Mr. Ransome Cooper was a qualified industrial chemist in the field of textile dying. He came for a while to work in Bradford, where the expertise of the Bradford_Dyers_Association was known worldwide. He was a linguist, widely travelled on the continent. More importantly, for the “Gospellers” at The Village School, he came from a flourishing Brethren Assembly in the south of England. He was to act as their advocate.
In order to arbitrate on the issue of the “Gospellers’” continued occupation of The Village School representatives of The_Charities_Commission presided over a public inquiry held in the schoolroom on 16th July 1906. The following statement, on behalf of the “Gospellers”, was prepared and read by Mr. Cooper at this inquiry:
"A stone built into the wall of the schoolroom above the original entrance states that the building was erected by public subscription in 1819 to be a weekly Sunday school for ever, and an occasional preaching House for all denominations who acknowledge the Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This was occasioned by lack of any suitable accommodation for the various religious communities then to be found at or around Clayton; and each being too poor to erect its own chapel or meeting house, this schoolroom was erected by public subscription and used in turn by the various religious bodies.
By degrees, however, each was enabled to build a more convenient and exclusive place of worship, with the exception of those simple Christians who now meet, and for the past quarter of a century have met each Sunday and during the week for the worship of God. They have been and are still too poor to erect a building for themselves, and whilst in no wise claiming exclusive right of use, they pray to be allowed to use this schoolroom in the manner intended by the original subscribers to its erection.
That the need for which this schoolroom was erected has not passed away is evidenced by the fact that over 50 persons come more or less regularly to the Sunday morning meeting, and 80 or 90 on average attend the evening Gospel meeting, whilst the Sunday school, held twice on a Sunday numbers more than 120 scholars. Such a congregation and school is drawn almost exclusively from the poorest classes of this village.”
In the summing up it was stated that the local authority had gone beyond its strict legal rights in attempting to appropriate The Village School for the sole use as a library. The original declaration, setting out the primary use of the school, had swung the judgement of the commissioners in favour of the “Gospellers” case.
A library was subsequently opened in the building but the “Gospellers” remained in occupation for many years. The memorial tablet, still to be seen at the present library inner wall, records in stone the legality of their claim.
For many years after leaving Clayton, Mr. Cooper kept in touch with the assembly there, each Christmas time sending a supply of scriptural calendars to be distributed among the members he had known.
The Gospel Hall - Building.
The framework of Clayton Gospel Hall is built (1927).
After the alarm of 1906, it was thought wise to begin a building fund. Twenty years of, what must have been modest but sacrificial, giving to this fund resulted in the purchase from the local council of a plot of land, formerly allotment gardens, where Back Lane joins Bradford Road.
Plans would be drawn up, probably by a member of an assembly at Bolton Woods who had a building contractor and who took a continuing interest in the work. No doubt through his offices some building material would be acquired. It was thought that a mortgage was taken out, trustees and guarantors having been appointed. Building began in 1926-1927.
Trenches were dug and foundations laid, the majority of the work from beginning to end being done by the members of the assembly in the evenings or on Saturdays. Wood was obtained, some of it second-hand from the Great_Yorkshire_Show ground of that year. A timber frame was raised. A local joiner, then based in Town End, was called in to construct the roof. Only a limited amount of brick and stone work was incorporated. The concrete and pebble-dash walls, still to be seen, have stood the test of time. Inner walls, ceiling and floor boarding were fitted. The installation of gas-lighting, plumbing, coke-boiler and heating pipes was overseen by a tradesman member of the assembly. A pulpit was built and pine seating provided.
Memory recalls the wives and sisters of the assembly regularly bringing refreshments to the men-folk who laboured so long and devotedly. A more dramatic recollection is of a night in 1927 when, during a violent storm, a thunderbolt fell on a nearby building and telegraph poles in Bradford Road were struck and split apart. By the grace of God, not a window of Clayton Gospel Hall was broken.
Eventually, after painting and decorating and scrubbing of floors, the building stood ready for occupation. The opening ceremony was held on Saturday 10th March 1928. It was snowing that day! Leaflets had been printed for the occasion and had been sent out to other Brethren assemblies in the Bradford area - at Girlington, Wyke, Odsal, Bolton Woods and Shipley. In the mid-afternoon of that Saturday a procession took place ‘from the free Library to the new Gospel Hall’.
The Gospel Hall - Church.
Whitsuntide Walk, led by Mr. Charlie Firth and Mrs. Nancy Clayton (1950).
Mr. Richard Stammers, by this time aged 72, ceremonially opened the door of Clayton Gospel Hall and welcomed members and guests. Later a festival tea was served in the Baptist schoolroom. The evening meeting was addressed by a local leader and by two visiting speakers.
During the 1930s the Gospel Hall continued to make its modest contribution to the spiritual life of the village: its communion service each Sunday morning for the baptised; its Sunday evening gospel meeting, open to all, conducted by lay speakers from other parts of the city and sometimes further a field; its morning and afternoon Sunday schools, with never fewer than 60 or 70 children on roll; its monthly distribution of Christian tracts in the Town End and Bradford Road areas of the village; its occasional evangelistic campaigns which from time to time have seen the hall filled to capacity. Conference weekends were held occasionally, at which members gathered from Bradford, Leeds and Halifax assemblies to be addressed by speakers drawn from distant parts, even from the metropolis, or by missionaries at home on furlough.
Older villagers may remember special weeknight children’s meeting featuring “magic lantern” displays; Sunday school Christmas parties and prize giving, with homely entertainment; the Whitsuntide Walk, followed by games and races in the field at the top of Middle Lane, with mugs of tea and Halford’s long-buns served to refresh parents and children.
Sadly, as years passed, membership dwindled through deaths, removals and other eventualities until in the early 1970s the situation appeared uncertain. However, there came a time when the congregation was reinforced by the migration of a like-minded group from Girlington who had lost the tenancy of their own meeting place. The ensuing part of the history of Clayton Gospel Hall is told in the following chapters.
Mr. Richard Stammers.
Mr. Richard Stammers, seated on the foundations of Clayton Gospel Hall, with his grandson Douglas Hartley - aged 4 (1927).
Mr. Richard Stammers, senior elder of “the Gospellers” and the man who ceremonially opened the doors of Clayton Gospel Hall, died in August 1928. He had lived to see the conclusion of the building enterprise.
Mr. Stammers was not a native to Yorkshire but came as a young man from Norfolk, probably around 1875. He would be part of the movement of labour from agricultural to industrial England. He found work at Beck_Mill (the “Old Mill”, Reva Syke) which has been leased by J. Benn and Co., advertised as ‘worsted spinners’. He worked not in the spinning sheds but in the stables across the cobbled lane. He was the waggoner and in charge of the horses. He married the eldest daughter of Isaac England, farmer at White Acre, Baldwin Lane. In later life they lived in part of Holme House, Reva Syke Road, now demolished. Before its division into three houses Holme House had been the dwelling of Alfred Wallis, who moved from there to the newly erected Glenholme.
To the end of his life Mr. Stammers remained a humble working man but known and respected in the village. A cutting from the local newspaper Telegraph_and_Argus of 12th August 1928 records:
The attendants in Clayton fairground stopped the whole amusements and stood with uncovered heads whilst the funeral cortege of Mr. Richard Stammers, a well known religious worker, passed the fairground on its way (from the Gospel Hall) to the parish Church.
A memorial headstone still stands in the churchyard of St_John_the_Baptist_Parish_Church. It was erected by Mr. W. H. Benn in recognition of 50 years’ faithful service to the firm.
The Kensington fellowship, from 1978-2008
This chapter has been produced, with thanks, by information provided by Pastor Peter Benn and brings Mr. Hartley’s history up to date, completing the history of Clayton Gospel Hall and the fellowships that have occupied it.
Mr. Charlie Firth’s Offer.
Kensington elder, Mr Hessey.
At the time of the migration of the Girlington brthren, the congregation at Clayton Gospel Hall had whittled down to that of just one family plus a friend of theirs, led by Mr. Charlie Firth. Mr. Firth’s father, Mr. Samuel Firth, was one of the hall’s original trustees - alongside Mr. Richard Stammers, Mr. Luther Watson, Mr. Herbert Crossley and Mr. Arthur Clayton. A conveyance of the land, dated 20th August 1925, was made between these men, Mr. Charles John Vint and the two elderly ladies who owned the land (Ruth Cluderay and Ada Patchett).
The Firths, hearing that another Brethren assembly in the city had lost their tenancy of Kensington_Hall, decided to offer Clayton Gospel Hall to this fellowship as its maintenance had become an increasing burden and the future of their own assembly seemed uncertain. Minutes of Kensington Hall Brethren’s meeting, March 31st 1978 record that:
An offer, from the assembly at Clayton, of the gift to the Kensington Hall assembly of the hall at Clayton, was considered in detail. Brethren considered that, on the whole, the offer appeared to be acceptable, but the feelings of the whole assembly should be sought and, above all, there should be the certainty in all our hearts that such a move is the Lord’s will for us. The matter is to be put before the assembly fellowship meeting on Sunday April 2nd.
The whole assembly accepted. This blessing had followed a rejection of their application for permanent tenancy in Kensington Hall and the selling of “the tabernacle site”, which had also been considered. The Firths were assured that the hall would continue to be used for the purposes for which it was built and the group from Girlington had assurance of a permanent place of worship. The handover took place in April 1978 and a new era, in Clayton, began.
Mr. Charlie Firth was welcomed into the incoming group and remained in attendance at the Gospel Hall until his death the following year. The words ‘With Christ - 3.2.79’ mark his passing, simply, in the register of church attendance. Following his passing, Mr. Edward Hessey continued Mr. Firth’s duty of visiting Oakleigh Nursing Home on a monthly basis to administer communion there to Mrs Myra Muff. Just as Mr. Stammers had lived long enough to see Clayton Gospel Hall opened so Mr. Firth had lived long enough to see that its future was secure.
Kensington Hall, as it looks today.
The church family that is now in occupation of Clayton Gospel Hall began when, in the late 19th century, a group of believers broke away from a church, that met somewhere near the bottom of Thornton Road, to form their own independent assembly. They were permitted to rent Kensington Hall from 1896 to 1978 and could boast of similar activities to that of the Brethren assembly in Clayton.
One of the most prominent ministries that the church supported was the missionary work, in Zambia, begun by its member, Mr. Barry Haigh, and his wife, Mrs Rachel Haigh. The church commissioned Mr. Haigh, a one time resident of Girlington, to go out to Zambia as a missionary in the 1960s. Upon their return to the United Kingdom, in 2006, Mr. & Mrs Haigh joined a church family in the Midlands, native to Mrs Haigh. Their work in Zambia is still being continued by others today.
As with most church families, membership declined due to the change in British society after the Second World War but as many as 75 members can be recorded as late on as the early 1960s. 24 members were in attendance in 1978, when the move to Clayton occurred - a number that would not be surpassed until current new growth began in 2008.
Kensington Hall, situated on the corner of Kensington Street and Willow Street in Girlington, was also used as a dancing hall and library. Only the library still remains and little of the promised refurbishment has taken place. Instead, a new community centre was built further up Kensington Street. A few Brethren assemblies, similar to those which met in Girlington and Clayton, still exist today in Gospel Halls at Bankfoot and on Rebecca_Street, in the city centre, as well as in Shipley at Westcliffe_Chapel.
A New Era.
The text above the pulpit, inside the hall.
On 2nd April 1978, the group from Girlington took possession of Clayton Gospel Hall and immediately closed it down for refurbishment, prior to re-opening on Sunday 22nd October of the same year. The initial intention was for the building to be re-named “Kensington Gospel Hall, Clayton” but this never materialised. The baptistery was modernised, central heating and fluorescent lights were installed, wooden panelling was placed on the inner walls and both the insides and outsides of the building were painted
The new trustees appointed were Mr. Edward Hessey (chair of trustees and elder emeritus), Mr. David Jowett (secretary), Mr. Peter Benn (treasurer) and Mr. Trevor Hughes. As a result of Mr Hessey's move to Southport in 1981, Mr. Jowett's removal to Bradford Cathedral in 1988 and the death of Mr. Hughes in 1991, Mr. Benn eventually became known as “the continuing trustee”. As sole leader of the fellowship, he was also given the title “Pastor” in the early 1990s.
The minutes of 28/1/1980 record that ‘It was decided to have a text at the front of the hall: ‘He cares for you.’ This text, from 1 Peter 5:7, still remains as a summary of what Clayton Gospel Hall stands for and is read by every person that enters into the hall. The fellowship’s aim is to show the love of Christ to the community of Clayton.
The new church family continued previous services, such as the Sunday morning communion and Sunday evening evangelistic service. Tuesday's Bible study was originally held at the home of Mr. David Jowett and later moved to the hall itself. Women began to contribute to services in spoken prayer from the early 1980s and a women’s prayer meeting began on Wednesday afternoons. This was originally held at the hall but the illness of life-long member, Miss Enid Bower, led to the women’s meeting being held at her home and communion being brought to her. After Miss Bower’s death, in 2004, it was decided to continue holding the women’s meetings in homes, rather than return to the hall, and so Miss Margaret Sinclair became the new host. A men’s prayer meeting was also started at the home of Pastor Peter Benn. These have since been encorparated into a monthly prayer meeting for the whole church family. Various musicians have played at Clayton Gospel Hall through the years and the ladies also organise an annual retreat, each summer.
The scene at a children's event, 2000.
Since the turn of the 21st Century our main form of evangelism amongst adults has been occasional guest evenings, taking place on a Friday or Saturday evening. Here the church family invite a visiting musician or speaker and provide free meal to go alongside. These have provided the church family with an opportunity to invite outsiders to a more informal event and the success of these has been seen in newcomers being welcomed into the church.
Children's Summer Holiday Club, 2008.
Children’s work took place on Wednesday nights and a youth night was begun by Mr. Peter Benn, on Thursday nights for teenagers. This youth night was moved to Wednesdays in 1983, to follow on from the younger “Sunshine Special” meeting. Decreasing numbers led to these two groups being merged into one, in 1999, and the youth group continued strongly as such until 2012 when two new, overlapping, groups for 0-8s and 6-16s were created to allow under fives to attend. The former Sunday schools were ended in September 1983, an alternative crèche being provided in members’ homes to enable parents to attend the Sunday morning service. During the 1990s the children of members would be taken into one of the smaller classrooms during the sermon. This developed into the current Sunday school system when non-Christian children also began coming to the services.
In 1997, following the success of the “Riding the Wave” mission the previous summer, the children’s work was extended to the running of summer holiday clubs every weekday morning for a few weeks each summer. This lasted until 2012, when members instead chose to partner with activities at the estate communtiy centre.
Pastor Peter & Mrs Lyn Benn.
Pastor & Mrs. Benn, 2006.
Mr. Trevor Hughes, a much respected and long-standing member of the Gospel Hall who was renowned for his devotion to prayer, died in November 1991 shortly after introducing a close family friend into the fellowship. Often Mr. Hughes would open meetings with prayer and it was once recorded that ‘It was pointed out by Trevor that we need to watch how we pray, that we do not use prayers for an indirect method of criticism of each other’. His affectionate “niece”, Lyn, immediately became useful within the church, prompting the quip from Mr. Tom Foster: “I hope this one stays, she’s a worker!” Not least of these efforts was praying with five year old Christopher that other children would come to the church again. The children’s ministry has continued to prosper ever since, to the delight of many.
Pastor Peter Benn and Mrs Lyn Benn married on 24th November 1993 and together they embarked upon a dual ministry that saw many lives changed by the gospel, particularly amongst the former drug and alcohol addicts in the city, to which they opened their home. In 1997 they became involved with the Gambian_Morning_Star_Mission and a visit from Pastor Modou Sanneh, in 1998, saw the conversion of Mrs Benn’s mother, Evelyn Duckett - the lifelong best friend of Mrs Mary Hughes, Trevor’s wife. In the final years of her life Evelyn was cared for at home by Pastor and Mrs Benn, at times alongside addicts. In 2005, after her mother’s demise from cancer, Mrs Lyn Benn suffered a stroke, due to post traumatic stress, but she gradually made a remarkable return back into ministry within the church before the couple’s eventual retirement and emigration in 2009.
Pastor Peter Benn had been joined, for the last fifteen years of his leadership, by a great encourager who took after her “Uncle Trevor” in faithful service and devotion to prayer. The inside of the hall was again transformed from near degradation, children’s work took on a complete new lease of life and the church became more open to lower members of society. Mrs Benn, herself, was a former alcoholic and the eldest of nine children in a gypsy family.
Throughout all of this Pastor Peter Benn continued to provide the direct and inspirational teaching for which he is renowned. For 47 years he taught the fellowship, first as youth leader then as a joint elder and eventually as pastor. A dwindling congregation, the departure in 1988 of his co-elder, continually short funds and an unkempt building never deterred him from preaching God’s word in its fullness. Two sermons, a Bible study and a prayer meeting every week is a lot for anyone already in full time employment to undertake!
The first experiences of public speaking for a young Mr. Peter Benn was when the men who led him to Christ encouraged him, aged 16, to stand on a soap-box in Bradford city centre and share his testimony. From that point, up until his retirement aged 62, he was responsible for much inspirational and challenging teaching. Retirement from research science in the late 1990s allowed for entry into full time ministry. Half of the money received from the sale of engineering company Eldon Ltd. was put into the church and the other half lived on. In 2008 Pastor & Mrs Benn announced that they were moving to Canada, leaving Clayton Gospel Hall in the care of a new pastor, Reverand David Jackson.
Peter and Lyn Benn are continuing to serve the Lord in Canada, following their emigration, attending Port_Rowan_Free_Methodist_Church.
Giants of the Faith.
Communion service, 2000.
Clayton Gospel Hall has been blessed with many giants of the faith, too many to record individually in detail. One of the most remarkable examples of this is the humble and faithful service to everyday church family life of Miss Enid Bower. Brought to Kensington Hall by her auntie in 1927, six month old baby Enid never left. She passed away, aged 78 in 2004, leaving behind the current record for the greatest length of service to the church family. Throughout her years Miss Enid Bower distributed many tracts and leaflets, supported the work of missionaries and, at one time, acted as the treasurer of Clayton Gospel Hall. Her example is paralleled by that of Mrs Edna Whittingham, who was known as Pastor Peter Benn’s “spiritual mother” and served for 71 years, until moving in 1998 to be cared for in Scarborough until her death in 2005.
In 2008 [the time of writing] two similar beacons, Miss Margaret Sinclair and Mrs Edith Foster, tenderly continue their many years of dedicated service and encouragement, numbering over sixty and over forty years in the church respectively.
2008 to date.
This chapter is currently being produced! Why not be part of it?
Baptisms of Tricia Tomlinson and Chris Jackson, 2008