Forest of Dean Circuits, Gloucestershire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. George Anderson, J.P.
THE Forest of Dean is an area of rare and exquisite beauty. It is the property of the Crown and formerly covered all the triangular area between the Severn and Wye from Gloucester to Chepstow on the south-west, and from Gloucester along the River Leadon to Newent and thence to Ross, on the north-west. The Crown lands have diminished considerably during the last six hundred and fifty years, comprising now about twenty-three thousand acres. It was a Royal Forest in 1042 – the days of Edward the Confessor – and is “excused from taxes” in the Doomsday Book. William the Conqueror, while hunting in Dean Forest, received the momentous news of the capture of York by the Danes.
Its steep, wooded hills and dells – commanding over the Severn a grand panorama of the Cotswold ranges beyond, and bordered for miles on its other edge by the beautiful massive cliffs and gorges of the Wye – is a perfect paradise for the lover of natural beauty.
It possesses numerous relics of the Roman occupation period. There are wonderfully preserved roads, and even a bridge made by Roman slaves is still intact. Old Roman iron mine-workings are plentifully in evidence. The Verderers’ Court, which governs the affairs of the Forest, is an indubitable relic of the old Druids of pagan England. Coal-mining is the principal industry at the present time. The pits being hidden among the trees do not greatly interfere with the natural beauty of the Forest. A man born within the “Hundred of St. Brievel’s,” and working a year and a day in the mines, has a right to sink a shaft or drive a heading to get coal anywhere. The Crown holds the Forest for the people hence this rare freedom.
Into this sylvan spot of England came Primitive Methodism in its early years. Pillowell missioned in 1824 by James Roles, who was sent by the Oakengates Circuit. In two years we find an independent circuit extending over forty miles in length, having five hundred members and four travelling preachers. The original circuit has been divided into five – Pillowell, Hereford, Monmouth, Lydbrook, and Lydney. This marvellous progress has not been made without cost. Rare souls have laboured and suffered. Samuel Morgan and Richard Morris were handcuffed and confined in the stocks for preaching in Newnham-on-Severn in 1829. Space forbids the full story of what brave men and women suffered in building the glories of Primitive Methodism in the Forest. God has the record and some day, God willing, it will be a wonderful privilege to listen to that story of sacrificial labour and heroism from the lips of those, who, conscious of the presence of Christ, wrestled with wickedness and made the Church they loved a bright star in this part God’s vineyard.
Primitive Methodism has now three circuits in the area of the diminished Forest – Pillowell, Lydbrook and Lydney.
1. Pillowell Circuit. Pillowell built its first chapel in 1832 at a cost of £70. A new and more spacious building was erected in 1885 with an underground schoolroom and three class-rooms. The circuit church is vigorous and has an excellent band of workers. The Sunday school is in fine condition, having Primary, Junior and Senior departments. Mrs. Turner, Mrs. Davies, Mr. Kear and Mr. Harper are the Ieading officials in the departmental work. The school possesses an able General Superintendent in Mr. C. Baghurst, who has been reared in Primitive Methodism. The Christian Endeavour and Sunday school are producing a body of young workers who are a valuable asset in the activities of this church. The Ladies’ Meeting is a vigorous organisation under the care of its capable leader, Mrs. W.H. Mason, the wife of the resident minister.
Cinderford is the second place on this circuit. The building is a good one and there is a valuable addition of a number of class-rooms. The school is progressive, being well served with officials and teachers. A very important part of this church’s activity is in its magnificent Christian Endeavour work, under its admirable Secretary, Miss N. Phillips, who is a past gold medallist in the Scripture Examination. The church is well supported by its four local preachers, Bros. G.H. Rowlinson, D. Jones, J. Morgan and G. Michael, and its vigorous activity has the promise of continuity with the young life throbbing at its centre.
Moseley Green is one of our most beautiful country chapels in the heart of the Forest. It possesses a rare treasure in the person of Mr. W. Hawkins, known over the whole Forest as “Bobbie.” He is over eighty years of age and has served our Church as Preacher, Class Leader, Steward and school Superintendent for nearly sixty years. His radiant spiritual life and sacrificial labour have won the homage of rich and poor alike. Not a few have found the Saviour by the roadside through listening to the wisdom of this aged “ road-mender,” who is above all other things a “man of God.”
There are three other small societies at Blakeney Hill, Viney Hill and Oldcroft, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. F. Drew Mr. J. James and Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan are loyal workers in these off-shoots of the larger churches.
The circuit is under the able care of one of our promising younger ministers. The Rev. W.H. Mason coming to the circuit amid the present industrial depression, finds that financial problems loom large. Minister and circuit need and deserve the practical sympathy of the Church at large in their valiant effort to march onward with flag flying. The Circuit Steward is Mr. G.H. Rowlinson, M.B.E., J.P. He is a local preacher and Trust Treasurer, and is very well known in the local public life. He is a Chairman of the District Council and has served for some years on the County Council. Mr. F. R. Davies is a capable Junior Steward and is keenly active in Sunday school, choir and Church life. He succeeded the late Mr. D. Turner, a son of one of our own revered ministers. The late Junior Steward made the “great sacrifice” in Palestine. He loved his Church and his Church loved him. His memory lives on.
2. Lydbrook Circuit. Lydbrook had its first chapel just after 1827 (the first Primitive Methodst chapel in the Forest.) A modern building was erected in 1912, at a cost of £2,096, with a school-room underneath. The church seats three hundred and the school three hundred and eighty. Under the leadership of Mr. J. Joynes the members from the first, threw themselves whole-heartedly into the work of freeing t h e church from debt. This was accomplished in 1921. They are still in “labours abundant,” seeking to install a pipe organ in the near future.
At Berry Hill we have a small church but a vigorous society whose officials are alert and possess a modern outlook. The preacher can always expect hearty singing led by a very capable choir under the leadership of Mr. T. Adams. This live church is planning a much-needed extension of premises; a special feature of this project is to provide a new school-room to meet the urgent requirements of their modern, up-to-date village society.
At Mile End we have a band of enthusiasts who are doing their utmost on behalf of the large number of young people who attend the Sunday school and church. Although the membership of the church is only twenty-three we have nearly one hundred and fifty scholars in the school, while the Band of Hope has a membership of two hundred and shows signs of a further steady increase. An excellent work is being accomplished among the young in this church. The other small places on the circuit are healthy and vigorous.
Lydbrook Circuit is practically debtless and self-supporting, which speaks volumes for the enterprising and capable staff of officials, considering the peculiar difficulties of the district. The circuit is very well served under the superintendency of the Rev. H. Snaith. It is also well represented on the public bodies and plays an important part in the life of the district. Mr. J.J. Joynes, M.I.M.E., J.P., is Circuit Steward and has been for some years Chairman of the District Council. Mr. G.E. Adams, J.P., is Junior Steward and a capable local preacher, and is Chairman of the Parish Council. Mr. T. King and Mr. J.T. Cooper are among other Primitive Methodist members of the local government bodies. The Stewards give an excellent lead to the circuit, and the outlook is extremely bright and hopeful.
3. Lydney Circuit. Primitive Methodism gained entrance into Lydney about the year 1830. Probably, Lydney Primitive Methodism owes its supreme debt to the Rev. C. Robbins. He collected a band of earnest workers who revealed unsurpassed loyalty to our “Cause.” Difficulties and real hardships were met and conquered. The present chapel was built in 1869 and seats about three hundred. In its erection our members freely gave of their time and substance, some even quarrying the stone required for the building. Most of these workers have passed into the higher service. Mrs. T. Bowen, however remains with us still. She is in her seventy-eighth year and still renders earnest and faithful service. The Sunday school makes splendid headway under its excellent Superintendent, Mr. C. Clarke. Mrs. E. Barton has done efficient service in the Primary. She has recently gone to Canada. The position of Society Steward is finely filled by Mr. G.H. Grail. Mrs. G.S. Read presides over a vigorous “Sisterhood.” Mrs. Hooper, J.P., serves the society in many helpful ways.
Ellwood Society is the oldest in the circuit. The first chapel was built in 1841. In 1875 a piece of adjoining land was bought and a new building erected. The old chapel is now used as a Sunday school. In this rather out-of-the-way place we have a limited number of loyal officials and members who maintain the traditions of a worthy past with unswerving fidelity.
At Bream we have a virile society of fifty members. The chapel was built in 1855 and seats two hundred an twenty. A school-room was added in 1880. One noted character in the Sunday school is Mr. J. Jenkins. He as served for over forty years and for most of this period as Superintendent. The Church is well served by Mr. S.C. Humphries as local preacher and Junior Circuit Steward. He is respected by all and a fitting example of those fine lives which are a product of our beloved Church. Mrs. W. Hampton, Mrs. S. James, Mr. and Mrs. J. Hampton are also among the stalwarts. Mr. P. Thomas is a very promising young worker. He is already Society Steward and School Secretary.
Services at Woolaston were held in a cottage until 1867, when a chapel was built. It was enlarged in 1894 and now seats one hundred and eighty. Mr. C.A. Higgs, J.P., has for many years been a prominent leader in this society. He resigned his circuit stewardship a year ago owing to ill-health. He is still Society Steward and School Superintendent, and occasionally preaches. The chapel was completely renovated in 1920, most of the work being done gratuitously by Mr. L. Higgs.
Clearwell Chapel was built in 1852. It is a small, struggling society. “Labourers” are needed. It has a great past and has produced its full share of great souls. We pray that its future may be worthy of the sacrifice of the “one or two“ who keep watch in this remote, yet difficult, part of the battlefield. God has his V.C.’s
Lydney Circuit is enjoying prosperous times under the excellent leadership of the Rev. G. Sutton Read. The circuit is also well served in its present Steward, Mr. J.A. Hooper, M.I.M.E. He is a very acceptable local preacher and an efficient Choir-master in the circuit church.
Christian Messenger 1923/339