On Saturday 30 April 2011 the saints at York Street Gospel Hall were joined by visitors from near and far, as they celebrated one hundred years of testimony in the present Gospel Hall. Thanksgiving for the Lord’s faithfulness included a summary of the history of the assembly from Peter Chinnery, the preaching of the gospel by Paul Bannister and ministry on Psalm 100 by David E. West.
Although little is known of the early days of assembly testimony in Leicester, believers – about eight in number – first gathered to the Name of the Lord in rented accommodation in April 1889. By 1911 numbers had risen to eighty prompting the believers to seek accommodation that was larger and more permanent. A nearby Baptist chapel was vacant, and the main hall of the present building was purchased in April 1911. The assembly has occupied this accommodation ever since.
March 1912 saw the first baptisms when seventeen believers were obedient to the Lord, and in 1914 a horse drawn caravan or ‘Gospel Car’ was purchased for use in the open air in the villages of Leicestershire and in the market place in the city centre. This continued up to the Second World War.
In July 1921 pressure on space led to the acquisition of two cottages adjacent to the hall. One of these became known as the ‘Mission Room’ and was dedicated to children’s work and Bible class activities. These activities soon outgrew this accommodation and, in 1936, it was decided to demolish the two cottages and build the present classrooms.
The years of the depression in the 1930s saw a surge in assembly testimony. By 1932 there were 201 believers in fellowship at York Street and outreach continued to be a priority. In January 1930 a Sunday School outreach was started in the home of one of the believers in the Braunstone district of Leicester. In June 1934 forty believers from York Street moved to establish a new testimony and the Braunstone Avenue Gospel Hall was opened. In 1934 an outreach work commenced in Syston with believers from York Street supporting Sunday School and gospel activities. On 25 July 1936 the Broadway Gospel Hall, Syston, was opened and, on 12 June 1938, ten believers gathered to remember the Lord for the first time. After the start of the work at Braunstone and Syston there remained about 180 believers at York Street.
The believers at York Street were active throughout the Second World War. Only once did enemy action interrupt the meetings when a young women’s class had to spend the night in an air raid shelter. The gatherings on the Lord’s Day continued without a break and, as the war continued, outreach increased. Sunday afternoon tea was provided for soldiers and airmen, and then, later, for German prisoners of war. Special gospel meetings were held in German.
In 1949 a summer camp was commenced during the August bank holiday for boys from the Sunday School; this was later extended to a second week for girls in 1962. God has blessed this outreach with many boys and girls being saved, baptized and the assembly was encouraged as a result.
Further expansion of assembly testimony took place in the 1950s. In the summer of 1950 a Sunday School work commenced on the newly built Evington/Goodwood estates which in turn led to the opening of the Goodwood Gospel Hall on 19 November 1955. Twenty-five believers from York Street formed the new assembly at Goodwood which left 125 in fellowship at York Street at the end of 1955. By the end of 1958 the number had risen to 140.
With the surge in re-housing in the 1950s people moved out of the vicinity of York Street and as a result Sunday School attendance dropped. From this time onwards children have had to be transported from further afield.
There are now some 70 believers in fellowship and the outreach today is still busy with open-air meetings around the Clock Tower in the summer and a regular tract stall in the Town Hall Square.
The Lord has been very good to us over the years and we praise Him for His continued help and blessing in the work for over 100 years.