Chapter 3

The faithful few fought bravely to guard the church’s life

The cause at Girton declined significantly during the 1890s and Mr Perry’s resignation in June 1902 was the lowest point in the church’s history. There was definitely a time, of several months, in 1902 when regular services were not held at the chapel. Perhaps aware that the responsibility had been too much for one person to shoulder, the Cambridge Village Preachers Association appointed a special committee consisting of Messrs Hackleton, Bullen, Prior and Miller, to oversee the Girton station.[40] Their obvious task was to re-start the Sunday services, but they first did a house to house visitation with invitations given to a social gathering. A good number attended that meeting and services re-started in mid-September with a harvest festival.[41] Beyond that, their energies went into promoting a fortnight’s mission held in the autumn when the main speaker was the Indian evangelist Mr. Musa Bhai. It might seem strange that an international speaker should come to a small and struggling church like Girton, but it came about through the mutual friendship of Rendell Harris who, following some years abroad, was now back at the university. Musa Bhai resided in the village for a fortnight, visited all the cottages and spoke to well-attended meetings in the chapel. He gave a “simple, vigorous and fresh” presentation of the gospel and “many young men listened attentively to his message”.[42] Although no direct conversions resulted from this mission, it left quite an impact in the community. Miss Whybrow, in a letter of thanks to the CVPA for arranging the campaign, described it as, “A grand and glorious one, which will linger in the memory, much impressing the mind while life shall last.”[43] One lasting effect of the mission was that a mid-week meeting started on Thursday evenings with “encouraging results”.[44]

One facet of the Girton situation that should be mentioned for it was far from the norm at the time, was the cordial relationship that existed between the Baptist Chapel and the Parish Church. The Rector the Reverend J.A. Cheeseman, spoke at the harvest tea in 1902 and later in the year spoke at some Sunday afternoon follow up meetings to the mission.

At the start of 1903, details of the services at Girton were still missing from the CVPA preaching plan. Instead of the familiar numbers indicating which preacher was to attend, there appeared for Girton the line “Supplies provided by Special Committee” and certainly Mr. Prior and Mr. Bullen were taking fewer services elsewhere, indicating that they were devoting their time and energy to the Girton station.[45] Numbers slowly started to improve and fabric work, neglected during the years of decline, was now put in hand. In September 1903 the CVPA agreed to the installation of a spiked rail to the side wall and post to stop the youth of the village from jumping over them and making a disturbance during the evening services. In 1903-4 it was necessary to fit a new roof on the chapel at a cost of over £70. The work though was shoddy and the contractors had to be called back, presenting the CVPA with another bill for £10. This the association refused to pay, arguing that the mistakes were the fault of the contractors. Eventually they settled for half the bill. This is again another example of the fatherly way in which the CVPA took care of their preaching stations. Without their leadership and finance a struggling cause like Girton, faced with a massive repair bill would surely have closed.

Another mission took place in the autumn of 1906, when the speaker was a Mr. Bilton. Again we know of the mission through an enthusiastic letter that Miss Whybrow wrote to the CVPA and this time there was encouraging evidence that the campaign had produced fruit, for the chapel keeper, Mrs. Kidman, had been led to a decision for Christ.[46] Mr Bilton returned to Girton to lead another mission in 1907 and again in 1908.

At about this time the CVPA approached the Reverend Smith minister of Histon Baptist Church to enquire whether the larger church could help with the work at Girton. From the President’s report to the CVPA it is clear that the Histon Members were very keen to be involved, but on their terms, taking over completely the running of the Girton cause, including the finances. This was obviously a difficult decision for the CVPA. Girton was not a profitable station, for example, the financial statement of 1907 reveals that the annual expenditure of £5 13s 2d was only met by an income of £4 13s 10d, and that included two individual donations of £1 each.[47] The situation was probably similar in 1908, for a CVPA minute from the end of the year states that Mrs. Lilley Smith had proved a timely helper to the cause at Girton by a donation of £2. To have passed on the financial responsibility of the place would have been attractive and yet there was very much the feeling that Girton was one of the associations nine stations and as such belonged in the family. Therefore although the CVPA welcomed help from the neighbouring village, they were unwilling “to hand on unconditionally the entire responsibility of the work for God in the chapel”.[49] One example of help, that probably started then, was the “Histon Mission Band” who began taking a service at Girton Chapel every other Sunday, an arrangement that continued until 1910 when it dropped to once a month, finishing completely in the September of that year.

Another source of help from Histon, one which scores of people would be grateful for throughout the twentieth century, took place in 1912. Now that the Girton congregation was growing, they were keen to refurbish the chapel. Some things had already happened; a new American organ had been purchased for £14 in September 1909 and a clock and a Bentwood chair for the organ were bought in 1911.[50] As already noted the roof had been replaced, and now the floor needed renewing. The chapel though was the responsibility of the Village Preachers and therefore the first thing the congregation had to do was ask CVPA executive committee for approval. This they did in November 1911 and the response to Girton was to ask the Girton Committee to set up a committee to meet with two members of the CVPA, Messrs H. Starte and W. Hackleton, to prepare a scheme and estimate of cost to be laid before the CVPA general council at their quarterly meeting in December.[51] We can only presume that the floor was becoming unsafe, because within two months the Executive Committee were seeking quotations for the work. Although the CVPA approved the work and agreed to contribute towards the cost, the bulk of the finances were to be obtained from subscriptions organised by the Girton treasurer, Miss F. Whybrow. Once the new floor was approved, the committee were keen to find some better seating and this is where help came from Histon. The Baptists in that village had moved to new premises in Station Road in 1900. The old chapel on The Green continued in use as a Sunday School for two years before being bought by the Chivers family for use as the Village Institute. The old chapel pews, which were free standing and sturdy, were no longer required at Histon and Mr. Bullen, a member of the CVPA, was instructed by the executive committee to inspect them for possible use in Girton. All of them needed adjusting in length before they would fit into their new surroundings, but once that was done they were moved to Girton, a gift from Mr. John Chivers (brother of the late William Chivers). As well as the pews, the Chivers family also provided new lamps for the chapel. The building reopened with a public tea on April 25th 1912 and a CVPA minute records that “the repairing, renovating and re-seating had all been completed to the entire satisfaction of everybody. As the improvements had been executed on a very large scale it followed therefore that the expenses incurred were very heavy”.[52] The final cost was indeed large, £74 13s 3d and twice during the year the CVPA urged the friends at Girton to find the amount still needed for the restoration.[53] Help again arrived in the form of John Chivers who promised to give £10 to make up the deficiency on condition that the Girton friends collected the rest of the amount required.[54] At the finish the Girton friends had raised £42, with contributions from other people amounting to £23. The rest came from special collections, a concert and the sale of the old wood for 10/- and the seats for £1 6s 0d.

One item of the fabric that changed several times at Girton was the Communion set. In the early part of the century Girton possessed a very valuable silver cup, but unfortunately it was considered too precious to use and the CVPA arranged for Girton to borrow the cup and plate from Cherry Hinton. In the end the silver cup was sold for £18 and at the request of Miss Whybrow a new set, costing £2 10s 0d was bought for Girton.[56] At this stage, for communion, the members would have shared a common cup and the wine was normally poured into it as part of the service. In 1916 a CVPA minute records, with some alarm, that the wine was placed on the table in a black bottle. It was resolved to check if Girton had a suitable vessel and, if not, to purchase one.[57] In the space of just ten years Girton had changed, from a struggling dilapidated concern supported by only a couple of families, into an active refurbished church with a thriving Sunday School. The year of the building’s transformation was crowned with the fruit of another mission, of three weeks, led by Mr. F. Spencer Johnson. The meetings were well attended and often crowded, “The little chapel was filled, aisles, pulpit and lobby were packed. The power of the spirit of God rested on all. Many decision cards have been taken and returned signed, and many touching letters testifying of the rousing and quickening influence of the mission have been sent to us”.[58]

A wonderful change and as always the Secretary in writing his report for the CVPA gave glory to God.

“Poor Girton,” how often was this expression upon our lips, but now, “What hath God wrought”! the chapel is renovated and filled with praise. The wonderful change has filled with thankfulness the hearts of the faithful few, who, refusing to be discouraged stood staunchly by the cause in the trying days that are past; even they confess that the alteration exceeds their hopes. “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad”.[59]

[40] CVPA General Council Minutes, 11.6.1902 (Mr Miller stood down after a few months, but the others continued as a special committee for some years)

[41] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1903

[42] ibid

[43] CVPA General Council Minutes, 10.12.1902

[44] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1903

[45] CVPA Preaching Plan, January – March 1903. (In contrast Mr. Hackleton was due to preach elsewhere fifteen times during the quarter, including preaching simultaneously at Grantchester and Swaffham on February 8th!)

[46] CVPA General Council Minutes, 10.12.1906

[47] CVPA Financial Reports, 1907

[48] CVPA General Council Minutes, 4.12.1908

[49] ibid., 9.3.1909

[50] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1911

[51] CVPA Executive Committee Minutes, 3.11.1911. (The Girton Committee referred to was presumably the special committee set up in 1903 to oversee the work at Girton)

[52] CVPA General Council Minutes, 13.6.1912

[53] ibid., 8.7.1912 & 14.8.1912

[54] ibid., 9.1.1913

[55] CVPA Executive Committee Minutes, 8.7.1910

[56] ibid, 3.3.1911

[57] CVPA General Council Minutes, 9.1.1916

[58] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1913

[59] Ibid

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