Article Index

1712 – 1794

There was connected with Mr Woodward’s ministry one name, that of Thomas Hawkes. which deserves to be remembered for two reasons. First, because, in his will, Mr Woodward bequeathed to Thomas Hawkes, and Sarah, his wife, the whole of the profits accruing from the burial ground at Foster Street during their lifetime, and, after their decease. "to whom the said Thomas Hawkes shall bequeath them". Mr Hawkes bequeathed them to his eldest son, Matthew, who lived at Campions. From him the burial ground came into the hands of his nephew, who was persuaded to dispose of it for the benefit of the church and congregation. The Deed of Conveyance was executed in March, 1786. Nine trustees were appointed. But there is another reason why the name of Hawkes should be remembered. They were direct descendants of the Thomas Hawkes who, in the reign of Mary I, and by order of Bishop Bonner, was burnt at the stake in Coggeshall on June 10th, 1555. How they came to settle in the neighbourhood of Harlow is not known, but during the ministry of Mr Woodward and of several of his successors they were a large family, taking an active interest in the concerns of the church, and were regarded as persons of quiet piety and influence.

Mr Woodward was succeeded at Harlow by Thomas Chalkley, of Nazeing, who was pastor of our church from 1712 to 1750. He married the daughter of Thomas Hawkes. He continued to reside at Nazeing, and as several of the friends lived there or in the neighbourhood, he not only conducted services in Harlow but also opened a room in his own house for Divine worship once every Sunday. There are no records of his actual ministry, but at the time when the Rev. Thomas Finch wrote a booklet from which most of these facts are gathered, there was a member of Mr Finch’s congregation, then in his 83rd year, who remembered seeing and hearing Mr Chalkley a few times, and who stated that he was greatly beloved of his people as well as being highly respected in the neighbourhood. Mr Chalkley died in 1750 at the age of 90.

He was succeeded by a Mr Rist. Neither his Christian name nor his initials are known. He was pastor for only five years. During his ministry the congregation considerably increased, to such an extent that the Meeting House was found to be too small to accommodate his hearers. He was bold enough to introduce what was then considered a daring innovation – namely, public singing of hymns as a part of Divine worship. Some of the leading families took offence at this and employed means which in a short time led to his removal from the pastorate. It is interesting to read of this because congregational singing of hymns was not altogether a new thing. Benjamin Keach was the first to introduce it into worship. doing so during his ministry at Horsley Down Particular Baptist Church of which he became the pastor in 1668.

Mr Finch, in his booklet to which we have already referred, quaintly remarks that "one would imagine that the adoption of public singing, instead of dividing, would tend to harmonise the congregation”, but he goes on to excuse the antipathy of his forefathers by reminding his readers that in the days of persecution the assemblies had to be held in secret. In order to avoid detection by the authorities there was no singing of any kind, not even of the psalms, and this custom, having continued for twenty-five years from necessity, was afterwards continued by choice.

When Mr Rist had gone, the church invited Isaac Gould to be the pastor. He stayed from 1755 to 1794. It was during his ministry that a new place of worship was built in the year 1764. It stood upon the present site and was a building similar to, if not exactly like, the present chapel at Potter Street, which had been built in 1756.

In the year 1778 the Eastern Association of Baptist Churches was held at Harlow, when the celebrated “Plan of lectures on Nonconformity”, written by Robert Robinson, of Cambridge, was read, approved and recommended to the sister churches. This recommendation, so Benjamin Flower tells us in his memoirs of Robinson, was some years afterwards mentioned in the House of Commons by the eloquent Mr Burke in a debate on the Test Act. It was referred to in that debate under the pompous title, “The Harlow Synod”. There is no doubt that Mr Gould cordially approved of the principles contained in Robinson’s plan of lectures. but owing to some misunderstanding which took place between Mr Gould and his brother ministers the Harlow church withdrew from the Association.

Mr Gould was married to the daughter of Thomas Chalkley, described as a most godly woman, and is an ancestor of the family bearing his name which for generations has been connected with Loughton. Their connection with Loughton actually began when one of Isaac Gould’s sons went to reside there. The name Gould figures much in Baptist life over the years. One member of the family was instrumental under God in C. H. Spurgeon’s leaving the tiny church at Waterbeach and going to London to become minister of New Park Street Chapel, later to be replaced by the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle.

During the whole of his ministry Mr Gould was enabled to maintain the character of a pious, faithful and enlightened minister of Jesus Christ. He died in November, 1794, at the age of 74, having been pastor at Harlow for thirty-nine years.