Calne Circuit, Wiltshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. Arthur Haigh
No one can adequately record the amount of toil, or estimate the value of the prayers of the devoted men and women who in the past days helped to establish our circuits. To these we owe an incalculable debt. The Calne Circuit of to-day consists of ten societies with a membership of 258 It was formed in 1883, from Chippenham with Rev. Samuel Bryant as its first superintendent. The Seend Cleeve Branch of the Chippenham Circuit became merged in the new one. At that time we had eleven chapels and two preaching places. One chapel has since been transferred to the Wesleyan Methodists, and the cottage preaching places for adequate reasons had to be given up.
The old minute book tells something of the struggles and triumphs of our forefathers. They were strict disciplinarians. Cases of neglect of appointment were bravely dealt with, They were jealous for the honour and the moral integrity of the members of the various societies. One admires their spirit of independence. At one time it seemed as if the Seend Cleeve Branch, much against the will of the brethren, would become a mission. They fought hard against this. Here is a resolution of which perhaps the Conference never heard: “That if the Branch can be made into a mission at Conference, that there be but one quarterly collection at each place; and that Camp Meeting collections then be for the respective Chapel Funds where these are held, instead of for the Branch Funds as now.” They never became a mission. Occasionally unconscious humour crept into the serious deliberations of the brethren. When it was gravely decided to have a “Light” collection, it was not that they had no financial embarrassment, though at first reading one could easily surmise that, and wonder why they did not ask for a “Heavy” collection; until it strikes us that their real meaning was for an offertory to pay the expenses of illuminating their places of worship.
Calne, the head of the circuit, is an ancient borough which for long years had the privilege of sending two members to Parliament. The Reform Act of 1832, abrogated this right. The town has had a chequered history. It has suffered from flood and fire. The sound of war has been heard in its streets, and occasionally it has been the temporary residence of kings. It stands on a little river, the Marden, “which with many a twist and turn round the base of wooded hills, and across the rich grass flats, runs a ten mile course that ends in the Bristol Avon, a short distance from Chippenham.” In the year 978, the chief Witan, or Parliament of the English nation met at Calne. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle this meeting was marked by a catastrophe. The ?oor of the upper chamber gave way and all fell except Archbishop Dunstan, who alone supported himself on a beam. Some were grievously wounded and some did not escape with life. Calne is situated in a district full of historical associations. Avebury, but a few miles away, has the remains of the largest heathen temple in the world. At Silbury near Avebury, is the largest artificial mound in Europe. Not far from our chapel at Chittoe is Sloperton Cottage, at one time the residence of Tom Moore, the poet. The Marquis of Lansdowne’s country seat, Bowood, is near Calne.
The Primitive Methodists first visited Calne in the summer of 1829, when open-air services were held in various parts of the town. In the autumn of that year, Mary Hill of Bollings Lane, opened her house to the preachers, and it afterwards became known as “the Chapel House.” The old Unitarian Chapel (now the Salvation Army Barracks) was taken over in 1836, at a rental of four pounds per year. Owing to the poverty of the early members this had to be given up and the Society met again in Sister Hill’s house. In the year 1846, the Unitarian Chapel was again taken, this time at a rental of two pounds per annum. The cause began to prosper in spite of opposition, until it received a set back in 1865 through the conduct of two of its leading officials, from which it took years to recover.
In 1883, when Calne became the head of a new circuit, the members of the Society numbered thirty-nine, and the first quarter‘s income £5 6s. 8½d. To show the progress that has been made it is only necessary to take the ordinary revenue sent by the Calne Society to the Quarterly Meeting held on September 3rd, 1919. It realised the splendid total of £21 2s. 7d. and reported a membership of eighty-seven. In 1886, the old Wesleyan Chapel, which was being used as an iron foundry, came into our possession. The purchase, renovation, beautifying and seating, cost the Trustees £715. It was opened for Public Worship on April 17th, 1887. The Trustees made a line venture in 1906 by erecting a modern Sunday-school, which for its purposes is the finest in the town.
Our Calne Society has been served by a splendid body of men. The late Mr. George Drewett, formerly Surveyor of the Town, rendered devoted service as local preacher for fifty years. Members of his family are still with us serving the church of their choice. Mr. Robert Wootten has been in membership forty-eight years, and for forty years has acted as Chapel Treasurer. In pre-war days the Calne Male-voice Choir, under the able leadership of Mr. James Smart, contributed effective aid to the Service of Praise. We are glad to record that most of those on military duties have now returned from active service and are again in their places. We have a good Christian Endeavour Society with Mrs. F.J. Freeth as Secretary, and the post of Organist to the Church is ably filled by Miss Kathleen Strange, who succeeded Mr. Charles Smart, son of our esteemed Choirmaster.
Our Stockley Chapel was built in 1849. It has had palmy days and has witnessed spiritual triumphs. Largely through deaths and removals numerically, we are weak here. The memory of the late Edwin Brown and his wife is fragrant. He was one of God’s gentlemen. What he and his wife did for our Stockley cause is beyond praise. We are glad that their work and witness have not been forgotten, and a beautiful memorial tablet has been erected in the chapel to which they were so devoted. Other past workers here were Messrs. Maundrell and Wm. Strange. The former left an endowment of £100, the interest of which is devoted to the upkeep of the chapel. Mr. Daniel Summers has served this cause faithfully, and the circuit generally. His son, Mr. F.W. Summers is one of our zealous Missionary collectors. Last year his box realised the handsome sum of £6 3s. 5d.
The new chapel at Chittoe was erected in 1882. Here we have a thriving cause. The foundation stones of a new schoolroom were laid on August Bank Holiday, 1914. Rev. Harry Moore Hull inaugurated the scheme and great credit is due to him for this forward movement. The schoolroom was opened on Good Friday, 1915. It is now entirely free from debt. The late Mr. Robert Deverall helped splendidly to make the scheme a financial success by loaning the money free of interest, and by substantial aid in other ways. Our Premier Missionary Collector, Mrs. Wicks, is a member of this Church. Last year her box realised the magnificent total of about £15. Mention should be made of Mr. Geo. Hillier, our Society Steward here, an enthusiastic worker, and of Mrs. H. Pearce, whose services to this Society are invaluable. Her supreme joy is to serve her church.
Nether Street Chapel, built in 1848, has only a membership of six; but the prospects are hopeful. We have a Sunday-school, and are witnessing for good in this little village. When we were weaker than we are now, Miss J. Paget, our Society Steward, was in herself a tower of strength and we owe very much to her for her work in difficult days as well as in these.
Seend Cleeve, built in 1841, is our oldest chapel. This Society used to be the head of the old Seend Cleeve Branch and had a resident minister stationed there. Our Senior Circuit Steward (Mr. W. S. Tucker) and his wife reside here. He is well-known throughout the Bristol District for his Connexional interest, and his love for missions. Their home is always open to the preachers, and the grace of hospitality is in evidence year in and year out. In December, 1916, he commemorated his fortieth Anniversary as a local preacher. We have some good workers here, among whom, Mr. and Mrs. Lot Rawlings, and Mrs. M. Hampton, should be named. Several of our young men have now returned from the war and we are hoping for brighter days. The ministers who labour on this circuit invariably have a warm regard for the Cleeve Society.
We have at Melksham Forest a building very appropriately called a gem of a chapel. The situation is excellent. The prospects bright. It is erected in a residential district that will inevitably grow in future days. It was opened for Public Worship in 1906, during Rev. Joseph Harper’s ministry, at a cost of £900. The present debt is £260, but, we hope to pay off by next Annual Trustees Meeting an amount that will bring it down to near the £200 ?gure. This Society had a number of its best workers on active service, but they have now returned and things are progressing. The last Chapel Anniversary realised £42. Mr. Charles Harrold has rendered long service as Chapel Treasurer. We have a flourishing Sunday-school, under the superintendency of Messrs. T. Long and F. Knee, Mr. R.E. Williams is making the choir a power in the church, and Mr. A.E. Nowell has worked splendidly during the absence of our men at the war. Mr. F. Rivers as School Secretary, deserves praise, and the work of Mr. A.E. Pearce for Debt Reduction should be mentioned. When the Sunday-school was depleted of workers during the war years, Mr. Arthur Stacey carried on most loyally.
Stanley Chapel, built in 1865, is the home of a Society warmhearted and generous. Preachers invariably have a good time here. Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Carter are stalwarts here, and with their family have worked nobly for the cause. Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Robbins are very loyal workers. This Society does well for missions, last year being a record. Miss B. Carter and Miss E. Robbins are very efficient missionary collectors, and for years have carried on this work, devoting much time and energy to its accomplishment.
Our Marston Chapel was erected in 1855. Signs of encouragement are not lacking here. The late Richard Newman provided that the interest on £160 should be devoted to Chapel purposes, and Miss K Chinnock as Society Steward, and as one of the executors of the will, has rendered splendid service.
Hinton, built in 1855, is the smallest chapel on the circuit; but not the least in missionary fervour. Mrs. S. Norris is the oldest missionary collector on the circuit. Many miles does she tramp to collect her amount, and right well does she serve the missionary cause. Here we have Methodist Union in a practical form. The Primitive Methodists and Wesleyans hold services in their respective chapels on alternate Sundays. The arrangement has been most beneficial. Commenced during the war the arrangement is likely to last until Union is an actual fact.
Steeple Ashton Chapel, built in 1855, is the outpost of our station. We have a substantially built chapel with a membership of fifteen. It has produced men of a fine type. Mr. Elijah Bull, to whose memory a tablet has been erected in the chapel, did a good day’s work before his call to the Heavenly Service. His son, Mr. A.A. Bull is still with us doing good work on the circuit. Mr. J. March and his wife have an open house for the preachers.
The Circuit Stewards, Messrs. W.S. Tucker of Seend Cleeve, and W. Rumming of Calne, are most loyal to the ministry, generous in all worthy objects, with hearts on fire for Missionary Work.
Christian Messenger 1920/44