Union Hall, Cowdenbeath
Tom Watt, Cowdenbeath
In the latter part of the nineteenth century when the coal mining industry was being developed in the Kingdom of Fife, and villages were springing up all over the area, the town of Cowdenbeath was growing rapidly. During this period two ‘brethren-type’ assemblies were meeting in the town. Around 1890, one group met in Foulford Street Hall and the other group, with more of a mission background, met in the Co-operative Hall. With great vision and foresight these two companies of believers decided to join together as a witness for God and in 1916 a structure called ‘The Iron Chapel’, which had been erected on a prime site just off the town centre, was bought, and on 21st March the two assemblies joined forces, hence the name until now, ‘Union Hall’. Although Cowdenbeath was a mining town with primarily working-class people, the early believers were mainly business people. Among the committed men who sought to bring the gospel to the town in the early days were the Sheriff Officer Tom Wright, John Sharp, David Sharp, who owned a draper’s business, David Traill, a hairdresser and Mr. Hunam, the local fishmonger.
During the Great War and the post-war years, the elders were miners and the assembly saw many years of blessing, growing to a peak of around 120 believers in the late ‘forties and early ‘fifties, with a children’s outreach so large that two Sunday Schools were held, at 1.00 p.m. and 3.00 p.m. to accommodate all who came. The annual outing was normally by special train and on occasions the numbers going reached 900 people!
The assembly has always been very active in the community and during the turbulent times of 1920-1935 a great outreach work was done by David Roberts from Liverpool, and Fred Elliott helped in the 1940’s. Because of this work and the good testimony, many were saved and came into fellowship. In the early 1950’s a young Peter Brandon came to Cowdenbeath for gospel meetings. It was a never-to-beforgotten time of blessing for the young preacher from South-East England who experienced first-hand the privilege of speaking from a coal wagon to miners who crowded around fresh from a hard shift down the pit. The assembly saw many saved at that time.
From its inception the assembly has been blessed by being led by godly elders who have tried to maintain a balance between the teaching of doctrine and gospel outreach and, because of this, polarization to extremes has been prevented and harmony within the assembly encouraged. The assembly has been strengthened by many brethren who gave of their time to come and teach the word, sometimes for a weekend and on other occasions for one or two weeks at a time. W. F. Naismith of Kilmarnock came for over thirty years for the month of May. Harry Bell, Harry Lacey, Fred Cundick, Geoffrey Bull, Sid Emery, and more locally J. R. Rollo, who began his married life in Cowdenbeath, were greatly appreciated. In more recent times the burden of leadership was shared by Robert Muir, Alec Legge, and other brethren. These brethren continue to stress the importance of clear doctrine and of bringing the gospel to another generation.
The rundown of the mining industry in Fife has fostered some dramatic changes and many young people have left to find employment in other parts of the country and in some cases abroad, but the assembly, now numbering around fifty-five, is still meeting the challenges of the present day. The outreach work is different with the children’s work held on Friday evenings, a coffee morning on Thursdays which can bring, on a good day, forty-five to fifty-five townspeople into the Hall. Visitation within the community still flourishes and on special occasions as many as seventy to eighty unsaved come to hear the gospel.
From earliest days missionary work has held a special place in the hearts of believers and the assembly has commended missionaries to India, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Jim and Irene Legge are still involved in Serowe, Botswana, with a children’s work numbering many hundreds. Robert and Margaret Muir are based at Mambalima in Zambia while Sheena McCall has recently begun a new work also in Zambia.
The regeneration of the Cowdenbeath area, blighted by many years of heavy industry, proceeds rapidly and more and more people are coming to live in the surrounding district. With the seeming disregard for the claims of God so evident and with the responsibilities of a new century on our hearts the Cowdenbeath assembly prays for wisdom to maintain the testimony undimmed until the Lord Jesus returns.