Frank Holmes

“Barnstaple Patriarch”

Victory Press

First published in 1956
Printed in Great Britain at the Press of the Publishers Clapham Crescent, London, S.W.4.
All rights reserved


This is the book which Dr. A. T. Pierson wanted to write. Had he done so, the public would have been presented with something far more exhaustive than is attempted in these pages. From his time to the present, Chapman has lacked a biographer.

The only work of any significance on Chapman’s life is “Robert Cleaver Chapman of Barnstaple,” by W. H. Bennet. But this, though accurate, is simply a portrait of an elderly gentleman. It says little or nothing of Chapman’s early years.

The fact that Chapman lived to be nearly a hundred years old, and purposely destroyed most of his papers, makes the writing of his life extremely difficult. When I commenced my research I found that the details of his life prior to 1848 had been lost. Yet that is the most important period in the history of Brethren. The Lord’s guidance, however, has now brought much that was lost to light, so that well over half of this volume is concerned with Chapman’s life up to the age of forty-five. Obviously this is not a full biography—I do not think the materials for that will ever be available. But my sincere hope is that it will lead to a renewed study of the principles for which Chapman stood.

My view of Chapman is that he demonstrated, in very practical ways, the meaning of the word “brother.” Are not the church and the world in need of such “brethren”?

I am grateful to a host of friends at Barnstaple and elsewhere who have assisted me in my task. Mr. K. Swaine Bourne in particular has done everything in his power to ensure that this life of his very dear friend should be published.

I certainly did not realise when I wrote this book that before it was published I should be in fellowship with those who meet in the way described in Chapter Seven.

I am grateful to Messrs. Wm. Heinemann Ltd. for permission to quote extensively from “Mary Lee,” by Geoffrey Dennis.

Frank Holmes
Crowborough, 1956


It is a great pleasure to me to see in print a book I saw taking shape some years ago. On the occasions on which the author called at my home in Barnstaple to discuss the collection of data how we wished that the desk at which we sat could speak—what material it would have yielded! Presented to me by H. R. Shapland, it was made about 100 years ago by R. C. Chapman in the workship pictured opposite page 57 and used by the patriarch for many years. Yet, though desks cannot speak, this one has often challenged me, as I have risen from it to visit streets, villages and assemblies where this man of God was often found in those days of long ago.

After fourteen happy years in the Lord’s service in North Devon I came away with thousands of sacred memories and the feeling that there is something unique about the assemblies there. Wherein this consists it would be difficult to say, but perhaps it could be described as a sense of spiritual cohesion. No doubt several factors contribute to this, but I believe it is largely due to the persisting influence of R. C. Chapman’s life and the fact that his prayers are still in remembrance before God.

What was the secret of that influence? I often wished that the story of that life could be freshly told and its influence explained to the present generation. Readers will see special significance in the message of the book when they realize that the entire volume was written whilst the author was still a Minister of the Free Church of England. It is remarkable that during his residence in Barnstaple he should have felt constrained to study the life of R. C. Chapman and collect material for a biography, and one cannot help wondering whether this study helped to mould convictions which recently led Mr. Holmes, at considerable cost, to take his place with believers who seek, as R. C. Chapman did, to carry out the simple pattern of the New Testament.

The fruit of his patient enquiries presented in such a readable form will make a strong appeal to Devonshire folk but it is sure of a much wider welcome, for stories of R.C.C. still circulate in many parts of the world. Study of this biography is bound to be profitable, and if leaders among the Lord’s people take the lesson to heart the results will be incalculable.

James H. Large