Beginnings - the History of Shoneham Road Baptist Church
"You want to know how the work began - well I’ll tell you".
It was a good many years ago, but the memory of the starting of the work is as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. We had only been married for about six months and had come to live in Portland Road, Hove, far away from the scenes of our mission in Gardner Street and Sussex Street, Brighton where my wife and I were workers.
It was too far for us to walk, although we tried to carry on for a time. One Sunday evening we stood together looking out of our front window into the street. We were struck by the number of young fellows who had nothing to do but to loafe about annoying everybody. They passed, ringing bells and knocking on doors and then running away when someone appeared to answer the door.
The thought came to both of us at the same time, Heaven sent we believed, which was to be our call to service for the Master and which was really to be the beginning of our life’s work, although we little thought so then. What if we could win these young lives for the Saviour and turn all this excess of energy into nobler channels? The thought gripped us as we prayed over the matter, and we determined to make a start.
We secured the use of a loft over a stable where a man who sold paraffin and hardware kept his horse and van, and then sailed forth after closing the business at ten at night to see what youths we could find about the streets. Those we spoke to were most civil as we explained that we were starting a meeting and should be glad if they would accept an invitation to a tea to be followed by a meeting with singing and a little Bible talk. When the day after, the time for the opening meeting arrived, quite a number turned up. We found that they regarded the invitation in the light of the spread laid before them. We were in deadly earnest to make a good impression as we did want to lay hold upon their imagination.
And what a tea fight it was! We had a collection of real games, but certainly in the rough. There were cab runners (those who make a living by fetching horse cabs, and loading and unloading luggage from them), swill collectors (those who earned their living collecting swill for pigs), and all sorts of lively customers. “Pass the hogwash”, “more hogwash this way” as we served out the tea. And my word how the cake and bread and butter disappeared! The noise was terrific as they talked and shouted, and I must confess I began to feel a bit scared and wondered whatever we should do with this mob. And if we had not believed it was a call from God to take on this work I really believe we should have began and ended with that first evening. But were not these the very ones that the Saviour came to save? To our surprise, during the service they quietened down, except for singing the wrong words to some of the hymns. They listened and seemed interested in the address.
So ended our first meeting, and so began the work. They promised to come again, and come back they did. And, oh! What times we had. We got on very well together.
I soon got to understand their little ways, and they, too got to understand me. We had plenty of ups and downs, (very much “downs”) but sometimes when fancy took them they could be as nice as ever a young man could want, and sometimes when they got a cut beyond everything I used to say to my wife, who was my faithful helper and used to play the organ. “Take my keys dear, and lock the door”. Then turning to my lambs I would say “you have come here to please yourselves to-night, but not one of you will leave this hall before you hear what I have to say”. They were nearly always good sports and would quieten down so as to let me get the message in.
- Frank Sadler.
About thirty gathered at the first meeting held on the 25th of February 1897. They were a varied assortment and although not easy to control many were splendid chaps at heart and many in those early years found the Saviour.
Not long after this early start Mr and Mrs Sadler founded the Sunday School with sixteen London children and four local children. And then they were led to commence a Gospel Service on Sunday evenings. All these meetings were held in the little room perfumed by the paraffin which was stored below, and whose meetings were enlivened by the kicking’s of a horse which lived with the paraffin and which seemingly did not like music.
In three years it became necessary to secure larger premises and in April 1900 the work moved to another upper room in Westbourne Street., where once again horses were kept beneath.
How we got Our Second Stable Loft: (Westbourne Street)
When it became necessary to find larger accommodation for the work which we were carrying on in our first stable loft, for the work was growing and the room was now too small. We hunted the neighbourhood for a suitable place, but without success. What could we do? What should we do? We talked the matter over and decided to call our workers together for prayer. It was the Lord’s work, not ours and nothing is impossible with God. Let us ask Him. So we had our special prayer meeting in our house and laid the matter before the Lord, asking Him for his leading and guidance.
A few days later after this a little maid who worked for us casually mentioned that her father wanted to let the loft over the stable attached to their coal yard. Was this God’s answer? We went to see the place. It was much larger and very convenient, situated to where our people and children lived. Yes, it was God’s answer! We arranged to take it over. God had guided us. It was near the top of Westbourne Street. Here we had wonderful times. At first the horses underneath could not understand the singing and neighed and rattled their harnesses, but they soon got used to us. How thankful we were to God for answering our prayers.
This room also proved too small for the growing work and a third move had to be made, this time to a room over a laundry in Coleridge Street which was reached by going down a long passage. It is true it was a long way from the noise of traffic but there were other distractions.
The sound from the continual explosions from the exhaust pipe of the gas engine beneath us was even more disturbing than the frequent rearing’s and plunging’s of an unmusical horse; whilst an amateur brass band was wont to practise in a back yard close by.
Of course all these three rooms had one horror in common especially to the ladies - mice. Who-ever were absent from the meetings the mice seldom were, and they always chose the most quiet and impressive moment to make their appearance.
Many were the experiences through which the workers passed in those early days and many were the stories they could tell of triumph and disappointment. One lad was especially difficult. It seemed that nothing that was said or done made the slightest difference to him and after a while he was lost sight of. The years passed away and one day a lady called to see our leader. Do you remember …..? “Yes”, was the reply. “Well he is dead. He died in the infirmary; but he made me promise before he died that I would find you out and tell you that is was through those meetings he became a Christian”. We tell this story giving God the glory, as an encouragement to Christian workers.
How wonderful to hear a thing like this after the passage of years and how God can use His servants often when they least expect it.
It was in 1904 that the room in Coleridge Street was left behind and the work was moved to the beautiful Hall in Stoneham Road which was specially built. There are photographs of both the exterior and interior which was capable of seating four hundred people. Even this building rapidly proved too small for the still growing work and it was not long before, not only the ground floor, but the gallery also was packed with children as the numbers in the Sunday School rose. It was rather a nightmare having eleven classes of youngsters in the gallery; but fortunately good discipline had always been a feature of the Sunday School and no accidents occurred. Miss Priestley, who in those days had charge of “The Mother’s Meeting “ - as it was then called and “The Sewing Class” also took the Young Women’s Bible Class in the Sunday School.
This class grew so large that the door had to be removed from the classroom so that the members could sit in the passage, whilst the young men, about thirty of them used to pack into the kitchen.
It early became very patent that even larger accommodation would have to be found and this contingency had providentially been foreseen and provided for, by the purchase of a large piece of ground beside the hall. But for many years there was a great and insuperable obstacle to any further forward movement. When in 1904 the Hall had been built. A large debt over “£2,000 remained. With little material resources to draw upon, the raising of interest on this amount each quarter seemed a hopeless task, whilst the reduction of the capital looked an impossibility. Yet God proved faithful and never once was the interest in default and although on several occasions on the very night before the interest was due, the full amount was not to hand, on the actual day it was forthcoming, the exact amount and from unexpected sources. How like God! Although the debt was such a burden the seemed to hinder for many long years further development, yet it served to draw the friends of the mission closer together and what wonderful friends these were, whom God raised up. We thank God upon every remembrance of them.
In the November of the year 1918 in the very month that the first Great War ended, we had a most memorable Thanksgiving Day when £240 was received. This magnificent sum was sufficient not only to pay off the last remaining debt, but to provide for the thorough renovation of the building. It may well be imagined the heartfelt rejoicing and relief which the workers and members of Stoneham Hall felt when they realised the burden which they had borne so courageously for so many years, had at long last been removed from their shoulders and that they were now free to put all their strength and effort into the actual work of the Church.
Now however everyone realised that the moment had come to look forward into the future and plan for further extension. Year by year, after each ‘Thanksgiving Day’, a sum of money was set aside for this purpose and the amount in the bank rose steadily. The year 1930 however found us still a long way from our goal, and our leaders would nor hear of us incurring further debt. They felt that if God wanted us to have the larger premises, He would be able to provide the money, and in the most dramatic and totally unexpected way God did in fact do so.