Were The “old Days” Always So Good?—in 1897 Only Three Held The Fort At Ashford
We occasionally publish accounts of the chequered careers of little assemblies, for the encouragement of others who are struggling on amidst difficulties.
From a small assembly in a small village, one might expect only small results. Yet in the little country village of Ashford, three miles from Barnstaple, is a company of Christians who have continuously known the good hand of the Lord strengthening and encouraging them and making them fruitful. This assembly can hardly expect much growth in numbers because so many young people find it necessary to go elsewhere for a living, and so the numbers remain about eighteen or so. Yet God has led a succession of His faithful servants there, and for more than a century now the work carried on in the little chapel on the hillside, overlooking the stately River Taw, has been a means of blessing not only in the village itself, but also (by virtue of the keen missionary interest there) to many in other parts of the earth.
The chapel was built in 1834, and the yearly rent according to the deeds was to be “one grain of wheat if demanded”; it has never been demanded.
Not many details are known of the early history of the assembly but there must have been a time of difficulty, for in 1897 the congregation had dwindled to three humble but valiant souls who struggled against having to close the building, who took on themselves the task of keeping the building clean and in order, and who prayed unceasingly that God would make it possible to maintain the testimony.
One day one of these three, Miss Cutliffe, was busy scrubbing the floor of the chapel, when the door opened and in came Mr. L. H. Alford and one of his daughters. To her great joy she was told that he and his family were coming to live at the farm close at hand. Her fervent response was, “Praise the Lord, we have been praying for this for years.”
That period of testing was over and the tide now began to turn. The governess in the Alford family, Miss Smith, started a Sunday School, and not many months after, another nearby farm was taken by the Darch family. With the two families and their farm hands, the congregation grew, interest in the village increased, and the chapel was often full and sometimes packed. Mr. Fred Darch accepted the responsibility of the Sunday School, and later his brother Albert carried on the work.
How many of the preachers who now come to the revived Gospel services, and let their eyes stray through the window to see the beautiful view in the valley from the hilltop, with Barnstaple in the distance, must have looked with reverence on God’s handiwork in nature and at the same time blessed Him for the evidence of His goodness to His children in that village.
About 1907 the assembly was visited by Mr. John Elliot, a remarkable evangelist who had been a means of blessing in several places in North Devon. He touched his listeners’ hearts by his simple preaching of the Gospel and many were converted. Some remember to this day how he sang to the people, and how Mr. Alford read the Scriptures for him because he was almost blind.
Among those who were saved at this time was Mr. Archie Corney who later did splendid work as leader of the Sunday School, until his useful life was cut short by an unfortunate accident while tree-felling.
Other departments of the assembly life flourished likewise, and in 1910 it was decided to enlarge the building. Those in fellowship showed great enthusiasm and ingenuity in meeting the expenses; some helped by gathering black-berries, selling them and giving the proceeds to the building fund. It was a time of happy spiritual adventure to be remembered with joy. Round about that time also, such men as Messrs. J. C. M. Dawson, Fred Glover and W. D. Dunning visited Ashford to preach the Gospel.
In later years (from 1929 and onwards) missions were conducted by Mr. W. Holland and followed by two visits from Mr. Charles McEwen, when many of the young people who had passed through the Sunday School were saved and brought into the assembly. Some are still there but many of them have left the district and are useful members of other Assemblies. A development in the assembly activities at that time was the inception of Young People’s services, when helpful addresses were given by various brethren from all over Devon.
And so we come to the present day. The little chapel on the hillside is still a bright centre of witness for God. The Annual May Missionary Conventions have always attracted large congregations, and before the War the sisters needed a small marquee in order to display beautiful garments which had been made during the winter to send to the missionaries. Now, instead, the goods are sold and the money sent. The sum realized at these conventions has several times amounted to £100 or more. In this way, much devoted work carried on in the winter has aided the spread of the Gospel far afield. L.M.B.