Jubilee Pamphlet – 1943
THE STORY OF THE HATFIELD ROAD METHODIST CHURCH
1893 – 1943
A word of apology is needed that a stranger within your gates should attempt to tell you something you might be expected to know more about than he who writes! Believe me, I do not take up my pen to attempt to teach you anything you do not know, unless you, dear reader, like myself, are a stranger to St. Albans – or comparatively so.
There are many people who have helped me in the compiling of such facts &s are here presented, by giving me the benefit of their knowledge, there I should like to acknowledge in full but the debt is too heavy and the list would be wearisome.
I must not let this opportunity go without sincerely thanking Miss G. Read, whose radiant spirit, grace and power of God, and whose untiring efforts are not so well known as they deserve to be. Let me add to this the honoured name of Mrs. Alton for giving me her time, and such assistance of her memory as she was able; a word to Mr S H Wheeldon for the loan of old editions of “Guild Supplements”, and to Mr R G Burnett for the trouble he took in looking up the files of the, “Methodist Recorder” for information about the opening of the church ‘in which we now worship.
To all who have helped me to love Hatfield Road by their living witness to the spirit of God in their lives, and to those who have given me their un-stinting affection, I dedicate this record of God’s Adventurers.
Yours very sincerely
Upon them hath the light shined ….
It is always difficult trying to trace when a church first began. When did the Christian Church begin? I notice that a great historian, D r. J. J. Foakes Jackson, in beginning to tell of the growth of the Christian Church starts his story further back than the story of Jesus. He is right!
Was the Christian Church not first born when Abram heard the call of God in Ur of the Chaldees? Was it not again helped a stage further upon its way when in stormy days Elijah heard the voice of gentle stillness and he discovered the faithful remnant? Was it not further conceived when in exile the faithful bands of congregations met to worship by the waters of Babylon? Was the Christian Church more specifically brought to birth when Peter made his confession ‘Thou are the Christ”, or did it come into being when the spirit of God came upon the disciples at Pentecost?
All these positions could be argued. It is difficult to trace an idea in its conception,’ but on April 18th 1893 someone had an idea!
A meeting was held. On that evening a challenge was presented to the workers of the Dagnall Street Wesleyan Church. The Subject under discussion was what we should call today a “Forward Movement”.
In the hearts of a few faithful people a new expectancy was born. That meeting was chaired by the Rev. J. Burn, and a band of workers pledged to definite faith and action was formed. There seems to be no doubt that the band was led by the late Mr. H. J. Read, and a gang of willing workers rallied around him. These enthusiasts walked to appointments before breakfast carrying a day’s food. They made calls in the surrounding villages and conducted open air services. Some are tempted to ask can any good thing come out of a meeting …. the answer is that it was out of a meeting on April 18th 1893 that the cause of the Hatfield Road Church was launched. . . . though none at that time knew what the outcome would be, except God.
Fleetville area .
St. Paul used Roman Roads as a means by which to propagate his Gospel of Redeeming Grace, and to tell of the Love of Christ to men. This mission band found three roads which attracted their attention , Cavendish Road, Hatfield Road and Camp Road. We are told on excellent authority that Cavendish Road was passing through the muddy stage (a state of affairs which many Fleetville residents will remember! )
On August 1st 1894 the old shoe factory at the corner of Cavendish Road was opened as a place of worship, the Rev. W. Talbot conducting the service.
This was certainly a venture of faith. The faith of the mission band over-ran the faith of the circuit , at this particular, juncture. The members of the band financed the venture, agreeing to quit the premises without notice if need arose.
A peep into the past would reveal furniture of a mixed variety. There was a discarded harmonium, a borrowed armchair, six new kitchen chairs , a piece of coconut matting, cardboard texts , and lamps that had an awkward habit of catching on fire , an old iron stove, antique collection of boxes, and added to all this there was a very willing brother who acted as voluntary caretaker, but who insisted on stoking up the stove a t the most crucial part of the sermon! The result of all these things would have made an artist shudder, (even Mr. Read admitted this ) , but it was the launching of a scheme.
Hatfield Road is a very generous church. It must have inherited this generosity from earliest days, for even in the Cavendish Road shoe factory at the opening service a collection box collapsed and the contents fell in to the lap of a blind person, who humorously asked whether that was his change!
The genius of Methodism has always been fellowship. This ‘new cause was no exception to the parent branch of the church. Mr Read soon started a class for Wednesday evenings, also socials were arranged, and Pleasant Sunday Evenings.
The Sunday School and the Band of Hope were s t a r t e d by Miss Read in 1895. (We count it a great privilege still to have Miss Read with us in the celebration of our Jubilee, though she is not able to associate with us as much as we should like we are assured always of her prayers , her love, and her sympathy).
We rejoice too that the Misses Elbourn are still with us and can share in the happy memories of those days. Mrs Hockett and Mrs. Hobbs are well remembered for their devoted service.
A New Building.
About the same time that Marlborough Road building was being contemplated it was found necessary to move from the old shoe factory in Cavendish Road. A small trust was formed which undertook the responsibility which the circuit was not prepared to face, in view of the larger scheme afoot in building . Marlborough Road Church. A plot of land was bought, and an iron church was built on the site which is now known as the Liberal Club. (It is of interest to local people to know that our neighbours, St. Paul ‘s was then an iron building on the site now occupied by the Adult School.)
The activities in this building grew rapidly there were youth Clubs, a string band, a choir had been attempted in Cavendish Road days by Mr. Bruty, this was carried on, and temperance meetings and pleasant Saturday evenings also were continued. The Sunday services were blessed by God, and the work grew so that need for further premises was felt, and a house on the opposite side of the road was rented. In the summer months a tent was erected at the rear of the new iron church.
The debt and upkeep of these premises must have been a heavy burden to those who shouldered the responsibility. Interest had to be paid on borrowed capital and there was no prospect of being able to build for years. Then there was the rent of the house in which the youth work was carried on.
Again the’ faith of this noble band – of Gods Adventurers was stimulated. The district was developing and the whole area of Fleetville was opening out, and the challenge was met by finding a more suitable site.
A plot of land was purchased in the Glenferrie Road, at the suggestion of Mr. W.G. Bennett, and an appeal was issued in 1902 by Mr. H.J. Read for a scheme to build a church and school with vestries at the cost of £3,500. Many will remember the little booklet that Mr. Read prepared for this appeal entitled “The Story of a Mission”, and the name of Mr. Curnow as financial secretary is still remembered.
This appeal was not so successful as it deserved to have been, the evidence of the partial response is still to be seen, for instead of the more elaborate buildings proposed, an iron building was erected, with a few brick vestries; these were erected in 1905 and even this much of the modified scheme left a debt upon the premises of £1,000 when all was completed. There was however a Church; the iron building, the ministers vestry, the choir vestry, and the large vestry, to show for the effort. What is still more important is that there was a band of eager workers, with enthusiasm and with their motto “This neighbourhood for Christ!” They were willing and waiting to work and to pray.
The influence of Hatfield Road has been felt at the furthest part of the earth; Mr. Fraser, the organist, left to go to China. It was from Mr. Fraser that our present organist took over, and M r. W.H. Pead has served us faithfully and well. Mr. A.B. Walker, now residing in Bournemouth, as many will remember also served in that capacity, and upon his retirement, M r. Pead, like Old Faithful , was ready and willing to step into the breach.
Hatfield Road has been very fortunate in the allocation of its ministers. One of the earliest , who worked with a good deal of energy for this first structure in Glenferrie Road was the Rev. J. L. Ley Peake. His work was consolidated by the Rev. T.C. Legg, who came to the circuit in 1906, and exercised a well remembered ministry. The Rev. J. W. Almond followed, and was well beloved, and the Rev. J. K. Reding, whom we are proud to welcome back to take our Jubilee services, served two terms, and is more than affectionately remembered amongst the stalwarts of the Hatfield Road Church.
During the ministry of the Rev. W.T. Kilbride the Great War started, and then as since, Hatfield Road became a hive of industry. The young men and women were depleted. the usual war work was carried on, first aid classes, billeting of soldiers , the job of keeping in touch with those in the Forces: it was in this atmosphere that Mr. Reding exercised his second period of service, and those who have the privilege of serving in war time know how tragedy and sorrow often draw people closer together .
Mr. Reding left a bond that still unites him with those who suffered in those days, and doubtless he too bears the marks of that ministry, for any worth-while ministry is costly in the extreme.
The work of Sister Ellen ought at this point to be mentioned; no account of the ministry would be complete without a sincere and devout tribute to that servant of God. She was always willing to help in people’s houses, and as a preacher too, she left her mark upon the people who met her.
In 1918 the St-Albans circuit was left with only one minister, the Rev. W.H. Allen. (The names of the Rev. A.E. Wolliscroft and H.F. Chaplin will be remembered by all of those days for their help during this period).
During the war, and after, Hatfield Road people rose to the occasion. Refugees from Belgium were cared for in a house rented for the purpose and Mr. Tonge in his quiet way carried out the financial side of that fine piece of Christian work.
Mrs. J. H. Wheeldon carried out a magnificent appeal for the ‘Save the Children’ Fund after the war, and still has the correspondence showing the grateful thanks of the children of other countries for the kindly adoption of the Hatfield Road people, in all a total of £147 was raised for this object.
Every department of the church carried its full responsibility; the women worked hard to keep in touch with the men at the front, hospital necessities were found, efforts to support the wives and children of soldiers were made. When Armistice was signed, the existing debt was the next burden to be tackled and by the year 1928 the debt was clear, and £1,550 was in had towards the new building, that is the building which we now use for our worship.
The present Church.
On August the 2nd 1928 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the stone laying ceremony took place. Dr. J. Alfred Sharp (the Chairman of the District) gave the address. It was estimated that the building was to cost £4,550, but the actual cost was £5,275, and after that ceremony was over the amount in hand towards this was £3,545.
The Rev. E.E. Dewhurst, the superintendent minister of the St. Albans circuit with the loyal support of the church members were responsible for the grand opening ceremony on Thursday,. January 31st 1929. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon the new church door swung open at the touch of Miss Joan Ryder, and Miss Louise Tuck whom we are proud still to have with us, was in charge of the 3rd St. Albans Girls’ Life Brigade, which formed a guard of honour. The dedication service followed, conducted by the Revs. J. Alfred Sharp, D.D., and W.H. Hodson Smith. Mr Smith took as his-text “We must work the works of Him that sent me”. The message of the sermon needs to be remembered by all who enter Hatfield Road to this day. Work is the cure for nine-tenths of the destructive criticism of today! It is not what we get out of Life but what we put into it that matters.
The Church was crowded for the evening meeting, and those who remember that day will still feel some revival of that thrill, chilled by its accompanying sorrow that Mr. H.J. Read, who had done so much.for the Church had met with a fatal accident, and had not been able to see that for which he had worked so hard.
No words of mine could pay high enough tribute to that choice, heroic, and noble life, the melody of which still lingers on, and “He being dead still speaketh”. He was the prime mover through all the adventures of the enterprise. Unhappily, three other men who ought to be mentioned have also passed over the other side; we still mourn their loss. Mr. George Allen, did a great work for the Hatfield Road cause, and was loyal and keen and devoted; of his work, time and space would fail me if I began to tell of it.
Mr. Tonge has also passed away, for some years he was a devoted financial secretary , a society and circuit steward, all these offices he held in his quiet unassuming way. Mr. Meyrick has this year joined the brethren in higher service.
To tell of all those who have helped in the history of our Church would be impossible, and I should be guilty, if I mentioned more, of compiling a list of names, or collecting obituaries , both of which charges I am anxious t o avoid!
Of our church, as of the history of a nation, it is still those who are unnamed, and unsung, who are its backbone and its strength. You, dear reader, are amongst that number. I should like to pay tribute but space will not permit to the ministries of the Revs. G.K. Eustice, R. Hector Stafford, H. J. Martin, and H. J. Baker; each would require a book in themselves, and all the happenings are too numerous t o mention.
The present day Challenge.
We have at Hatfield Road a great past. It is great ‘to look back on the history of the Church; and we-are grateful for what has been done. But we cannot rest upon a past, or live upon it. The men who have gone have served us admirably; we are awaiting action now. One of the greatest obstacles to the progress of the Gospel is the indifference of those who settle down to the apathy and complacency of this age. This neighbourhood needs winning for Christ just as much as when the church was first founded fifty years ago. It has borne a great witness. It has sent out its light to the farthest part of the earth . We are proud indeed of Miss Jessie Bendow who attended our church as a little girl , and who was determined against what seemed to be tremendous odds to become a missionary; she has served our Methodist Church in India as an educational worker for some fifteen years. Through her we have been able to adopt a little Indian girl “Jessie Shir,smanil”, as a peculiar charge, and the Women’s meeting have contributed generously to her upkeep.
This is not a record merely of our good deeds and what we have done. what matters still more is what is in our hearts to do. We have a loyal and great band of devoted workers. Less than we have a t Hatfield Road turned England upside down in the days of the Evangelical Revival. could we do what the early Christians did and make our influence so felt that others would be compelled to take notice of us that we have been with Jesus? Our work is done in different ways today: it is right it should be. Our methods are entirely different , and that is all to the good, for God fulfils Himself in many ways.. . It. is still the same faith, the same God, the same passion for souls … the same Gospel … there is no other name given amongst men whereby they can be saved.
We are fortunate still at Hatfield Road in our Leaders. We have a great band of faithful and devoted leaders of the Church. We have a noble body of Trustees. We have women who are keen and interested in the work of God and our Women’s meeting owes not a little to Mrs. J.H. Sheeldon’s devoted service over a period of twenty-five years as secretary. We have a band of faithful Sunday School teachers and workers, and a number of young men and women filled with a concern for the Kingdom of God.
It is with real gratitude that I mention the work done in a quietly and unostentatious way by Mr. and Mrs, W.H. Wheeldon, who by their own fireside and in their own home, have helped those who are away from home to feel less like strangers in a strange land. Many could testify that if it were not for their kindly interest they would be outside the Christian Church. I cannot go through all the officers of the church, but we do thank our choir-master for all the time and love he puts into his quiet services. Mr. Cowlishaw is not one to like mention, but he more than deserves it. Not many people know how much time and thought Mr. H.G. Currell puts in on the accounts side, and how greatly he helps his minister by his hearty co-operation at all times, and his ability and willingness to do anything when asked: his is the love that asks no questions.
To the past we greet you… .. to the future we pray that we may be used of God for helping to bring about here some portion of that Kingdom which can only begin in our own hearts, though it must travel to the furthest parts of the earth.
A happy Jubilee to you all!
Let us that God for all that is part – and trust Him for all that is to come.