Chapter 5

Our fathers owned Thy goodness, and we their deeds record

It had always been a hope of the Cambridge Village Preachers Association that one day they would be able to employ ordained ministers for their nine preaching stations. It isn’t clear how many ministers they first envisaged employing, but by the end of 1918 their plans had crystallised into splitting the chapels into two geographical areas and employing one minister for each group. In the Spring of 1919 they invited two ministers to speak at the annual Easter Rally with a view to appointing them as ministers if they proved satisfactory. One of the two subsequently declined, but the other, Charles Edwin Sparrow, accepted and was formerly invited to be pastor of the western group on 16th May 1919.[84] Looking at a map of Cambridgeshire it is not difficult to see how the split was made; Barton, Comberton, Coton, Grantchester and Girton formed the western group and Cherry Hinton, Great Wilbraham, Swaffham Prior and Teversham made up the eastern group. The Reverend Sparrow’s ministry formerly started with a welcome by the CVPA in October followed by a recognition service at Girton on Thursday 4th December.[86]

The minister’s salary was fixed at £100 a year and the funding for that came, in the main, from two sources; the individual chapels and a subscription list. For the first few years Girton’s share was about £10 per annum. In 1924 the contributions were Comberton (always the richest) £26 16s 7d, Coton £12, Girton £10 10s 2d, Barton £7, and Grantchester (usually the poorest) £7 13s 2d. This was only just over half the required amount and the shortfall was made up by contributions from Zion and St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Churches and personal subscriptions ranging in value from 2/6 to John Chivers’ gift of £10.[87]

Edwin Sparrow was forty-six when he started his ministry with the CVPA. Born in Ipswich, a man of considerable culture and a wide reader, he felt an early calling to the ministry and enrolled at Regent’s Park College at the age of twenty-one. After ordination he pastored four churches at Hawkhurst; Shoreham, Sussex; Buckden and Ellington; and Offord D’Arcy before moving to look after the five churches to the West of Cambridge.

He was a quiet man, an untiring visitor and a true pastor,[88] and the fact that the arrangement worked is surely a credit to him. Mr. Sparrow’s manse was at the Huntingdon Road end of Richmond Road and therefore was probably nearer to Girton than the other four villages. Not that the CVPA hadn’t thought about transport, included in the first year’s salary was £20 for a push bike.[89] How many miles the pastor covered on it can only be guessed at, but if he did as many things in the other four villages as at Girton it must have been quite a figure. The Reverend Sparrow and the Reverend C.J. Fowler (who eventually took over the eastern group) appear in the preaching plans from 1920. Obviously they could not take many Sundays in each chapel, for example in the spring quarter (April – June) 1920, the Reverend Sparrow only preached three Sundays in Girton, but he regularly visited in the village and took part at the mid-week gatherings.[90] Although he chaired all the Church meetings, he wasn’t always present at the Deacons’ meetings.

The minute book of the period gives us some good examples of the new independence that the church was now experiencing. Whereas in 1910 Mr. Prior had to ask the CVPA General Committee for some new hymn books, and they approved the purchase, “With the hope that they would be well looked after”, now ten years on the church meeting was making the decision to buy books.[92] Similarly with the communion set, when William Prior presented Girton with a new one in memory of his father, the CVPA suggested that the old cup be given to Barton. The Girton Deacons however decided to loan it to the other church while still considering it to be their property.[93] Without doubt Edwin Sparrow’s experience from other places proved invaluable in guiding his churches through the early years of independence, although his advice to the Girton meeting that an auditor might be a good idea was rejected on the grounds that, “It was not at all necessary”.[94]

For some time since the revival of 1912, the members of Girton Baptist Church had been wanting to extend their premises. An extension scheme was formerly discussed and a fund started at a deacons’ meeting in 1918,[95] but there were two problems, first the anticipated high building cost and second the church owned no land on which to build. Apart from the frontage, the chapel completely filled the plot of land given by Elliot Smith in 1860. Not only was the south wall the boundary with the Whybrow’s property, but the west and north walls were the boundaries to the meadow. Fortunately in 1919 the then owner, Mrs. Gertrude Smith, kindly gave some more land, an area at the back of the chapel and a drive down the side,[96] but still the church lacked the necessary money with which to build. The problem of space was becoming acute by 1921 and perhaps aware that the Women’s Institute had bought a former army building for their hall, the CVPA convened a special meeting to consider, whether it was possible to get an army hut to meet the emergency.[97] There was though, some hesitation, on buying an army hut that might have been used as an isolation hospital and after a long discussion the suggestion was dropped.

Instead the meeting decided to try and carry through the original scheme of building onto the back wall of the chapel, but with wooden panelling on the inside rather than bricks and plaster. In the meantime they would invest the present building fund and put more effort into raising the extra finance. Among other things there was a house to house collection that raised £60, a sacred concert in the WI hall that brought in £13 and a “successful” afternoon bazaar and evening concert that produced £34.[98] The building work started at the end of 1921 and on Thursday 30th March 1922 the new premises were opened. The chairman for the evening was Mr. John Chivers and he expressed his pleasure at seeing so many present in the building. “The founders would indeed have rejoiced had they seen the activities now going on at the Girton Chapel”.[99] After a report by Mr. G.H. Huckell (secretary of the extension scheme), the treasurer Mr. Fred Cole stated that £76 was still outstanding from the bill of £350.

It was then announced, amid much applause that a gentleman who wished to be remain anonymous had promised the sum of £50 toward the balance and after the collection had been taken the chairman stated that he had received another anonymous promise to defray the deficit after the evening’s collection. So the new building was opened free of debt.[100] The meeting closed with the hearty singing of the doxology. “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad,” is the exclamation of us all. “To God be the glory,” and may the new building rebound to his honour.[101]

Also in 1922 there was a week long mission in the chapel conducted by Mr. Hercock and Mr. Norton. According to the report in the local paper, “The services were well attended and bright and it is hoped the results will be lasting”.[102] Later in the year the paper was reporting a series of Sunday evening open air meetings on the green at the top of Church Lane. At the first one, addresses were given by the Reverend T.A. Butcher (Rector), the Reverend C.E. Sparrow and by undergraduates from Cambridge. Who arranged the meetings is not explained, but the students reappeared throughout May to conduct Sunday evening open air meetings that were apparently well attended.[103] In January 1923 another series of evangelistic mission services took place and this time the speaker was former police inspector W. Dean. “We cannot report a big number of decisions, but we do all thank God for the visit and we are trusting that it may be a beginning of great things for the future. About a dozen have joined the pocket Testament league and they are looking forward for the revival spirit visiting our church”.[104]

Something that was causing concern in 1923 was the decline in the numbers attending the Sunday School. While those who came were very regular in attendance, there was a dropping off amongst the older children. After a full discussion of the situation at the annual meeting in January 1924, a resolution was passed to start a mid-week young people’s society besides the children’s work and a committee of nine members was formed to run the group.[105]

By 1924 the membership of the church had increased to twenty-one, the most recent member being Mrs. Horace Bradfield. Also in November of that year the church lost a strong support with the death of Mr. John Bradfield, Horace’s father. Although John Bradfield was not a member of the church, he was a lifelong Methodist, he had supported the Girton cause for a number of years. He regularly led the mid-week services and his contribution to the life of the chapel was greatly appreciated. Something of the respect in which he was held by the people of the district was shown by the large number who in spite of the continuous rain attended his funeral at the Baptist Chapel on 12th November 1924.[106]

More renovations took place in the years 1924-5. First new doors were fitted to the chapel to be paid for out of the first half years collections. At the same time the deacons decided to try their hand at building a temporary shed for storing ‘cycles, fearing that much damage would be caused to new doors if ‘cycles were placed in the chapel.[107] The following year there is another agenda item, “Renovation of chapel” by Mr. Unwin of Histon, but sadly no details are recorded. The expense though was to be met out of the general fund and later in the winter season special meetings were to be arranged to replenish that supply.[108]

In October 1924, the CVPA Executive Committee invited both its ministers to stay on for a further period of two years. The Reverend Fowler in the eastern group accepted, but the Reverend Sparrow felt called to leave for a church in Leighton Buzzard and resigned on 10th December 1924. A presentation was made at a farewell event on 29th December. In his last annual report for the CVPA, Edwin Sparrow spoke with gratitude of all the kindness shown during his Pastorate.

It has been a pleasure to serve the Churches and he prays that God’s constant blessing may rest upon them and all their work. No one could wish for more constant, ungrudging and cheerful support. God bless them and all those who are interested in the work of the CVPA. May the work prosper more and more.[109]

[84] CVPA General Council Minutes, 16.5.1919

[85] At various times the western group was known as the Comberton group, and the eastern group as the Cherry Hinton group. It should not be thought that these two were necessarily the largest of the churches or the place where the minister spent the majority of his time.

[86] CVPA General Council Minutes, 10.10.1919 & Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 8.11.1919

[87] CVPA Reports and Statement of Accounts, 1924 (The Eastern group had a similar deficit, so the subscriptions were supporting all nine stations)

[88] Baptist Handbook for 1948, p. 288

[89] CVPA General Council Minutes, 3.3.1919

[90] In the same quarter he took three Sundays in Coton and Grantchester and two in Barton and Comberton, CVPA Preachers’ Plan, quarter ending June, 1920

[91] CVPA General Council Minutes, 10.3.1910

[92] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 29.11.1920

[93] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, Deacons meeting 18.2.1921

[94] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 5.1.1922

[95] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 7.12.1918

[96] CVPA Statement of Accounts, 1919

[97] CVPA Executive Committee Minutes, 4.2.1921

[98] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book

[99] Cambridge Independent Press, 7.4.1922

[100] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book

[101] CVPA Preachers’ Plan, quarter ending September 1922

[102] Cambridge Independent Press, 24.2.1922

[103] Cambridge Independent Press, 5.5.1922, 12.5.1922, 26.5.1922

[104] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, January 1923

[105] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, AGM, 17.1.1924

[106] Cambridge Independent Press, 28.11.1924

[107] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 17.3.24

[108] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 28.4.25

[109] CVPA Reports and Statement of Accounts, 1924

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