GOWER STREET MEMORIAL CHAPEL
150 Years of the Lord’s Great Goodness
Where does a great river begin? It is often impossible to trace the streams back to the underground springs from which they rise. So with the work of God’s grace in a sinner’s heart; many of the tried people of God cannot discern exactly when or where they were born of God. So also the roots of the cause of God so long associated with the name of Gower Street are not easy to discover. Ultimately they must be traced back to the eternal purposes of the Tri-une God to bless so many of His people in the centre of London. So it is all ‘according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace’.
William Huntington, the well-known coal-heaver and ‘saved sinner’, ministered to a large congregation in Grays Inn Lane until his home-call in 1813. Soon afterwards, a considerable number of them opened a chapel in Conway Street, which soon proved too small for the growing congregation. So the original Gower Street Chapel was built. At the opening services on Lord’s Day, 9th July, 1820, William Gadsby preached from Ps. 27:3-4. ‘In this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life …..’ Mr. Henry Fowler (author of hymns 1026 – 1038 in Gadsby’s Selection) was the pastor there from 1821 until his lamented death in 1838.
Not altogether surprisingly, considering its background, the Cause at Gower Street was then in a very unsettled state about the ordinance of baptism. This led to a few meeting in a room, later known as Gadsby’s Yard, in Tottenham Court Road in 1842. The increasing flock entreated the Lord to provide a larger place, and a chapel in Eden Street was granted them.
At last, on 25th May, 1843, a church consisting of five male members was formed on Strict Baptist principles at the Eden Street Chapel. This marks the beginning of the settled history of the Cause, and Church minutes exist from this date. About fifteen others, previously baptised, were soon added to them and on the llth June, the Lord’s Supper was administered by William Gadsby. It was evidently a very moving occasion. Mr. Gadsby said, ‘I do with all my heart thus openly acknowledge you a part of the true Church of Christ. For the first time, you assemble around the table of our dear Lord and Master. The Lord bless and keep you, and cause His face to shine upon you, for His great Name’s sake. May the Lord keep you humble, prayerful and watchful.’
During the following years, the Word of God was preached there by ministers such as Messrs. J. Warburton, J. Kershaw, W. Tiptaft, J. C. Philpot, and also Mr. J. McKenzie, who was invited, without success, to preach for six months with a view to the pastorate. Soon the chapel at Eden Street became too small for the increasing numbers and a committee was appointed by the church to look for a larger chapel.
Remarkably, the way was now opened for the people to return to Gower Street, their former home. Mr. John Kershaw’s concern for them is thus expressed: “At this crisis I went to supply them, and entreated them to be still a little longer, as I had an impression on my mind that the Lord would open a way for them to return to Gower Street Chapel. My practice is, and has long been, to have a walk before I take breakfast. In one of these walks I passed Gower Street Chapel and, standing on the opposite side of the road looking at it, the Lord poured down into my soul such a spirit of grace and supplication that I wrestled with the Lord, and besought His Divine Majesty to make bare His arm on the behalf of the people who built it, but had been obliged to leave for the sake of truth and conscience. Before I left off speaking in mental prayer, I had a confidence given me that my desire would be granted, according to His promise, ‘He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him, and hear their cry’. I mentioned this to the people, and again exhorted them to wait and watch the hand of the Lord”.
At the re-opening services on Lord’s Day, 7th Jan. 1855, his text in the evening was Rev. 19:6. ‘Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth’ -words inscribed on a stone at the back of the present chapel.
During the following years, the Lord added many to the church. At a meeting held on 10th April, 1871,128 members were present. This was on the occasion of issuing an invitation to Mr. C. Hemington to the pastorate. But it was, in fact, well over 100 years from the formation of the Church before a pastor was eventually appointed. Those who were invited to consider this solemn matter were Messrs. J. C. Philpot, J. Booth, J. E. Hazleton; others later approached by the Church included Messrs. J. Raven, R. J. Morris and F. L. Gosden.
It is evident that the long pastorless period was not due to any lack of exercise and concern for this Scriptural office to be filled by the Lord of the Church. So it was recorded in 1917, The Church and Congregation have long had a desire that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would send us a man after His own heart whom He has qualified by His grace and Spirit to preach His truth in its experience and power to go in and out before us as an under-shepherd and settled Pastor’. But the profound doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty has always been firmly held by this Church and they had to bow to His will.
In 1898 Mr. Robert Link was taken from them. At the funeral service Mr. Hemington said, ‘For many years he was an officer of this church, and I never knew a more humble, simple-minded man; in prayer he was simple and real, but now his voice is silent’. All the evidence agrees with this tribute to His God-given humility. There were evidently many others with this Christ-like mind, such as Mr. Frederick Marshall, who served the Lord many years as Senior Deacon and in an itinerant ministry of the gospel of Christ.
An example of the character of the religion of the members of this period is given in the Church minutes of 1909. “Mr. John Stonelake said that two days before his mother died she desired him to give her love to all the friends at Gower Street, that she prayed for Zion and would ‘while life or breath remained, for there her best friends, her kindred dwelt, There God her Saviour reigned’. She had had many blessed seasons there and she loved the habitation of God’s House. She spoke many things indicating that her chief desire was for the .Lord’s presence and blessing. Much of the darkness of temptation from which she had been suffering was mercifully removed during he last days of her life. She was anxious that we should understand that her hope was fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Rock of .salvation. Referring to her end which was rapidly approaching, she said several times
‘In that dread moment O to hide,
Beneath His sheltering blood;
Twill Jordan’s icy waves divide,
And land my soul with God’.”
As the end of the 99-year lease on the Chapel in Gower Street approached, there was much prayerful concern as to the will of the Lord, whose gracious provision for His people there became clear in 1917. So on Tuesday, 24th April, the closing services were held at the Chapel, where God had called so many from darkness into light by the faithful preaching of ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’.
To Shaftesbury Avenue.
When Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of the Lord their God, ‘who went in the way before you, to search out a place to pitch your tents in’. In a similarly gracious way the same God has repeatedly provided a place for His people in this history. A very suitable building for them, previously Soho Baptist Chapel, was for sale at this time. After prayerful consideration, it was purchased freehold, and opening services were held in April 1917. Shortly afterwards the deacons pointed out ‘some of the wonderful dealings of God’s goodness to us as a people in settling us in our present home, praying that His kind hand may still be open towards us to supply our every need’.
About this time, Mr. J. K. Popham wrote asking that the Gospel Standard Aid and Poor Relief Societies might still enjoy the privilege of using the Chapel and vestries for their meetings. This was readily agreed and still continues.
On the first Lord’s Day at the new Chapel, about 250 children walked through the streets from the Euston area to attend Sunday School there. The teaching of the young had begun in 1866, and has continued until now, though with much reduced numbers. In those days many of the children were poor, and a ‘Dorcas Society’ was established to make clothes for them. Also shoes and food were provided for those in need.
Still without a pastor, the Church and congregation were maintained during the years between the World Wars. Mr. E. S. Marriott was the Senior Deacon during much of this time, and afterwards, and was just spared to see his long-cherished desire of a pastor being appointed. This was God’s answer to countless prayers.
Pastorate of Mr. J. S. Green, 1956-1978. (Contributed by D. L. Philpott)
When Mr. Green received and accepted in May 1955 a call to be the first pastor the church had had for 112 years, it entailed considerable sacrifice for him. Balham has little in common with Blunham or Chatteris where he had previously lived. Essentially a countryman, he brought with him a homely shrewdness, a warm personality and, out of the pulpit, a delightful sense of humour.
His ministry evinced not a formal education but a rich schooling by the Holy Spirit. It was deliberate, clear and pointed. The writer remembers with joy and gratitude the extraordinary helpfulness of Mr. Green’s ministry on coming as a student to London. Spiritual matters came into sharp focus, and on applying for church membership nine months later one could honestly testify to not knowing what it was to have an unprofitable Lord’s Day here. The constant warm hospitality extended by John and Freda Green after the evening service at their home, and often over a weekend, was deeply appreciated. Mr. Green had a wonderful gift for initiating spiritual conversation at almost any time without it ever seeming forced. He readily shared his own experiences.
Not blessed with a family himself, he always showed an interest in, and affection for, children and especially teenagers. For many years he gave a monthly address to the Sunday School and held a monthly Bible Class on a Friday evening.
The early years of his pastorate brought much encouragement, a good number being added to the church. Later years brought discouragement and symptoms of stress. He was brought to say, ‘If there were an honourable way out of the ministry I would take it’. Yet an oft-repeated and telling expression was ‘We must press on’. He exemplified perseverance. It has been heart-warming to realise how many of his heartfelt prayers for the flock over which he was under-shepherd have been answered. In laying the sinner low and exalting a precious Christ he laid a good foundation. Truly a ‘good and faithful servant’.
In reviewing the many years since the formation of the Church, one is left with an impression of the spiritual stature of the deacons and the deep and clear teaching of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of many members. The names of so many godly, unctuous ministers who have preached to them through these years leaves a feeling of deep personal inadequacy and shortcoming. But we have the same ever-gracious God, and His blessed Presence with us, and His unchanging Word.
For me, the outstanding memory of the last ten years and more is the Lord’s most wonderful goodness, lovingkindness, and faithfulness. No words could express this adequately. On countless occasions of deep and sometimes painful need, He has been unfailingly true to His Word. So many times in the preaching of Christ crucified, and in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, there has been an ineffable sweetness and joy.
It is a pastor’s responsibility, with very mixed feelings, to undertake the burials of those taken home to glory, who have found such a place in the heart’s affections. Truly ‘the memory of the just is blessed’. It has been my great privilege thus to know a series of choice souls, more precious than ‘fine gold’. Here we would particularly mention Mr. Ebb Stonelake, who devotedly served the Lord as deacon for thirty years.
A most welcome feature of these years has been the spirit of prayer and praise so evidently granted to our dear brethren in the prayer meetings, as they have poured out their hearts before God in he name of Jesus, pleading His most precious blood. Many of these prayers have been clearly answered and it is our fervent desire that our faithful God may still pour out upon us the Spirit of grace and of supplications, and to revive His work.
We also bless God for the love, peace, and unity He has increasingly granted. It has been our constant concern to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’. May the God of peace ever maintain this spiritual unity.
There has also been a deepening concern for the countless souls, ‘dead in trespasses and sins’, found all around the Chapel in such evident unconcern. It is our constant, earnest prayer that our sovereign Lord would pour out His Spirit in mighty power to convict of sin and to bring souls to the only Saviour.
One example of the many precious experiences of members during these years must suffice here. “One Tuesday evening the text was, ‘God is love’. And again I was favoured to feel this wonderful love flow into my heart. Some time later I was meditating upon these matters when the words came, ‘My Father, and your Father’. First they seemed to fill my heart, then the room, then the universe. It was as if Jesus was saying, ‘I am going to My Father, and you will also come because He is your Father’. I felt that He was going to introduce me to His Father like a husband would introduce his wife to his father. And yet I looked at the dear Lord and thought, ‘I will know Thy Father because I can see Him in Thee’. It was all so wonderful. I felt my heart would burst with love and I wondered why all this should be for me.
Then about two weeks later our pastor preached from 1 John 3:1. ‘Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God’. Once more I was overwhelmed with this love of the Father, and waking up in the middle of the night I felt these words, ‘weight of glory’. Thinking on them they seemed to grow and were ‘eternal weight of glory’. And they seemed to increase in weight so, I felt my poor sinful body would be crushed under the weight of it all, yet my spirit seemed to try to rise to my dear Heavenly Father whom I so longed to see and love. And I said, ‘Lord, my poor sinful body cannot stand this weight; I shall have to come to heaven and leave it all behind’. How wonderful it all was! And all because of my dear Lord at Calvary. All this glory is what He procured for all His dear people. What amazing love and mercy!” To God alone be all praise and honour.
In these days of rapidly-changing conditions, declining numbers, abounding ungodliness and apostasy from the truth of God, we rejoice and take comfort in the unchanging Word and the unchangeable God. The prayer of Moses the man of God often echoes in our hearts: ‘Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and
Thy glory unto their children; and let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it’.
Finally, we remember in love many dear friends – previous members of the Church and congregation who have moved away, ministers of Christ who willingly come to the Capital to preach on occasions, visitors from many parts, and others. We thank God for you all. ‘Brethren pray for us.’
D. G. Crowter
It is a great pleasure to record this very significant Anniversary and the prayer of the Publishers of Gospel Tidings is that the church at Gower Street Memorial Chapel, together with their Pastor, will be greatly encouraged and blessed in their testimony in this desperately wicked part of London. Those who minister in such areas deserve a special place in our prayers. Editor.