The Church on Market Hill

by M.G.L. Earnshaw

Originally published to mark the 300th anniversary of Dissenting worship in Maldon Essex


This short history of Maldon Independent Chapel makes no claim to originality – rather it is a collection of many small items from the Church archives and a connecting narrative which, hopefully, will draw them together. Much is missing, although Maldon is fortunate in having a continuous set of minutes from 1800 and even more so in having its early history, summarised by John May before 1834, in a handwritten resume in the Minute book. Without this good fortune there would be little to record of the early period of one of the oldest dissenting congregations in the county, with a history of which its present congregation should rightly be proud, as they enter their fourth century of witness on the same site.

The author is grateful to the Minister and Elders of Maldon V.R.c. for permission and encouragement in carrying out this work, and to Dr. W.J. Petchey for valuable information on the early history of dissent in Maldon. He is particularly grateful to those members of the church whose memories have been invaluable in filling out the written record, and would appreciate advice of any factual errors which remain. Any opinions expressed are entirely his and do not necessarily reflect those of the church.

Joseph Billio – Founder of the Church

Reformation, Restoration and Repression

Today’s visitor to Maldon will find no shortage of places for worship. There are two parish churches and most main stream denominations are represented. Three hundred years ago the choice would have been simpler – All Saints or St Mary’s!

This is the story of the oldest of Maldon’s ‘Dissenting’ congregations and we need to ask how this ‘Dissent’ arose.

King Henry the Eighth left a Church of England still ‘Catholic’ but containing many people who regarded the break with Rome as only the beginning of a Reformation. Despite the setback of Queen Mary’s reign, a growing minority began to deny the whole doctrine of priesthood, feeling that they could approach God directly through prayer and ask his guidance without the need for priests and bishops, and the rituals that went with them.

During Elizabeth’s reign this view was considered almost treasonable and strongly discouraged, but some areas became centres of dissent, particularly in Eastern England. Maldon was known as a centre for this ‘Puritan’ outlook and here George Gifford, the Vicar of All Saints, was ejected for heresy in 1584 but defiantly preached in private houses in the town.

The arrival of lames I in 1603 brought the idea of a King ruling by ‘Divine Right’, and his son’s Catholic marriage encouraged the growth of ritual in the Anglican Church. Both led to violent reactions which were among the causes of the Civil Wars. These ended with victory for the Puritan Cause and a Commonwealth which was marked by constant religious debate among many factions. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 put a stop to all that!

Despite his Declaration of toleration at Breda, Charles 11 was easily persuaded by his advisers, most of whom had lost heavily in the Wars, that the re-establishment of the Church of England in all its pre-war glory of vestments and ritual was essential to the safety of the Monarchy. An Act of Uniformity was rushed through Parliament, and clergy who would not publicly conform were ejected from their livings, often with great violence. Among the local victims were Lawrence Washington of Purleigh, Robert Billio of Wickham Bishops and Thomas Horrocks of All Saints, Maldon who continued his illegal preaching through the bars of the town dungeon for ten days.

Many of these gathered a small flock of followers and preached, under steadily increasing persecution, in houses and barns.

By the time that James 11 was overthrown in 1688 the penalty for attending at unauthorised worship had risen to transportation for the third offence. Those who were unable to emigrate needed great faith and courage to survive.

So it was only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that the Dissenters of Maldon were able to worship publicly in their own way – as an ‘Independent’ congregation of ‘hearers’ who chose as their pastor Joseph, son of Robert Billio.


With the Revolution of 1688 a new era opened for Nonconformity. Persecution for attendance at services using non-Anglican liturgies having ended with the Toleration Act of 1689, the dissenting congregations were able to meet free from the fear of transportation upon discovery.

Many Essex dissenters had already migrated to swell the New England Puritan settlements, but enough of the old tradition must have remained to ensure the formation of a Maldon Congregation very soon after 1688. By 1690 ‘The Meeting’ was already sufficiently well established to be left 20 shillings by Sarah Blower, while in February 1694 another widow, Mary Larke, left the same amount to “Joseph Billio the minister that preaches at the Meeting”. Only a few names survive from this group but they clearly formed the congregation of ‘hearers’ who eventually chose Joseph Billio as their pastor.

Billio, born in 1668, was the son of Robert Billio, the Anglican ejected for non-conformity in 1662. Robert’s preaching skill had clearly been inherited by his younger son whose own forthright style gave the language a new synonym for vigour and gusto – ‘like Billio’. His portrait is still in the Church and the firm features give the clear impression of a man used to taking the lead.

Where the early congregation met is unclear – probably in private houses until numbers grew, but by 1695 the need was felt for a larger, permanent place of worship.    

The site selected was “a messuage or tenement called Taynter Hawe” just off St Peters Lane (now Market Hill) in St Peter’s Parish. Only a small part of the present church grounds was originally leased, with a narrow path leading to the hill. For some reason the original lease was taken by William Coe from Henry Willsmore but within three months Coe had transferred the lease to Joseph Billio. Billio’s father had died a few months earlier which may have given him the ability to finance the building of his own chapel. Whatever the reason, he lost no time in erecting, at his own expense, a meeting house to accommodate 400 ‘hearers’. The land and building was then leased by Billio to a group of Trustees on 15th June 1696 for a term of 100 years at a rental of 20s. per annum – the original lease had been for “a peppercorn, if demanded”.

The original Trustees were:

  • Thomas Coe
  • William Coe
  • Chas Coe
  • Thos Stevens
  • Thomas Stace
  • Isaac Robjent
  • Isaac Pond
  • Edward Rogerson
  • William Reeve
  • Isaac Putto
  • James Hawke
  • Hen. May

who accepted the proviso that “the same (building and land) should be held upon Trust to be employed and made use of as a meeting house for the public worship of God by the dissenting congregation of protestants in and about Maldon aforesaid whereof the said Joseph Billio was then Pastor.”

Billio’s pastorate was a great success and he was highly regarded for his concern for his flock. His preaching was so popular that the original400 seats soon proved inadequate and the windows were regularly thrown open for the convenience of those listening outside the church. This high regard was evidently mutual for the church lease was extended for 99 years from 1722. Strangely enough, no record exists of the ending of Billio’s pastorate – whether this was by death or retirement does not appear in the records. If by death, the date and place of his burial are obscure – certainly he was not buried in the parish burial ground of St Peters and no room for burials existed around the Meeting House at that date.

Billio’s successor was a Mr Bird who married a daughter of the influential Coe family of merchants (three of whom were’ founder Trustees).He thereupon gave up the ministry and joined the congregation which, shortly after, appointed the Revd Lawrence Holden as pastor. The date of these changes is uncertain but was probably in the 1750’s.

The mid-eighteenth century was a period of intense doctrinal debate among dissenting clergy and congregations, in marked contrast to the somnolence of the Church of England at this period. Disputes over the nature of the Trinity, Arianism, the conflict between Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and many lesser disputes led to discord which Maldon was not spared. Mr Holden’s views tended to the Unitarian, his congregation’s, alas, did not and a substantial proportion took themselves off to Congregations in which they felt more comfortable, notably to With am and Little Baddow. Understandably, this caused great inconvenience on the roads of the time and the dissenting group decided in 1765 to attempt another Congregation in Maldon. The Wesleyan Methodists were vacating their premises (now the Labour Hall) in Church Street and the new Congregation of about fifty people settled in under the Revd Rest Knipe. Mr Knipe was probably connected with Thomas. Knipe, vicar of All Saints from 1726 to 1749, but his clerical background and intellectual qualities were no proof against “moral laxity” and he left under a cloud in 1773 to be replaced by the Revd Simon Wilmshurst who was soon ordained as pastor.

Meanwhile Lawrence Holden was still preaching in the original meeting house to a faithful congregation of about twenty. His death in 1778 offered the opportunity for both congregations to unite, and the Church prospered under Simon Wllmshurst for many years until his failing health gave cause for concern. The Revd Stephen Forster, at that time connected with the church at Terling, was approached to act as co-pastor. Mr Wilmshurst was very agreeable to this, his salary being unaffected, and in fact offered ten pounds towards Mr Forster’s salary. In this co-operative atmosphere Mr Forster joined the church in 1799 but, alas, the joint ministry was happy but brief, with Simon Wilmshurst dying in 1800.

Mr Forster’s talents attracted many new members to the congregation and plans were laid to enlarge the building. Work commenced almost immediately, but upon removal of the roof so much decay was found that a complete rebuilding was obviously necessary.

The Present Building

With a meeting house in disrepair it was necessary to arrange an alternative meeting place for a year or so. Fortunately Joseph Patisson, a prominent member of the congregation was able to make his ‘large barn’ at Spital Farm available for worship. This barn was almost certainly the 12th-century leper hospital whose walls are still visible in Spital Road.

The new church, 60 feet by 42 feet, was of timber construction and corresponds roughly to the present sanctuary. A view of Maldon at about this date shows dimly a four-square building with tall narrow windows and a pitched roof – all much less grand than the present frontage. To quote a minute of a few years later     “the Meeting Home was built when Timber was “excessive dear” on account of an expected War with the Northern Powers. To erect it, purchase the old Meeting House and Grounds, build in a brick wall from the street and pale in the Yard etc cost altogether more than £2000.” The money was raised by subscriptions which produced £2761-7-6 and £160 and a detailed bill for the cost is still in the Minute Book. Over half was accounted for by “Mr Sadd the carpenter” with £1240 for timber and £93 for slates. £300-odd was distributed among various bricklayers and masons, while the prominent windows required £180. An interesting section of the account is the purchase of the “Estate” by the congregation for £105, this being the freehold of the site then on lease with only 42 years to run. Whether the old timbers were totally removed may be doubted in the light of later events.

The new church was opened in early July 1801 and with a new building and young pastor the congregation could be forgiven for looking forward to a settled period of development, but it was not to be…

Within five years, in the winter of 1805, it was found that dry rot had done considerable damage to the floor, attributable to faulty ventilation through the walls. Perhaps some of the original timbers remained to start the rot, but whatever the cause an unwelcome £153-7-6 was needed for the repair and provision of cast iron ventilators still to be seen at ground level -this was partly met by a further subscription.

Hardly had they finally settled this problem when their much- loved pastor Stephen Forster died, on October 9th 1811. His loss was deeply felt, far beyond his congregation, and especially among the local poor. Such had been his generosity to those less fortunate that a further subscription of £370 was necessary to relieve the financial distress of the widow and daughter, which together with contributions from his previous congregations sufficed to provide a small annuity for his dependants.

One of Stephen Forster’s dearest wishes had been the institution of a Sabbath Day School for poor children, but with the accommodation then available, this was only feasible by the use of the vestry – then a small appendage on the east wall. So successful had this proved that “the noise drowned the Preacher even if the pulpit door was left open”. Perhaps fortunately, the pulpit was kept supplied by a succession of preachers from Essex and London churches but clearly more permanent accommodation was needed.

Once again Mr J. Sadd was called upon to erect two side galleries, for the sum of £353 to accommodate the children, these being completed early in 1812.

Sunday Schools, valuable as they might be, were not the sole educational concern of the principal church members. The British and Foreign School Societies had been formed at the turn of the century to provide a nonconformist education to balance the Church of England’s historical involvement, which dated back to pre-Reformation.

John May, a Chapel Trustee, owned a strip of land to the rear of the Chapel on which was erected a ‘British School’ apparently about 40 feet long and single-storied, which was registered for worship and marriages on 9th October 1820. In November 1826 this land and building was transferred in trust to the Church, under the same trust terms as the main building and served as the local nonconformist school until the present brick buildings were erected in 1843.

Among the various supply preachers following Stephen Forster’s death, the Revd James Tait found a favourable response after four services and was ordained as pastor on 6th October 1813. His health was poor however, and continued to decline so that his resignation was submitted on 27th June 1819. Such was the local respect for his qualities that a collection among the congregation raised £575.2.6.

Once again the congregation fell back upon supply preachers until in October 1819 the Revd Robert Burls began a six weeks’ engagement and continued thereafter to ‘labour with acceptance’ to such effect that he was ordained pastor on 21st September 1820, a role he filled for the next thirty six years.

The Ministers

Robert Burls (1820–1856)

Thirty six years is a long time for a minister to serve a congregation and despite the slower pace of change in the first half of the nineteenth century, Maldon was to see much change by the end of his period of service. By 1820 the effect of the Navigation was being seen in the gradual decline of the port, while the canal itself was to suffer from the arrival of the railway from Witham in 1848. The poverty of the population and the rise in food prices which took place during and after the Napoleonic Wars led to a sharp increase in poor relief and the imposition of the workhouse system. Like his predecessors, Robert Burls was responsible for much quiet benevolence from funds collected at intervals from the congregation, and frequently larger gifts from prominent individuals.

Regular disbursements for coals (usually 5-8 shillings) and gifts before harvest – the hardest time for budgets in country areas – form a regular refrain throughout the record. Assistance with rent and medical expenses was common:-

“To Mr Cutts to aid him in the defraying of the accumulated expence . consequent on the sickness and death of his wife who was a member £1.0.0”. Mrs Suckling was a regular recipient until the final item:-

  • “Mrs Suckling’s grave: 4-6
  • Men carrying: 1-0-0
  • Porter: 4-0
  • Pall: 5-0
  • Coffin Mr Sadd: 2-2-0

Master Heard also fought a losing battle with sickness with the church covering a bill of £2-18-8 for the funeral right down to gloves for the mourners, and another funeral included eight shillings for nurses, “the family being sick.” Altogether it was estimated that £2000 was given to various charitable causes between 1837 and 1857. Benevolence had its limits however, and a high standard was expected of church members.

In 1831 Mrs Knight was re-admitted, having been excommunicated for dishonesty three years previously, while Sarah Hamilton’s name was erased by her own wish, having departed from the ways of godliness by various acts and falsehoods. Mrs Hewitt was ‘separated’ for improper language and other sins.

This minor misbehaviour was lightly regarded in comparison with the, occasional, infractions of the sexual code even in the early years of Victoria’s reign.

Eliza Jones, late Banyard, came under the solemn discipline of the church on account of the sin of fornication, she being pregnant upon her marriage. She was, however, prayerfully admonished and urged to reform her conduct but, presumably due to social pressure, left for London some months later. Others, Widow Hewitt and Mr Threadgold, were simply dismissed from membership for the same offence.

James and Sarah Wright were “solemnly dismissed for having allowed a man and woman to cohabit in their house for several weeks knowing they were not married.”

Too much should not be made of these few occasions when the standard slipped. Robert Burls’s notebook is mainly concerned with recording the transfer to and from Maldon of church members who move from church to church, with a firm recommendation as to their character. Since the population of Maldon grew steadily throughout the nineteenth century, the accommodation in the church once more fell short of requirements. Many pews were rented by members, a valuable source of income, and so, once again Mr Sadd provided a children’s gallery. Completed in 1835, this allowed adult seating along the side galleries previously used. At a later date, these seats were rented at one shilling per quarter against the three shillings and sixpence expected for the ground floor seats. The increase in the adult attendance was reflected in the rate of infant baptism, often in large batches (up to 39 on one occasion) and the steady growth of the Sunday School.

It must be remembered that at this period local affairs remained, by our standards, relatively free from State interference. Most legislation on public health and welfare was permissive rather than mandatory, but from the early part of Mr Burls’s pastorate political authority was increasingly being exercised by joint enterprises such as workhouse unions, drainage boards, etc. So too were Protestant Dissenters finding strength in a united approach to their problems.

The London Board of Ministers was formed in 1727, closely followed by the Dissenting Deputies, a group of ministers drawn from the main congregations which after continuous pressure succeeded in the abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828. Doctrinal differences were too great for the major groups to unite, but within each tradition the pressure for union was strong, not least in the belief that union of congregations would be far more effective in the evangelical drive which swept the country after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and represented in Congregational circles by the London Missionary Society formed in 1795.

Essex, with its close links with London, could not be left behind and the Ministerial Association of 1776 was succeeded by the Essex County Union in 1798. Fears of revolution and of growing religious dissent led to much harassment of congregations and prominent members were often discriminated against in civic affairs.

The needs of new chapel building and missionary work were often competing claims on the congregations, and attempts to solve the problem by joint discussion led to closer ties between the county unions until, once again led by the London Union, the Congregational Union of England and Wales was formed in May 1832.

So, when Robert Burls gave his twentieth anniversary sermon in 1839 he was leading a very different church to that of his predecessors in the previous century – still ‘Independent’, but in communion with other members of a national movement which gave its voice in the issues of the day.

In the forefront of these issues was the Dissenters’ dissatisfaction with educational provision. As we have seen, the British School to the rear of the chapel had been vested in the church from 1826. This was funded by voluntary subscriptions, the church paying two guineas annually. The first state grant to education, £20000 in 1833, was raised to £30000 in 1839. This meagre sum, less than the cost of the royal stables at the time, was divided between the National and British School organisations and controlled by a committee of the Privy Council. It is not recorded whether the move to the present British School was initiated by the availability of national funds or just overcrowding. Comparing the size of the buildings, we must suspect the latter.

By this time too the interior of the chapel had seen further changes. In 1827 an organ was erected in one of the galleries. Rather grudgingly, permission was given for this instrument to be installed provided that only plain tunes were used “without any prelude, interlude or voluntary and not played upon the Lord’s Day except for Divine Service.” For the first twenty years the organ remained the property of those subscribers who had paid for it.

At least it could now be played in reasonable comfort – gas lighting was installed in 1836 at a cost of £49.4.2. by James Pitcairn and later a Phoenix stove to heat the chapel (at £16.14.6) in 1848.

And so Robert Burls’s pastorate continued until a series of events led to his resignation. The majority of subscribers to the chapel approached him to increase the number of Sunday services to three. Mr Burls refused and offered his resignation, which he declined to with. draw despite the offer of an assistant Co-pastor. In his final address he reviewed the state of the congregation which he found good, with outlying colonies at Purleigh, Latchingdon, Southminster, Goldhanger and Heybridge Basin. He was however still affected by the death of his wife three years previously, together with that of his son Robert, and undoubtedly felt unhappy at an increase in his workload.

So with the congregation’s affection marked by the presentation of a ‘dial’ (clock) and a silver salver, ended the pastorate of Robert Burls on February 1st 1857. He remained in contact with the Maldon congregation until his death in June 1866 at the age of 73 and is buried with his wife and several of his young children at the side of the chapel.

J. Gwynne Hughes (1857–1886)

The retirement of Robert Burls at relatively short notice was followed by a lengthy period of supply preachers – Maldon Chapel always seems to be slow to fill the pastorate. Not until June, four months later, was a church meeting called to consider a successor. Three ministers were proposed, but the clear favourite was the Revd J. Gwynne Hughes then at Odiharn, Hants. After preaching for three Sabbaths, a Missionary Prayer Meeting and the Wednesday evening lectures Mr Gwynne Hughes was invited to minister to the congregation. The vexed question of a third Sabbath service was pressed at the church meeting, and the invitation asked the minister to consider a third service, conducted by the Town Missionary if need be. In accepting the call, Mr Hughes declined to conduct a third service himself, but “would fall in with any good arrangement for meeting the case.” He was an experienced preacher of 39 with 10 years service in the ministry.

He was known as a keen amateur scientist and supporter of the Liberal Party but otherwise we have only a few letters to give a hint of his character. Several of these are from Hastings and Bath where he went to recuperate in his later years, and return thanks for remittances from the church. These show the same mutual esteem enjoyed by his father-in-law, for he had married Myra Death Burls.

The last ten years of his pastorate were to see the final phase of chapel enlargements that left the building largely as we see it today, but this was only the culmination of a series of alterations that began barely six months after his appointment.

In 1858 the stairs to the gallery were repaired and the galleries themselves lit by new windows in the roof – obviously other work was necessary for the final bill was £387. This was apparently not very successful as after a few years new windows were under consideration. In fact, by 1868 the outside walls, roof, windows and fencing had all been repaired with new windows on the ground floor still needed and extra accommodation was again becoming urgent. It was eventually decided to enlarge the galleries at the west (front) end by moving the organ to the east end. The new west gallery was carried out over the new porch, which was supported by four columns. The infant section of the British School was finally asked to vacate the vestry (after nearly thirty years) so that new vestries could be built within an eastern section of the building. The ‘Sun and Star’ gas lights of thirty burners each were to be installed together with a hot water system of heating.

First considered in 1870 this plan moved slowly, with lighting, heating and ventilation being carried out almost immediately, but not until 1875 was the congregation able to proceed with its completion. In this year Mr Pertwee of Chelmsford laid out a scheme for renewal of the pews and gallery and removal of the organ. The plan was based on London Road Chapel, Chelmsford and was agreed in March 1876. Some delay was caused by Mr Pitcairn’s objection that the Trustees might be exceeding their powers by encroaching on the burying ground with the new vestry but after taking Counsel’s opinion the work went ahead, Mr Letch’s tender of £ 1936 being accepted. Together with £ 125 for the organ overhaul and £400 for a new boiler house, the bill was considerable and the vestry remained unfurnished until 1882. The south wall of the yard was built by Mr L. Bentall and remained his property.

So at the end of his ministry in June 1886 Gwynne Hughes could speak of a congregation “in a state of peace and harmony although paralysed by the surrounding depression and repeated disasters” – this referring to the unparalleled series of wet summers which began the long decline of British farming.

H. H. Carlisle (1887–1889)

J.Gwynne Hughes had spent several periods away from Maldon, recuperating on the South Coast, and this appears to have inclined the church members towards the idea of a younger man as replacement. Several visits were paid by young men from various colleges and eventually Henry Hermann Carlisle of Cheshunt College was called to the pastorate in May 1887. As he was later to comment “it was no slight honour to be called from college to follow a man so highly gifted and respected as Mr Hughes.” A burly man of genial manner, he threw himself into the life of the church, re-organising the YMCA and Sunday School and acting as chairman or president of most of the church organisations. In this he was greatly assisted by his wife, Myra Kate, who was the daughter of Revd J. Gwynne Hughes (and granddaughter of Robert Burls!)

The letter of invitation made particular reference to the need for better accommodation for the Sunday School and this was to be the next task facing the church.

The new Sunday School building, always known as the Lecture Hall, was completed in 1890 on a piece of land which had formed the garden of No 8 Market Hill, and before that the Parish Garden or Bullock Yard, owned by the Guardians of the Poor. Together with extensive repairs to the old British School buildings this left the church heavily in debt, but the extra space and comfort enabled a greatly expanded range of church activities to develop.

These buildings in their heyday at the turn of the century accommodated 175 boys, 152 girls and 60 infants, with a staff of 6 to 8 teachers and several assistants. The cost of the day school was met partly from local subscriptions, “school pence” and church collections, but the major source of funds was a series of Government grants-in-aid, which depended on an efficiency assessment much feared by the staff, whose salaries were dependent on a successful outcome. Although the Congregational church provided the buildings, management was in the hands of a Board of Managers which included representatives from other Free Churches in the town. Even with new buildings, the layout of the school met with regular criticism from the Board of Education Inspectors. However, funds did not permit further alterations and eventually the School was absorbed into the State system as a non-provided school under the 1902 Education Act. Staff salaries became the responsibility of the local authority, with a new management board, in 1903 and pupils transferred to a new County School in 1912.

Church finances remained at a low ebb for some years with both the Minister’s stipend and Incidentals Fund much reduced. This caused great concern as both the organ and church interior were in need of attention. A great fund-raising effort successfully cleared these costs and all outstanding debts during 1894/5, while the new Lecture Hall served as a chapel for several months.

Mr Carlisle’s health proved to be as fragile as that of his predecessor and a four-month illness in 1891 was the first of several, culminating in a year’s journey to Calcutta, where the church supported a Native Teacher, Mr J. Gwynne Hughes (presumably a relative of his father-in-law). A subscription raised £100 towards his expenses and the pulpit was filled by the Revd S. Bryant until Mr Carlisle returned in November 1898. His return was short-lived however, as in August 1899 he accepted a call to Lincoln and left, taking with him his father-in-law, Mr Hughes, who was now totally blind.

So with a vacant pulpit, the church entered the twentieth century, already planning centenary celebrations for July 1900, and mourning the loss of Isaac Belsham – secretary for many years and Deacon for half a century – a man who “combined in an exemplary manner the suavity of a Christian Gentleman and the sturdy conscientiousness of a Puritan”.

Samuel Bryant (1900–1907)

The sudden departure of H.H. Carlisle caused a mild shock in the church and some feeling that their pastor, whose character they had grown to admire, had been ‘poached’ from them. However it was accepted that there were larger spheres of influence than Maldon could offer and that a man of such talent could be expected to seek them – indeed Mr Carlisle eventually became one of the first Moderators appointed by the Congregational Union.

For the last few months of the century the pulpit was occupied by a succession of ministers preaching ‘with a view’ but none met with the approval of the Deacons. It is surprising that only at the end of 1899 was the name of Samuel Bryant put forward, in view of the satisfaction which he had given throughout Mr Carlisle’s long absence. Opinions were divided – some thought him too old at 50, while others thought that he might now be willing to settle down – being apparently of a ‘roving’ nature. The fact that Mr Bryant was currently ministering in Maiden, Australia seemed to be little obstacle! Eventually, after 10ngdistance negotiations Mr Bryant, was called by church meeting in February 1900 and arrived in May, with Mrs Bryant following in early 1901.

Immediately on his arrival the church was thrown into a whirl of activity to mark the centenary of the chapel building, which fell on July 18th 1900, and the celebration on that day was memorable. The entire Corporation of the Borough of Maldon with several of their officials, together with Congregational Ministers from all over Essex, past ministers and other churchmen of the town, and a good part of the congregation were entertained to a Public Luncheon in the Lecture Hall. After many toasts and speeches reviewing the church’s place in the town, the celebrants adjourned to the chapel for a sermon on the work of the Free Churches given by J. Morgan Gibbon of Stamford, then back to the Lecture Hall for tea at 6 o’clock. Later that evening a public meeting was addressed by Alderman J.G. Sadd – one of many Deacons from this notable local dynasty.

There was indeed much to celebrate. The congregation, as we have seen, had grown constantly, education was well organised and the church supported village stations at the Basin, Broad Street Green, Latchingdon, Mundon and Purleigh, all being supplied with lay preachers. Town Missionary work was supported and contacts maintained with overseas missions.

Further work was undertaken on the heating and lighting systems, the latter being converted to the ‘incandescant’ type, replacing the previous gas flares. The organ was enlarged and rebuilt under the guidance (and at the expense) of Oliver Belsham, who was also presented with a grand piano to mark his thirty years as organist. A subscription was raised to pay for this and for the painting of the exterior so that the building should be a fitting venue for the 103rd Annual Meeting of the Essex Congregational Union planned for April 1902 (the arrangements included a special train – those were the days!)

The Buryial Ground was now fully taken up and from March 1902 the only burials permitted were in ground already purchased.

At this time the church benefited under the will of W.J.Cook to the extent of £1377 which considerably improved finances which had become overdrawn. The rest of the estate, which included several London and Maldon properties, formed the basis of the William John Cook Charity whose activities benefit the elderly of Maid on to this day, with the church’s Elders forming the Trustees.

An important change in the Communion service was the adoption of individual cups in September 1903 to replace the previous practice in which all the communicants shared the same cup of wine.

1904 opened with the death in Lincoln of the Revd J. Gwynne Hughes, whose body was returned for burial near the chapel, and a memorial tablet was dedicated in September at a ceremony attended by several local ministers.

A small but significant step was the institution of a quarterly united Free Church service on a week-night. This cautious move towards other Free Churches was followed by the suggestion that the weekly offering should be taken from pew to pew rather than at the doors. Several meetings were needed to make this alteration – and then only once a quarter to enhance the door collections!

Although the purchase of an iron chapel to accommodate the lay preachers at Mundon was agreed to, nothing seems to have come of the proposal. The church was however busy extending the Basin Chapel, now that it was wholly Congregational, to form an infants classroom at a cost of £68.10.0.

In October 1906 Samuel Bryant announced that at 57 years of age, and with seven years service at Maldon, he felt that he should make way for a younger man. Attempts were made to change his mind, but he felt the need for more free time and could not be dissuaded. Although his retirement took effect from March 1907, he was elected a member of the church and remained in the district to ease the changeover to a new man. As a mark of the general esteem in which he was held, he was presented with a cheque for £ 100 and a bound volume containing the names of the subscribers.

Thomas H. Alexander (1907–1927)

As usual the church was not hasty in appointing a successor to Samuel Bryant but eventually the name of Thomas H. Alexander was brought forward in October 1907. Two deacons travelled to Hull in order to sound out his reputation in that pastorate and after a favourable report it was agreed to call him to Maldon. Mr Alexander being married, it was proposed to buy a Manse, but the house selected was under threat of reversion to the Crown on expiry of the lease and eventually it was decided to rent the house for its remaining three years, with the church supplementing the minister’s allowance (which was still based on pew collections). This arrangement caused regular acrimony for five years until a legacy from the late Charles Carter enabled a fixed rent allowance to be paid.

The congregation held a Welcome to Mr Alexander on January 16th 1908 at which the church secretary (Mr Davey) was presented with a walnut rolltop desk and a marble clock as appreciation for his many years of service. At last it was agreed to collect the weekly offering from pew to pew to the regret of some of the congregation who complained bitterly that this should have been a church meeting decision.

In 1909 a unit of the Boys Brigade with a Territorial Army connection, was formed to supplement the activities of the Young Peoples Guild, but a weeknight ‘Children’s Hour’ service did not find support. It was agreed that Maldon should endorse exchange visits between congregations in Britain and Germany “to preserve and strengthen the bond between the two peoples”. On a less exalted plane, Mrs Willet, who with her husband and son, had been church keeper and caretaker for many years, found it necessary to resign. Fifty applications from all over the country were received for the post, but the choice fell on Mr & Mrs Simons of the Coffee Palace next door to the chapel.

The chapel and school buildings were requiring steady expenditure for repair works including “the water trough in the boys lobby”. Mains electricity was now available in the Market Hill area, being generated at J. Sadd & Son’s works, where waste sawdust was used to make gas which fuelled an engine. Despite an offer by Sadd’s to contribute towards installation costs, this was deferred in view of the persistent overdraft at the bank. In 1912 it was decided to capitalize a legacy left by Robert Burls for communion wine which had grown to £90. The withdrawal of this sum was delayed to avoid bankrupting the Maldon Building Society!

To quote the Trustees’ Minutes:

“1913. During this year the work of the church went quietly on and nothing of particular interest occurred.” But: – “1914. During this year the great war broke out and as the rooms were much used by the military and so many members of the church were engaged in it there is nothing important to chronicle.”

This is basically true although important extensions to Broad Street Green Chapel were sanctioned. The hedge bank of the burying ground was found to be falling into adjoining land – the first sign of soil instability which was to cause so much trouble later on.

The Lecture Hall and old British Schools were requisitioned for billeting troops on September 16th 1914 – 2000 Territorials were arriving in the town. Aircraft and War Risk insurance was necessary for the Maldon Chapel although the outlying village chapels were considered safe from attack. Although the business of the church went on, the Roll of Honour already stood at 43 men in service by the start of 1915.

Despite all the difficulties the church was able to host the Annual Meeting of the Congregational Union in June, although the luncheon was subdued. Perhaps the prevailing mood was reflected by the enquiry whether the Sunday services could be much brighter, which brought a terse response from the organist that members should choose the hymns themselves. In the meantime the National Anthem was sung fortnightly alternating with another popular hymn. The church was making itself responsible for several parcels a week to prisoners of war in enemy hands.

Relations with the military authorities were friendly but not always smooth, their habit of depositing large stocks of fuel in odd corners and over paths being especially irksome. After three years an approach was made to the Army for rent for the buildings, but in the absence of a pre-war rental (the buildings being in use for the school) no payment beyond a letter of thanks was received.

In 1917 Mr Alexander was dissuaded from joining up only by the assurance of the deacons that his visits to the people were a form of National Service. He was eventually called to France as a YMCA chaplain but the final advances of the war removed the need for his departure.

On September 25th 1917 an air raid on Maldon cut short a deacons’ meeting, but membership remained high at over 250, and orders of service for special occasions needed a print run of 500, indicating a well-filled chapel. Steps were .taken to exchange the church’s holding of American bonds for Exchequer bonds, but the fate of some 5% Russian bonds bought in 1912 is unclear.

However, at last the war was over with the loss of24 men from the congregation (compared to the one Boer War victim from the whole town) one of the last victims being Mr Alexander’s son who died in the final days of the conflict.

In contrast to the congregation the buildings were at least intact. The Lecture Hall and schools, technically the responsibility of separate trustees, were sold to the church for £100. Much work was needed to ‘restore the building to its prewar condition and £590 was spent which included the installation of electric lights. Fortunately £160 received from a legacy by Miss Emma Carter (died 1879) enabled the reopening in late 1919, to include the use of several rooms by ‘The Institute” which provided games rooms etc., managed by a separate committee. Gymnasium equipment was re-installed after its wartime transfer to St Peter’s Room arid a newly formed troop of Boy Scouts replaced the Boys Brigade. An early event in the Lecture Hall was a “Welcome Home” to the demobilised members of the congregation, with a meat tea paid for by a special collection whose balance went to a War Memorial fund, the memorials being unveiled by the Revd H.H. Carlisle in 1921.

Mr Carter’s legacy was now used to buy 10 Market Hill for use as a Manse for £400 and this, coupled with an urgent repairs bill for the chapel building put the funds once more into deficit. An attempt to rent the British Schools as a School Clinic, Tuberculosis Dispensary and Child Welfare Clinic on three days a week was, however, refused by the deacons.

As the long slump of the 1920’s gathered pace, financial pressure was felt on the congregation and the feeling grew that this was having an unfair effect on the Minister’s allowance. The question of a fixed salary for the minister was considered several times but constantly put off, although the ‘envelope’ system of giving, adopted in 1922, helped to steady the flow of funds. A salary of £300 was agreed in 1924.

In October 1920 Oliver D. Belsham finally gave up playing the organ although he maintained his interest in the church’s music till his death in 1924. A brass plate was mounted on the organ in 1926 to commemorate his service to the music of the church for over 50 years. He acted as choirmaster and composer of anthems as well as playing the organ and frequently repaired the instrument at his own expense.

The Essex Congregational Union again held its Annual Meeting at the chapel in April 1925, but there was growing concern about the condition of the building. An architect’s examination recommended a programme of renovation for which a Renovation Fund of £ 1000 was proposed. Initially only heating and electric lighting (at last!) were undertaken with a redecoration of the interior. After re-opening the chapel in February 1927 the exterior was due for restoration, but all was overshadowed by the sudden collapse of Mr Alexander on his return home from evening service on May 22nd 1927. His untimely death removed a much admired pastor and his funeral three days later was crowded with local clergy as well as his sorrowing congregation.

F. Barrie Flint (1927–1930)

After the sudden death of Mr Alexander a fund was opened to provide fo( his widow who was to remain at 10 Market Hill pending the arrival of a new minister. The late pastor’s salary was also paid to Mrs Alexander. until that time, with deductions for the cost of supplying the pulpit – an arrangement which might seem a bit calculating to later generations but which obviously did not offend the widow since she later became a valued deacon of the church.

Several ministers were invited to preach ‘with a view’, but eventually F.Barrie Flint was called to assume the pastorate at the end of 1927. He was still in his last term at college and was only able to officiate part of the time until July 1928. The manse was now unused, as Mr Flint lodged with Mrs Alexander in a house bought for her use in Fambridge Road.

At his first Annual Church Meeting in July 1928 the state of the church appeared very satisfactory. Besides the active members of the church the Sunday School had 150 scholars with a further fifty at Heybridge Basin and 39 members in the Christian Endeavour movement. Lay Preachers attached to Maldon were taking over 400 services a year in the surrounding villages. Finance was, as always, a problem, but even this was healthier than the previous year.

Mr Flint was a well-liked young man with an international outlook. Shortly after his induction the church became a member of the League of Nations Union, then of the World Alliance, both being organisations working for world peace, and members were regularly urged to join as individuals. His organisation of a Young People’s Festival Service and institution of a monthly ‘question period’ at the end of evening service showed a lively appreciation of the need to bring forward the church’s younger generation.

In October 1930 Miss Henrietta Sadd, still remembered today for her charitable gifts to the education and welfare of Maldon’s children, was elected a Life Deacon, while at the same meeting news was received of the death of Samuel Bryant.

Church finances received a severe blow in April 1930 when it was realized that the church caretaker had not been insured under the National Insurance Act for nearly 12 years. Eventually the Department settled for three years’ arrears – half of this was collected from the caretaker!

The deacons’ minutes for this period show no signs of strain between the church and its minister, although his marriage at Little Braxted Church had raised some eyebrows. It was obviously a severe shock, therefore, when Mr Flint wrote to the deacons in November 1930 resigning his pastorate and announcing that he intended to take a curacy at Streatham – in the Church of England. It was agreed that he should relinquish his duties forthwith “in the interests of the church and Mr Flint”, and a letter of thanks from the church meeting was only agreed after some considerable discussion. Although Mr Flint’s farewell letter thanked the deacons for the Christian spirit which they had shown, the affair was long remembered with bitterness and not until a few years ago did his portrait join other past ministers in the vestry.

J. A. Halfpenny (1931–1940)

After their recent experience the deacons felt no need to rush into another call to the pastorate. The Revd Arthur Sadd was willing to assist in the ministry when necessary, and a period free from salary payment would help the funds to recover, these being perennially overdrawn. After several months of correspondence and visits one minister declined the call, and after another minister had been turned down by the deacons, attention focussed on the Revd I.A. Halfpenny then ministering in Sheffield, but who wished to move nearer to his sons in the South.

He took up his duties in December 1931 accompanied by his wife and Or Bernard Halfpenny, and began by instituting membership classes for young people who were considering joining the church. The pre-service prayer meeting was instituted, minister and choir entering the chapel together to begin the service. The Men’s Meeting was disbanded on Mr Flint’s departure but it was agreed to open two school rooms to the unemployed of the town for reading and games. Mr E. Dines started a woodwork class, gardening lectures were given, and “there were some good lectures given on the wireless if we could get a wireless set” This enterprise, although much appreciated by the men, seems to have lasted for only a couple of winters.

In October 1932 Henrietta Sadd died, just a few months after the reception into membership of her great-nephew Tadgel Sadd. Tadgel was to be the last direct descendant of John Sadd, builder of the present church, to play a prominent part in its affairs.

At the end of the year it was decided to sell the manse at 10 Market Hill and put the proceeds towards the house at 10 Lodge Road which was now back on the market for £800. The house was transferred in trust to the Essex Incorporated Congregational Union, but the loan taken out remained a burden until 10 Market Hill was sold in mid1933, and was not cleared until a generous gift of £350 was received from Mr H. Granger in 1935, just before his death. This was the first of the church’s buildings to be transferred to the E.I.C.U. but all of the others were eventually to follow, since a £100 bequest from the same Mr Granger was made conditional on the transfer. In a sense this could be seen as the end of the ‘Independent’ concept where a congregation made its own arrangements for accommodation and pastoral care. On the other hand there were many legal advantages and the buildings were safeguarded from loss by mischance or diversion to secular use.

On 19th June 1933 Alfred Sadd, the second of the four young Sadd brothers, was ordained before his appointment as a missionary to the Gilbert Islands where he later met his death, in heroic circumstances, at the hands of the Japanese forces.

The Silver Jubilee of King George and Queen Mary was marked by a special Thanksgiving service on May 12th 1935, when the Mayor and Corporation attended a relay of the service being broadcast from St Paul’s Cathedral.

A demand was received for payment to redeem tithe payable on the Burial Ground, but this appears to have been settled without the civil disturbances caused in other parts of Essex.

A troop of Girl Guides was formed in this year followed by a revived Scout troop – a pew was reserved for their weekly church parade. Efforts to license the Lecture Hall for public performance of plays etc. were found to call for expensive alterations and therefore postponed, a fate shared by a suggested floodlighting scheme for the front of the chapel.

Although the national unemployment situation was improving, appeals were regularly made for clothing etc for the distressed areas and aid to the local sufferers outstretched the Poor Funds, so that several worthy cases had to be persuaded to approach the local Assistance Board.

The Hippodrome Cinema had been joined by the Embassy Cinema in King Georges Place, High Street, and a monthly service was suggested to unite the free church congregations of the to~ but this excellent idea does not seem to have borne fruit. However the organist at the Embassy gave a series of recitals on the chapel organ.

By mid-1939 the arrangements for transfer of the chapel to the E.I.C.U. were completed, to be followed by the daughter chapels at Purleigh, Heybridge Basin and Broad Street Green, and the Lecture Hall and Schools. The chapel trustees had at first equal voting power with the E.I.C.U. but none were to be appointed and eventually the trustees were dissolved two years later. The Deacons then acted as managers for the E.I.C.U. in all building matters, but of course the congregation still had to find funds for repairs.

Mr E.J. Ennals, Secretary for 28 years, resigned through failing health, but the deacons appointed an assistant to keep him in the post until his death the following year.

As the country drifted towards war, the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) organisation began to use the schoolrooms, which had to be blacked out on the outbreak of war. The chapel was not usable after dark, so the’ Sunday evening’ service was held in the afternoon and the Sunday School transferred to the Temperance Hotel (late Coffee Palace) next door. The afternoon service only lasted until February 1940, by which time the blacked out Lecture Hall was available for evening use. This was not a popular move and, after transfer back to the chapel that summer, the afternoon service was restored. Not until the winter of 1941 was the chapel blacked out and a normal pattern of services resumed. Air raid alerts were not allowed to stop a service, although a short break enabled people to leave if they wished. A stirrup pump and sandbags were to hand in case of incendiary bombs but the building escaped major damage from the raids.

Apart from the early enrolment of 26 of its younger men, the church was involved in a Forces canteen and games room, set up by the YMCA and WVS organisations in the Lecture Hall. A resolution was passed at church meeting, deploring the increasing practice of opening theatres and music halls on Sunday and the local MP and the Home Secretary were pressed to support this view. In fact, this liberalization was defeated in Parliament shortly afterwards.

Mr Halfpenny had been contemplating a move for some time and, despite the deacons’ request to stay on, accepted a call to Sutton Valence, Kent as this would take him closer to his children. He made his farewells in April 1940.

Hugh B. Hutchinson (1941–1949)

Mid-1940 was not the best time for the church to be seeking a new pastor. Several potential ministers were asked to preach, but circumstances were changing all over the country as ministers left for the services and others moved to take their place. Taken with the severe wartime travel restrictions, and the death of the Moderator shortly afterwards, the process of choice stretched over eighteen months. The church meeting was transferred to Sunday after service, to ensure maximum attendance but even then one call was delayed, as only one-fifth of the congregation managed to attend and vote. help. In the meantime the church settled into a wartime routine – little activity in the evening due to the blackout and overtime working, but the Women’s Meeting restarted in the afternoon.

At last the Revd Hugh B. Hutchinson accepted a call from Bedford where he was assistant minister to the Bunyan Meeting, and he was inducted on October 2nd 1941. The church felt able to offer only a reduced stipend of £250 per annum with the Manse, when available, at a rental of £15 per annum, but it was agreed to “share any future prosperity with the Minister”.

From the Gilbert Islands news was received that Alfred Sadd was recovering from an accidental arsenical poisoning that had killed his fellow missionary, and shortly afterwards that he had been isolated by the Japanese attack in the Pacific.

The war came closer to home on 29th May 1942 when several members lost their homes by enemy action. but with no loss of life among them. With many of the men in the Home Guard attending compulsory church parades elsewhere, an evening communion service was instituted once a month. By this time over sixty monthly letters were being sent to serving members of the congregation.

The YMCA canteen in the Lecture Hall ran into problems. The caretaker was insulted and had to be pacified with a pay increase, grave offence was taken at money raising events involving raffles and gambling. and a considerable amount of alcohol was being consumed. A community hymn singing venture on Sunday evenings did not find favour with the troops either. After Miss Bowles’s wedding in May the bunting used was presented to the church and ordered to be kept in the Bank – it is still in use!

The military authorities were reluctant to give up the manse but at the end of the year, Mr Hutchinson was able to move in, accompanied by a church member and his wife, although a great deal of repair work was unfinished. At the same time, the railings and lamp post were taken for salvage, yielding six tons of iron, and the low brick wall demolished to open up the yard. Even in wartime this immediately led to a car parking intruder – a problem which is still with us.

Heybridge Basin chapel was badly damaged in January 1943 by a bomb fragment which passed through from side to side. Unhappily, three members and an ‘adherent’ died in this raid. Correspondence with the Ministry of Works regarding compensation went on for years, although the building was temporarily repaired and part used as a Rest Centre. Later, in October 1944 a flying bomb seriously damaged the homes of the Stratford and Ennals families, both long connected with the church. The social effects ofthe war, particularly among young women, were causing great concern among the deacons, who wrote pressing for the appointment of a woman police officer in the town, without success. The town’s clergy followed this with a joint letter, warning all of the dangers to young people’s morals in wartime. As part of the response the church started a Sunday afternoon Teens Club to bridge the gap between Sunday School and the Young Peoples Fellowship. Mr Hutchinson, who was very keen on youth activities, restarted the Scout Troop from among the senior Cubs.

By the end of 1944, confidence in victory was high enough to plan for the celebrations. When these eventually took place six months later, the Chapel service on 8th May was followed by a United Civic service on the following Sunday, attended by the Mayor and Corporation and representatives of the Services. The congregation filled the Chapel, vestry, Lecture Hall, churchyard and the Jubilee Hall across the way, all these being fed with a relay from the Chapel.

With the European war over there were plans to be made for the future’ especially for Mr Hutchinson who had taken a bride from his flock, marrying Miss Joyce Bees in April. Fortunately funds permitted a small increase in his stipend, and a car allowance. Groups were set up to consider “the Church’s worship” and a number of minor changes to the form of service were introduced, together with a monthly social after the evening service.

With the final end of the war in August, demobilisation began, but was more spread out than in 1918/9 and with conscription of young men still taking place, there is no record of a general ‘Welcome Home’ event.

The YMCA surrendered the Lecture Hall leaving behind piles of broken chairs and tables, and a damaged piano, which did not incline the deacons to allow their using the other rooms for a civilian YMCA club. The church finally accepted £100 in settlement for the damage. A request to use the Hall as a “British Restaurant” was not granted as the church’s own organisations were restarting when space became available. At this date any building work, even interior decoration, needed a licence from the Borough Engineer who was reluctant to oblige, even when rain was pouring through the roof. An architect was employed to survey the buildings and prepare a plan for repairs, bm shortly afterwards urgent re-rendering of the north wall of the chapel and part of the Lecture Hall cost £228.

The early months of 1947 were extremely cold .and there was a coal famine. So severe was the cold in the chapel that a new oil fired heating system was ordered. The £500 bill for this, and necessary repairs to the manse and chapel caused a financial crisis which was partly resolved by a Gift Day.

In June 1947 the Minister re-married two divorced persons who wished “to wipe out the past and make a new start:’ The deacons endorsed his action.

The Free Church magazine ceased publication and a revival of the church’s own magazine was discussed, and a further return to normality was marked by the institution of a Social Club as a revival of the old “Institute”. With his church now well back on the road to its prewar round of activity, Mr Hutchinson felt able to accept a call to Newton Abbot, Devon and left in June 1948.

Ralph H. Essex (1949–1956)

The new minister now to be appointed would find a church already in change. W.H. Harvey, Secretary since 1939, had left the district, to be replaced by Norman Sadd, and E.F. Gower, Treasurer for many years, had died. His son took the financial reins for a spell, but resigned in favour of Miss Marian Girling, a Sadd relative from Lincoln. By this time the condition of the chapel and school buildings was causing real alarm. Both were beginning to subside on the unstable soil of Market Hill. The old method of piecemeal repairs paid for by Gift Days and donations from a diminishing congregation would clearly not answer for the future. Miss Girling instituted a budgeting method of management, which enabled forecast expenditure to be spread over a number of years and enabled members to be told what was expected in the way of regular giving. This did not do more than quantify the problem – it is fair to say that building maintenance and repair has ever since been a major preoccupation of the deacons and their successors.

Meanwhile several ministers had been considered and one was asked to preach ‘with a view’ but was unable to move owing to the sudden death of his father-in-law. Eventually the Revd Ralph H. Essex was called from Seven Kings, after creating a very favourable impression by his preaching. He took up his duties in March 1949, and at his first church meeting the deeds of the Lecture Hall and Schools were finally vested in the E.I.C. U. A scale of charges was also fixed for caretaker’s and organist’s fees at marriages, etc in the chapel. These had been discretionary since the chapel was first registered for marriages in 1837.

Heavy repairs to the steam and water mains followed hard upon the provision of the new chapel heating system and the Bourne memorial in the centre of the yard needed rebuilding to make it safe. The lavatories were condemned by the local sanitary inspector and the Borough Council showed concern for the ceiling of the Lecture Hall now that it was licensed for public entertainment. These urgent matters were partially funded by several legacies and meanwhile Mr F. Barber was engaged as consulting architect to arrive at a scheme of repairs to be spread over the next few years. His initial list totalled over DOOO but after some thought, the solution of demolition was rejected and it was decided to carry on with the buildings (they were not at that time listed for preservation). In fact, during Mr Essex’s period the church roof was re-ridged, the Schools totally redecorated and re-lavatoried, and a good start was made with underpinning the buildings. 8 Market Hill was also redecorated and repaired at some cost.

The Alfred Sadd memorial in the chapel took the form of a hearing aid system installed by Acousticon at a cost of £85 and unveiled in March 1951. Miss A.M. Freeman presented the large communion table in memory of her sister and, dying shortly after, left £200 to the church.

The church’s organisation and worship was taking notice of outside trends – a constitution was drawn up following a national model, and church meeting agreed to consider cases of divorced persons wishing to marry in the chapel, although interviewing these people was left to the minister. Lettings for private political and trade union meetings were firmly forbidden, although square dancing was allowed. The school buildings were being used increasingly by outside bodies, and the parts let out had to pay rates. Keeping these separate became increasingly difficult so in 1955 the whole schools complex was registered for rates and these incorporated in the letting fees. An attempt to heat the buildings constantly was swiftly abandoned after three tons of coal were used in two weeks. Individual gas heaters were then installed in the main rooms.

After the manse had lost some temporary occupants, repairs were necessary to the roof and gable end, and it was suggested that it should be sold and 32 London Road bought with the proceeds. The deal fell through and other suggested sites were not pursued, so that the manse still remains at 10 Lodge Road. Although the rates were paid by the church, heating of this large house was becoming a burden to ministers. Stipends of £300 in the twenties looked far from princely after the war when money went only one- third of the distance. There was a marked reluctance on the part of a section of the diaconate to agree to a realistic stipend and even when nationally agreed rates were introduced several deacons persisted in wishing to undercut them. Allowances to cover the use of a car and child allowances had to be discussed at several meetings before a level of £400, rising eventually to £496, were forced through.

With all of these financial concerns it should not be thought that the church was failing in its witness. Mr Essex was talented in the presentation of the message in unusual ways and was much involved in the Festival of Congregationalism presented first at Maldon and subsequently at Colchester and Chelmsford. To mark the latter
cooperation a surplus Communion cup was presented to London Road Congregational Church. He was particularly successful in inspiring the younger members of the church and the older scholars in the Sunday School.

The outlying chapels at Purleigh, Latchingdon and the Basin were kept closely linked to Maldon, although they were sometimes more ‘Independent’ than was popular at the mother church.

A quarterly Youth service, organised by the Young Peoples Fellowship was instituted. A Boys Brigade unit was formed jointly with the Baptists, using premises at each chapel on different nights. This proved so successful that there was a suggestion of forming a Union Church with the town’s Baptists but, like the national move towards the Presbyterians in 1949, it was an idea ahead of its time.

Mrs Sadd, organist for 50 years, retired and an organ modification was suggested as a memorial. This proved to be impractical and a rebuild was decided upon.

Mr & Mrs Bowles presented 100 cups, saucers and plates to mark their Golden Wedding – Mrs Bowles survived for only another year. Several echoes from the past were heard. The Revd & Mrs Carpenter, old members, returned from the mission field for a holiday, while the Revd Barrie Flint wrote, enclosing an overlooked £5, taken while he was at Maldon in 1931. This was accepted “graciously”. A Band of Hope was formed with 26 members who signed the pledge when they were old enough for their parents to consent to their joining. “Congregational Praise” was adopted and the old Hymnary books dispersed to the village churches.

Shortly after this Mr Essex, with a successful year as Essex Union President behind him, accepted a call from Hammersmith Broadway Chapel and left in June 1956. He is still remembered as a good pastor, close to his people.

Harold D.Greenwood M.A. B.Litt (1957–1962)

After bidding farewell to Mr Essex, the search for a successor began with advice from the Moderator and also the Essex Union. Both of these suggested an increased stipend and after discussion at two church meetings, £550 per annum was agreed.

A minister from Beer, Devon preached ‘with a view’, was called, but declined to accept. The next call, to the Revd H.D. Greenwood, was more successful and he took up the pastorate in May 1957.

Mr Greenwood was a scholarly man, apparently not easy to get close to, but one who knew his own mind, and he had firm views on the inadequacy of the manse furnishings and fittings. Nearly £400 was spent on alterations and repairs before Mr & Mrs Greenwood took up residence.

The church magazine was an early object of his attention. The present format of duplicated pages between stiffer covers was adopted in October 1957 with Mr Greenwood as editor. He also instituted Bible Study classes which are still remembered for the scholarship which he devoted to them.

The joint Boys Brigade Unit was disbanded but the Congregational Scout Troop (6th Maldon) was revived (yet again). The poor state of the kitchen had been under fire from the ladies of the church for many years, but once again they had to settle for replastering and painting, for the east wall of the chapel was beginning to subside. The underpinning of this wall went on throughout 1958 at a cost of £1000 and

was followed by redecoration to the vestries, and tarring of the gravelled churchyard.

As local prosperity grew, the need for many small charitable gifts seems to have diminished – indeed occasionally gifts were politely declined to avoid loss of welfare benefits. In 1958 the deacons amalgamated the Poor Fund into the Sacramental Fund and later (in 1962) abandoned the long standing annual collection “for more Needy Church Members”.

The practice of recording members’ attendance at Communion was discontinued in October 1958, as it was felt that members could be left to examine their own consciences. In other ways the senior deacons were less happy with prevailing standards and it was necessary to ask for co-operation in reducing noise before and after services and in discouraging smoking on church premises. As a means of encouraging young people to feel part of the church, the category of Junior Member was instituted for those between 13 and 18, who would transfer to full membership at 18. These enjoyed all the privileges of church membership except voting at church meeting (which was disallowed by the Trust Deed).

Alas, shortly after this was agreed, the leader of the Junior Church was asked to resign as her theological beliefs were felt to be unsuitable for the position. An unpleasant upset was followed by the loss of several members, but after it blew over the Junior Church continued to flourish. For administrative convenience its finances, hitherto independent, were incorporated into the church accounts.

An echo of an old battle was heard in 1959 when a County proposal to subsidise the building of denominational (in practice Catholic) schools was fiercely contested by the Free Churches, with Maldon deacons and congregation right behind them.

In the meantime Miss Cullen, a trained lay preacher awaiting an opening as Lay Pastor, assumed responsibility for Heybridge Basin where “the secretary had not attended for two years, the caretaker did nothing except light the stoves and there was almost no congregation”. The Maldon deacons arranged for necessary repairs to the Basin chapel in an attempt to re-vitalise the church. Miss Cullen was also invited to become temporary Lay Pastor at Purleigh. It is fair to suggest that the spiritual oversight of the village churches had not been of great concern either to Mr Greenwood or his predecessor, although the local Lay preachers had always been very active in the outlying chapels.

1960’s estimates had to include £1200 for further underpinning, this time of the Lecture Hall, and the prospect of heavy repairs to the organ, now over 130 years old, had to be faced. Estimates for repairs costing £1500, or £4000 to rebuild forced the deferment of the matter until more funds were available.

In 1961 overdue repairs to the manse roof were only half covered by a Gift Day appeal, and the Secretary was asked to lend £300 to cover the debt. On a happier note, several joint services were held with the Baptists during 1962. This formed a pleasant ending to Mr Greenwood’s ministry, for in September 1962, he left to assume a pastorate at Godalming, Surrey.

Allan Speight, B.A. (1963–)

While the manse was vacant the opportunity was taken to re-roof the window bays at a cost of £613, and further work was necessary at 8 Market Hill. The shop and studio attached to the house was also in need of repair, but was allowed to remain vacant for a while to save paying rates.

On the advice of the Moderator, a stipend of £725 (plus car expenses) was agreed for the next minister and two names were considered. In the meantime, Purleigh Chapel, who were now without a Lay Pastor, passed a resolution pointing out resentfully that they had not “floated off on their own” and “in spite of repeated requests during the late ministry they had been left without pastoral and very little spiritual guidance. It is hoped that any new minister will realise that he has duties towards Purleigh and the other two small churches as well as at Maldon” – strong stuff indeed!

They asked to be involved in the selection of the new minister and did not have long to wait, for of the two candidates Allan Speight was asked to preach and immediately re-invited to preach with a view to the pastorate. A call followed which was accepted, and he began his pastorate on Easter Sunday 1963.

Mr Speight was a relatively young man with an open mind, a fortunate combination for the church was entering a period of changes greater than any in its previous centuries and would need calm guidance at times.

His introduction to the manse was marred by the discovery of woodworm which involved much disorganisation and expense to disinfest, while the roof of the chapel was stripped of its old slates and recovered with concrete slabs at a cost of over £800.

The old pipe organ was now barely usable. Despite a great deal of sentimental attachment, to spend D-£4000 on a rebuild was just not practicable and reluctantly it was replaced by a Compton 363 electronic organ for £1370. Some parts of the old organ were sold but the pipes were retained to hide the new loudspeakers. The console of course could be sited away from the gallery and a lively controversy ensued as to its positioning. In front of the pulpit – sunk in the floor – at the back of the chapel – downstairs – upstairs – there were nearly as many variations as church members! However, after a while it was sited beneath the north gallery and the choir transferred to the rostrum. Even here the choir was invisible to the organist so, after a few years the console returned to the original organ loft. Here the organist now sits in splendid isolation for the choir, now much smaller than before, remains on the rostrum.

The dialogue with the Baptists continued, and it had been intended to include the Methodists in joint services at the three churches. The Methodists at this time were looking nationally to union with the Church of England and the move did not develop further for some years. Maldon Congregational Church held several joint services a year with All Saints (C of E). Slowly the different denominations were drawing closer together. Not every joint venture prospered – the little chapel at Woodham Waiter Goint with the Baptists) closed down in 1966 and was sold for £372.

The Congregational Churches of England and Wales had formed a Union for over 130 years whilst still retaining their Independency. At the Assembly of May 1965 a Covenant was drafted, in which these churches would be joined in one communion, “the Congregational Church in England and Wales”. The Maldon church meeting agreed unanimously to join as a member of this body in November 1965. Not all congregations felt able to join – Latchingdon insisted on joining a Free Independent Evangelical Congregational Church – but five years were available for second thoughts, and talks were already under way leading to union with the Presbyterians.

Still, independent or not, a congregation needs a building in which to worship, and the rewiring of Maldon chapel was undertaken by a group of members. During the work the building was found to be infested with woodworm and deathwatch beetle – no light matter with a timber frame however massive its scantlings. Thanks to a generous loan and subscription the damage, and dry rot in one corner were dealt with immediately.

At this time the front churchyard was opened up by the removal of the Bourne memorial which had formed a prominent part of the old boundary with the schoolyard. The inscribed slabs were transferred to another family monument and the surface levelled, before the yard was re-tarred.

During roof repairs at No 8 Market hill a stack of old glass negatives was found together with ledgers etc., from its days as a photographer’s home. These were eventually given to the Essex Record Office. The photographic studio was demolished and the shop re-let in 1965, the demolition leading some time later to a boundary dispute with the owners of No.10 which was never resolved.

The Young Peoples Fellowship established a lounge for their regular use at the rear of the Lecture Hall. Other youth activities were doing well – the Scout Troop had changed into Sea Scouts in 1965 and a church Games Club was thriving enough to contribute to church funds.

In 1968 the association with the other Free Churches of the town was progressing well enough for the Methodist and Baptist ministers to begin informal meetings with Mr Speight which it was hoped could lead to a team ministry of the three churches; possibly also involving Southminster and the village churches.

For the present, the Maldon congregation was looking anxiously to the future. Having spent over £10000 in the past 1D-15 years in maintaining their buildings, the same amount was envisaged for the next 5-10 years. A committee was set up to consider all the options, from demolition (illegal, as several were listed), to disposal of some and alteration of the rest. A church meeting declined to approve any of the proposals offered and so the decision was taken to repair and redecorate the chapel, and soldier on.

The redecoration of Maldon chapel cost £2404 and left the interior as we see it today (one of the best examples of its type for many miles around). :’repairs to the pillars of the portico were less fortunate. An estimated £ 18()()…2000 for reconstruction was just not available, so a repair of the surface was carried out for £335, and expected to last 15 years. From the outset, cracks and frost damage marred the appearance of these pillars and reconstruction has just been necessary at a cost of £26000.

A Flower Festival was held to commemorate the completion of the redecoration, the theme being “Nonconformity in Maldon”.

In opening the 1970 Annual Church Meeting, Mr Speight said that “the years ahead would be challenging for the Church – should we maintain the status quo and go along in the same rather comfortable way, or ought we to be looking for new ways of obedience to God, and this could be an upsetting kind of experience.”

One change had already taken place – Tadgel Sadd retired as Treasurer, following the retirement of his brother Norman as Secretary the previous year. Although both brothers gave valuable service to the church until their deaths several years later, this was the first time in many years that the church did not have a Sadd among its officers. Always known locally as “the Sadd church”, the chapel had benefited greatly from the time, resources and building expertise given by various Sadds for nearly 200 years and was to feel the effects of the removal of a prop (and a cushion) for.a long time afterwards. With the sale of the family timber firm which had employed so many of the congregation, it would be necessary to stand more firmly on their own feet in future, particularly in small items of maintenance.

Union with the Presbyterians had been agreed at the 1971 May Assembly and a decision was called for from member churches. On 24th November 1971 the church meeting voted by an 81 % majority to accept the proposal and become a member of the United Reformed Church. Heybridge Basin also joined, but Broad Street Green declined, and remained completely independent. Purleigh, alas, had closed in February 1971, after a period of declining membership, the crowning blow being the need for heavy repairs to the chapel, which neither they nor the mother church could afford.

One eventual effect of the Union, which formally took effect on October 5th 1972, would be the transfer of responsibility for ministerial stipends to the Maintenance of the Ministry Fund of the URC, this being funded by a membership levy on the church. In the future deacons would be known as Elders, with new Elders being ordained after election. Inevitably there would be a greater degree of central organisation, with control of all trust property vested in the URC. Responsibility for property maintenance remained with the church, and Heybridge Basin, now integrated with Maldon, had to be provided with new sanitary facilities. (The Basin chapel had lost its garden to form an approach road to the Basin car park.)

The Maldon Council of Churches was formed and Mr Speight (by now regarded as the town’s senior minister) was elected Chairman of the Essex Congregational Union.

A Fabric Committee was set up to oversee the maintenance of the buildings and its first task was to carry out urgent repairs to the manse at a cost of £600, once again leading to suggestions that a more suitable house should be bought, as £1500 was quoted to modernise the present premises.

Heybridge Basin had a difficult winter in 1973/4 with the roof under repair and a government ban on electric heating after the oil supply crisis of that year. The manse was now more comfortable after the installation of a central heating system for £1160.

During 1974 the roof of the schoolrooms, which was beginning to leak, was covered using a relatively new process which laid a plastic membrane over the slates at a cost of £610. The Lecture Hall and Basin chapel roofs were treated similarly the following year.

On a more pleasant note, a coachload of members attended the ordination and induction of the Revd Richard Davis at Ashford. From birth to ordination Mr Davis was a scion of the Maldon chapel, having progressed through the Junior Church to its leadership, and then on to theological college – and he is still a welcome visitor.

The younger generation was tending to drift away from the church at 12-13 and the Young People’s Fellowship was thinly attended – it closed in 1975 to be replaced by the Fellowship of United Reformed Youth (FURY). The Sea Scout troop amalgamated with the All Saints troop in 1987.

Of major significance was the decision by Chelmsford District to institute a group ministry in which Maldon would form a team ministry with other local United Reformed Churches. The Maldon Elders were quite agreeable to this proposal, although some felt that the ecumenical approach of joining with other Maldon churches might be more fruitful. A series of Joint services was held with Witham, Great Totham and Tolleshunt Major congregations and a joint ministry covering these four churches (and Heybridge Basin) was inaugurated in January 1978. Tiny Terling, one of the oldest congregations in Essex, joined later and is under the care of Witham. It still survives – just. Tolleshunt Major, alas, closed shortly after the formation of the Group and the chapel was sold. Now, ten years later, Tiptree and Kelvedon appear ready to join the group which will then be entitled to three ministers.

It should not be thought from this that the ecumenical ideal has been discarded. Members of the Maldon Council of Churches covenanted together in 1982 to hold an annual service at each church in rotation so that their members can become familiar with each other’s form of worship.

In 1982 a new bathroom was installed at the manse and the exterior of the church redecorated. The money for this was raised by forming a notional ‘Mile of Five Pennies’.

The reader who has patiently followed this story cannot fail to have noted the dominant part which the church’s buildings have played in its affairs. Managing the property has been a drain on financial and mental resources which some felt could have been put to more spiritual uses. For this reason a Finance & General Purposes Committee was formed some years ago to deal with such matters and leave the Elders with more time to guide the spiritual progress of the church.

Little could be done to change the chapel building or the exterior of the Schools, both being listed buildings, but in 1987 the decision was taken to dispose of 8/8a Market Hill and demolish the Lecture Hall, which was becoming unsafe through further subsidence. Much time was spent on a project to redevelop the site as a doctors’ surgery. When this fell through, the Lecture Hall was demolished and landscaped as a car park.

The income from the sale of 8/8a Market Hill was put towards the repairs of the portico pillars and other repairs (the capital remaining with Eastern Province). The interior of the Schools was remodelled to form a modern kitchen and meeting rooms. In both these projects the church was fortunate in having the voluntary services of an architect member, whose young daughters performed the opening ceremony in June 1986.

Postscript by Allan Speight

As the Tercentenary Celebrations approach and this booklet is prepared for publication (in the early Spring of 1988) work on the portico and pillars is almost complete. No doubt there will be further work necessary to maintain and improve our premises in the years ahead. So much of what has been written above reminds us – if we really needed reminding – that the worship and witness of a local church needs the kind of material resources which make so many and onerous demands on the local congregation. But the worship, work and witness of the Christian fellowship so enabled should never be dominated or bounded by these ‘sticks and stones’.

Our vision and inspiration is still the one which motivated Billio and his congregation: to celebrate and proclaim the redeeming love and power of God revealed in Jesus Christ and to show how this can change life for the individual and the community. Our priority in what we plan and what we do must always be an expression of our commitment to proclaiming the Gospel as widely and as fully as possible.

Of course our world is very different from Billio’s. The centuries have brought their changes in attitudes as well as the environment, and technology is transforming both at an unprecedented rate in our own time. A world which, half-hopefully and half-fearfully, is poised to enter upon a new millennium will have little time for a church which consciously or otherwise tries to live in the past.

So what does the future hold for the United Reformed Church in Maldon? A detailed answer is hardly possible since the Holy Spirit rarely provides the people of God with an Ordnance Survey map setting out every detail of the terrain through which their pilgrimage will take them. But some road signs can be made out.

One points in the direction of ecumenical endeavour. During the last quarter century and more this church has readily been involved in initiatives intended to help the people of God in the various church traditions to realise their unity in their one Saviour. We have supported and often suggested united services, evangelical out reach and practical caring. So much can and should be done together and so much more ought to be tackled in the years ahead. The years of our early history were ones in which separation and division seemed the only way in which the truth of the gospel could be honoured. Nowadays, in a world divided and damaged by so many destructive tensions, Christians are surely under an obligation to preach reconciliation in deed as well as word! In any event, we are committed (in the words of the United Reformed Church’s statement of faith) “to pray and work with all the churches for visible Christian unity.”

Another priority is the continuity of worship. The first building on the site of the present church was called, in the terminology of the day, a Meeting House. There Christians would meet regularly for worship, as they have done until the present time. Forms of worship, like the language used, have changed to match the needs and expectations of successive generations, but public worship and the celebration of the sacraments have always been central to the life of the fellowship. In the years ahead this historic continuity will be maintained as ministers and laypersons are enabled to make their imaginative and faithful contributions to the church’s worship.

There will, no doubt, be many other priorities God will set before this congregation and those who follow after. The need for faith and vision is and always will be as great as ever it was. But three hundred years on we rejoice in this celebratory opportunity to give thanks to Almighty God for ” …the common life of the Church, wherein the people of God, being made members one of another, are called to love and serve one another and all men and to grow together in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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