Christchurch Congregational Church

Roger Ottewill

‘The Home of Nonconformity in the District’

Christchurch Congregational Church during the Edwardian Era 1901-1914

As it was put in the Christchurch Times, Wednesday 13th April 1910 was a ‘red letter day’ for the members of Christchurch Congregational Church ‘for on that day they commemorated the 250th anniversary of the establishment of their cause in our town.’ In its report the newspaper went on to provide a detailed account of the proceedings which were described as ‘thoroughly interesting and enthusiastic.’

The longevity of the Congregational cause in Christchurch was just one of its claims to fame. As John Daniel Jones the renown Minister of Richmond Hill Congregational Church in Bournemouth and one of the speakers at the anniversary celebrations pointed out, during the nineteenth century Christchurch had been at the forefront of ‘the work of [church] extension … in this neighbourhood’ and he was there as a representative of one of ‘the daughter churches’’. [1] On a similar theme, at the 244th anniversary of the Church in 1904, it had been described as ‘the home of Nonconformity in the district.’

Fig 1 Christchurch Congregational Church in the First Decade of the Twentieth Century

Fig 1 Christchurch Congregational Church in the First Decade of the Twentieth Century

Many of the larger churches and chapels which Christchurch had helped to establish were by the turn of the twentieth century ‘separate and independent’. [2] There remained, however, three smaller chapels for which it retained pastoral oversight. These were Cranemoor, where the cause had been instituted in 1834, Waterditch in 1841 and Burton Green in 1875.

The church in which Christchurch’s Edwardian Congregationalists worshiped was located in Millhams Street. It was described in 1903 as ‘a building of white brick, erected in 1866-7, and containing about 800 sittings; extensive Sunday school and class rooms have been added (see Figs 1 and 2). [3]


Fig 2 Interior of Christchurch Congregational Church

Fig 2 Interior of Christchurch Congregational Church

The building survives to this day but is now used by a Pentecostal church (see Fig 3).

Like all Congregational churches, that in Christchurch was self-governing and self-financing, with church members taking all the major decisions including those relating to the choice of pastors and fund raising. They also elected the deacons, who served as the lay leaders of the church. Independence, however, did not mean isolation and there was close collaboration with other Congregational churches, both unilaterally and multilaterally through membership of the Hampshire Congregational Union [HCU].

By the Edwardian era the Congregational Church had become a well respected contributor to the town’s religious life, along with the Priory and Wesleyan Methodist and Baptist churches. Moreover, through its membership and its affiliated organisations there was also extensive engagement with the economic, political and social life of Christchurch.

Congregational Church

Fig 3 Christchurch Congregational Church Buildings in 2011

In this article, the standing of the Church during the ‘long’ Edwardian era from 1901 to 1914′ is reviewed and assessed in the light of both quantitative and qualitative evidence. This was a period which some historians of Congregationalism characterised as a ‘golden age’. [4] Others, however, view it as more problematic and use phrases, such as ‘darkening skies,’ to describe what was happening. [5]   While these general evaluations serve as useful, albeit contradictory, summaries of the period, they cannot capture every nuance. Hence the need for local studies to flesh out the broader based narratives.


Statistical Review

By the early years of the twentieth century Congregationalists, like other Nonconformists, had become assiduous compilers of statistics. These now provide historians with a valuable source of data for charting increases and decreases in the membership of individual churches as well as denominations as a whole. However, it needs to be stressed that membership did not equate to the size of congregations, which would have included many who were not members but would still have identified with the Congregational church. In the absence of surveys of church going which were undertaken by local newspapers in some Hampshire towns during the early years of the twentieth century it is impossible to know the exact size of congregations, but it is probable that between one half and two thirds of the 800 seats would have been taken at the best attended services. These tended to be on Sunday evenings.

In Table 1 the membership totals and numbers of Sunday school scholars and teachers submitted by Christchurch Congregational Church to the HCU and onward transmission to the Congregational Union of England and Wales have been collated for the years 1901 to 1914.

    Year

          Members

         Sunday School

    No.

 3 Year Average

 Scholars

Teachers

   1901    260    253    381     48
   1902    263    260    350     53
   1903    257    269    360     55
   1904    287    277    392     55
   1905    287    279    392     55
   1906    262    263    397     54
   1907    239    240    342     53
   1908    218    227    353     50
   1909    223    221    334     47
   1910    221    223    322     50
   1911    224    222    314     47
   1912    222    214    327     48
   1913    195    210    303     41
   1914    213    201    303     41

Notes

  1. Most of the data in this table have been taken from the Yearbooks of the HCU (Hampshire Record Office: Ref 127M54/62/46 to 59).
  2. The three year moving average has been calculated to even out sudden changes in the figures for individual years.
  3. It seems likely that the church did not submit returns for 1905 and consequently the figures for 1904 were repeated.
  4. To ensure consistency, membership figures include those for the three mission stations supported by Christchurch Congregational Church at Burton, Cranemoor and Waterditch.  In the source material, the membership data for the mission stations is shown separately for a number of years (1906 to 1908 and 1911 to 1914). The average membership totals for these years were 20 at Burton; 51 at Cranemoor; and 8 at Waterditch.
  5. The same approach has been adopted for the Sunday school data even though the source material gives separate figures for the mission stations for every year. To give some idea of the respective sizes of the schools, the figures for 1910 were 60 scholars at Burton; 65 at Cranemoor; and 30 at Waterditch.

Table 1: Membership and Related Data for Christchurch Congregational Church 1901-1914


The membership figures and, to a lesser extent, data relating to the Sunday schools suggest that the ‘mother’ church and mission stations lost a considerable amount of ground from about 1906 onwards. This reflected the situation in some other towns, although the decline at Christchurch was particularly dramatic, with the membership being 18 per cent lower in 1914 than it had been in 1901. This may have been due simply to greater accuracy in the record keeping with the names of non-attenders being removed more assiduously or it may have reflected the difficulty the Church faced in competing with the increasing number of secular counter-attractions. How far internal factors, such as the personalities of the ministers, contributed to the decline is difficult to assess with any degree of certainty, but it seems unlikely that they played a major, or indeed any, part in the decline.

Pastorates 

Fig. 4 James Learmount

Fig. 4 James Learmount

During the Edwardian era, Christchurch Congregational Church was served by two ministers, James Learmount from 1901 to 1906 (see Fig 4) and Henry Coley from 1908 to 1917.  Learmount had a Methodist background and one particular attribute that ‘greatly widened his ministry’ was ‘his literary gifts’. These were displayed in regular articles for The Sunday Companion and in children’s books. His ‘rare and sympathetic personality’ was such that he was ‘an inspiration to higher service and nobler living.’ [6]  According to a biographical sketch which appeared in the Christchurch Times at the time of his appointment he was described as ‘earnest and enthusiastic … a born worker; the sort of man that is chosen for difficult tasks and forlorn hopes.[7] This seems to have been a rhetorical flourish since it is hard to believe that in 1900 Christchurch Congregational Church was a ‘forlorn hope.’ That said most, if not all, Congregational pastorates were in their different ways ‘difficult’. Learmouth’s previous church had been Junction Road in Holloway.


Fig. 5 James Learmount in the Pulpit

Fig. 5 James Learmount in the Pulpit

During his time at Christchurch, Learmount appears to have been an assiduous pastor. The circumstances surrounding his departure, however, suggest that some of his actions, particularly in the political realm, may have upset a number of church members.

In early 1906, at the height of the intense general election campaign of that year, Learmount was taken to task by the Conservative supporting Observer and Chronicle for a sermon he had preached on Christianity and politics.[8] This had been printed, in full, a week earlier in the more sympathetic Christchurch Times. He defended himself in a letter published by the Christchurch Times arguing that the thrust of his argument was not about party politics but righteousness. That said, Congregational ministers were far more likely to support the Liberals than the Conservatives and this would have been widely known. In ordinary circumstances, this would not have elicited much comment but in the febrile atmosphere of the 1906 general election passions ran high. It is not known for certain but this incident may have been a factor in precipitating Learmouth’s move from Christchurch to Chalford in Gloucestershire later in the year. At the end of September, the deacons held a special meeting to consider what were described as ‘some injurious reports … [being] circulated about the pastor.’ Following a meeting between the deacons and minister, the latter tendered his resignation by letter. After what was described as ‘long night’s thought’, he had come to the conclusion that his departure was ‘the best way possible for the Church and as the method that will keep the ferment within a shorter space of time.’ He did not want the Church to ‘suffer any longer or any more than is necessary.’ He was also keen to record his ‘happy associations’ with not a ‘jarring note’ being heard during his six years at Christchurch.

In their reply the deacons expressed:… their profound sorrow at the circumstances which has led up to the resignation tendered … [and] their deep regret that Mr Learmount declines to take any steps to clear himself against the charges brought against him by several persons not connected with the Church and they repeat the offer made last evening that if he will successfully dispose of the statements made they will render him all the help in their power including financial aid to the extent of £20.[9]

It would appear that the minister did not avail himself of this generous offer and stuck by his intention to resign. This was reluctantly accepted with ‘great regret’ and ‘deep sympathy’ for him and his family. There is a reference in the minutes to a collection for a leaving gift but it is not clear whether one was ever sent on to him. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that no farewell events were organised, at least none that were reported. In the absence of any definitive evidence, it is difficult to know precisely the nature of the criticisms that were being circulated or why Learmount did not seek to defend himself. However, what this episode does illustrate is the sensitivity surrounding the role of Congregational minister and the need for him to tread warily.

Another consequence of Learmount’s abrupt departure was that it took the church members a long time, nearly a year and a half, before a successor was appointed. Eventually, with 46 members voting for, 2 against and 13 remaining neutral, Henry Coley was selected.[10] The choice proved to be a sound one. Coley had begun his ministerial career as a missionary in India, returning to England in the interests of his wife’s health. He came to Christchurch after ‘ten prosperous years’ at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Christchurch was to be his last pastorate and one where, it is recorded in hisCongregational Year Book obituary, he reaped ‘much success’. Thus, the decline in membership reported earlier must be seen in this light. His obituary also mentions that he was very active in the HCU serving as president in 1909. In summary, he ‘was a genial and lovable man, a good preacher, full of enthusiasm for his work, and spent himself willingly in it.’[11]

In human terms men, such as Learmouth and Coley, made a substantial contribution to the life of the church they served. However, they needed to have a good working relationship with the deacons if their ministry was to realise its full potential.

Deacons

Fig. 6 Minister and Deacons in 1902

Fig. 6 Minister and Deacons in 1902
Back row (left to Right): Mr A. Skoyles, Mr R. Burnie, Mr F. Fround, Mr W.H. Pardy
Middle row: Mr W.H.Scott, Mr H.V. lane
Front row: Mr F.A Lane, Mr J. Green, Rev James Learmount, Mr Marshall, Mr G. Marshall

In 1901 the number of deacons was increased from eight to ten. The voting arrangements were also changed. Thereafter, each year the deacons were elected en bloc by the church members. In keeping with the norms of the period, membership of the diaconate was restricted to male members of the Church aged 21 and over. At the time women, who would have probably constituted at least two-thirds of the membership, were excluded. In order to maximise participation in the election of deacons ‘a Ballot paper containing the names of all the male members of the Church … [was] sent to each member who would have the right to vote for any number not exceeding ten.’[12]Anyone not able to attend the requisite meeting could send their ballot paper to the church secretary or the chairman.

The deacons shared with the minister responsibility for the running of the church and filled the two key roles of Church Secretary and Church Treasurer. When the Church was without a minister they had the additional burden of ensuring that the pulpit was supplied and inviting potential candidates to fill the vacancy to preach ‘with a view.’

Details of the deacons in 1902, including their names, ages, occupations, addresses and number of live-in servants, an indicator of their social status, are shown in Table 2. This is complemented by Figure 6, which shows the members of the diaconate posed with the minister at the main entrance to the church.

Name

Age

Occupation

Address

Ser

Robert   Burnie 42Draper & Clothier41 High Street  1
Frederick Froud 42Clothier shopkeeper39 High Street  1
John Green  76Retired ChemistFalconhurst, Barrack Road  1
Frank A. Lane1 42House and estate agent2 Church Street  0
Howard V. Lane 36Grocer91 Bargates  0
George Marshall2 64Newspaper owner11 Bargates  1
George Marshall snr 74Tinplate worker75 Bargates  0
Willie H. Pardy 39Grocer54 Bargates  2
William H. Scott 53Butcher45 High Street  0
Archibald Skoyles 43Estate agent clerkBroadlands, Avenue Road  1

Notes

1. Church Treasurer

2. Church Secretary

Source: 1901 Census Returns and Kellys Directories

Table 2: Deacons of Christchurch Congregational Church in 1902


As was the case elsewhere a substantial number of deacons were local shopkeepers and others were professional business men. Thus, the Church was well represented in the economic life of the town. In addition one deacon, John Green, was a borough alderman and two deacons, Frank Lane and George Marshall, were Borough Councillors.

John Green died in November 1903 and in his obituary it was recorded that in his capacity as deacon ‘he was largely interested in the village stations … and had under his special charge the chapel at Waterditch where he at one period frequently preached.’[13]  While at his funeral, James Learmount sought to capture the blending of the sacred with the civic in Green’s life and service: … what he has been to me during my residence in this town as a dear friend and fellow-helper in the Lord’s work, it is impossible for me to express. If Calais was engraved on Queen Elizabeth’s heart, more deeply was this church and this town engraved on his. For both he never ceased to pray … He was a Christian business man, whose life witnessed daily to his Lord. In philanthropic work – and especially, perhaps – he displayed a combination of ardent zeal and sound common sense. In politics … [he] was an ardent Liberal … with convictions … In municipal life his fellow townsmen felt that there was none to whom public responsibilities and honours could be more safely entrusted.[14]

Later in his eulogy Learmount highlighted the values and virtues that were reflected in Green’s life, his strong convictions; his faith in God for all things; his winsomeness; his kindness; and his humility. At the same time, notwithstanding his firm faith and staunch Nonconformity, ‘his piety was robust without rigidity or hardness, with a touch of the old English Puritanism, yet free from all narrowness and bigotry.’[15]

During the Edwardian era there were relatively few changes in the composition of the diaconate. Apart from the death of John Green, Archibald Skoyles moved to New Milton in 1903 and, unusually, William Scott failed to secure re-election in 1909. The continuity is confirmed by Table 3, which gives details of the members in 1912. This clearly had advantages in terms of developing expertise, but it did mean that new blood was at a premium.

Name

Age

Occupation

Address

Ser

Harold W. Aldridge 35Solicitor   and notary public5   Millhams Stret, Millhams Meade 2
Robert   Burnie 52Draper,   outfitter and boot factor41 High Street 1
William   Caville 69Evangelist27 Stour Road 0
Henry   F. Day 50Corn   Merchant, ManagerDeerhurst,   74 Stour Road 0
Frederick   Froud 51Clothing   and china shop keeper43 Stour Road 1
Frank   A. Lane1 52House   and estate agent2 Church Street 0
Howard V Lane 46Grocer3 Church Street 0
George   Marshall2 74Letter   press printer24   Bargates 0
George Marshall snr 84Ironmonger,   tinplate worker79   Bargates 0
Willie   H. Pardy 49Grocer’s   assistantOverton,   11 Station Road 0

Notes

1. Church Treasurer

2. Church Secretary

Source: 1911 Census Returns

Table 3: Deacons of Christchurch Congregational Church in 1912


Of the deacons in 1902 and 1912, arguably the one who exemplified, to the greatest extent, the values of Congregationalism, with respect to both public service and piety, was Frank Lane. He was Mayor for the municipal year 1902/3 and remained on the council until 1932 the year before he died. In addition, he was active in many spheres of community life, especially institutions of an educational nature, including Christchurch’s distinctive Congregational School. At his funeral, Rev Howard James, a past minister of the Congregational Church, spoke of the high regard with which Lane was held in the town and his many and varied contributions to the life of the church, such as the Sunday school and the superintendency of the work at Cranemoor chapel. His name would ‘stand for the abiding truth, that a simple heartfelt faith in the power and presence of Christ, and the resolve to measure all things here by the measure of Christ, give to life its highest dignity and worth.’[16]

From comments made at the funerals of three other deacons, Henry   Lane, Robert Burnie and William Scott, it is possible to add to the qualities that characterised Edwardian Congregationalists. Lane was well known for his geniality, urbanity and helpfulness. From 1900 to 1940, the year of his death, he exercised ‘full control of the Burton Congregational Chapel.’[17] Burnie was ‘a man of convictions, true to them and genial withal.’[18] Scott was ‘a staunch supporter’ of, and ‘an ardent worker’ for, the Congregational cause and ‘was [closely] connected with the Sunday school’ from his boyhood.[19] However, since these comments are taken from obituaries it is necessary to exercise a certain amount of caution given the valedictory nature of their source.

What can be said is that the deacons were at the heart of church life and without their dedication and commitment it would not have been possible for the Church to function effectively. Although the outcome of the Learmount affair, mentioned earlier, was the resignation of the minister, the support provided by the deacons would have been vital if he had decided to continue in post and ride out the storm.

Church Life

Central to the life of Christchurch Congregational Church were the regular Sunday morning and evening services, supplemented with a weekday evening service. Alongside these were special annual services to celebrate, particular events in the church’s year, including church and Sunday school anniversaries, harvest, Christmas and Easter.

Special services were complemented by weekday events intended to give fuller expression to the nature of the celebration. Thus, Church anniversaries were an opportunity to demonstrate both the longevity of the church and its continuing witness. A little of the atmosphere at such an event can be gained from the following extracts taken from a report of the Church’s anniversary in April 1905:

A very successful and most interesting series of meetings was held on Wednesday at the Congregational Church, the occasion being the 245th anniversary of the formation of the cause, and the 38th of the present building. The proceedings began with a tea to the preparation and dispensing of which the ladies of the congregation gave enthusiastic attention, and received unstinted praise from the hundred and sixty odd persons who partook of their hospitality. This was served promptly, and in about half an hour a meeting somewhat unique in its character was held. No less than eight ministers of the Congregational body put in an appearance, and after tea, these in turn delivered addresses to the assemblage.    These addresses, while congratulatory in tone, inculcated devotion to principle, fulfilment of duty, and earnestness of purpose, in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ  [20]

The tea and meeting was followed by a service in the church conducted entirely by J.D. Jones. In his sermon, based on words from John chapter 10 verse 41, “John [the Baptist] did no miracle; but all things that John spake of this man [Jesus] were true”, he ‘enjoined, the average, the common-place people, to do what lay to their hand of the works of the Lord Jesus.’ According to the press report, ‘the sermon was well listened to and created a marked impression.’ [21]

The celebration of anniversaries was also a feature of the life of the mission stations. At Burton, for example, the 35th anniversary was marked with a tea and public meeting held on Wednesday 14th September 1910. Somewhat presciently, in his opening remarks the chairman, Mr Woodcock, one of the deacons of Boscombe Congregational Church, ‘referred to the influence of women both in church work and Sunday schools, and wished the cause God speed.’ [22]

In 1912 Cranemoor celebrated its 75th anniversary on Wednesday 11th September. Again there was a public meeting preceded by a tea. The meeting was attended by a number of local pastors to demonstrate their solidarity with the cause and included some musical contributions from a violinist and the children of the church, who ‘sang very sweetly a hymn they had prepared.’ [23]

The 68th anniversary of Waterditch Chapel was celebrated on Wednesday 30th June 1909, with the format being almost the same as that of the other two mission stations. The ‘chapel was well filled at the evening meeting when addresses of a very hopeful and inspiring character’ were delivered by the senior deacon and pastor of the ‘mother church’ and the visiting speaker, John Evelyn Thomas, the assistant minister of Richmond Hill. [24]

In addition to the services and special events, the Church and mission stations sponsored a plethora of affiliated organisations. These were intended to serve not only spiritual, but also social, educational and recreational, needs in accordance with what was known as the institutional principle.

For children and young people, the most important organisation was the Sunday school. As the statistical data presented earlier showed, although there was a decline in the number of scholars on the books of the School during the Edwardian era, it still provided for over three hundred children in 1914. Such numbers, of course, required a substantial team of teachers with between forty and fifty contributing to this critical aspect of church life.

Another organisation for young people was a branch of the Christian Endeavour Society. Established in 1901 its primary purpose was to assist in training the next generation of Church leaders. It was also seen as a bridge between the Sunday school and church membership.

For adults, arguably the organisation that best exemplified the high ideals of the institutional principle was a Mutual Improvement Society. This met weekly during the winter months and offered a varied programme of lectures, debates, discussions and musical and social evenings. To give a flavour of some of the meetings, in October 1901 a number of members read papers on where they had spent their holidays with a prize being awarded to the best; in October 1905, the members discussed the topic “Are capitalists the cause of poverty?”.   In November 1908 there was an illustrated lecture on the training of a fireman; and in March 1909 a lecture on the River Stour. [25]

Apart from membership of an affiliated organisation, fellowship was also fostered through the holding of social events on special occasions, such as the arrival of a new minister. The one held for the Coley Family provides a glimpse of their character:

On Wednesday evening a congregational “at home” was held in the Lecture Hall, Millhams Street, at which some two hundred attended to meet and welcome, the Rev. Henry Coley, Mrs Coley, and their daughter, Miss Jessie Coley. Among those present were several of the members of the branch churches at Burton and Cranemoor. Music was provided by several of the young people, and songs were sung by Miss Gertie Day, and the Misses R. and D. Burry, and Mr R. Burnie gave a capital rendering of “Caller Herrin’.“.   After refreshments were served, Mr Coley thanked those present for the hearty welcome he and his wife and daughter had received. [26]

Although Nonconformists had a reputation for being somewhat puritanical, due to their association with the causes of temperance and Sunday observance, this did not inhibit them from organising social events and enjoying themselves.

This also applied to the organising of fund raising events which were of particular importance given that Congregational churches were self-financing. Apart from meeting regular outgoings, which were generally covered by income from the weekly collections at services, special efforts were often required to cover the cost of capital projects. In November 1902, for example, a two day bazaar was held to raise £400 in order to clear old debt in the church accounts; re-decorate and improve the church premises; and install, what was described as ‘new heating apparatus’. In keeping with the religious ambience of the bazaar, each day the opening ceremony included the singing of a hymn followed by prayer.

Fund raising was also linked to the special celebrations in 1910 of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the church. As the Church Treasurer explained at the church’s 251st anniversary in 1911.

They had celebrated their 250th birthday by cleaning the church, renovating the organ, and changing the choir seats. He felt sure all would agree that a great improvement had been made. They were all glad to have the choir downstairs as a real part of the congregation. Thanks to the liberal gifts of many of the friends of the church, the money needed had come in remarkably well.

The total amount involved is not known, but £40 needed to be raised a year later ‘to clear off the balance.’ [27]

While fund raising can be seen as a distraction from the church’s primary evangelistic role of securing conversions, it did provide a means of fostering fellowship amongst members through shared enterprise and endeavour. It also provided opportunities for the Church to engage with, and promote itself, to the community at large.

The Wider Community

As has been indicated, through the activities of some of its leading members, the Congregational Church was enmeshed with the economic and political life of Christchurch. It is difficult to judge exactly how much influence it was able to exert by this means on the wider community, but it is reasonable to assume that the Congregational affiliation of some of ‘the great and the good’ of Edwardian Christchurch would have been well known. Thus, there was a need to ensure that the values they exemplified were positive ones of the kind to which reference was made earlier in the section on the diaconate, such as public service, altruism and zeal.

It was also the case that the civic authorities were by the Edwardian era favourably disposed towards the Church. For example, in 1909, at its 249th anniversary celebrations the Mayor, who was not a church member, presided at the evening meeting. In his remarks he expressed his pleasure at being there and continued by explaining that:

… although at first he was of the opinion that he ought to decline. He felt that in these days when differences of opinion were more readily tolerated than in the past he should encourage them by taking the chair and wishing them good speed in their work. After all … they were but seeking the goal according to the light of their consciences, and there was no room for antagonism, or any principle other than the right principle, to warp or dissipate their good feeling to each other. The length of their history showed that great vitality had always characterised them and their predecessors (applause). [28]

Here there was recognition that notwithstanding political and religious differences they should work together for the good of the community. As it was said of Alderman Jenkins the Church’s senior deacon who died in 1901:

… [he] held strong views on matters of vital principle, and it is because it was so that those who disagreed with him on political and ecclesiastical matters trusted him as truly as did those who held his views. He was a strong Nonconformist, yet greatly respected by our Church of England friends; a zealous Liberal yet on best terms with the majority of equally zealous Conservatives. Without any loss of principle his tolerant life gained him many friends. [29]

On the basis of these examples, it could be said that something of a bipartisan and ecumenical spirit prevailed within Christchurch. However, this was not necessarily universal as the unfortunate episode of James Learmouth’s premature resignation from the pastorate illustrates.

Community engagement was also a feature of many of the Church’s affiliated organisations and fund raising initiatives. They were intended to appeal to a wider audience than simply those who identified themselves as Congregationalists or even ‘chapel’. Indeed, from the Church’s perspective the more townsfolk that could be attracted to its bazaars the greater its potential income from this source.

Within Hampshire Congregationalism more broadly, the standing of Christchurch was confirmed by the fact that during the Edwardian era the HCU held their half yearly assemblies in the town on two occasions. The first was during the autumn of 1901 and the second the spring of 1913. These provided a talking point and afforded Congregationalists with further opportunities for making their presence felt.  They also demonstrated the organising capabilities of the Church.

Conclusion 

Notwithstanding the decline in membership and the ups and downs experienced during the Edwardian era, in April 1914 at a social gathering organised by the Church the mood was decidedly optimistic. During the course of the evening:

Mr F.T. Lancaster gave an encouraging account of the work at Cranemoor; Mr F. Froud gave a pleasing account of Waterditch; and Mr W. Caville spoke of excellent progress at Burton. Mr F.A. Lane gave a concise and satisfactory financial statement of the church’s activities, which showed that about £700 had been raised voluntarily by the worshippers. Mr George Marshall, the church secretary, spoke with evident pleasure of the signs of steady advance in the parent church … the Pastor, the Rev H. Coley who presided, spoke in a hopeful strain, and remarked that with increased energy their various institutions might during the year on which they had entered make greater progress than ever. [30]   

What none of the contributors could have anticipated was the trauma of the First World War and the disruption which this cause. It is clear, however, that a few months before War broke out Christchurch Congregational Church was still a leading Nonconformist presence in the district.

[1] Christchurch Times, April 16, 1910.

[2] Christchurch Times, April 23, 1904.

[3] Kellys Directory of Hampshire for 1903, p.126.

[4] Reg Ward, “Professor Clyde Binfield: A Critical Appreciation,” in Modern Christianity and Cultural Aspirations, ed. David Bebbington and Timothy Larsen (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 16.

[5] R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England 1662-1962 (London: Independent Press Ltd, 1962), 334-342.

[6] Congregational Year Book 1934: 267.

[7] Christchurch Times, January 5, 1900.

[8] The full title of the newspaper was The Observer and Chronicle for Hants and Dorset.

[9] Christchurch Congregational Church Book 1902-1919, Dorset History Centre [DHC] Ref: NP4/CM/1/3.

[10] Christchurch Congregational Church Book 1902-1919, DHC Ref: NP4/CM/1/3.

[11] Congregational Year Book 1918: 125. He died in September 1917, having resigned the pastorate in June 1917. Although his health was poor, he had intended to accept the pastorate at Hayling Island after a short rest.

[12] Christchurch Congregational Church Book 1879-1902, DHC Ref: NP4/CM/1/

[13] Christchurch Times, November14,1903.

[14] Christchurch Times, November21, 1903

]15] Christchurch Times, November21, 1903

[16] Christchurch Times, May 27, 1933.

[17] Christchurch Times, March 16, 1910.

[18] Christchurch Times, January 11, 1930.

[19] Christchurch Times, October 29, 1932.

[20] In the order in which they spoke, the ministers were Frances Sloper of Boscombe; Harry Schofield of Pokesdown; Robert Howarth of Ripley; Alexander Gibson of Charminster Road; George Field of Throop; and Ben Evans of Winton.

[21] Christchurch Times, April 22, 1905.

[22] Christchurch Times, September 17, 1910.

[23] Christchurch Times, September 14, 1912.

[24] Christchurch Times, July 3, 1909.

[25] Christchurch Congregational Mutual Improvement Society Minutes 1901-09, DHC Ref: NP4/SO/3/1/1.

[26] Christchurch Times, January 11, 1908.

[27] Christchurch Times, 29 April 1911.

[28] Christchurch Times, April 10, 1909.

[29] Extract from “The Congregational Monthly published in connection with The Congregational Church at Christchurch, and the Chapels at Cranemoor, Burton and Waterditch”, October 1901, included in Christchurch Congregational Church Book 1879-1902, DHC Ref: NP4/CM/1/2.

[30] Christchurch Times, April 18, 1914.

 

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