures that led to the formation of an assembly of believers in Carlisle. At that time the Church was in a struggling condition. Full of zeal, and with a longing for the salvation pf souls, Mr. Reid set to work in an endeavour to bring back life to the decaying community. An able exponent of the Word, his powerful preaching and faithful adherence to the fundamentals of the Scriptures not only brought about a revival in their midst, but very soon attracted numbers from other denominations, and there were many remarkable conversions. While some of the Church elders were slow to follow their new minister in his clearly defined line of apostolic teaching, there were those whose spirituality had been thirsting for “the sincere milk of the Word,” and their responsive souls readily drank it in.

Nor were his efforts confined to his own Church, for besides preaching in other places of worship in the neigh-

bourhood where an open door presented itself, Mr. Reid on several occasions drew large numbers to hear him in the old Wesleyan Chapel where, a century earlier, John Wesley himself preached.

Of a humble and gracious disposition, William Reid ever sought to honour God by his implicit faith, living in sole dependence upon Him, and receiving no fixed stipend from the synod who appointed him. On one occasion having to make a journey by rail to a distant town, he found himself without the necessary means to take him there. Confident that the Lord would not fail him, Mr. Reid made his way to the station, where a friend, unaware of the pastor’s immediate need, handed him the requisite amount of his railway fare. This little incident, related to me by an aged brother who as a youth came under the spiritual influence of William Reid, appears to have been typical of the man.

Towards the close of an eight years’ ministry at Carlisle, he seemed to have a premonition from the Lord that “his nets were being disturbed,” and realising that he could no longer continue, Mr. Reid severed his connection with the Presbyterian Church and associated himself with brethren whose principles he had in recent years so consistently sought to teach in face of prevailing ecclesiastical opposition.

By this time many of Mr. Reid’s congregation, enlightened by his teaching, had already left the Church and were meeting in an upper room in the old Y.M.C.A. building, where later their erstwhile pastor came to break bread with them. Among those who left the Presbyterian Church about this time or soon afterwards, was the Carr family. They, along with others, met in a room in Bank Street. Jonathan D. Carr was the founder of Carr & Co., Ltd., biscuit manufacturers of world-wide reputation. Of Quaker stock, and a gentleman of pronounced Christian principles, Mr. Carr was held in high esteem in the city. He continued with the assembly until his death in 1884, when the Bishop of Carlisle, speaking at a meeting in his diocese, paid a high tribute to the memory of Jonathan D. Carr; “but,” added the Bishop, “I could never get him to attend any of my services.”

With Mr. Carr were his three sons, Henry, Thomas William and James, all of whom were of influence and ability, and in the early years of the assembly, were indeed towers of strength in the building up of the Church.

The assembly very quickly increased in numbers, which necessitated greater accommodation, and from the upper room in Bank Street they removed to the Albert Hall in Chapel Street. The opening was marked by intensive Gospel meetings under the care of James Carr, which resulted in numbers being brought to the Lord. Others were added to the Church, and in 1876 the commodious and well-adapted County Hall became the assembly meeting-place and the scene of many memorable gatherings of the Lord’s people.

Of the Carr family, Henry was perhaps the best known because of his manifold activities in the furtherance of the Lord’s work. He was ever alive to the needs of the Gospel, not only in Carlisle but in the villages of Cumberland and the adjacent counties, and there were few efforts launched on sound Scriptural lines that did not receive his sympathetic and practical support. But the interests of Henry Carr were numerous, and by the use of Gospel vans, mission tents, village halls and many other ways, he constantly sought to make known the story of salvation. His active association with work in the foreign field, his collaboration with such men as Hudson Taylor and John G. Paton, as well as his interest in the fruitful work through the channel of Echoes of Service, in which he took a very real and practical part, are more than a memory. He was also keenly alert as to the value of carrying the Gospel to the homes of those who could not otherwise be reached. In this way, many millions of Gospel tracts and monthlies were scattered by him during the last twenty-five years of his life.

James N. Carr, his younger brother, at this time in the prime of life, was essentially a Gospel preacher, and despite the many calls of a large and growing business he ever found time to go out with the Gospel. He was a familiar figure, and there were few villages in the Border counties where his voice had not been heard proclaiming the “Good News.” But he was at his best in the open-air, and could always command an attentive and respectful hearing. At race meetings, fairs and other such public gatherings wherever an opportunity was afforded, James Carr’s stentorian voice could be heard warning the unsaved to “flee from the wrath to come.” And on not a few occasions, when he warmed to his work, he has been known to throw off his coat and preach in his shirt sleeves.

It was about this time that the great wave of spiritual revival, consequent upon the Moody and Sankey mission, swept over this country. As Germany was caught in the flood-tide of Luther’s hymn-singing three centuries earlier, so Britain in like manner took up the strain that the American evangelists had sent forth on the wings of Gospel song. It had its counterpart in the meetings at the County Hall. William Howitt, the leader of praise, knew the value and power of Gospel singing, and was not slow in using the more tuneful members of the assembly as channels of blessing in the work of soul-winning. People were drawn in great numbers to those services, and there were many responsive hearts to the Gospel appeal. And to this day, the memory of those hallowed times in the County Hall are enshrined in a halo of happy song.

In the spring of 1888, a young man, bearing a letter of commendation from the assembly at Merrion Hall, Dublin, came to reside at Carlisle, and the name of James Dawson was placed upon the assembly roll. Full of zeal for the Lord, he proved a keen worker and an effective speaker; and when the assembly moved to the new City Hall he was appointed superintendent of the Sunday School. Thus, for a time, Carlisle became the early training ground of J. C. M. Dawson, who some years later gave up a promising career as a schoolmaster to go forth in dependence upon God, first as a missionary to China and Singapore, afterwards returning to the home country, where as an able teacher and expositor, he was well-known on conference platforms.

Doubtless because of its position as the gateway to Scotland, Carlisle has always been a privileged halting-place, and brethren whose names are notable amongst us have ministered the Word to edification, almost since the inception of the assembly over sixty years ago.

Among the many returned missionaries whose visits have been an inspiration, the names of Frederick S. Arnot and Dan Crawford stand out prominently. And yet, not only the stirring records of such pioneers, but the simple story of those from the obscure corners of the Lord’s vineyard in other lands, which moved us then, are sacred memories still.

To those of the present generation the names of Robert Gall, John Graham, John Laing, William A. Moss and Edwin Page are remembered for their long and faithful devotion in the building up and care of the assembly.

The meeting-place of the assembly, to which they removed from the Gospel Hall in 1920, is situated in one of the main arteries of the city, and though for a time after leaving the County Hall the numbers somewhat decreased, there has in recent years been a steady growh. The Lord has prospered His work, and the Hebron Hall with its many activities shares in one of the largest Gospel testimonies in the city.

In a former chapter the personal testimony of a Christian lady belonging to a Denominational Church, relating to her first-visit to a Morning meeting, is given. From some notes before me I take the following testimony, which is worthy of recounting here as it gives in simple yet forceful language the impressions of a visitor to a Gospel Hall.

“Converted in the Church of England and a communicant and worker for five years, it was indeed a great contrast when I paid my first visit to a Brethren Gospel meeting. I was conducted by a friend into a rather bare-looking hall over some stables and reached by a flight of stairs, with a platform at one end and the area occupied by high-backed forms and plain wooden chairs. As I sat at the back of the hall watching the proceedings, my attention was drawn to an inscription in bold letters on the wall behind the platform, which read:

    Jesus Died To Save,

and I wondered why such beautiful words were not placed prominently in churches instead of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. Who the preacher was I cannot remember, but the face of one of the friends on the platform particularly attracted me and I felt that here was a brother who could help me in my spiritual life, for although converted I was ever seeking after some deeper experience. One evening I stayed to what was called an ‘After Meeting,’ and witnessed the salvation of a man convicted of sin during the evening service. It was a revelation to me to see a number of men and women on their knees westling with God in prayer over a lost sinner, patiently reading the Scriptures to him and crying to God that he might be brought into the light. As an interested onlooker I marvelled still more when, after perhaps half an hour, the man suddenly rose from his knees and exclaimed, ‘I see it now! I see it now! Bless the Lord, I’m saved!’ After this all stood and sang with joy and thanksgiving:

    ‘I do believe, I will believe,

    That Jesus died for me,

    That on the Cross He shed His blood.

    From sin to set me free.’

“This incident made me ponder, and I saw that here was a place where work for the Lord was being honoured, and I determined to see more of what was being done through this band of wholehearted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Soon afterwards an invitation was given me to attend the Breaking of Bread Meeting, quite a new experience to me after years in the Church of England. To my surprise there were no ministers, no priests, no surplices, etc. All the elders were laymen and dressed just like other people. The method adopted of meeting around the Lord’s Table to remember His dying love for His children, and the simple service of worship and praise offered to our blessed Lord won my heart. I began to attend every Lord’s Day morning. The teaching given at various meetings began to occupy my thoughts. I then learnt what believers’ baptism really meant: a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, of being dead to self and alive unto Christ, to walk henceforth in newness of life. Subsequently, I was immersed as a believer and became a member of the gathering.”

Such personal testimonies, no doubt typical of what is not infrequently met with amongst our gatherings, is indeed refreshing to recall.