Seymour Gospel Hall
Ken Rudge, St. Austell, England
SLADES ROAD, ST. AUSTELL, CORNWALL
Some years ago now I was sent the following extract from a journal that had been written in about 1950 concerning the beginnings of assembly testimony in the town of St Austell. The town nestles on the mid south coast of the County of Cornwall, and had developed in size on account of the discovery of copper and tin in the coastal hills and then later of the large deposits of china clay right above the town in the mid 1800’s. These industries had built up the local ports and infrastructure so that the town grew very quickly into prominence industrially and in population during these years.
The first assembly in the County appeared at Penzance in the late 1800’s and later occupied the abandoned Jewish synagogue just above the harbour. What contact they, or believers meeting similarly in Plymouth, had with the beginnings of the work in St Austell we do not know, but one imagines that they would have known of the small group that came together around 1900 in the manner that the following journal extract records under the heading of, ‘The gathering at Pound House’.
‘A little over fifty years ago there gathered together a number of believers in what was known as “Pound House” in the High Street of St. Austell in Cornwall. For some time previous to this, there appears to have been a sincere exercise of soul and a spirit of enquiry as to the true interpretation of several New Testament passages that had engaged their attention. Amongst those who came together was Edward Petter, a man of keen spiritual discernment. He it was whom the Holy Spirit used in revealing to them through the scriptures what was the will of God concerning the things that appeared to disturb their spiritual peace. The result was the sweeping aside of the irksome bondage of ecclesiastical formalities for the simple gathering to the Name of the Lord and in implicit obedience to Him whom they sought to remember in the Breaking of Bread.
The meeting went on in happy fellowship and with signs of blessing for a number of years, until their testimony was assailed from without by the arch-enemy, brought about by a circumstance emanating from an assembly one hundred miles distant, which had no real bearing upon the particular assembly meeting in St. Austell. This, unhappily, had the effect of sowing discord, and the testimony of the assembly suffered in consequence. Nevertheless, there were those who, despite their fierce trial and diminished numbers, remained faithful to the trust committed to them. These brethren, therefore, decided to continue in a simple way to remember the Lord on the first day of the week, the meeting being held in the drawing room of a dwelling house in the little village port of Charlestown, a mile distant. In later years the assembly gathered in the home of a Mr. and Mrs. George Wood, which was called “Seymour Villa” at Slades, St. Austell on the east side of the town.
Early in the year 1924, when the increase in numbers and the evidence of spiritual growth was felt in their midst, the brethren who had the care of the assembly became exercised as to the need of a suitable hall and a more open testimony. By this time a Sunday School had been formed and gospel meetings commenced, so that by the following year the Seymour Gospel Hall in Slades Road was opened. The last gospel meeting to be held in the home of Mr. Wood was attended by thirty-three people, and Mr. R. N. Gelder of Westcliff-on-Sea preached the gospel. Sadly Mr. Wood had gone to be with the Lord before the new Hall was opened but his wife was still living and as a couple they did a great work in sustaining the small assembly. The assembly then numbered just sixteen in fellowship, five brethren and eleven sisters. Following upon the vicissitudes through which the assembly had passed, it is pleasing to observe that since the opening of the Hall the testimony has been wonderfully maintained, several having been baptized and added to the church.’
The land for the new building to house the assembly was a ‘house’ plot being sold on the town side of Slades Road This was purchased and the meeting hall built for the inclusive sum of £907! The assembly still had £150 still to pay off in interest free loans in 1933 and this was cleared by Conference offerings that year. The opening Conference was held on Thursday 30th April 1925 and around 50 believers gathered for a day of prayer and ministry. Mr. W. D. Dunning from Somerset, who was a commended worker in the gospel and ministry and widely used throughout the West Country using a horse-drawn Gospel Van, continued with meetings following the opening. So it became the habit of the assembly to have ‘May Meetings’ which continue today using the final Bank Holiday for a Conference and some days of teaching.
After the Second World War the assembly was blessed by the labours in the gospel of Mr. Charles McEwen from Exeter. He came down for a number of summers and using the Hall as a base to park his caravan, he evangelized the surrounding villages as well as the toen for weeks at a time. Some years later Mr. Stan Ford from Bournemouth was also a regular visitor bringing his gospel tent that was pitched in a field in the town. He was accompanied by a number of Christian students from Cambridge University who spent weeks serving the Lord in Cornwall with Stan.
The record book of baptisms shows that between 1925 and 1977 there were 60 believers who made confession of their faith using the baptistry in the Hall. Many more have followed and believers in the assembly today know of about 100 who have made professions of faith during the last thirty years. A number have been baptized using the local beaches as a more public way of witness. This clearly shows that the assembly has always had an active and fruitful gospel work going on steadily through the years. It has been blessed not with great numbers but with faithful couples who have kept the gospel going out to the town. Among these were Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Reed and Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Nile. For some years Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Stretch kept a Christian Guest House firstly in the town and then in ‘Bethany’ above the beach at Porthpean. This was a very popular holiday venue and as this couple were so faithful to the assembly it also prospered as a result.
The continual desire to reach out and to be relevant to the neighbourhood has been a characteristic of the assembly from the beginning. The earlier ‘weeks of meetings for evangelism’ had been transformed into weeks of ‘Tent Meetings’ in Prince Charles playing field as year after year Mr. John Hadley pitched his tent there. The Cornwall Postal Sunday School work found a home base in St. Austell for many years. There were bi-monthly outreaches called ‘Lifelines’ into the surrounding villages using village halls to gather locals into and preach the gospel to them. The assembly was the foundation from which the ‘Cornwall Assemblies Youth Camp’, using the Primary school in the nearby Port of Fowey, was commenced over twenty years ago. God used the witness of this camp to save souls in the town some of whom are now in fellowship. It still continues today. A most recent involvement of the assembly has been to join with others to keep open the work of the now closed assembly in Falmouth, a town some 25 miles away down the County.
The work has had the privilege of being linked to the commendations of Michael Browne to Hong Kong and Roy Wood and Ruth Hadley to Angola. Miss Hadley is now in fellowship in the assembly when she returns home on furlough and on account of her a number from the assembly have visited her in Angola and the assembly now sends and a large amount of aid materials to the work in Saurimo via Medical Missionary News.
Latterly there has been an opening into local schools through Bible Exhibitions. There are about eighty youngsters per week passing through the weekly youth activities. Thus what was begun in faith at the beginning of the last century is still maintaining that simple commitment to the keeping of the word of God and testimony to the gospel of God’s grace. May He yet preserve it for His own praise till the moment of His coming.