A Brief Memorial
‘Of the goodness of the Lord during 100 years to the Church and Congregation now worshipping at ‘Hope’ Baptist Chapel, Haslemere’
Hope Chapel (Photo by Colin G Futcher, Haslemere)
A feature of the Churches belonging to the Strict and Particular Baptist denomination is the fact that, without any over-ruling body or central organisation, there have come into being and been maintained through many years, Churches completely independent in their government, yet professing and cleaving to identical principles of doctrine and Church order. These Churches have usually numbered among their membership but few who have achieved prominence in the world; yet, though they have been composed for the most part of insignificant and humble folk, there have been preserved through the goodness of God in widely scattered causes an adherence to “the faith once delivered unto the saints” and an emphasis on the necessity of a vital experimental knowledge of the truths professed.
Some Churches have come into existence mainly through the instrumentality and generosity of those possessing ample means, but there are probably more causes which, under God, owe their existence to the united purpose and self-denial of those who had little enough to spare after providing for the necessities of life. To the latter order belongs the Church which is the subject of this brief record, and it is in the hope that those who are enjoying the privileges handed down to them may emulate the godly zeal and devotion of their spiritual ancestors that this narrative has been compiled.
A BRIEF IMEMORIAL
Hope Chapel (Interior)
In the year 1792, a young man, Christopher Lee by name, who lived at Shottermill, a parish adjoining Haslemere and now part of the same Urban District, attended services at Midhurst, Sussex (a town about eight miles distant), which were the means of his conversion. As a result, it became his desire that others too might become partakers of the same grace. His convictions were not shared by his parents, but, persevering with his intentions, he overcame the opposition in his home and commenced to hold a Sunday School and services there. From this small beginning grew the establishment of an Independent or Congregational Church in Haslemere. This made comparatively rapid progress in numbers, though the members were poor, and at the time of the building of their first place of worship they were able to raise an annual sum of only £4 in support of the cause. The Church continued to grow, however, but in 1818 ten of the members seceded, the cause of the division being a dispute as to the moral law being the believer’s rule of life. The seceders were regarded as Antinomians; but it must be borne in mind that many have been called by that name, not because of an inconsistent walk, but because they held that the law had been fulfilled on their behalf by Christ, “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Romans 10: 4), and that thenceforth their lives should be governed, not by the external compulsion of law, but by the inward principle of love to Him Who had died to redeem them from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).
In 1844 came the secession which ultimately resulted in the establishment of a Strict and Particular Baptist Church in Haslemere. During March of that year a division arose concerning the choice of a Mr. Collins as pastor of the Congregational Church. It appears that he had been elected by a substantial majority, but the members of the Hackney Academy who were the trustees of the Church would not allow him to hold office on account of his being too high in doctrine, as they termed it. His friends and supporters thereupon determined to secede and, if possible, maintain Mr. Collins as their minister. They found, however, that their means did not permit them to support him, and he was obliged to leave. A Miss Terry in the High Street opened her schoolroom for reading and prayer, and about twenty met there for worship. As their numbers increased, it was thought advisable to find a larger room and get it licensed- This they did in the house of Mr. Merriott, in Lower Street, now No. 50, Lower Street, where they continued to assemble, still hoping that at some time they might have Mr. Collins for their pastor. About this time, however, Mr. Collins made an engagement elsewhere, and so the desire was frustrated.
On hearing that a Mr. Matthew Welland, of Witley (a neighbouring village), occasionally spoke in the Name of the Lord, the friends gave him an invitation to minister to them for one year, which he accepted. Soon after this they were obliged to leave the house in which they were meeting, but found accommodation at the house of Mr. John Huntingford, at Almshouse Common, about half-a-mile from the town. It was found, however, that the new quarters were not sufficiently commodious, and it was resolved, if possible, to build a Chapel. In view of their restricted means, the friends were doubtful of their ability to accomplish this, but hearing of a vacant building in Well Street (a turning off the High Street opposite what is now the Georgian Hotel), which had formerly been used as a skittle ground, they took this and fitted it up for public worship at a cost of about £25, which was raised by subscription among themselves. Mr. Welland opened the building for worship in 1846.
The congregation continued to increase, and it was thought that it would be good to form a Church. Accordingly, in 1847, about twelve gave each other the right hand of fellowship, intending to adhere to the Independent Order, but owing to some differences they did not proceed, and remained unsettled until 1848. During this time Mr. Welland and some others were led to see that baptism was an ordinance to be observed by believers on entering into Church fellowship, and consequently that the sprinkling of infants was without scriptural warrant. It is reported that in the course of a conversation with Mr. Reuben Harding about this time Mr. Well and remarked, “Baptism is in the Bible,” to which Mr. Harding replied, “Then why don’t we preach it?” whereupon Mr. Welland rejoined, “How can we if we don’t practise it?” Mr. Welland now renounced the practice of sprinkling infants. As he was called at times to speak at other places, a Mr. Edward Joy, of Alton, came to supply about once a month. He strongly enforced the ordinance of baptism as the first ordinance of the Lord’s House, rebuking those who were indifferent to it. As a result some were brought to embrace it, and others were more clearly led into it.
A desire was therefore expressed to form a Church on Baptist principles, but, as there were some who still adhered to the Independent form, it was resolved that they should divide, and that one body or the other should take the lead in the existing cause. The Independents, however, agreed to leave the management to the Baptists. On 11th September, 1848, ten of the latter, including Mr. Welland, went to Ripley, Surrey, and were baptised by Mr. Henry Allnutt, the pastor there, receiving the congratulations of the Ripley friends. In October, 1848, Mr. Allnutt came to Haslemere and, after preaching, gave all the baptised believers the right hand of fellowship, and each one an exhortation. He then broke bread to them as a Church and begged a blessing upon them.
In the meantime, Mr. Welland had gone to Bedworth, Warwickshire, in response to an invitation he had received from that place. As the Church was now without a minister, Mr. Joy and a Mr. Manfield each agreed to supply once a month. The brethren agreed that in the absence of a minister they should meet for reading and prayer, and that the deacon should administer the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper once a month. A Church meeting was then held, when Mr. Reuben Harding was unanimously elected by ballot to fill the office of deacon. This is the first occasion on which his name occurs in the Church records, but he was one of those who seceded from the Congregational Church and, as the memorial tablet in the present Chapel states:
He was one of the founders of this cause and the principal means of raising these walls; was a faithful preacher of the gospel for 39 years.
At this time members came from such outlying districts as Thursley, Liphook, Fernhurst, and Midhurst, and doubtless most of them made the journey on foot, but in those days the privilege of a faithful gospel ministry was valued. In April, 1849, four members were added to the Church. The ordinance of baptism was still administered at Ripley, as the first record of its being observed at Haslemere occurs in July, 1850.
Some of the friends now expressed a desire to establish a Sabbath School. This was unanimously decided upon at a Church meeting, Mr. John Carter, of Fernhurst, undertaking the superintendence, and other members agreeing to assist. Among the rules for its conduct the following may be mentioned:-
That no-one be admitted a teacher but such as we have reason to hope fear God.
That the children be taught to read the Word of God and such things as the teachers may think proper, leaving the result in the hands of Him Who alone is able to make it effectual to the salvation of the soul.
It was decided to hold morning and afternoon school and the work commenced in November, 1849. On 10th June, 1850, Mr. Allnutt, of Ripley, preached a sermon in aid of the school, and rewards, Bibles, Testaments, and hymn-books were presented to the scholars. Mr. Manfield and Mr. Joy had continued for some time to supply the Church alternately every fortnight, but as Mr. Manfield would often be preaching against the ordinance of believers’ baptism, the Church could not hear him to profit. His engagement was therefore terminated in June, 1849. The following letter of dismissal shows the manner of man its writer was, and is indicative of his gracious spirit:
June 14th 1849
Dear Friend and Brother Manfield,
For such we esteem you-you are aware that for some time past there have been continual divisions between you and us concerning the order of God’s House, and, as it engenders strife rather than godly edifying, we would say to you, as Abraham did to Lot his brother, “Let there be no strife between us, but let us part” for the peace of the Church, until such time as we shall be led to see eye to eye. I trust I write this dismissal in the fear of the Lord. On behalf of the Church, and beg to subscribe myself,
Your sincere friend and brother,
On leaving the cause, Mr. Manfield and his supporters built a Chapel, “Ebenezer,” at Fernhurst, Sussex, about three miles away, where worship was conducted in accordance with the principles of the Independents. For several years this cause was maintained, and though it was closed for a time, it was subsequently re-opened, and it is good to record that a company still meets there for worship, though at the present time the pulpit is usually supplied by Strict Baptist ministers.
At the invitation of the Church, Mr. Harding now began to speak in the Name of the Lord, Mr. Joy continuing to come once a month as usual. In July, 1850, six members were added to the Church by baptism. The ordinance was carried out by Mr. Harding, the deacon, in a brook running through a meadow. (The stream is that which forms the boundary between Sussex and Surrey, near what is now known as Bell Vale.) It may here be mentioned that it was the subsequently expressed opinion of Mr. Harding that more blessing was felt to attend the baptisms carried out publicly in the open air after the order of the primitive Church than was the case when the baptistery added to the Chapel in later years was used.
At a Church meeting held on 12th February, 1851, the question of a pastor was raised, certain members having had it impressed on their minds that this would be for the profit of the Church. At the next Church meeting, however, it was decided by a majority of two to continue as before, except that Mr. Harding should receive half of the benefit instead of labouring gratuitously. The minority had desired to call Mr. Harding to the pastorate. A difference of opinion eventually arose as to the continuance of Mr. Joy’s ministry, and finally, in November, 1853, fourteen out of twenty-one members decided that his visits should be terminated. This led to six members leaving the Church. The severance of the connection with Mr. Joy was a cause of regret to some, at any rate, of those who remained, but the reason seems to have been the desire of the Church for a settled ministry. The feeling of regret was mutual, for Mr. Joy, who was a gracious; well-taught minister had spoken with appreciation of his visits to Haslemere, and had referred to it as a “golden pulpit.” He eventually became pastor of the Church at Horsell Common, Surrey, in 1862, and served that cause faithfully and ably for fifteen years until his sudden home call.
In 1856 Mr. Reuben Harding was unanimously chosen pastor, and was publicly recognised on 6th October of the same year. At the special services Mr. Henry Allnutt, of Ripley, in the morning stated the nature of a Christian Church and spoke from 1 Timothy 3:15: “The Church of the living God.” Mr. C. W. Banks, of Unicorn Yard, Tooley Street, London, gave the charge to the pastor from the fifth verse of the same chapter: “Take care of the Church of God.” Mr. Allnutt closed the services of the day by addressing the Church from the last two verses of the Epistle of Jude: “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” During the next few years more members were added by baptism and by transfer, and it appears that the Church, though small, was flourishing.
It seems appropriate here to insert Mr. Harding’s own account of his call to the work.
I think it was in June, 1849, by request of the Church and from an impulse within, that I began with much trembling to preach the gospel publicly as far as I had ability, telling the Church that if they were not edified I would leave off. Instead of wishing me to leave off, they bid (sic) me Godspeed and blessed God for raising me up and for rendering me useful. There now appeared to be unity among us; we were happy in each other’s company, and several cast in their lot with us. I used to speak three times a month, and Mr. Joy once. Mr. Joy coming so seldom, and the Lord being pleased to honour my humble testimony, some wished as Mr. Joy was called to labour in other places-that l should fill the pulpit every Sabbath. This motion stirred up a little unhappy feeling in some quarters. I was charged with striving for the pastoral office, and some that before encouraged me now did all they could to stop my mouth; others were labouring in prayer to uphold me, Amidst all this confusion I gathered consolation from two sources: one was that I knew what I had done was with a good conscience; I coveted no man’s silver or gold or human applause; I had preached the gospel freely; my sole aim was their spiritual welfare. The other consolation was the sweet whispers of the Spirit within, assuring me that the Lord was my Rock, and there was no unrighteousness in Him. There appeared no hope of reconciliation, and our Chapel lease was run out. I therefore told the Church that if they would choose Mr. Joy I would retire. Instead thereof Mr, Joy retired, and one-third of the Church went with him and have since held worship in a house. This took place in December, 1852. Since that time we have been few, but have had Peace among ourselves; God’s presence has been realised; many sweet seasons have we enjoyed, while Jesus’ precious Name has been as ointment poured forth, and I hope the Spirit of God is working effectually in the hearts of some that come to hear. We have great cause for humbleness, as well as thankfulness.
I am happy to say our friends take a deep interest in the school, and I have found a spirit of conviction among the children, which pray God may end in real conversion, I do trust the Lord is with us and that the God of Jacob is our Refuge. May He be our Guide till death, and afterward receive us to glory.
I would add that we have lost one member by death during the last year, one of the first that was baptised in the open air. Through grace she was enabled to walk worthy of her profession and from the time of her baptism till her death there was a visible growth in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yea, I may say, she was a true disciple of Him who went about doing good. She told me a very short time before she died that the Lord was so precious that she felt no desire to live or fear to die. Her husband who is a deacon-told me the last night she was in the world he read for their evening meditation 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, and as he dropped a word or two on the thirteenth and fourteenth verses, she said she believed it would be well with her, as she felt she had the same spirit of faith. – After committing themselves to the care of Him Who neither slumbers nor sleeps, they retired to rest. About midnight she told her husband she felt her – mind sinking, and about five o’clock she said it was well, come life or death. He went for the doctor, during which time her case became dangerous. On seeing her sister weep, she said: “Weep not; the Lord is mine, and I am His.” Before the doctor came upstairs she bid (sic) her husband goodbye; told her sister she loved her husband, but loved the Lord better.
Both mother and child died under the doctor’s hands on the 12th of October; 1853, in the thirty-ninth year of her age. She was the first that we had ever lost. As we stood around her grave, singing
“Sweetly sleep, dear saint, in .Jesus; Thou with us shalt wake from death,”
I felt such heavenly peace flow into my soul that I longed to depart and be with Christ, and could truly say:
“Here vanity is all I see; Lord, I long to be with Thee.”
Her memory is blessed. (Shottermill, March 10th, 1854.)
In December, 1861, the question of new premises became urgent. ‘The building in which the Church was meeting for worship became unsafe, and it was therefore decided to purchase a piece of land in Lower Street on which to erect a Chapel. To give some idea of the humble positions of the persons chiefly instrumental in the foundation of the cause, their names and occupations as given in the deed of conveyance are appended:
Reuben Harding, Shoemaker.
George Mills, Hoopshaver.
George Merriott, Turner.
George Hull, Copse Cutter and Hoop Maker.
Benjamin Puttick, Lath Cleaver.
On 12th May, 1862, the foundation-stone of the new building was laid by Mr. William Wield, the oldest member. Mr. Henry Allnutt (now of Brockham), Mr. Slim, of Guildford, and Mr. Holmes, of London, each took part of the service. On 12th November, 1862, the building was opened for public worship under the name of “Hope” Chapel. Mr. Allnutt preached in the morning and Mr. Slim in the afternoon. In the evening a public meeting was held, when Mr. Reuben Harding, the pastor, presided. The total cost of the Chapel, including the land and all incidental expenses, amounted to £203 10S. Sd., of which some [80 had been received and the balance lent by friends or raised on mortgage.
Members continued to be added to the Church, filling the places of those who passed to join the Church triumphant. About 1866 a new porch was added to the Chapel and baptismal pool constructed at a cost of about £16, which was raised by friends of the cause.
Two years later Mr. and Mrs. James Ayling joined the Church by transfer from the cause at Farnham. Mr. Ayling was subsequently, on 1st August, 1897, elected a deacon, and later occupied the pulpit on alternate Lord’s Days for several years, besides supplying other causes. Though a man of but little education, he knew the reality and power of the truths he preached, and his ministry was blessed to the salvation of souls. It was now considered advisable to vest the Chapel in trust, and accordingly, in 1869, the following were appointed the first trustees:
The trust deed and articles of faith adopted by the cause make clear its distinctive position as a Strict and Particular Baptist Church. Sometime after this date the following entry (undated) appears in the Church book:
On examining the books, a note is observed that our pastor, Mr. Harding, was at the commencement of his ministry to receive half of the benefit together with his co-worker, Mr. Joy, but nothing further (is) seen that he ever received any. It then appears that he laboured gratuitously till the year 1865, when he expressed a desire with friends who thought it desirable that he should have a little time to devote especially to the ministry; it was accordingly agreed that he should receive the sum of three shillings per week until the year 1872, but the funds not equalling the expenditure, and he having a great desire to see the Chapel free from debt, declined to receive it any longer. Influencing friends by his own liberality, his wish was satisfied in the year 1879.
A wish having been expressed to have a vestry attached to the Chapel, one was added in 1884 at the cost of about £30, which was paid by the friends.
In March, 1885, the beloved pastor, having preached in the morning from 1 Peter 1: 8: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” was seized with a fit of apoplexy and paralysis at the close. This laid him aside for some time, during which the services were carried on by the friends to the best of their ability until, in October of the same year, Mr. E. Medhurst, of Hungry Hill, Farnham, was invited to preach once a month. For many years Mr. Medhurst was an occasional occupant of the pulpit, and he made a practice of visiting the Sunday School in the morning and giving an address to the scholars, some of whom recall to this day his visits, which left a happy memory.
During 1886, the pastor had recovered sufficiently to resume preaching on Lord’s Days when Mr. Medhurst was not engaged. His work was, however, nearing its close, and on 19th October, 1888, while attending anniversary services at Chiddingfold, Surrey, he was seized during the evening service with a fit of apoplexy. He was removed to the house of Mr. James Ayling, which was close by, but medical attention was in vain, and on 24th October he sweetly fell asleep in Jesus. So passed the one who had been the chief pillar of the Church. He was a faithful steward and adorned his office. During his ministry he suffered many discouragements, but through them all he was constant to his trust. Not only was he loved by his flock, but he earned the respect of those not connected with the cause, and in recent years some who made no profession of religion have been heard to refer to his consistent walk and high character. In” 120 Years of Nonconformity in Haslemere” (a short history published in 1908 by two members of the I Haslemere Congregational Church), the writers, referring to Mr. Harding, say:
A man who was loved by all who knew him, and who is remembered with affection by many today (1908). The Baptist Chapel in Lower Street… is a memorial to Mr. Harding’s earnest and self-sacrificing zeal.
Memorial tablet to Reuben Harding
The Church being now left without a pastor, the deacon, Mr. George Mills, Sen., with the assistance of a friend, carried on the services on such Lord’s Days as Mr. Medhurst was not engaged. Eventually the pulpit was usually supplied by Mr. James Ayling and Mr. James Banyard, of London, on alternate Lord’s Days, and in recent years by other itinerant ministers, Mr. Medhurst having received a call to the pastorate of the Church at Fleet, Hants., though for some years he paid occasional visits to Haslemere.
In 1901, a schoolroom of timber and iron construction was erected on the ground in the rear of the Chapel at the cost of about £100, which was contributed by the friends. It was opened on 25th September, 1901, on the occasion of the annual Thanksgiving Services by the late Mr. John Bush, then of Kingston, who offered prayer, after which the Doxology was sung.
Since that date the cause has been maintained, though still without a pastor. Among the deacons who have held office in recent years, and who, after faithfully serving their generation, have fallen on sleep, may be mentioned Ephraim Smithers, Jesse Mann, and Charles and George Mills (sons of the original trustee). It may be of interest to recall that among the ministers, now entered into rest, who have occupied the pulpit at different times are C. W. Banks, Charles Barringer, Alfred Brandon, Walter Brooke, John Bush, John E. Hazelton, Charles Hemington, Joseph Jarvis, Edward Mitchell, R. E. Sears, and J. P. Wiles. Mr. William Chisnall, a former pastor of the Old Baptist Chapel, Guildford, and Mr. J. T. Peters, the present pastor of that Church, have in recent years given unstinted and faithful service to “Hope” Chapel as occasion for their help has arisen.
Such is the brief record of the Church since its formation, and it is with feelings of humble gratitude to our covenant-keeping God Who has maintained the cause these many years that these particulars have been compiled. Having obtained help of God, we continue to this day.
Orignially printed by Langham Printer, Haslemere and Farnham
Mr Reuben Harding (1856 – 1888)
Mr Charles Sleeman (1959- 1999)
Mr Thomas Yates September 2011- 2015. For details of Induction service please click here.