It is with deep thanksgiving to Almighty God that we publish this short history of Harlow Baptist Church in recognition of the fact that for 300 years there has been a Baptist witness in this neighbourhood.
A substantial proportion of what appears in these pages, particularly in the first two chapters, is based on a history of our church written in 1941 by the late Mr G. H. Young. Quite a large amount of what he wrote has been allowed to stand in his exact words.
Several items, however, have had to be added; notably references to Mr Young’s family which understandable modesty forbade him to mention. All such references have been written by the Editor of this history and woven into the story. This applies, also, to the Flowers and the Whittakers who are not mentioned in Mr Young’s history. It would seem that his purpose was to give a comprehensive survey of our very early history rather than that which occurred later. Even so, his work is invaluable, and the present Editor counts it a high privilege to have had access to the careful and devoted work of a man, for whom, in common with all who knew him, he had the greatest possible respect.
1662 - 1712
Since 1662 there has been a Baptist church in Harlow. It has been conjectured, as we shall see, that Baptists existed in the neighbourhood prior to that date, but it is certain there was no organised church life among them until 1662.
From the earliest times, according to the evidence of our records, the communion services of the church have been open to all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. We read nothing to contradict the assertion that the only form of baptism ever observed has been believers’ baptism, but it seems that at every stage in our history the membership included, not only Baptists, but paedobaptists as well. That is to say, those baptised in infancy. The implication of the records points to the fact that the church in all its history has insisted, as qualifications for membership, on two things; firstly, a saving experience of Jesus Christ, and, secondly, baptism of one form or another, although the church itself carried out only that form identified with Baptists.
The origin of our church is linked in a most interesting way with the political and religious history of the mid-seventeenth century. With the beheading of Charles I in 1649 our nation became a republic, or, as it is called in the history books, a commonwealth, with Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. This state of affairs was to last until 1660, when Charles II was recalled to the throne and the monarchy restored. The English people were weary of the long years of civil war. Many in the Church, of course, rejoiced in the great battle that Cromwell had fought and won for religious and civil liberty, but they were now ready to forget all past injustices and to believe that the return of the monarchy would bring in a time of freedom from strife, when they would be able to rejoice in the liberty they had won.
They soon found, however, that their confidence in the king and in the promises he had made were ill-founded. For about two years they waited in suspense, hoping that wise counsels would prevail and wise measures be adopted. Then, in 1662, the blow suddenly fell which deprived them of the religious liberty for which they had fought and for which much blood had been shed. The Act of Uniformity was passed, requiring all ministers of religion to observe a perfect conformity to the Book of Common Prayer and the rites and ceremonies of the Established Church. Nearly 2,500 faithful ministers of the Gospel, who felt that they could not conform, were deprived of their livings and expelled from their churches.
Had they been allowed to continue to preach, and their congregations to listen, they would still have carried on their work. There is little doubt that public liberality would have supplied their material needs. But in 1664 and 1665 the Conventicle Act and the Five Mile Act were passed. The Conventicle Act made any adult attending a conventicle liable to an ascending scale of penalties ending in seven years’ transportation. A conventicle was defined as being a religious meeting not in accordance with the practice of the Church of England and at which more than four persons were present in addition to the household.
The sentence of transportation was a terrible one as it meant working like a slave, generally under the burning sun in the West Indies. The Conventicle Act was, however, largely evaded, and in order to make this evasion impossible the Five Mile Act was passed in 1665. This made it an offence for any of the ejected ministers to come within five miles of any borough, town or place where he had once held pastoral office, unless he would swear that he would never try to alter the government of Church and State.
Among the ministers who were ejected from their livings was William Woodward, the first pastor of our church. As a young man he had been a chaplain in the army of Oliver Cromwell. When that army was encamped on the commons of Nazeing and Parndon he formed many friendships with families in Harlow, Parndon and the surrounding villages. There are no records giving the date when he settled in Harlow as a minister, but tradition seems to have established certain interesting facts. When William Woodward was ejected from the Parish Church of Southwold, in Suffolk, he remembered he had friends at Parndon and Harlow. At once he came to reside in this area, probably first at Parndon, Tradition further suggests that these friends were mostly Baptists, and it would seem that he himself either embraced Baptist principles in due course or was already of Baptist persuasion.
During the years of persecution he ministered to his people by meeting them in gatherings held in the woods or in private houses in Parndon, Harlow, Nazeing or other villages. Several sequestered spots were still mentioned in the year 182O as places of their retreat, and details of the malice of their persecutors were spoken about.
After enduring these difficulties for twenty-five years, Mr Woodward and his flock had the satisfaction of seeing the liberties of their country established on a firm footing. The Prince of Orange was invited to the throne, and in 1688 the civil and religious liberties of the nation were established on a sure foundation by the passing of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration.
From this time, Mr Woodward and his friends assembled regularly for worship both at Parndon and Harlow. The Parndon community was the forerunner of the Potter Street Baptist Church. In 1880 it was placed on record that a part of the building used for worship by Mr Woodward’s church in Harlow still remained. It had been discarded on the erection of a new church building in 1764.
It is supposed that Mr Woodward preached alternately at Parndon and Harlow, but as age and infirmity increased his labours were eventually confined entirely to the congregation at Harlow. After his death the two congregations went their separate ways, each with its own minister.
Mr. Woodward died in 1712 and was buried in a piece of ground at Foster Street which he had purchased with the intention of its becoming a burial ground for his family and congregation. In 1820 some relics of his tomb were still standing. The Rev. Thomas Finch, minister of our church from 1817 to the middle of that century, records that having seen the tomb falling into disrepair, and the inscription becoming almost indecipherable, he proposed that it be restored and a musical instrument placed in the Meeting House at Harlow, bearing the following inscription:
“Sacred to the memory of the Rev. William Woodward, fifty years pastor of the Protestant Dissenting Congregation, Harlow. Ejected from the Established Church by the Act of Uniformity, 1662. he pursued his ministry in this neighbourhood amidst many difficulties till the glorious Revolution in 1688; when, protected by the Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration. he discharged his duties as a Christian pastor till his decease in 1712. His mortal remains were deposited in the Burial Ground, Foster Street, which he bequeathed to his congregation as a Burying Place for ever. ‘Mark the perfect man and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.’ ”
Whether this proposal was ever carried out we do not know, but if it was, all trace of these memorials has vanished.
To conclude this chapter it is not out of place to mention that our church was born in a century which was rich in its theological writings. It was the age of the Puritans, producing men like Alleine, Owen, Watson, Bunyan, Milton, Baxter and many others whose theological outlook was strongly in line with that of the Reformers; so much so that in the present day reference is often made to Puritan and Reformed theology as being one and the same thing. In that great and important theological age our church began to exist.
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.
1794 – 1857
At this point in our history the church moved into difficult times. Happily they were to be short-lived. Isaac Gould was followed in the ministry by a Mr Sandys. As in the case of Mr Rist, we have no record of either his Christian name or initials. Mr Sandys, apparently, was an acceptable preacher, but for some unmentioned reason he did not please his congregation The outcome was that he stayed in Harlow only one year. Then came Benjamin Severn, who was pastor from 1795 to 1816. During his ministry the chapel was enlarged so as to accommodate about 600 persons. Two vestries and a schoolroom were also added. Mr Finch records in his booklet: "Since that time the Sunday School which these rooms were intended to accommodate has generally contained about a hundred scholars, taught by twenty gratuitous teachers and a committee of superintendents, 'The expenses are defrayed by an annual collection”.
The prosperity which the enlargements seemed to promise was in a few years followed by a series of adverse circumstances. From some things advanced by Mr Severn, in the pulpit and in conversation, it was generally thought a material change had taken place in his views respecting the leading doctrines of Christianity. In consequence of this persuasion, several meetings were held on the subject. Things went from bad to worse. Mr Severn was asked to resign by a majority of the members. He refused and was supported in his determination to continue by the other half of the church. In consequence, the greater part of the members withdrew and fitted up another place of worship, which was opened for that purpose on Sunday, May 20th, 1816,
In these very unhappy circumstances Mr Severn eventually resigned. Shortly afterwards the two separated congregations became reconciled, the newly-opened place of worship was closed down, and the two sides once again began to worship God as one united body. On the other hand suspicions still prevailed, and the whole situation far from satisfactory.
In the year 1817 Thomas Finch became the pastor. He arrived at a critical time, when the fellowship was in great danger of being divided on the doctrinal issues which had led to the resignation of Mr Secern. It was owing to Mr Finch’s gentle and peaceful disposition, to his careful an ' thoughtful discussion of Christian truth, that the two parties were helped to work together harmoniously. Mr Finch, was God’s gift to the Harlow church for such an hour By the end of his ministry all trace of the divisions had disappeared.
For forty years Mr Finch served the church faithfuly and lovingly. Impaired health and the infirmities of age made it necessary for him to resign the pastorate in September, 1857. On October 20th of that year a public farewell was taken of him as a minister. On that day a tea meeting was held in the Fawbert and Barnard School, followed by a public meeting Mr Charles Barnard presided. Also taking part were Mr Brown, of Loughton. Mr Charles Whittaker and the Rev. Frederic Edwards – the last-named being destined to be Mr Finch’s successor in the ministry.
Mr Finch died in 1860 and was buried in the burial ground at Potter Street Baptist Church. Twelve years later a memorial tablet was erected in our present church building, which can be seen and read by all It remains today as a memorial to a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
It was during Mr Finch’s ministry that the authoress of the hymn “Nearer, my God, to Thee”, Sarah Flower, and her parents were worshippers They lived in a house, now business premises, near the top of the High Street. She was the daughter of Benjamin Flower, a man who devoted his life to the cause of political and religious liberty, Sarah married William Bridges Adams, but retained her maiden name, becoming thus known as Sarah Flower Adams. She died on August 14th, 1848, at the age of 43, and was buried in the burial ground at Foster Street. By the time of the Second World War her tomb, which is also the family grave, had fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Through the generosity of some American Christians it was fully restored in 1948 to coincide with the centenary of her death.
The hymn “Nearer, my God, to Thee", has always occupied an honoured place in the hymn books of all denominations. The blessing it has afforded is impossible to assess, but one outstanding example was the comfort it gave to those aboard the British steamship "Titanic”, when having struck a sunken iceberg on April l4th. 1912, she sank on the following day, in spite of the claim that she was unsinkable Out of 2,200 lives on board only 700 survived. The him' was sung by a group of people during those dramatic moments and many must have entered Eternity with its words still echoing in their hearts.
It may appear surprising to some people that Mr Finch made no mention of the Flower family in his booklet, but obviously be was unaware that the hymn would become so famous over the years. There is also the possibility that the hymn was not even written when Mr Finch wrote his booklet, which was published in 1820.
1857 - 1925
We move on now to the name of the Rev. Frederic Edwards. He had acted as assistant pastor to Mr Finch from May, 1857. to the end of September in that year. On November 3rd recognition services were held in connection with the settlement of Mr Edwards as pastor. He remained until 1860 when he was called to the church at South Parade, Leeds. Mr Edwards, however, returned to the Harlow pastorate four years later, following the Rev. Thomas Stevenson who had meantime served as pastor.
Mr Edwards had been back only one year when a very important event, affecting us today, took place. The old chapel was pulled down and the present building erected in its place, The cost was just over £2,000, which amount was raised largely by liberal contributions of friends connected with the church.
For twenty-nine years Mr Edwards served our church with devotion. The esteem in which he was held was expressed at the tune of his retirement in 1893 when the church recorded their appreciation in these words: “The members of the church assembled... desire to record their devout gratitude for the great help they have received from his teaching and ministry among them, and they thankfully remember the interest he has always taken in foreign missions, and rejoice in the results that have attended his ministry”.
Almost coinciding with the retirement of Mr Edwards was the resignation, through illness, of Mr Charles Whittaker from the diaconate after well over forty years of service. It is startling to read that this left Mr Samuel Young as sole deacon of the church. In the Minutes it is recorded that Mr Edwards urged the church to propose and elect another deacon to join Mr Young before the arrival of a new pastor. It is also recorded that other deacons had found themselves in Mr Young’s position in former years, and included Mr Whittaker himself, who was sole deacon for a time until joined by Mr Young. The secretarial work of the church was carried out by Mr Edwards, who also handled all the correspondence in the settlement of his successor. He remained pastor emeritus until his death in 1899.
Mr Edwards was followed in the pastorate by the Rev. J. W. Butcher in 1893. Previously he had been pastor of the church at Blenheim Chapel, Leeds. He served at Harlow for sixteen years, retiring in 1909. At his farewell, the chairman of the meeting, Mr Samuel Young, said that Mr. Butcher would be particularly remembered for his conduct of the devotional part of the services. Apparently he brought dignity into the worship every detail of which was as carefully prepared as the sermon itself.
Early in Mr Butcher's ministry Mr Charles Whittaker died, His work as a deacon was outstanding and maintained a fine family tradition. His father and grandfather before him had held similar office in our church, each with forty years of service to his credit. It is also left on record that he was a preacher of ability. His son, Dr C. D. Whittaker, became Headmaster of Taunton School. Another son, Mr J. C. Whittaker, was to serve the church in later years as treasurer, thus continuing something of the long association of this family with the church.
An interesting item occurs in the Minutes for October 29th 1902, when the church gave its approval to a proposal to form a Free Church Council in the district. Mr G. H. Young was among those appointed to attend the preliminary meeting at Bishop’s Stortford. A year later we read of Mr 6, H. Young's election to the diaconate. Two others v ere elected with him – Mr John Coleman and Mr John Shirley. This election was preceded by an objection by Mr Young to what he regarded as an unsatisfactory method of electing deacons. He felt so strongly about it that at first he refused his name to go forward, At length, he won his point, which was to make the election of deacons thoroughly democratic, and the diaconate was thus not only strengthened in number but placed on a firm foundation for the future.
Following the ministry of Mr Butcher came that of the Rev. P. F. Boyd, who moved to Harlow from Amersham in 1910. It fell to him to steer the church through the difficult and anxious years of the First World War. The war memorial in the church was erected in 1921.
At the beginning of Mr Boyd's ministry, his wife began the Harrow Sisterhood. It has met regularly at the church ever since, and some of the founder members are happily still with us,
In 1918 the church sustained the severe loss through death, of Mr Samuel Young, for fifty-eight years a member and fifty years a deacon. A man of great integrity of character, he had served the church in outstanding and generous measure. The Young family, following their father’s fine example, had become a great power for good in the church, and is remembered as a missionary family of no small accomplishment. One daughter, Dr Edith Young, had gone as a medical missionary to India, under the auspices of the Zenana Mission, during Mr Butcher’s ministry. Shortly after the end of Mr Boyd’s time in Harlow, Dr Young was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal (Gold Class) in the Birthday Honours, after twenty-three years of service. This decoration was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1900 for award to any person, irrespective of sex, race or occupation, who distinguished himself or herself in advancing the public interest in India. There were three classes – gold, silver and bronze.
At that time, Dr Young’s brother, Professor C. R. Young, was at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, under the Baptist Missionary Society, and her sister, Miss Miriam Young, worked in the same city, It is not inappropriate, perhaps, to mention at this stage that another brother, Mr F. S. Young, was Headmaster of Bishop’s Stortford College. A family of outstanding academic ability, their contribution to the cause of Christ was of rare distinction,
Mr Boyd left Harlow in 1925 to accept a call to a church in Northamptonshire. He served Harlow for fifteen years. The closing period of his ministry was somewhat overshadowed by ill health, and his departure was accompanied by the sympathy and sincere good wishes of the church.
1925 - 1949
After Mr Boyd’s departure, considerable difficulty was experienced in securing a new minister. The church was without pastoral oversight for two years, and during that time Mr G. H, Young acted as chairman of deacons and church meetings, as well as being spiritual adviser to the whole church and congregation Early in this period of waiting, the church began to face the fact that they did not possess a Manse. Attempts to find a suitable house having failed, an important decision was made at a meeting held on October 27th 1925. A resolution was presented by Mr Shipton, on behalf of the Finance Committee, that the church definitely build a Manse. Two schemes came before the church. One was for a small house costing £750, the other for a larger house costing £1,043. After careful consideration, it was decided to build the larger house. The scheme was taken up with enthusiasm, and from henceforth all sorts of efforts, including the distribution of collecting boxes, were embarked upon to raise money for the Manse Fund.
At length, after many disappointments in trying to settle a new pastor, the church became interested in a young student at Spurgeon’s College, then approaching the conclusion of his training, He, too, felt drawn to Harlow, and eventually the Rev. W. H. Biscoe, the student concerned, was ordained and inducted to the pastorate. The Ordination Service was conducted by Principal P. W. Evans on Sunday, July 3rd, 1927. Induction services were held the following Wednesday. So far as we have been able to trace, Mr Biscoe became the first man to take full pastoral charge of the church straight from College.
By this time the Manse was built. The church had resolved to build a house “worthy of the name of Manse" The resolution was not in vain. The house in St John’s Avenue is one of which many a larger church in our
Denomination would be justifiably proud. When Mr Biscoe settled in Harlow, the church owed about £1,000 on the Manse, suitable loans having been secured to enable the house to be built. It was a great act of faith on the part of a small church. It will be readily appreciated that in those day £1.000 was a far greater sum in value than it is today. Let it be realised, too, that the times there were hard. Poverty was no uncommon thing, The nation had emerged from the General Strike and was striving to throw off its repercussions, but money remained scarce. So did work In these unpropitious circumstances our church very bravely faced its heavy debt. The amount gradually reduced year by year, but it seemed an everlasting burden. The church was called upon to carry, in addition other responsibilities, and it is to the credit of Mr Biscoe and to the leadership of men of the calibre of Mr Young and Mr Shipton that the church was able to account for itself so well.
The debt on the Manse, however, was to be cleared sooner than anticipated. Mr Biscoe was followed in the pastorate by the Rev. William Joynes, a man of wide experience, who quickly set about raising money to rid the church of its debt, With remarkable rapidity the necessary money was raised, not a small portion coming from people in churches formerly served by Mr Joynes.
Harlow was to be the last church served by Mr Joynes. He came to us from Frinton, to which he had gone after twenty-nine years of distinguished ministry at New Southgate. During this time at New Southgate he became one of London's leading Baptist ministers, a fact duly recognised when he was elected President of the London Baptist Association Mr. Joynes is remembered for his cheerful disposition, his ready acts of kindness, and as a formidable preaching of the Word of God. He could preach with attractive sparkle and power, on occasions rising to heights of greatness, no doubt reminiscent of his heyday at New Southgate, Several of his sermons are remembered by the Editor of this history even now, His theology was strongly Spurgeonic; not surprising when it is remembered that he knew C. H, Spurgeon, who received him into College with the words: "We are glad to have you, and I hope God has put your heart near your skin".
Advancing age necessarily slowed down his pace, and in the autumn of 1942 he retired from the Baptist ministry. It had been his task to hold the church together in the early years of the Second World War. This he achieved amidst all the difficulties of the "black-out", air raid sirens, Sunday afternoon services in winter and increasing numbers of people caught up in all the turmoil of war.
It was during his time in Harlow that the diaconate was joined by Mr G, D. Hooper, who became Secretary of the Essex Baptist Association and a member of Baptist Union Council, continuing to serve on the Council until his death, which occurred some years after his leaving Harlow to reside elsewhere, Mr 3. T. Wallace was also by then a deacon, and in addition was rendering valuable service in the Sunday School. 1n those days, Mr Young, Mr Hooper and Mr Wallace often took turns in giving out the church notices, sometimes depending on whether or not Mr Young was required to play the organ.
During the interregnum caused by the retirement of Mr Joynes, a frequent occupant of the pulpit was Mr William Page, a church member at Harlow, who joined the London City Mission – a work in which for a great many years our church has taken a keen interest. In later years he became the Superintendent of the Leeds City Mission. Another frequent occupant of the pulpit during that time was a student at Spurgeon’s College whom Mr Joynes had baptised and the Harlow church, in the names of Mr Joynes and Mr Young, had sponsored for admission to the College. Little was it realised then, but nineteen years later that student was to become minister of the church.
A new minister did not come until 1944. He was the Rev. G. E. Simpson, who, after serving the Strict Baptists, came within the fellowship of the Baptist Union on becoming our pastor, having been strongly recommended to us by Mr Hooper. We always felt that whenever Mr Hooper spoke in church meetings it was like listening to the voice of the Baptist Union, and his undoubted authority in such matters as these was greatly respected. Before Mr Simpson would accept the invitation to the pastorate. he sent a letter setting out his theological beliefs, giving the church the opportunity to withdraw its invitation if it so wished in the light of his letter. Mr Young read out the letter during a Sunday evening service, and its frankness and sincerity made a deep impression. There was no question that Mr Simpson was 'our man” for the hour.
With the end of the war, Mr Simpson set about putting the wheels in motion of a work the church had been in urgent need of for some while. When he came to Harlow, there were no youth activities in the church, apart from the Sunday School. Mr and Mrs Simpson together worked extremely hard to meet this vital need, giving themselves unreservedly to the task before them. A meeting for young people was started, also Boy and Girl Campaigner Clans, Even today we can say that we enjoy the fruits of the labours of both Mr and Mrs Simpson. They were responsible for placing the youth work on a good foundation. We still have Girl Campaigner Clans, but the Boys’ Clan was replaced by the Boys’ Brigade in later years,
Many people remember Mr Simpson’s ministry with appreciation. In 1949 he decided to uproot himself from Harlow – and, indeed, England – by going to Canada, the land of his birth, where with his wife he still exercises his ministry.
Today the end of the period which we have been considering Mr G. H. Young retired from the position of church secretary an office he had filled with grace and dignity for a great number of years. A life deacon, he was able to continue his service to the church until his illness and subsequent death, which occurred during the ministry of the Rev. R. S. Capel, who followed Mr Simpson. To be deprived of Mr Young was to be deprived of a great pillar of the church. We have already referred to the outstanding contribution of his family to the Church of Jesus Christ. Mr Young was part of the family tradition, We who knew him remember, with gratitude to God, his gracious personality, his devotion to Christ, his humility and his many acts of kindness which were done so quietly that even now they are still coming to light, How many can thank. God for His servant’s practical kindness it is impossible to estimate. Mr Young, like other members of his family, was a scholar of no mean order. His knowledge of the world of men and books was wide and impressive But it was in God’s Book – the Bible – that he gloried most. The influence of his Christian character went beyond the pale of the church to the whole town He was a Justice of the Peace – as was his father before him – and for some years presiding magistrate. Another interest was the Boy Scout movement, which in Harlow he served with that devotion and thoroughness that was typical of everything to which he put his hand, A fine musician, a flare for poetry, an able speaker, he was a man of many and varied qualities. To know him was an education.
Eventually his place as church secretary was taken by Miss M. A. Shipton. She is representative of the third generation of her family to serve our church, and it was her father who played such a prominent part in the building of the Manse, as described earlier in this chapter.
1949 – 1962
The coming of the Rev. R. S. Capel a year after Mr Simpson's departure, marked important and far-reaching changes in the neighbourhood of Harlow. In actual fact, they had begun in 1947 with the appointment of the Harlow development Corporation, which was charged with the building of a New Town. It was not until 1949, however, that Harlow saw the vast changes beginning to take shape. The New Town was first to rear its head in the Old Town; new houses arising behind the Post Once – an area now known as Chippingfield. Since that modest start, the New Town has risen in breathtaking proportions, going on like a great typhoon, absorbing miles of once open country – including delightful and much-loved villages – and transforming the whole neighbourhood to a degree almost unbelievable. Realising that people must have somewhere to live, gradually the older inhabitants of Harlow became reconciled to the changes. Harlow was no longer a quiet country town, It was now a place of national importance, It appeared on radio and television, in the daily Press; was spoken of in Parliament and, indeed, throughout different parts of the world. Important people, including Royalty, came to visit the scene of this transformation. Harlow had become a big name.
Such changes could not fail to affect the church. Mr Capel. therefore, was soon faced with a difficult and challenging task. He had to meet not only the needs of his own church in this new set of circumstances, but the church at Potter Street also demanded his time and counsel until in the end they were able, with Baptist Union help, to settle a minister of their own – the first for many years to take full pastoral charge there. Swift changes were taking place all round The major Christian denominations were moving into newly-built premises, while the Baptists kept to their old buildings, being the only denomination, apart from the Anglicans, to have buildings already on the spot to cater for the spiritual needs of the rapidly rising town. In those days of pioneer work and adaptation to new conditions, cooperation among Christians was essential, and in all this Mr Capel played a leading and important part. “A doyen of Free Church ministers" was how one brother minister, who shared with him some of these experiences, described him.
Visitation of the new houses as people moved in was organised on a wide scale the area round the church was “combed”, but, in common with other churches the Baptists did not find the newcomers all that ready to become interested in church activities. There was much disappointment in response to hard and faithful work. One united effort, however, in which our church took a leading part, did for a while prove popular. Called ‘Saturday Rendezvous”, it took the form of a series of monthly evangelistic services, inspired by Billy Graham’s Greater London Crusade of 1954,
One thing was certain. Harlow was teeming with young people, And there lay the real challenge of the new situation. Mr Capel soon became aware of the fact that the question of additional premises must be faced. Boys’ Brigade and Girl Campaigners were growing in numbers, and the existing church hall was totally inadequate to accommodate them A new hall was therefore an increasingly pressing need. The church possessed the necessary land. All that was required was the fabric and equipment. On Mr Capel fell the responsibility of leading the church in this great undertaking.
It is impossible even to summarise the amount of hard work, the thinking and planning, the multifarious enquiries and meetings, the anxieties, the hopes and longings the occasional disappointments that surrounded pastor and people. But with praiseworthy courage they continued with the project, raising money in eager anticipation and encouraged by gradually seeing the dream of a new hall coming true. The hall was to cost, with equipment, £7,000. Through Mr Capel’s initiative and enterprise, a grant for about half that amount was obtained from the appropriate Government authority. Obviously, certain conditions were attached to the grant, but none was too irksome for the church to accept For the rest, loans were acquired. Meanwhile, Yuletide Fayres began to be held to provide desperately needed funds for the scheme. At present in this tercentenary year, 1962 – the church owes £l.800 in loans, and is committed to repay this money at the rate of £200 each year.
Although Mr Capel was to stay for nine years, yet it was not quite long enough for him to enjoy with the church the amenities of the new hall, which was opened in September, 1960, about a year after he had left Harlow to undertake the pastorate at Fareharn Baptist Church. He had around him a loyal team of workers, and today the church can look upon the new building with legitimate pride. It is true that many of us regret the spoiling of the lovely approach to the church and the disappearance of the dignified oak gates, but all agree that the sacrifice of these two things was unavoidable. To have retained them at the expense of not having a hall would have been inexcusable folly.
The periods of waiting for another pastor saw the advent of a new organisation in the church called the Young Wives and Business Women’s Club. Its object, apart from gathering younger women together, was to study the Word of God in an informal atmosphere. At the close of 1961 its members decided to change the name to the Ladies’ Contact Club.
For sixteen months the church continued without a minister. At length, however, in January, l961, a new leader was provided; none other than the man whom the church, as already recorded, sent to Spurgeon’s College nineteen years before. Having left College and Harlow the Rev. John Barker had served the Baptist churches at Southfields (Wandsworth), Welling and Sittingbourne. Now he answered the call of his home church to become its minister. As Mr Wallace characteristically puts it: “We regard him as our bread cast upon the waters, which we have found after many days”.
The story of our beloved church is now briefly told So much for the past. What about the future? As we survey the scene before us, we realise God is calling us to a large task. What would have been William Woodward's reaction to this modern situation? We feel certain that he would have met the challenge with as much courage as he did his early difficulties. We, too, have our difficulties, but they are different from those with which Mr Woodward had to contend, His problems were created by lack of religious liberty. Our problems consist mainly in how to get at the ears and hearts of the masses of people around us. We believe God has watched over this Baptist cause for 300 years for a definite purpose, leading us on until this hour of extensive opportunity. One thing has not changed. We preach the same Gospel that William Woodward preached, which is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever”.
MINISTERS OF HARLOW BAPTIST CHURCH
▫ William Woodward 1662 – 1712
▫ Thomas Chalkley 1712 – 1750
▫ Rist 1750 – 1755
▫ Isaac Gould 1755 – 1794
▫ Sandys 1794 – 1795
▫ Benjamin Severn 1795 – 1816
▫ Thomas Finch 1817 – 1857
▫ Frederic Edwards, B.A. 1857 – 1860
▫ Thomas R. Stevenson 1861 – 1864
▫ Frederic Edwards, B.A. 1864 – 1893
▫ J. W. Butcher 1893 – 1909
▫ Percy F. Boyd 1910 – 1925
▫ William Henry Biscoe 1927 – 1933
▫ William Joynes 1934 – 1942
▫ George E. Simpson 1944 – 1949
▫ Richard Samuel Capel 1950 – 1959
▫ John William Barker 1961 – 1970
* George Bradley 1971 - 1988
* Philip (Phil) Jones - 1991 - 1992
* Michael (Mick) Standbridge 1994 – 1998
* Jonathan (Joth) Hunt 2001 – 2009
* Anthony (Tony) Mayes Jan 2011 -