THE FREE CHURCHMAN.
ORGAN OF THE STROUD DISTRICT FREE CHURCH COUNCIL.
"Historical Notes of the Churches".
EASTCOMBE BAPTIST CHURCH Beautiful for situation is Eastcombe, nestling mainly in a well-sheltered recess near the head of one of the numerous combes which branch into the Cotswolds from the Stroud Valley. A spring, yielding a never- failing supply of pure water indicates one main reason why this retired spot was chosen for residence by its earliest inhabitants. The approaches to the village, on all sides except the north are up steep acclivities, marked at the top in the present time as "dangerous" to cyclists; but amongst other charms a view of the woods around, especially when clothed in the soft varied greens of springtime, or the more brilliant tints of late autumn, well repays a climb. Prominent amongst the lesser buildings stands the Baptist Chapel. The church worshipping here is this year celebrating its centenary, and a few leading facts in its history will doubtless prove interesting to many. Before noticing the events which led to the founding of the Church; it will be well, as far as we are able, to take a retrospective view of the general condition of the inhabitants of this district at the close of the 18th century.
First as regards employment, The woollen trade was the mainstay of the village, as of the Stroud district generally. With few exceptions all the mills in the valley from Chalford to Stroud were cloth mills. Prior to the Introduction of steam power, however, much of the work now confined to the mills was done in the homes of the people; and the merry sound of the shuttle, as it was driven from side to side of the hand-loom, would then be heard in many of the houses at Eastcombe. The position of the village doubtless at that time added to its importance, as it occupies nearly a central position between the Chalford and Slad Valleys.
As regards the moral, intellectual, and spiritual condition of the people all accounts agree that drunkenness, immorality, and Sabbath-breaking were the order of the day. The pastimes of the people were of a very rough and low character. Truly it may be said that darkness covered the place, and gross darkness the people. Eastcombe then boasted its annual fair, which was held on what is now a part of the chapel property. The story is told that on this spot, at one of the fairs, in a fight between two men, one of them received fatal injuries. Superstition was rife, and the early evangelists had to suffer not a little from the violence of the people. Even after the chapel was built and opened for worship, violent opposition was offered to the use of the chapel-yard for interments. When the first grave was opened it was found the next morning to have been filled up, and the attendance of a magistrate had to be secured before the interment could take place. It is gratifying to note that such indecent conduct was not repeated.
When or by whom the first efforts were made to bring the villagers under the direct power of the gospel is uncertain, but upon trustworthy testimony we learn that the Baptists were the third party to attempt to gain a footing in the village. The Wesleyans first made an attempt, and then members of the Congregational body from the Old Chapel, Stroud, and the France Chapel, Chalford, journeyed to Eastcombe, and held services there on Sunday afternoons. Valuable work had been done by these pioneers before there appeared in the village the Rev. Thomas Williams, who became the founder and afterwards the successful pastor of the Baptist Church at Eastcombe.
This truly apostolic man was born at Northwich, in Cheshire, in 1757, and had reached the age of 17 when a sermon by the Rev. Gloscot, of the Lady Huntingdon Connexion impressed him so deeply as to the importance of religion that henceforward his life was consecrated to God. He soon gave evidence of wonderful ability as a preacher, and this led to his admittance to Lady Huntingdon's College at Trevecca, where he stayed the usual term, and was then employed as an itinerant preacher amongst her societies till 1784. Deep conviction upon the question of baptism led him that year to submit to the ordinance according to the apostolic mode. He was baptised by Mr. Booker, of Wevelsfield, and joined the Church there. His first pastorate amongst the Baptists was at Smarden, in Kent, whence he removed to Ogden in Lancashire, and afterwards to the Church at Dudley, in Worcestershire. Whilst there he married in the year 1789. In 1796 he removed to Westmancoat near Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire. Exchanging pulpits with Mr. Winter of Painswick, brought him into the neighbourhood of Stroud, and a few Christian friends prevailed upon him to go and preach at Eastcombe. On June 4th, 1799, he went there, and such great numbers came to hear him, and in so signal a manner did God's blessing rest upon his work, that he continued his visits to the village. After six months it was deemed advisable to erect of the crowds who flocked to hear him. Generous assistance was given by the different Churches around; and the clothiers of the neighbourhood, who had no intention of attending the place themselves, gave liberally, for the purpose of effecting by this means the moral improvement of the people, in their employ. On May 22nd, 1800 the foundation stone of the Chapel was laid, and on August 4th, 1801 it was opened for divine worship. On February 13th, of the same year, four persons were baptised in the village, and these with the pastor, his wife and daughter, making up the sacred number seven, formed themselves into a church. On February 13th of the present year the Baptist Church at Eastcombe completed the first century of its existence.
Mr. Williams usually preached six times in the week, four times in the Chapel and twice in the neighbouring villages, It is generally believed that he died a martyr to Christ's cause, being worn out by the great exertions he made in travelling through the country - mostly on foot - to collect money for the building of the Chapel, coupled with intense anxiety of mind to secure success, and frequent preaching both at home and in other places. On February 19th, 1805, he was seized with a violent vomiting of blood, and never again fully recovered his strength. Yet even in his physical weakness, he proved a tower of strength to the Church by the fervour of his love as their pastor, and the joy which close fellowship with God afforded him. On March 16th, 1805, he wrote the following letter to the Church and Congregation:-
"Brethren, Friends and Neighbours, These last three Lord's days I have been laid aside from my public work among you, through the afflicting hand of God on my tottering unworthy tabernacle; but I can assure you it has been, and is now, the sweetest affliction I ever knew in the whole of my life. Christ was never so precious, so valuable, so lovely, so glorious, so amiable as now. I hope never to my last moment never to lose the savour of that communion I had with Him the greater part of last Tuesday week, and which lasted until midnight. The pleasure was so great I have not words to convey my feelings. In fact, I found so much of heaven in my soul, that it appeared to me I was nearly wafted to the skies, and had it not been for my dear afflicted wife and family, and my dear mournful flock, I should much more than preferred leaving this world of misery and sin, and to be for ever with my dear Lord and Saviour. But it seems as if the Master intended to continue me longer with you, how long no one can tell, but when I consider that my constitution is so much broken (and blessed be God, broken in His service and work, and not in the service of Satan) my time in this world must be short. May I and each of you improve every moment to His honour and glory. Whenever I reflect upon that providence, which brought, and has kept me amongst you for nearly six years, in which time a spacious building has been erected for the public worship of God, for you, and your children for ever, who can help exclaiming, "What Hath God wrought," and especially when I consider the number of Church Members, which is now 46, with the agreeable prospect of several others to join that number as soon as it shall please God to establish my health. Next to going to heaven I long for the day. May the Holy Spirit be with the Candidates, as with the Master when He came up out of Jordan's flood. You know my friends, that we have, enjoyed His favour on these occasions, and I think we shall again. This will cause another shout amongst the angels in heaven, and we will join the triumph with them, though we are still on earth. Oh what a friend is Christ How good His work, how sweet His employ, how glorious His wages! May Christ ever enable you to adorn your profession. It has afforded me abundance of pleasure to see this house so well attended, and especially so many young persons hearing the word of life with so much seriousness. But what joy it would give me if all were willing to follow the Lamb, for that would at once cure all of the love of sin. I have thought lately if it were possible to mourn in heaven, I should weep exceedingly if ever the cause of Christ were to decline at Eastcombe. I pray God there may be a large number of godly, pious, faithful souls here as long as the sun and moon endure.
I conclude, wishing that the heavens may be opened, and pour blessings upon you and your children.
From your affectionate Minister,
So solicitous was he for the eternal welfare of his charge, that when confined to his bed he particularly desired several of his unconverted neighbours to be called in that he might speak to them concerning their immortal souls, observing that the words dropped from the lips of a dying man might leave a lasting impression upon their minds. The Church, at his decease, consisted of 54 members, and there was a congregation of about 500. There were also a considerable number waiting to follow their Lord in the ordinance of baptism, who were subsequently added to the Church.
During the, summer following Mr. Williams' death, the Rev. Henry Hawkins preached his first sermon at Eastcombe. A native of Plymouth, and a watch maker by trade, he had steadily followed his lucrative business up to the age of 36. His parents were devoted adherents to the Established Church, but during his apprenticeship his pious mistress requested him to accompany her to hear a celebrated Wesleyan preacher. This was the means of his conversion. At once he became an ardent student of God's word, and a zealous seeker after the salvation of his fellow men. He first joined the Christian community worshipping in the Old Tabernacle, Plymouth. Earnest thought upon the question of baptism was stirred in his mind by reading a book "The Apostolic Baptism of Believers."
He was baptised and joined the Baptist Church under the Rev. Philip Gibbs. His pastor soon recognised in Mr. Hawkins those talents, which he considered should be consecrated to the ministry; and although he continued to follow his business in the week as usual he now entered upon the sacred work of preaching, sometimes travelling 10 or 12 miles, and preaching three times during the Sunday. But a fiery trial awaited him. Within about four years he was deprived by death of his wife and four children. He was subsequently married again to one who, by her eminent. piety and ardent zeal, was an especial blessing to her husband in his after career. At the age of 36, as he was one evening engaged in interring a pious woman, the thought of the transitory nature of all things pertaining to this mortal life so powerfully affected him that he decided immediately to give up his prosperous business by which he had already amassed considerable wealth, and devote himself entirely to the service of the Lord. Although his worldly-wise friends tried to dissuade him from taking such a course, the next day he advertised his business for sale. His first pastorate was at Wotton-under-Edge, whence he sometimes supplied the church at Eastcombe. Receiving an invitation from the latter church, he was ordained pastor, on Sept. 16th, 1807, and continued with them for a period of 16 years. The Chapel was enlarged, the manse built, and all debts on the property removed; and by his untiring exertions the gospel was introduced into many villages around. He had the unspeakable gratification of seeing many souls led to the Redeemer, and several churches formed by his exertions. Amongst other good works he established a fund called "The Merciful Fund", by which he was enabled at various times to distribute, in clothing and food, several hundred pounds.
The Baptist Sunday School at Eastcombe dates probably from about the time of the opening of the Chapel. During Mr. Hawkins' pastorate the number of scholars increased to 500, many of them walking a distance of three or four miles, and bringing their dinners with them, which they ate in school, so as to be present in the afternoon, and to attend the Chapel service. "The word of the Lord was precious in those days".
But Mr. Hawkins was also an ardent advocate of popular education, and established a day school at Eastcombe, teaching also a night school in his own house. Mrs. Hawkins assisted him in this work by thoroughly instructing the girls in needlework. A good story is told about this night school. While engaged in his pastoral visitations he enquired why two young women - sisters - absented themselves from the night school. In reply the mother stated that her daughters highly appreciated the school, but their return home after school was rendered unpleasant by the rude behaviour of a certain young man in the village. "Please tell your girls to come and I will see them safe home," said Mr. Hawkins. Both attended the next night, and after lessons were told to start on their way home as usual, and Mr. Hawkins would follow a little way behind. They had not gone far when their tormentor - an over-grown boy - appeared with the intention doubtless of having again some fun at their expense. Suddenly a strong hand grasped him, and he received a sound horse-whipping. The girls received no further annoyance from him. On another occasion, a youth had absented himself from the school, and Mr. Hawkins deemed it advisable to administer correction. He drove, early next morning, to meet the youth, and using the same effective instrument as before, left nothing more to be desired in the way of vigorous chastisement. Strange to say, the parents highly approved of this eminently practical interest taken in their son. Mr. Hawkins' chief work, however, lay in his evangelistic efforts. Untiringly he preached the gospel in the villages around Eastcombe, nobly aided in this good work by two whom he had baptised - Mr. Jacob Aldum and Mr. Thomas Clift, both of whom afterwards became useful lay preachers. In connection with Mr. Hawkins' evangelistic work the following stands out in pleasing contrast to much that we see throughout our country in the present time. - During his pastorate at Eastcombe, the curate in charge of Stroud Parish Church was the Rev. John Williams, a truly godly man, whose sympathies extended to Christians of all denominations. He also was from Plymouth, and possibly had known Mr. Hawkins before; but now there sprang up between them a firm friendship, and at a place called the Lime Kilns, between Eastcombe and Stroud, they frequently met in one of the cottages where occasional prayer meetings were held. Thither, at times, the doctor and his friends would journey and meet a company of Baptists from Eastcombe, the meeting being addressed at one time by the doctor, at another by Mr. Hawkins. Unexpected events led him to resign his pastorate at Eastcombe, and he severed his connection with the Church on April 20th, 1823. He was invited to Stroud where he was the means in God's hands of founding a flourishing Baptist Church (John Street), and of erecting for their worship a commodious Chapel. He happily lived to see this Church increase greatly in numbers and usefulness. He saw the Chapel enlarged, and a new schoolroom erected. On January 17th, - 1845, he passed away to his reward at the advanced age of 76 years.
After Mr. Hawkins' removal to Stroud the Eastcombe Church invited the Rev. G. O. Mitchel to become their pastor. Of his previous life and work little is known, but the Church records prove his ministry of three and a half years at Eastcombe to have been eminently successful, about forty new members during that time being added to the Church. Mr. Mitchel left Eastcombe for Tetbury, where he laboured for several years, and then removed to London, the evening of his life being spent in mission work there. Following Mr. Mitchell, the Rev. Evan Probert became pastor at Eastcombe. The following entry appears in the church book: "Mr. Probert preached his first sermon July 1st, 1827, and was ordained, November 28th following. Like Mr. Williams, the founder of this Church, Mr. Probert came from Wales, where he was then only a student at college. His first sermon at Eastcombe was from the text: "And Israel said, it is enough, Joseph my son is yet alive, I will go and see him before I die". Genesis xlv, 28. Mrs. Charles Kirby, Salem Cottage, Rodborough, was then a scholar in the Sunday School and well remembers this event. So pleased were the people with his discourses during his first Sabbath among them that their choice of him as their minister was at once determined, and he received hearty and unanimous invitation. His acceptance of the invitation was not so prompt and easy. As yet he had a very imperfect command of the English language, so that he did not feel himself equal to the task of preaching regularly to an English congregation. He admitted that up to that time he had prepared only six sermons in English. On returning to the college, however, he sought the advice of the Principal. Believing the call was from God as well as from man, the good man replied: "Probert, go and preach God to the people". He followed the advice of his principal, came to Eastcombe, and became highly popular as a preacher, and not less successful as a pastor. The Sunday School had attained its highest numbers during Mr. Hawkins' ministry. Now the numbers of Church members and congregation reached their highest point thus far in the Church's history. Not only was the Chapel well filled at both the morning and afternoon services, but during favourable weather, in the afternoon, a second large congregation would often be found standing or sitting outside in the Chapel yard. At such times the Chapel windows were thrown open, and all could hear distinctly the prayer and the sermon. His fame as a preacher spread far around, and he was often invited to preach in other places. During his ministry of seven and a half years at Eastcombe about 70 persons joined the Church. At the end of that time, deeply regretted by all, he removed to Pithay Chapel, Bristol. His ministry was greatly blessed, and after many years of successful work, the time came for the Church there to build a more commodious place of worship. City Road Chapel Bristol, stands now a monument of his faithful and successful ministry.
The Rev. T. Owen's ministry followed that of Mr. Probert at Eastcombe. "Mr. Owen preached his first sermon on probation, March 1st, 1835." This appears as an entry in the old church book. Although a great contrast to Mr. Probert, he proved an excellent preacher, and during his pastorate of a little over four years, many additions were made to the Church, and every good work was well maintained. Then, judging that the people were becoming less affectionate. towards him, and less appreciative of his ministry, he tendered his resignation, stating that it was his intention to return to Wales. Much to his surprise, his resignation was received by the people generally with sorrow: This caused him it is said, to regret the step he had taken, but having taken the step, he did not deem it wise to remain at Eastcombe. At his valedictory service, a hymn was sung, composed by one of the congregation. The last verse was:
"Go with our pastor, Lord,
His every step attend;
All needful grace to him afford,
And keep him to the end." Thirty-seven years had now elapsed since the founding of the Church, and during that period no event had occurred seriously to check the continuous flow of prosperity. A long time of trial was now to follow. Owing partly perhaps to indiscretion, and partly to the allowing of sentiment; rather than sound judgement, to guide, grave mistakes were made by the Church, in the selection of the two ministers who followed Mr. Owen. Division and strife crept in which eventually caused disruption. The deacons and about fifty members withdrew from fellowship; and for nearly two years they worshipped at the neighbouring village of Bussage. But as the brightness and warmth of spring-time follows the darkness and cold of winter, so in God's good providence, there came again a time of union, and progress to this sorely tried Church.
In 1847, the Rev. Stephen Packer, of London, supplied the pulpit at Eastcombe on three Lord's Days; and the Church and Congregation unanimously invited him to become their pastor. The invitation was accepted, and he commenced his labours on July 11th. Upon him devolved the arduous, and in no slight degree irksome task of re-organising the Church, and bringing about a real union of heart amongst the people. He possessed a kind and genial manner in private, which eminently fitted him for this special work. Tokens of spiritual blessing quickly manifested themselves, and eight persons were the following year received into fellowship by baptism. After this additions to the Church became frequent. To .remove a debt of, some say, £300, which had accumulated during the troublous times prior to his coming, was a task that the minister and his people now set themselves resolutely to accomplish. The debt was considerably reduced when the Church celebrated its jubilee. The following is the pastor's own record of this most interesting event in the Church book:-
"August 4th, 1851. The jubilee of the. opening of the Chapel was commemorated, when the Rev. John Burder preached; and Thomas Thompson Esq., of Poundsford Park, took the chair at the public meeting in the evening. The Revs. Thomas Newman, James Morris, Ben Parsons, T. Thodey, J. Whitta, Robert White, W. Yates, with the pastor took part in the service. The collection, with the surplus of the tea meeting, amounted to £106/10s. This sum was raised to liquidate the debt. 'What hath God wrought'."
A few friends still remember this event - the large congregations, the tea-meeting, so crowded that there were three relays, and at the public meeting in the evening, the collections taken twice to make up the amount required, many giving more generously the second time than the first. It is no wonder that they speak of it as a red-letter day in the annals of the Church. During Mr. Packer's pastorate the Church lost three worthy deacons, Samuel Eddels, Francis Fawkes, and Thomas Freeman. S. Eddels died July 25th, 1847, F. Fawkes January 3rd, 1848. They were men of very different manner, but both faithful for Christ and the Church. Thomas Freeman went to America. He too was a faithful worker, a man who never allowed trifles to keep him from his place and duty on Sunday. "God removes his workmen, but carries on His work". The names, mentioned in the following entry in the Church book, are affectionately remembered by many: "June 30th, 1850. At a special meeting it was resolved that John Smith and John Goby be chosen to fill the office of deacon which they accepted". Mr. Packer resigned December 31st, 1854, having served the Church about 7½ years, and received about, 70 into membership. He did good work in other places for several years before he was called to his reward.
The Rev. Henry Whitlock, whose ministry extended from 1855 to 1873, was the next pastor. He hailed from Earl's Barton. In the early summer of 1855, he visited Eastcombe, and preached with a view to the Pastorate. This visit resulted in his receiving a hearty and unanimous call which he accepted, and commenced his ministry here on July 8th of the same year. He proved himself to be a preacher of no mean order. In his sermons, which were always carefully prepared and as carefully delivered, he would first quote the opinions of commentators, and then state his own. Possessing a marked independency of thought, his ideas did not easily run in the common groove, nor did he, upon any matter, readily take for granted the statements of others, but preferred to exercise his own judgment. At his recognition service he described his theological position as that of a moderate Calvinist. Some time after he was accosted by one of the senior members of his Church with the remark "Mr. Whitlock, I don't understand you. You sometimes preach as a Calvinist, and at others as a follower of Wesley." To which he pointedly replied, "That's quite true, but I find it all in the Bible." He had acquired, what might with advantage be acquired by every minister of the gospel, a knowledge of medicine, and became in a measure the village doctor, thus increasing his power for usefulness, and also some supposed, his income. It may be, however, more correctly inferred, from his character, that what he received from the more fortunate he dispensed with. a generous hand to his more needy patients.
Nothing of unusual interest appears to have occurred during the early part of his ministry, but a great undertaking was awaiting the Church. Part of the Chapel had now stood for nearly sixty years, and was not of the best material or construction. Signs of decay began to show themselves of so serious a character as to call for immediate action. The structure consisted of the original Chapel and a later enlargement, and had what is known as a double roof, constructed with local timbers and covered with heavy stone tiles, which added considerably to the weight the walls had to carry. Plans for renovation and estimates of cost were obtained from local builders. The building Committee accepted those of Messrs. Wall and Hook, which provided for the removing of the old roof, the raising of the walls to a more proportionate height, and the re-seating of the body of the chapel. The estimate for this work was £600. As is usual in such cases it was found necessary to effect many repairs not included in the original contract. A new floor was put in the schoolroom, and sundry improvements were made in the Manse, which considerably increased the outlay.
While the work was in progress, a project was formed amongst friends in the village for the erection of a bell-turret, and the placing of a public clock in the front of the chapel, so that they might have the convenience of a good time-keeper. The building committee declined to entertain the project, but, as the feeling in its favour was strong, they agreed that a separate committee of the villagers should be formed to carry it into effect. Their appeal for funds met with such a ready and generous response that, the necessary amount - £50 -was soon in hand and the work entered upon. In connection with this enterprise the name of Mr. James Gardiner, whose business was that of corn and hay dealer, may be mentioned. Through his exertions most of the money required was collected. Although not a member of the Church he was a life long friend, and was known many miles round as the one who was frequently begging for his Chapel. Thus while masons, carpenters, and others were busily engaged in their particular work, pastor, committee and people were not less active in giving or soliciting money to meet the cost of the undertaking, and their efforts proved successful.
The reopening services were held October 2nd and 14th, 1860. The following is an extract from a local paper of the time:- "Eastcombe Baptist Chapel. Rebuilt 1860. The Baptist Chapel in this village having been closed since June last for rebuilding, was opened again for divine worship on Tuesday and Sunday, the 2nd and 14th of October. On the afternoon of Tuesday the Rev. O. Winslow, D.D. of Bath, preached an effective sermon from Philippians 1 - 6. About 450 persons took tea after the service. In the evening the Rev. W. H. Lewis of Cheltenham, preached from John 1 - 32. As the work was not complete the Chapel was again closed till Sunday, the 14th, when the Rev. H. Whitlock preached from John 11 - 21. In the afternoon and evening the Rev. J. Penny, of Clifton, preached two eloquent and impressive sermons to crowded congregations from Genesis xxviii - 12, and Revelation xxii -
"The attendance at each of these services was large, and the spirit pervading them good. The collections and clear profits of tea amounted to about £40, which with the subscriptions of friends, chiefly of the Church and congregation, amounted. to nearly £300".
A heavy debt remained after the completion of the work, but strenuous efforts were made to effect its removal. A loan of £100 was obtained from the Baptist Building Fund, and liberal aid came in from other questions. The deficit was, however, still large, when about two years after there came to the Church a tempting offer which necessitated further financial aid.
Mr. William Davis of Bussage House, was for many, years an active member of the ChapelChoir. An organ which he had put up in his residence proved inconveniently large, and he offered to grant the use of it to the Church for a period of eight years, and to provide during that time an organist on the condition that they would meet the cost of its removal, and its erection in the chapel. It was also understood that at the expiration of that time the church might secure the possession of the instrument for the sum of £200, or they might return it to Bussage House. After some delay the offer was accepted, and about £70 were expended in making the necessary structural alterations in the gallery and erecting the organ. On Good Friday, April 3rd, 1863, it was opened with a selection of music. The organ builder, Mr. Williams, presided at the instrument, Mr. James Chew of Stroud, taking the concluding part. The chief soloist was Mrs. William Davis. Mr. Davis proved better than his promise. Till his death in 1873 the use of the organ was allowed to theChurch, and then it became necessary to settle the question of purchase.
Towards the close of the year the matter was vigorously taken up, the purchase was decided upon, and £120 towards the £200 were raised. On December 26th a large tea meeting was held, followed by a service of song, the first ever rendered in the Chapel. Important changes around Eastcombe were taking place under the Commons Enclosure Act during these years. In the summer of 1870 the Baptist Church acquired half an acre of land, under this act, for a burial ground. This was a timely acquisition, for so many had sought their last resting place in the chapel yard that little space remained. At the time the new burial ground was enclosed the front boundary wall of the old premises was rebuilt, and the whole of the interior and exterior of the Chapel repainted, involving an outlay of about £150. It was inevitable that in so prolonged a pastorate changes greatly affecting the internal character of the Church should take place. There were many removals by death and from other causes.
In the spring of 1861, Thomas Kirby, who had been superintendent of the Sunday School for 32 years, passed away to his reward. But even in death he was not divided from the place he had loved so long and so well, for by his own request he was interred close to the schoolroom door, and a substantial monument was afterwards erected to his memory by the teachers and scholars.
For 55 years, Thomas Davis, a member of the Church, had preached the gospel in the villages surrounding Eastcombe, when on June 5th, 1863, aged 88 years, he was called to the more exalted service above. On April 12th, 1869, the Church lost by death John Goby, for many years a faithful deacon, and according to the testimony of the pastor, "the minister's friend." Mr. William Dangerfield, who had proved himself a useful Sunday School worker during the previous pastorate, and who afterwards served the Church for many years as a deacon and treasurer, severed his connection with the place July 1870, and subsequently joined the Baptist Church at Stroud.
The year 1864 saw the removal by death of a village celebrity, Richard Davis. He had spent his whole life in the village, and as there was during the greater part of that. period no public school nearer than Bisley or Chalford, hehad kept a private school in his own house, where the young people of Eastcombe were taught the rudiments of reading, writing &c., until they were oldenough to attend one of the schools in the neighbourhood. In his younger daysthere were few in the village besides himself able to read or write. Yet even in those days a stray letter from a friend or child far away would find its way. to some home in this retired. spot. When such a remarkable event tookplace, the services of Richard Davis would be requisitioned to read the welcome epistle. Was a reply necessary, he had to write it. And, be it understood, these services were not always rendered to parents, but young people who had loved ones at a distance had to seek his aid in their desire to communicate with them. Such work earned for him the title of village scribe.
Mr. Davis was also for many years a useful member of the chapel choir. Printed copies of music could not thenbe had at the cheap rate of the present day and much of the music was in manuscript. A new tune was considered a valuable acquisition by any choir; and if it proved popular its fame soon spread. Neighbouring choirs would seek to obtain the loan of a copy that theymight write it off for themselves. But it not seldom happened that choir-leaders jealously refused to lend copies of their new tunes. In such emergencies Mr. Davis would attend some special service at the chapel where the covetedtune would most likely be sung, he would carefully record the tune in hismemory, and soon his chapel choir would have it for their use. Such practicescaused him to be known amongst neighbouring choirs as the "tune stealer".
We named last month several prominent Eastcombe workers. The fidelity with which these, and others of like character, served their day and generation, and the frank outspokenness exhibited by many of them in personally addressing others on the importance of godliness might well put some timid Christian professors of to-day to the blush. An instance of their outspokennessmay be given. Mr. John Smith, who has been mentioned, was one Sabbath morning, crossing the hill from Chalford, when he met a number of men, whose appearance betokened nointention on their part of appearing in God's housethat day. "I say men," said he, "have you heard the good news that has come to England?" "No!" they replied, "what news, Mr. Smith?" With a countenance beaming with the unspeakable gladness begotten in his own heart by the good news, he gave it them: "God so loved the world that He gave His onlybegotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," and then the good man passed on leaving them to their reflections.
And not to the thoughtless alone did these fearless men speak the apt word, but they were equally ready, with words of wise counsel, to advise young Christians, as the following story will show.
One Sunday evening after service, as a young man and his particular friend were taking their usual walk, they chanced to meet a senior member of the Church. The young man cheerily greeted his old friend., The old man quietly returned the greeting, and then after a pause, he called out to the retreating couple: "Young man! young man! You be sure to remember Zacharias and Elizabeth." It will be remembered that of these two Scripture characters it is written "They were both righteous before God." Of the couple addressed by the old man one only - the young man - was then a member of the Church; and he was anxious to warn his young friend of the danger of being "unequally yoked" with an unbeliever. Happily, but all unknown to the old man, the young woman was then a candidate for baptism, and so to his words of warning there came back from the young man the response, "Thanks friend, that is alright."
But now the time was approaching when the veteran, who hadseen so many of his brave comrades in Christ's holy war fall at his side, would also be called upon to leave the ranks of the Church militant and join the Church triumphant. In the latter part of 1871 Mr. Whitlock's health began to fail, and he was seized with lameness in one of his feet. At first, by sparing himself, he was able to conduct the usual services, but not for long, as his lameness assumed a serious form. The necessity now arose of providing supplies for the pulpit, the pastor, as often as he felt able, taking one of the services.
His last sermon was preached under painful circumstances. Being unable to stand, was helped by his deacons to the platform, and there sitting with his feet supported by cushions, he delivered his last public message to his people. During the remainder of his life the pulpit was supplied by neighbouring ministers and others, the Rev. W. Chapman, of Stroud, and the Rev. D. R. Morgan, of Chalford, giving frequent and valuable aid. The Church and congregation kept well together, and all vied with each other in showing sympathy and help to their afflicted pastor and friend. After two years of protracted suffering the esteemed and beloved pastor was called to his rest November 5th, 1873. The following report of the funeral ceremony appeared in the "Stroud Journal":-
"A large congregation assembled to witness the mournful ceremony. Shortly after three o'clock the body was removed from the chapel house, preceded by the following Baptist and Congregational ministers: The Revs. D. R. Morgan, Chalford: G. R. Tanswell, Woodchester: W. W. Larking, J. Hall and W. Chapman, of Stroud: E. Jacob, Ebley: J. Rees, Rodborough: R. Kerr, Avening: H. A James, Minchinhampton: C. L. Gordon and W. T. Price, Nailsworth: W. C. Taylor, Uley. Amongst other gentlemen we noticed Wm. Dangerfield, Esq., Chalford, and G. Clissold, Esq., Nailsworth. The chief mourners were Mr. W. Whitlock, son of the deceased, and Mr. Churchill, of Gloucester, son-in-law. In the chapel the order of service was as follows.
After singing the Rev. D. R. Morgan read portions of Scripture and offered prayer. The congregation again united in solemn psalmody when the Revs. W. W. Larking and H. A. James delivered most impressive addresses. The Rev. W. Chapman then read part of the hymn beginning "How blest the righteous when he dies." After it had been sung, in a few words Mr. Chapman blessed God that the earthly lives of good men are not spent in vain, and that so many hallowed associations were connected with the friend, father, husband, and pastor whom they were about to remove to the house appointed for all living. The benediction having been pronounced, as the mourners left for the grave, Mr. Jacob, junr., who presided at the organ, played "The Dead March in Saul". The body having been deposited in the family vault, the Rev. W. C. Taylor delivered a short and impressive prayer, and having gazed once more on the coffin, amid the falling leaves of autumn, and as the shades of evening were fast falling, the company separated."
The unique and undefinable character of the relationship existing between the pastor and his people, amongst the Congregational and Baptist Churches, urgently demands, from all parties concerned, the exercise of the utmost care in entering into that relationship. It has already been seen in the history of this Church that an unwise choice of a pastor by the people may reduce a church to an almost ruinous condition. On the other hand, there have been cases where devoted servants of Christ and faithful pastors, have had their ardour chilled, and their power for usefulness crippled by an unsympathetic Church. In seeking a pastor to follow Mr. Whitlock, the Eastcombe Church resolved that not more than one eligible for the pastoral office should be before the Church, as a candidate at one time; as they were anxious that the call to his successor should be hearty and unanimous. Through circumstances, however, which the Church could not control, the names of two ministers, who came about this time to supply the pulpit, began to be whispered amongst the people; with the result that opinion became divided. This was fatal to the unanimity aimed at by the Church, and one of the officers proposed that both these names be set aside, and that search for a pastor be made in another direction, a proposal which was wisely adopted. The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon was communicated with. He strongly recommended the Rev. J.E. Brett, a former student of the Pastor's College, who had been working at Dorchester about four years, as a young man likely to meet the requirements of the Eastcombe Church. Mr. Brett paid a visit to the village in May, 1874, preached with great acceptance on two successive Sundays, and received, from a full church meeting, a hearty invitation to the pastorate, which he accepted. Recognition services were held on Sunday, September 10th, and also on Thursday, the 14th, when a public meeting was held, presided over by Mr. W. Dangerfield, of Chalford. Among the ministers present were the Revs. D. R. Morgan, of Chalford, H. A. James, of Minchinhampton, J. G. Brown, of Cirencester, and W. Chapman, of Stroud. These services were in every way successful, and produced an influence for good, helpful both to pastor and people.
"It is not good that man should be alone," and on the 21st October following Mr. Brett was married to Miss Julia Mr. Finch, daughter of the Rev. T. Clarkson Finch, of Twerton, and returned home with his newly-wedded wife, so as to be present on the first Sunday in November. The Thursday following a "Welcome Home" tea was held followed by an enthusiastic public meeting. The Rev. C. S. Gordon, of Nailsworth, presided, and after delivering an address befitting the occasion, handed to Mrs. Brett, in the name of the church and congregation, a purse containing £10 as a token of their hearty good wishes for their future happiness.
The truest philanthropy is that which provides for the needy those inducements and opportunities which lead to self-improvement, and Mr and Mrs. Brett soon proved themselves Christian philanthropists of the true type by the projects they set on foot for the benefit of the villagers. During the first winter in Eastcombe they opened a night-school to supply what then was greatly needed, an opportunity to the young people to improve themselves in the elementary part of their education. Success crowned their effort; nearly one hundred attended, and Mr and Mrs. Brett were so encouraged in the work that the school was again opened the following winter.
Temperance work at that time was banned in many of the Churches, and pioneers in the work had to suffer no small amount of contumely and contempt. This did not deter Mr. Brett from moving in the direction of temperance. He saw the urgent need of early training the young to avoid that, which more than anything else, blasts human lives, and he promoted the founding of a Good Templars' Lodge, and a Juvenile Templars' Lodge, both of which did good work for many years.
When Mr. Brett entered upon the pastorate in 1874, there had been no additions to the Church by baptism for seven long years. The lack of candidates towards the close of his ministry had been a source of great trouble to the late pastor. Now the fields were white ready to harvest. On the last Sunday in December, 1874, Mr. Brett had the pleasure of baptising, for the first time at Eastcombe. There were, eight candidates, five of them from the Sunday School. This event was a cause of great joy to all. Other candidates soon followed, and the year 75 was passed in hard work by pastor and people, rich tokens of both temporal and spiritual blessing following their efforts.
In the spring of 1875, the Church and Sunday School sustained a painful lossin the removal by death of Mr. Lot Winstone. For 35 years he had been a member of the Church and a worker in the Sunday School, serving for many years as a deacon and as Sunday School superintendent. He was quiet and unobtrusive in his manner, yet always at his post, and, "in labours more abundant", was an invaluable helper to the church. He frequently led the week-evening service, and although not possessed of any theoretical knowledge of music, was never at a loss in leading the service of song in the Sunday School or public meetings. The writer has a pleasurable recollection of tunes which were favourites with this faithful servant of Christ, that he has not heard sung for years. Mr. Winstone passed to his reward on April 7th, 1875, aged 64 years.
A much-needed improvement was made about this time in heating the chapel and schoolroom. A stove had done service hitherto, which was sufficient only to heat well in the mildest weather, leaving the intense cold to be borne by the people as best they could. A hot-air apparatus was now put in by J. Truswell, of Sheffield, to the greatly increased comfort of the congregation. All were gratified and we soon find them organising a Bazaar to be held in the following July. This was the first Bazaar to be held at Eastcombe, and it proved very successful. Over £100 was raised which was more than enough to meet the deficit on the burial ground enclosure 1870, and the heating apparatus 1875.
There now follows in the annals of this village church an event which must take a place amongst the deeds of faith and the struggles for religious liberty which abound in our country's history. In the year 1876 religious intolerance began to manifest itself at Eastcombe in a demand that all children attending the small Anglican school in the village should be 'sprinkled' - baptised was the term used, but. the term so applied is fundamentally opposed to Baptist principles, and baptism moreover is immersion. It is well known too that every scholar attending such schools is diligently taught that by this rite of 'sprinkling' he or she becomes a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
There is a great outcry just now in the Anglican community amongst others, against any change being made in that part of the coronation oath, where the sovereign expresses his disavowal of any belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation; but the Baptists hold that the priest can as little, by pronouncing a certain formula in the Lord's Supper, make the bread and wine into the veritable body and blood of Christ as that by the rite of sprinkling or baptising he can make an infant into "a child of God." They hold the doctrines of transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration in equal detestation as being opposed both to reason and revelation. The members of the Baptist Church at Eastcombe could not, therefore, conscientiously comply with the demand made by the Managers of the Anglican school. No other school existed in the village, and the nearest British school lay two miles away. These circumstances forced upon the Church the important question of founding in the village a day school which should be free from religious intolerance, and should provide for all children who might attend, a sound elementary education. To ascertain whether such a school would be adequately supported by the villagers, Mr. and Mrs. Brett undertook, in September, 1876, provisionally to open a school, and all parents in the Church and congregation were invited to send their children. The results were most encouraging. The registers soon showed an average attendance of 90, proving conclusively that a school such as was contemplated would be appreciated by the Nonconformists residing in the villageand surrounding districts. A committee was formed to carry on the school as a British School. It was placed under government inspection, and the services of a certified teacher were secured, who commenced his duties January, 1877, in the schoolroom underneath the Chapel. In the November following H.M. Inspector examined the school, and when his report came it was found that extensive alterations were required to be made in the schoolroom, which could only be made at enormous cost. Fearing that after the money had been spent the old schoolroom and its surroundings might be liable, to be still further condemned, the committee were led to entertain the idea of erecting a new schoolroom. For a long time the old room had proved inadequate to the requirements of the Sunday School as there was no classroom accommodation. In erecting a new room itwas decided that ample provision should be made for this, and that the building should, in every way, be suitable for religious and educational purposes. Mr. Henry Hook, builder, of Eastcombe, was consulted. upon the matter. He had in previous undertakings of the Church, as the Chapel renovation, burial ground enclosure, &c., shown more than mere business interest in the work, and he was now asked to prepare plans for such a building as the committee contemplated. He prepared plans and gave estimates of the cost amounting to £843. This, then, was the price of freedom from priestly tyranny which the Eastcombe Church was called upon to pay. Would their faith and courage prove equal to the occasion? It must be confessed that a work lay before the School Committee, the extent of which had not been dreamed of; but they had put their hand to the task of emancipation, and they feared the consequences of looking back. Their love of truth and fidelity to conscience urged them forward. They had a strong confidence in God that He would own and prosper their work, and provide in His own time and way the necessary means. This being the strong conviction of the School Committee, they sought to inspire the Church with the same confidence, and eventually succeeded. The site of the building was chosen, Mr. Hook's plans and estimates were accepted, and the work was soon in hand. Mr. Hook's personal interest in the undertaking was shown by his untiring attention to every detail. He made no charge for the architect's plans which he had prepared, and which had been at once approved by the Education Department.
Turning for a time from this undertaking of building the Schoolroom, we find a question engaging the attention of the Church which affected her internal welfare. The following entry appears in the Church minute book:- "Feb.l8th. 1877 - That having regard for the conscientious objection on the part of Total Abstainers to the use of alcoholic wine at the Lord's Supper, and believing that the traffic in intoxicating liquors is the cause of unmeasured. evil, we do agree that in future none but the juice of grapes, as preserved by Mr. Frank Wright, of London, shall be used at the celebration of the Lord's Supper." This resolution was carried with only one dissentient.
In the following June, the 11th, 12th and 13th, the annual meetings of the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire Association of Baptist Churches were held at Eastcombe for the second time. The first visit of the Association to the village had occurred during Mr. Packer's pastorate. Dr. Thomas Batten, J.P. of Coleford, was president for the year, and the subject of his address was "Man in his corporeal being." - certainly a suitable subject for an M.D. The Rev. F. J. Benskin, of Stroud, preached the Association sermon from 1 Peter iv. 10; and at the public meeting which was the last of thesession, addresses were given by the Revs. H. Wilkins, H. Phillips, J. Bloomfield and T. Nicholson. The reports of these meetings, published at the time, speak of them as being deeply interesting and well attended throughout.
An event occurred during these meetings which was of more than passing interest to the Church. The first sod had been cut for the laying of the foundation of the new schoolroom, and from this time till its completion the work was hastened forward by the contractor, as it wasdeemed advisable that the scholars should be in possession of the building by the time of the annual examination in November. An idea of the magnitude of this undertaking by a small struggling country church may be gathered from the fact that when the work was entered upon the whole amount in hand was thirty shillings. It is true many promises had been received, but even these amounted only to a trifling sum when compared with the vast outlay contemplated.
By Thursday, August 1st, the work had so far progressed that the memorial stone was laid on that date, by Sir Morton Peto. The silver trowel he used in the ceremony was the gift of the contractors, and mallet of rose-wood had been made and presented by Mr. John Hemming. Sir Morton expressed the great pleasure afforded him by being present and taking part :in the proceedings of the day. He wished all success to the undertaking. Amongstthe goodly company present to witness the ceremony were the scholars of the Sunday and Day Schools. At the close the gifts were laid upon the stone, amounting in all to about £60. Most of those present then adjourned to the Chapel for tea, and a public meeting followed, presided over by Sir Morton. After a telling address by the Chairman, words of cheer and counsel followed from the Revs. F. J. Benskin, E. Baker, D. R. Morgan and Mr. L. W. Winterbotham. The proceeds of the day amounted to £66.
It was hoped that considerable aid might be secured by appeals to good Templar Lodges and Sunday Schools, but in this the promoters of the work were disappointed. The disappointment, however, did not damp their ardour, but led to greater self sacrifice on the part of the people. The assiduous efforts of the contractors were successful, the building was completed by the stipulated time, and the children were in possession of the school a few days prior to the annual visit of H.M. Inspector.
The opening services were delayed till the following January. On Sunday, January 5th, the Rev. Charles Spurgeon, of London, preached morning and evening. The preacher in the afternoon was the Rev. H. Kidner of Minchinhampton. A deep snow had lain upon the ground for several days, yet at the morning and afternoon services the congregations were good, and in the evening the Chapel was crowded to its utmost capacity. There was not even standing room. "He is a chip of the old block," was the verdict of those who had the pleasure of hearing the two powerful sermons which Mr. Spurgeon preached on this occasion. The collections for the day amounted to £13. On the following Thursday there was a public tea, followed by a public meeting, over which Wm. Dangerfield, Esq., presided. The attendance at neither of these meetings was large, owing to the extreme severity of the weather.
Up to this time the building fund had not reached £300, and as in the original contract the front boundary wall and the heating apparatus were not included, the total liabilities at the day of opening were about £900. The Church, poor and with few resources, thus found themselves burdened with a heavy debt, upon which interest had to be paid. Now commenced a time of trial of their faith and devotion which lasted for many years, and which indirectly proved beneficial to the Church, as it bound the members together in one common struggle, and called into long-sustained activity some of the finer qualities of the Christian character. We soon find pastor and people, nothing daunted, hard at work in organizing a bazaar, which proved fairly successful, about £100 being raised by it. Then pledges were given to raise amongst themselves a definite amount by a given date; then another bazaar followed, and so, with alternating, but yet with increasing and untiring effort, each year saw "something attempted, something done", but for them "repose" was not yet. The loan of £100 from the Baptist building fund, at this time, proved most welcome, as did also a further loan of £200 about five years later. These loans being free of interest, were doubly helpful to the Church.
It must be remembered that while the efforts to reduce the building debt were a constant tax upon the resources of the people, the day school was far from self-supporting; and it was found necessary to raise considerable sums yearly to provide for its maintenance. At that time the Government paid no fee or aid grants, the school managers received no money from charities, and the total income from annual grant, school fees, and private subscriptions was often very small. So small indeed was it on one occasion that the managers were unable promptly to meet their payments, and had to obtain the loan of £50 (at interest) from a friend, hoping that a favourable time would come when they would be able to repay it.
The truth of the saying "Self-help is the best help", was abundantly proved by this struggling Church. Their difficulties only made them the more skilful in devising means to aid the funds. Harvest thanksgiving services were, just at this time, becoming annual events in the chapels around, and the Eastcombe Church determined to adopt them. The Chapel Choir were asked to give a service of song entitled "Harvest Thanksgiving," in support of their funds. They did so, in a most creditable manner, on a Thursday evening, in the new schoolroom, and about fifty shillings were realised. The following year, on a week evening, a harvest thanksgiving service was again held, in the chapel, and, taking a step further than the previous year, in addition to a collection being taken, gifts of fruit and vegetables were solicited. By this effort £4 were added to the funds. The practice, thus begun, of receiving gifts of fruit &c. for sale in the autumn, became in a few years so popular that as much as £30 were sometimes realized by it, and it eventually developed into what is now termed the "Annual Sale". The proceeds of this sale have proved of great benefit to the Church, enabling her, year by year to make "ends meet".
"The darkest hour precedes the dawn". After several appeals, Mr. Brett obtained from the trustees of a denominational charity - "The Goff Charity" - an annual donation of £20, which gift, we are grateful to record, is still continued to the school. In recent years, too, by the operations of the Parish Councils Act the school has participated in the benefit of the Ridler Charity, Bisley - in 1890 to the extent of £7. Thus by means devised in the deep, "unfathomable mines of never-failing skill", has help been forthcoming to support the school. From this time it ceased to be a burden to the Church, and it is gratifying to learn from the present annual report of the school (1901) that this cherished institution of the Church, which for a period of nearly twenty years she struggled so hard to maintain, is now in a thoroughly prosperous condition.
From this story of financial difficulties overcome we turn to record a work of still greater importance. At the close of 1880, two years after the building of the new schoolroom, there commenced in the Church a revival, the like to which had not been seen for years. A prayer meeting was started on the Saturday evening, and large numbers attended, Church members inviting their unconverted neighbours and comrades; and soon many were seen seeking that narrow path which hitherto they had left untrodden. During the following year more than twenty converts were baptised.
In the early days of the Church there were found amongst its members some who possessed the "gift of prophecy", and, as local preachers, exercised it with much acceptance. Later this gift appears to have been lost to the Church; but after the revival in 1880 several offered themselves for the work, amongst whom may be mentioned Messrs. Elisha Cox, Joseph Warren, Augustus Smith, and George Hemming. Of these the last was soon removed by death; the other three continue to the present time to use their gift as opportunity offers. Mr. Warren has, since 1896, been the pastor of the Baptist Church at Winstone, and Mr. Augustus Smith is now the superintendent of the Eastcombe Baptist Sunday School.
After a pastorate of nearly sixteen years, Mr. Brett, in March, 1890, tendered his resignation, having received an invitation to the pastorate of the Tewkesbury Baptist Church. He closed his ministry at Eastcombe on Sunday, April 27th, preaching from Acts xx. 32: "And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace." On the following Tuesday a public tea was held, at which about 170 sat down, amongst them many friends from neighbouring churches. The Rev. D. R. Morgan presided, supported by the Revs. R. Bray (of Tetbury), W. T. Soper (of Stroud), W. J. Porter and G. Gillingham (of Chalford); and Mr. A. W. Kirby, the senior deacon, in the name of the Church and congregation, handed Mr. Brett a cheque for £25.17s., as a tangible proof of the esteem in which he was held.
For several years Mr. Brett laboured at Tewkesbury, and during his ministry there the Chapel was renovated, and the cost met. Afterwards he removed to his present pastorate at Blakeney, and it is the prayer of his Eastcombe friends that his ministry there may be richly blessed.
Few events of any importance happen in this country in these days of newspapers, but they become well known, even if they occur in secluded villages; and the Church at Eastcombe had not been long without a pastor before applications were received from ministers seeking a change in their sphere of labour, and recommendations were given by ministers, who requested that their friends might visit the village, with a view to the pastorate. Amongst the latter were a minister from Devonshire, and the Rev. John Evans of Newport, Mon. The former preached in the Chapel on two Sundays in the month of July following Mr. Brett's removal. He won the approval of a great majority of the people, and an invitation to the pastorate was given him, not, however, by a unanimous vote. There was one dissentient; and as this fact was honestly communicated to him he thought it wise to decline.
Mr. Evans came to Eastcombe in August, 1890, and remained two Sundays. At first there was some opposition to his candidature, but this was withdrawn and a unanimous invitation was given him to the pastorate. He accepted it and commenced his ministry in the village on Sunday, November 9th. On Thursday, November 27th, a public recognition service was held, presided over by Mr. Wm. Dangerfield. The Revs. John George and D. Rees, friends of Mr. Evans, and several ministers of the neighbourhood were present. By special invitation of the Church the late pastor also took part in the meeting.
With their newly-appointed minister the Church now determined to make another effort to reduce the debt, about £248, which still remained on the new schoolroom. It was decided to hold a bazaar on a large scale, and thus effect a large reduction, but as the months of preparation wore on the hopes of the workers were raised, until the complete extinction of the debt was anticipated. Mr. Isaac Fawkes, of The Triangle, Eastcombe, who, as treasurer of the building fund from its commencement, had rendered unstinting help, now made an offer of £35, conditionally upon the whole amount required being raised. This offer, which was not the first of the kind this gentleman had made, had the effect of stimulating the people to the most strenuous efforts.
The bazaar was held on July 23rd, 24th, and 25th, 1891. On the first day it was opened by Mr. Wm. Dangerfield, and on the two remaining days Mr. Isaac Fawkes performed that duty. On the last day of the sale the pastor made the welcome announcement that the building was free from debt, and that the task the Church had for thirteen years been struggling to accomplish was completed. Moved by one strong impulse of thankfulness all present joined in singing the doxology.
Stately monuments adorn our cities, perpetuating the memory of distinguished deeds done by brave men on field and flood and heroic sacrifices made for king and country; but, scattered throughout this beloved land of ours, in unlooked for spots in remote villages and quiet hamlets, there rise schools and. homely places of worship - structures that record a heroism, grander than was ever displayed on the bloodiest battlefield, and a service on behalf of our country nobler than can be found recorded in the pages of martial renown. These are our country's noblest monuments. Amongst these monuments may be numbered Eastcombe School.
The amount raised by the Bazaar was £271.15s. 2d. which left a balance after paying all liabilities, of 23.11s.. From first to last six Bazaars had been held in aid of the building fund, each realizing about £100. The total expenditure was over £1,300, the excess, above the cost of the building, having been paid in interest upon borrowed money, and in grants to the day-school funds. After an effort so strenuous and long sustained, a period of rest was necessary for the Church. But this could not be long. The Chapel required extensive repairs, and no paint or colour brush had been laid upon the walls of the building since 1871. During the summer of 1893 the whole of the Chapel premises underwent a thorough renovation costing nearly £200. The Church adopted measures that enabled it promptly to meet this expenditure. Voluntary contributions were raised to the amount of £60; the balance from the last Bazaar was added, and a loan of £100 was obtained from the Baptist Building Fund. This loan, by the bye, made up a total of £500, which the committee of that fund had granted to the Eastcombe Church since 1860.
At the time of the renovation of the Chapel it was found impracticable to undertake another urgent work - the rebuilding of the organ. This instrument like the Chapel, had been neglected for many years. However, in the early part of 1898 Mrs. Lemual King, of Brownshill, expressed to the pastor and deacons her desire that the work should be taken in hand, and her willingness to subscribe a large proportion of the cost. This offer was gratefully accepted, and Messrs. Liddiatt and Sons, organ builders, of Leonard Stanley, were entrusted. with the work The cost, including necessary alterations in the choir gallery, amounted to about £65, which was paid soon after the opening services held on Easter Monday and the following Sunday. Many friends gladly subscribed towards this outlay, but without Mrs. King's generous offer the work must still have been left in abeyance.
We approach now another interesting period in the Church's history. At a deacons' meeting, held in the spring of 1899, attention was called to the fact that the Church was approaching her centenary, and that Sunday, June 4th of that year was the hundredth anniversary of Mr. Williams' first visit to Eastcombe to preach. It was decided. to celebrate the event. In the morning of that day the pastor preached a sermon appropriate to the occasion, and in the evening Mr. A. W. Kirby, the senior deacon, read a paper on the earlyhistory of the Church. Special thank offerings were made by the members, to the amount of about £13.
The Church shortly afterwards decided to hold a bazaar in the following summer for the purpose of raising £160 to enable the Church to enter upon the second century of her existence free from debt. The bazaar was held on July 19th 20th and 21st. It was opened. on the first day by Mr. P. J. Evans, J.P., of Burleigh Court, on the second by Mrs. Evans, of Brimscombe Court, and on the third by Mr. F. Fawkes of London. By this effort a little over £90 was raised, to which were added. the proceeds of the Harvest Sale, held in the following October, making a total of £110.
Turning now to matters spiritual it is gratifying to note the tokens of Divine favour which have rested upon the present pastorate. During the past eleven years 71 converts have been baptised, and 18 have been received into the Church by letter. The Sunday School, under the superintendence of Mr. Augustus Smith, is well maintained, and a vigorous Christian Endeavour Society is in full work.
During Mr. Brett's ministry of 15½ years, 122 members were received into the Church, 108 by baptism, and 14 by letter. The total number of members received during the century is a little over 700.
When Mr. Williams, the first pastor, in his letter to the Church, enumerated some of the results of his ministry amongst them, he exclaimed: "What hath God wrought?" Mr. Packer, in writing the account of the jubilee services expressed his thankfulness in the same words. And we, at the end of the century, would, in the same words, express our gratitude, and ascribe all praise to God. "Not unto us, 0 Lord, but unto Thy Name give glory." We, like Samuel, raise our Ebenezer and say "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." The new century lies before us. Inspired by the record of the wonders God has wrought by His Church here in the past, let us with firm faith and unflinching courage continue to follow the leadership of the great Captain of our Salvation, and the glory of the new century shall exceed that of the old.
After the able historical description hitherto given, it is with some hesitation that the following pamphlet, from the hand of Elisha Cox, is here recorded. Mr. Cox was a member of a family of distinguished stone-masons. His earnestness and ardour for the prosperity of the Baptist Cause at Eastcombe was a supreme aim of his life. So often, however, his rude remarks and criticisms tended to achieve the very opposite of his intentions. He could be firm to the point of repression, outspoken to the verge of slander, and was even known to interpolate loud protesting remarks during his pastor's Sunday sermons. Nevertheless, he had a consuming passion for righteousness, so that no hypocrisy, equivocation or slackness could be countenanced in any form.
After retirement, though he was ever active in so many causes, he employed spare moments in carving scrolls and tablets containing texts and Biblical exhortations, placing them upon his high garden wall facing the roadway adjacent his house at Brownshill. He lived to the ripe age of 85, outliving his wife by some eight years.
The following, circulated by him about 1920, gives many bald and scattered facts from which a much longer story could be constructed. He mentions the "5.15" which meant only one thing for him - the 5.15 p.m. Sunday Prayer Meeting of which he was the leader for many years.
The Origin and History of the Particular Baptist Cause
Eastcombe, in the Parish of Bisley, in the County of Gloucester. The following is an extract from the Stroud "Free Churchman" for May 1911, which was printed at the request of Pastor C. A. Davis (John Street, Stroud), and of Mr. W. E. G. Hallett, of Selsley, near Stroud. In an address on "The Local Preachers' Royal Mandate" at Chalford Tabernacle last month in connection with the Baptist Local Preacher's Association, Mr. Elisha Cox of Eastcombe gave some interesting glimpses into local history.
The present burial ground at Eastcombe was once the Boxing ground where the older men used to get the boys out on Sunday afternoons with a big jar of strong drink, and pass it round to back the boys on to fight each other. Local Preachers came and preached the Gospel, and this abolished that low practice, and led up to the formation of the Baptist Church at Eastcombe. His father, Mr. Charles Cox was his authority. He himself, with Pastor C. H. Whitlock, who was Minister from 1855 to 1873, superintended. the enclosure of the present burial ground of half an acre, which was claimed by the Church in the summer of 1870 under the Commons Enclosure Act. The contract for this was £110. Mr. W. B. Gardiner of the Grove House Chalford, still holds a Bible given to him for collecting £10 for the Enclosure contract.
The Baptist Church at Winstone was another result of local preaching. In the old Church Book is an entry to the effect that a local preacher was passing through Winstone on his way to preach at Colesbourne, when a young woman accosted him saying "Will you come into our house to preach on your way back?". "Yes", said he, "if you will get your house full of people", which she did and she herself was converted. This was the beginning of the Baptist cause at Winstone. In the same book Mr. Cox entered a note of a Dedication Service for children, which he conducted at Winstone. Years afterwards, at the Association Meetings held at Cirencester in 1906, Mr. Butler, a Deacon of the Winstone Church, presented to him his grown-up daughter as one of the dedicated children. She was then a member of the Church. This is an incidental proof, that by the rejection of infant baptism on the ground that the New Testament requires faith before Baptism, Baptists do not neglect the spiritual welfare of their children.
Mr. Cox told an interesting anecdote. He said the first half-crown towards the building of the Stroud Baptist Chapel was given to Mr. Henry Hawkins, the first Minister, by a servant-maid; and that Mr. Hawkins carried it in his pocket for two years as a nucleus in collecting money for the Chapel which was built in 1834. Mr. Cox preached one week evening at Sherston, and was told the circumstances which originated the Baptist Church there. A young farmer seeing the irreligious character of the village, said to his wife "I am going to preach in the market-place on Sunday". "You won't," she said, "you will be. killed." "I am going", he replied, "and you can come too". With a Bible in one hand and a chair in the other, he went and sat down to preach. The rough sinners came round him, listened to him, loved him, and helped him build the Chapel in which he preached for fifty years without fee or reward. Mr. Thomas Berry, a Deacon there, was Mr. Cox' s informant.
The Eastcombe Church had in its earlier years, twelve preaching stations - Birdlip, Waterlane, Foss-gate, Scrubbs, Brownshill, Tariton, Stroud, Camp, Winstone Woodmancote, E1kstone and Hyde. There were several notable men among its local preachers. John Kirby travelled to Winston on 'shank's pony' forty years to preach, and at length fell asleep in peace at a good old age.
Thomas Davis, who endowed the Churches of Eastcombe, Winstone, Coppice (Chalford) and Cubberley with £300 for the good of the poor members, neither toiled nor span. He was a poor man in black cloth, but noted for self denial. He was a staunch Sabatarian. The night before he died he turned over some thousands of pounds to Mr. Muller for the good of the orphans under his care.
Jacob Aldum of Stroud was also among these local preachers. Thomas Thompson Esq. of Prior Park, Bath, a typical English gentleman, who often gave away £100 for Gospel work, sustained these preachers and nurtured the Eastcombe Sunday School.
The Deeds of the Chapel date from May 20th, enrolled May 3lst,1800. The Chapel and Manse, with old burial ground, stand on a 500 years lease from the above date.
In the early part of the Church's history the original Deed was lost, stolen or destroyed. About this time a 'black sheep' got into office and made other black sheep in the Church, which cost the Church £100 to buy him out of office. But today the Chapel, Manse, and both burial grounds are vested in the following Trustees: -
Pastor J. E. Brett, Baptist Minister, Chepstow.
Matthew Gardiner, retired Boat Builder.
Elisha Cox, retired Builders' Foreman.
Augustus Smith, Mill Foreman.
George Bingle, Stickworker.
Thomas Pegler, Tiler and Plasterer.
Daniel Hammond, Mill Foreman.
Walter Skerton, Mill Carpenter.
William Davis, Stickworker.
Richard Young, Stonemason.
Witnesses:- Alexander Clegg, retired Schoolmaster.
P. J. Evans, Cloth Manufacturer, J.P. for Glos.
Chairman & Pastor F. E. Blackaby.
February 11th, 1917. When Pastor S. Packer came into office the Church was in a state of chaos, with £300 debt on the property; but his simple-minded anecdotal preaching, supported by Messrs. J. P. Evans, Eli Wear, W. Beavan, W. Kirby, Thomas Kirby (the latter was 50 years in the Sunday School), the chief workers were mostly from outside the village. Lot Winstone and a few more held the fort till the above reinforcements came, the Church was reconstructed and the Sunday School, then almost extinct, was reorganised. A Dame School (weekday) was started, but for want of support it soon fell through. In 1850 the Jubilee Services were led by Mr. Packer, when the greatest enthusiasm ever known in its history was manifested. The old Chapel was packed much like herrings in a barrel, and on the last day £100 was raised to finish off the debt. The collection was taken up thethird time at the evening service when all was paid off with a balance in hand.
During Mr. Packer's term of office W. Davis Esq., built a Chapel at the back of Bussage House, and put £500 new organ in it. Eastcombe Chapel was closed on Sunday evenings, when Pastor and people went to Bussage en masse to this Chapel, which, though crowded at first, soon closed down, hence the big organ was no more use there.
When Pastor C. H. Whitlock came into office the Church was in a prosperous state. During his ministry the Chapel was reconstructed. The two stone built vestries for baptism were pulled down to improve the architectural appearance. This cost £700 or more. The new burial ground was also enclosed costing £110. The present big organ was erected in the Chapel, it being of no use at Bussage, at a cost of £60 for a term of ten years, to be kept in tune, played free of cost, and at the end of this term the Church could buy it at a sum of £200. But removals and depression had set in, and the same night after Mr. Whitlock's large funeral, the Committee met at Bedford Street. Stroud. Meanwhile the news leaked out when Mr. H. Hook, Builder, Mr. W. Davis-Grist Manufacturer. and Mr. L. King, Stone Merchant (members of the congregation) met at The Lamb Inn, and agreed to raise the £200. This was soon done plus £24 for expenses. At the latter part of Mr. Whitlock's ministry. in a time of depression, Mr. Isaac May of Gloucester, sent Mr. Whitlock £50 to invest for the Pastor's benefit for all time. He bought the old cottage with a large garden, but died without having made it over to proper trustees. Mr. Whitlock' s College was a Chemists shop, hence he was able to do good among the sick with medicine. He wrote 300 letters to fish out the heirs at law of the old trustees, but failed to do it.
When Pastor J. E. Brett took office he was confronted with Ritualism which hindered the education of Baptist children. Mr & Mrs Brett threw their best into the work and started a Day School in the old Schoolroom, on British school lines. This was so well attended that the Inspector condemned the schoolroom as unsuitable. Hence, the garden of the old cottage was adopted by the Committee as the site for the present Sunday and Day Schools - contract £840, front wall £33, apparatus £30, or more, legal fees £22.10.0. Thousands of cubic feet of earth were removed to make a lot of classrooms underneath the main room. Bushels of circulars and stamps were sent out asking for help. These, and other expenses, ran up a total to £1, 300, which took thirteen years to pay off. By a specially constructed Deed, the Church Members are the ownersof the new schools. Trustees. can only act as directed by the Church. (As the wheel goes round, the good rise). Today we have one large Council School, free to all, a victory for the New Birth Gospel over Ritualism. The 5.15 was started in sympathy with the sad loss by death of Walter Smith of Rock House, Bussage, on the Sunday evening of which his funeral service was conducted by Mr. Brett. The hot air apparatus was introduced by Mr. Brett at a cost of £60. Mr. Brett picked up the missing link in the chain of Trustees and got a new batch initiated under the Peto Act, September 26,1878, at a cost of £7.10.0. The Manse was renovated while Mr. Brett was living in it at a considerable cost. The present slate roof cost £50. Mr. Isaac Fawkes was the prince in giving donations in times of need, both to the upkeep of the day school and the Building Fund.
During Mr. Brett's ministry, the branch church at Winstone became chaos over some circumstance, which emptied the Chapel for a time. Mr. Brett and his local brethren, Augustus Smith, A. R. Large, J. Warren and E. Cox, with others at times took over this Church and voluntarily worked it up for three or four years after which J. Warren was appointed stipendary Pastor. and worked this cause up. to a prosperous state and is still flourishing.
Pastor J. Evans came into office before the school debt was paid off. He organised a big Bazaar which realised £248.3.ll½d, and cleared off all debts with a balance of over £23, which was handed to Church Funds. Mr. Evans was very devoted to the 5.15, and the work on the Village Green. At the Lord's Table on the first Sunday in 1897 the present senior Deacon, by a vote at the Table, was appointed to start a popular Sunday Afternoon Service. This worked well except for the usual democratic weaknesses, during which time every branch of work revived. Mr. Evans led the Centenary Service, and saw the Chapel renovated at a cost of over £100. In the no-pastor interval, with ten months of self-help, the Church and Cause grew and revived, and profound unity prevailed. When Pastor J. R. Bryant came into office money was raised for the renovation of the Chapel, but at the sound of the German pop-guns the renovation was left to the present Pastor, F. E. Blackaby, who has seen the work through at a cost of £240.