cHRISTCHURCH UNITED REFORMED CHURCH

Carnarvon Road, Clacton on Sea, Essex

Minster: Reverend Chris Wood - Tel: 01255 224598

Christ Church URC

Clacton-on-Sea
(1887 - 1987)

PREFACE

It cannot be often that the same person is able to write two histories of the same Church, once to celebrate its 50th Jubilee and then again, 50 years later, to mark it's Centenary. That double distinction belongs to Mr Kenneth Walker. In 1937 Christ Church recorded its indebtedness to him for his thorough and pains-taking research and his excellent and readable work. Today, reading his new history of our Church and observing his careful and exacting self-imposed standards, have persuaded me that he has not lost either his art of story-telling or the meticulous standards of accuracy of a real historian. Once again Christ Church stands in his debt and we pay tribute to his hard-work on our behalf and this fine piece of writing which is its fruit. This account of 100 years of worship and witness tells the story of our Church and puts that story into the larger setting of the history of the whole Christian tradition in Essex and relates it in many interesting ways to the growth and development of our seaside town. I trust it will help us value our own heritage at Christ Church and at the same time enable us to appreciate a shared inheritance with our fellow-Christians in other Churches.

50 years ago Joshua Allardyce wrote the Preface to Kenneth Walker's earlier book and having paid tribute to those who founded our Church and honoured their memory, he then turned to the task that faced the congregation of his day. In a sentence that was characteristic of his faith and enterprising leadership he wrote, "The best thing to do with a past is to make a future of it'. We could do no better than to take that bold sentence and make it again the watchword of our Church and congregation as we seek to restore our beautiful building and explore new ways of making it a centre of community life and Christian worship. Within this short book we celebrate the faith, the labours, the achievements and lives of many faithful men and women who founded our Church or, who sustained it's life through a century. We must not be content with preserving their memory. They deserve better than this. We must make their values, their faith and their devotion to Our Lord and His Church, our own. In a word "Christ' is the living inheritance of Christ Church and it's future.

David Greengrass.


PRELUDE

Just across the water from Clacton, by the wind-swept shore at Bradwell, stands St. Peter's Chapel. Today it is a place of pilgrimage, for it was built by St. Cedd, who established the Christian Faith in Essex in the 7th century.

It was not long after this that a large maritime estate in the north-east corner of the county came into possession of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the village of Great Clacton lay at its centre. There can be little doubt that an early chapel was also built here on the site of the present Norman Parish Church, and certainly, during the Middle Ages, the Bishops of London had a house nearby where they frequently stayed.

During the 17th century Essex became a stronghold of nonconformity, and a number of Congregational Churches were established, including Lion Walk and Stockwell in Colchester.

The village of Great Clacton was located about a mile from the coast, and it was not until 1871 that the development of Clacton-on-Sea started with the completion of a pier.

The new town grew slowly, but by 1884 its resident population was approaching a thousand, and during the summer months the little resort was overrun with visitors, good bourgeois families enjoying a week's holiday by the sea.

In the meantime a small Anglican church, St. Paul's, had been built in the fields away to the east, and the Methodists, with two chapels in the old village, had opened Trinity Church in 1877. There were, however, among the residents and regular visitors, many Congregationalists and Baptists anxious to hold their own services in the little town, and they looked for assistance towards the larger town of Colchester.

 

A UNION CHURCH

THE BEGINNING

Christ Church largely owed its inception to the devoted energies of two Colchester clergymen, the Rev. Thomas Batty of the former Stockwell Congregational Church, and the Rev. Edward Spurner of Eld Lane Baptist Church, and it was they who guided its pastoral affairs until the first minister was appointed.

A site for a new church had obviously been earmarked when in August 1884, the following announcement appeared:

CLACTON-on-SEA
Proposed Nonconformist Church
(INDEPENDENT & BAPTIST)
*******
A Site has been secured, and
A MEETING
Of friends willing to co-operate in the above matter
will be held at the
PUBLIC HALL
On MONDAY NEXT, August 18th,

At Half-past THREE in the Afternoon

The Public Hall was located at the rear of a parade of shops on the east side of Pier Avenue, towards the sea, and it was destroyed in a disastrous fire just before the last war.

The Meeting, timed for the height of the holiday season, was well attended; and was presided over by Albert Spicer, a leading Congregationalist, later to become the first lay Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, and a notable politician and privy councillor.

It was then decided to acquire the land, and to build a Union Church (Congregational and Baptist) as soon as sufficient funds were available. To further the project, "an influential Committee' was formed, with Thomas Batty and Edward Spurner as secretaries, and local resident Thomas Lilley (of Lilley and Skinner) as treasurer. About £500 was promised at the Meeting.

The following January a 'most advantageous' plot of land at the corner of Carnarvon and Holland Roads was purchased for the modest sum of £375, and designs for the new building were invited. The successful architect proved to be Thomas Baker of Clacton, who was later to be a deacon of the Church.

 

THE FIRST SERVICES

The time had now come for Union services to be held in the town, and the first were conducted in the Public Hall on Sunday, May 3rd, 1885, by the Rev. Edward Egg, a retired Congregational minister from Woodford. 'There was a capital congregation in the morning, and between two and three hundred in the evening' - a most promising start.

Thereafter the services were held each Sunday at 11.00 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., with Holy Communion once a month, and it is interesting to note that for more than a hundred years these have remained the normal hours for Sunday Worship, occasionally varied to suit the season or special circumstances.

Visiting preachers came from either denomination, and management was in the hands of a local committee.

On the first Sunday in January, 1886, a Sunday School was established with four teachers, six boys, and thirteen girls.

Every effort was now being made to raise money, and the climax came in August that year with a Grand Bazaar in the Public Hall, which included 'Band, Living Waxworks, Refreshments.' It yielded £125.

Tenders for building the Church had now been invited, and the lowest, submitted by Henry Everett & Son of Colchester in the sum of £2240, was accepted.

On September 30th, 1886, Foundation Stones were laid by D. Gurteen of Haverhill and J.A. Tawell of Earl's Colne, and an address was given by the Chairman of the Congregational Union.


CHRIST CHURCH OPENED

The building, in Early English Gothic, comprised only the present nave, shorter by one bay, and the transept up to the partition. The interior was lit by gas, and an American organ provided music. There was a central pulpit, the "children's gallery', and seating for just under 400. Above the tower a spire rose to a height of about 80 feet. The Church occupied a prominent corner position, and, in addition to Anglefield forming an open space to the sea, the land to the rear was then largely undeveloped.

On Wednesday, June 29th, 1887, little more than a week after Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, Christ Church was opened in brilliant weather and 'under favourable auspices.'
The opening service commenced at 3.30 p.m. and was conducted by Thomas Batty and Edward Spurner. The sermon was preached by the succeeding Chairman of the Congregational Union, and he chose as his text the last covenant of Jesus with his disciples (Acts,1: 6-8) 'and ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.' To some at that time Clacton might well have seemed an uttermost part of the earth!

The congregation then adjourned for tea in the Public Hall, and, somewhat depleted, they returned to the Church for a public meeting, which was addressed at some length by several clergy and friends.

The total cost of the land and building had been £2,415, and there remained a deficit of about £500.

 

THE CHURCH INCORPORATED

It was now decided to formally constitute a Church of those, who, by profession of faith, or by transfer from other churches, should be eligible for membership, and for this purpose a meeting was held on Thursday evening, November 10th, 1887. Candidates for admission sat in the central pews, and they numbered forty-six - thirty-one ladies and fifteen gentlemen - the majority by transfer.

A Declaration of Faith was read, and the new members stood to indicate their assent, following which all joined hands in a circle and sang the hymn 'Blest be the tie that binds.'

The names of these first members are preserved in the original minutes of this meeting, and they included several of the pioneer traders in the little town. At this point it is impossible to continue the story of Christ Church without special mention of two of them - Frederick and Elizabeth Lewellen.

The Public Hall was situated immediately behind the Lewellens' shop in Pier Avenue, and they had assisted in preparing it for the earliest services, and their drawing-room had been used for the first church meetings. For nearly forty years Frederick Lewellen was Church Treasurer, and Honorary Organist and Choirmaster, and his wife, later a Life Deacon, was a member for nearly seventy years. Their son, Grifflth Lewellen, also became Treasurer, and was a great friend and benefactor to the Church. It is gratifying to record, in centenary year, that the membership still includes one of this respected family.

In March, 1888, the Local Committee was replaced by a diaconate of five, and from their number a Secretary, Treasurer, and Sunday School Superintendent were appointed. Thomas Ubsdell, the Secretary, a stationer and the local postmaster, was a neighbour of Frederick Lewellen in Pier Avenue and another neighbour, William Mann, a chemist, was the Sunday School Superintendent.

A MAJOR EXTENSION

It had always been envisaged that the Church building should be extended to provide a separate School Hall, and an organ to replace the harmonium, and as finances improved a special fund was established for this purpose.

In the summer of 1900, to the design of Thomas Baker, work was commenced. The present pulpit replaced the old central structure; the nave was extended to accommodate a new organ; and the Hall was built. On opening up the roof, thousands of bees were found nesting - 'It is expected that much honey will be recovered as the work proceeds.'

Two Foundation Stones were laid in October, and the Church was reopened the following April. The organ had to be blown by hand, a duty which fell to the Caretaker, an officer who was long employed to look after the building.

 

SECOND WORLD WAR

On Sunday, September 3rd, 1939, it was announced at the morning service that war had again been declared against Germany. A black-out became immediately necessary, but this had to be con-fined to the School Hall, where evening services were held, and the Church was used for services on Sunday afternoons.

Subject to this inconvenience, the work of the Church continued for a time much as usual, and the Hall was made available on Wednesdays for servicemen and women stationed in the town. From the following February, however, the canteen there was opened every evening.

On April ~0th, 1940, the manse was severely damaged when an enemy aircraft, carrying mines, crashed only a short distance away. Fortunately the minister and his wife were unhurt, but they had to seek temporary accommodation at the home of a member. The manse was subsequently requisitioned, and was sold at the end of the war.

Shortly after this the threat of invasion caused the evacuation of schoolchildren from Clacton, and the banning of visitors, and many of the residents hastily left the town.
They were traumatic times, and with a rapidly dwindling congregation it was reluctantly decided to close the Church. On Sunday, July 7th,Herhert Stock conducted his last services, and departed, later to take up an appointment at Chelmsford. A genial and friendly pastor, he had been held in the highest regard.

It must have seemed that this was to be the end of Christ Church, but it was not so. God produced the man for the occasion, and that man was a member, Frank Sharp. Largely due to his inspiration, and the loyal support of the few who remained, the services were continued each Sunday in the School Hall. Only two deacons returned, and a provisional Diaconal Committee was formed for the duration.

Clacton had its full share of air-raids, but fortunately the Church escaped serious damage, though most of its window-glass had to be replaced, and minor repairs were necessary.
Slowly some of the members returned to the town, and on Sunday, May 31st, 1942, it was found possible to reopen the Church for worship.

A UNITED REFORMED CHURCH


For several years a union between the Congregational Church in England and Wales, and the Presbyterian Church of England, had been under discussion and at a special meeting in October 1971 the members of Christ Church agreed, by a large majority, to support such a project.

It was only natural that a few had misgivings about such a fundamental change, which involved some loss of independence, but, the necessary support having been received, the United Reformed Church came into being on October 5th, 1972.

[n the event the transition was hardly noticeable, the immediate effect being the redesignation of the twelve deacons as elders, and they continued in office, a third retiring annually.

CHURCH ORGANISATIONS

In briefly recounting the story of Christ Church it has been impossible to mention all its associated organisations and activities. Some have come and gone, and others have been reformed.

The Junior Church continues the traditions of the Sunday School, and a succession of youth groups has followed a Young Peoples' Association established as far back as 1888. Today they are rep-resented by the Youth Fellowship, re-started in March 1974, and the Pilots, who re-commenced in May three years later. Appropriately the most recent organisation is the Mothers and Toddlers Group which was founded in October 1985, and has since been redesignated the Little Angels Club.

The Church has always had the loyal support of a choir, though its numbers have fluctuated considerably over the years. Like some of the other organisations an Annual Outing was once a highlight of its year, and Ipswich was often a favourite choice.

The Women's Guild was formed during the last war in succession to the 'Pleasant Monday Afternoon for Women' (the PMA), which dated from the First World War.

The Church Fellowship was a merger in 1979 of the Women's and Men's Fellowships, the former having started in 1956, and the latter two years later. This continues twice monthly as a Prayer and Bible Study Group.

The Homemakers, for young wives, first met in September 1973, and the Divine Healing Group has been meeting for thirty years.

Apart from the war years the Hall has been the venue of a badminton club ever since 1921.

The monthly Christ Church News, a continuing record of all the Church's activities, and tidings of its fellowship, follows on from the former Chronicle, which was issued from 1949.

* * * * * * * * * *

Christ Church has been committed to the foreign missionary enterprise right from 1888, when it was agreed that every month 'a Missionary Prayer Meeting should be held, when a collection should be made to be equally divided between the London and Baptist Missionary Societies'. Support for the latter was withdrawn in the 1930's, at which time the Church was proud to subscribe half the salary of the matron of the Hong Kong L.M.S. Hospital, and to maintain a cot in the Children's Ward there.

The Council for World Mission has now taken over the work of the former L.M.S.


INTO THE MINISTRY

It is a pleasure to record that the following men from Christ Church have entered the Christian Ministry:

Rev. Victor Cameron ... Now at Wivenhoe
Rev. Roy Huntley ... Now in Ontario, Canada
Rev. Alfred Maeers. Deceased
Rev. Joseph Story …. Now at Buckland, Portsmouth
Rev. Colin Thompson ... Now at Sussex University

 

IN MEMORIUM

The Church is greatly indebted to the many generous friends who, over the years, have given donations or left legacies, to enable its work and witness to continue. Gifts too have been presented in memory of loved ones, and their names may be seen on various wall plaques and inscriptions throughout the Church.

 

FROM THE MINUTES

'This Congregation expresses its deep sense of sorrow and indignation at the barbarities inflicted upon the Natives of the Congo Free State ……..' (1906)

* * * * * * * * * *

'The Secretary expressed the thanks of the Church to the Ladies who had kindly placed flowers upon the Communion Table, but suggested that in future as far as possible flowers without a strong perfume should be sent ……' (1909)

* * * * * * * * * *

'It was agreed to have a narrow ledge placed upon the Gallery rail to prevent Books etc. from falling below.' (1924)

* * * * * * * * * *

'Arrived at Regent 4 o'clock. Tea & Film Show, which was not too good (Hot Pepper).' (Choir Outing to Ipswich, 1933)

* * * * * * * * * *

'Mr W.S. Robson of Braziers Tea Gardens, Galleywood, wrote asking for assistance in finding a donkey which he wished to purchase.' (1939)

* * * * * * * * * *

'Sidesmen's duties during July had been undertaken by ladies for the first time and in splendid fashion.' (1957)


Kenneth Walker

 

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