The Harbour Church, Whitstable

  • 10 Harbour Street
  • Whitstable
  • Kent
  • CT5 1AQ

01227 276360
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History in Detail

Mr Wallace Harvey, who apart from being a well known local historian, was a member of the church for many years. This is his account of the history of the Fellowship written to celebrate its centenary in 1971.

THE CHAPEL of the Plymouth Brethren in 1875, 'The Meeting' of 1897, 'The Room' of 1904, 'The Gospel Hall' of 1915, or the Harbour Street Evangelical Church of the present day; call it by what name you will, it would be difficult indeed to find a more significant name for the meeting place of The Brethren than "The Room". A name which is so pregnant with meaning for those who have always sought to teach those principles laid down by the Master in that Upper Room nearly two thousand years ago.

Considering the humble origin and meagre resources of those who have so consistently met in that hallowed Room for the past century, it is a cause for gratitude to God that there has never been wanting a rising generation to take the place of the aged.

Always showing a marked reluctance to write anything about themselves, keep records, minute books or treasurer’s accounts, it is not easy to write the story of the devoted service which enabled the Word to live throughout the passing years.

Who can say just when and where the cause first began? While in one sense, it could be said to have had its origin in that Room in Jerusalem long ago, it may also claim to have received its birth from the Great Fire of Whitstable which started at the north east corner of a boat builders shop on the Sea Wall on November 10th 1869 and consumed seventy one buildings.

It may also be affirmed with some truth that it received its genesis one morning on the deck of a battleship off Gibraltar when Captain Jull mustered the ships company, announced his conversion and snapped his sword over his knee. What is certain is that on the morning of November 11th 1869 Captain Jull walked from Sandwich to view the result of the Great Fire and preached among the still smouldering ruins where the Room was later to be built.

His preaching was not in vain, for his efforts were rewarded with the conversion of a Mrs Appleton and Mrs Browning. Encouraged by the results of his labours, Captain Jull stayed for a few days with Mrs Browning at Stone House and before he left, had added members of the Bell, Harlow and Harris families to the little company. Cottage meetings naturally followed, meetings where the workings of the Holy Spirit were so evident that the Assembly became firmly established and continued to grow.

In the Schedule of the fire damage, the site where the future Room was to be built was described as having been the Spread Eagle Inn and a shop. Mr John Wheeler was described as the owner and occupier who was insured both for the building and contents. It would appear that for some good reason, despite being insured Mr Wheeler did nothing to rebuild the property, but eventually sold it on May 19th 1871 to Mr Cephas Foad, a local builder, for £110. In the Deed of Conveyance, the property is described as "all that piece or parcel of land, part of two pieces of land, formerly two Messuages, one used as a public house called the Spread Eagle and a shop".

Those humble souls who prompted Cephas Foad to build the Room have left no record of their unquenchable faith, beyond the building as it has been passed down to the present day Assembly, but their names have surely been written in the Lamb's Book of Life and their works do follow them. Moreover, there is no evidence that that original company ever intended to raise the money to pay the builder or indeed make any effort to eventually own the property. If indeed the rich significance of the previous use of the site could have had any meaning for those early Brethren they may well have regarded their Room as a public house of a different sort and remembered the words spoken many centuries before. "I bare you on eagles wings and brought you unto myself'.

Be that as it may, Cephas Foad, who was a member of the Congregational Church, could not be expected to bear the whole of the financial burden indefinitely, and therefore on October 28th 1871 he mortgaged the property to a Miss Jane Horton, and thereby ensured its continued use to the occupiers for the next four years. Then when Miss Jane Horton died on November 11th 1875, the mortgage was passed to her sister Miss Charlotte Horton of Barfreston.

Another fourteen years passed by and then for some obscure reason the property was reconveyed to Mr Cephas Foad on May 11th 1889. Within a few days, on May 18th 1889, Foad sold the freehold of the property to Caroline Wallis of Bruges in Holland for £350.  Caroline was the wife of the Rev. Samuel Joseph Wallis, a second strange fact which makes it difficult to account for her interest in a Brethren cause in far away Whitstable.  From 1875 to 1897, the building was known as The Chapel of the Plymouth Brethren.

Even from 1871, the Brethren appear to have remained comparatively few in numbers. None seem to have attained to an important station in life or to have possessed great wealth. Without doubt, a good foundation was laid by the first converts. Mrs Appleton not only brought members of her own family, The Harlows, into the Assembly, but she was instrumental in bringing about the conversion of her son-in-law John Rowland, who incidentally had the honour of conducting the first service in the new Room. Then, when after years of faithful witness the time came for him to lay down his Bible for the last time, it was taken up with renewed vigour by his son Dr. Walter John Rowland.

Seven years after the Room was opened, a young man employed by Mr. A. Southwell the baker in Bexley Street, was active in church work as a sidesman at All Saints Church and as a Sunday School teacher in the first St. Peters Church, also in Bexley Street. He dearly loved working among young people and in 1886, he responded to the call to enter a greater field of service at the Room by joining the Assembly. William Dawkings brought his brother George into the Fellowship and with his assistance founded the Sunday School there in 1888. From that time, for forty years he served as Superintendent.

Two other outstanding stalwarts were the brothers John and David Harris. John was a butcher in the town, and it was he who, when the trustees of the will of Caroline Wallis had to sell the property, bought the Room on July 8th 1897, thus ensuring its use for the Brethren for the next twenty seven years.

In this year, the Room was known as The Meeting House of the Plymouth Brethren, but in 1904 common usage triumphed and it was then known as "The Room" 10 Harbour Street.

A great feature of the work in those days, and indeed for many years, was the Good Friday Conventions. The Brethren came from far and near to pack the place to the doors, listen to the inspiring message from special speakers, and partake of the generous tea provided by the Dawkings brothers and other good friends.

Many still living remember the inspiring services conducted by the great American preacher Philip Mauro, the visit of Trevor Francis who made famous the Welsh Battle Tune, now known as "Ebenezer", or the colourful personality and mission of the famous text carrier Commander Salway.

The advent of the first Great War brought about the missions of Messrs. Rankin and Tarrant who were stationed at Canterbury. The war also brought about the closure of the Seaman’s Mission on the island Wall and in 1915 its name 'The Gospel Hall' was transferred to 10 Harbour Street. In 1915, also great impetus was given to the cause by the visit of the first Pilgrim Preachers under the leadership of William Thomas and David Lawrence. During this visit, history was made by a mission held in a marquee which was erected on a vacant plot of ground in Oxford Street owned by Mrs. George Holden.

Another milestone in the history of the Room was passed on December 31st 1919, when it was registered for marriages. The first couple to take advantage of this privilege were Mr Sidney Smith and Miss Jessie Browning.

In 1921, the Pilgrim Preachers under the leadership of Mr Luff paid their second visit to Whitstable, and at the conclusion of the tour one of the younger preachers, William Ewart Jones, returned to the town, married the grand-daughter of John Rowland, and remained to fulfil his ministry until the present time.

Any account of the history of The Room would not be complete without mention of George Beer, a local farmer, who bought the building from John Harris on March 10th 1924 and also the various members of his family who so generously supported the cause over the years.

Much could be recorded of that great company who, having been called to higher service, remain in the picture gallery of the memory. There were Messrs. Morgan, Speed, Knight, Reeves and Bell. The fishing folk Messrs. Appleton, Browning, Rigden, Whorlow, Rowdon. Mr Putwain from the shipyard, Mr Goldfinch the builder, Mr Ansell the railwayman and Messrs. John and David Harris who were farmers. The time honoured names of the Kemp brothers, the Gore brothers, Mr and Mrs Bartlett, Mrs Partridge of Court Lees, Messrs. Pettman, Mount, Groves, Amber, Ambrose, and in later years Dr. Harlow and Mr. Springett come easily to the mind, and are honoured for the faithful witness they maintained.

A younger generation inherited the responsibilities for the cause when on the death of George Beer, The Room passed to his grand-daughter, Gladys Mary Shrubsall on November 9th 1941.

In due time the freehold was purchased by a present member and in order to ensure its use for generations yet to come he established a Trust and the name was altered to the Harbour Street Evangelical Church. During recent years, the cause has continued to expand and the adjoining house has been purchased, thus providing much needed room for youth activities.

While in a physical sense, it is interesting to reflect on the value placed on the property, £110 in 1871, £350 in 1889, and reflect on its possible value in 2071, none can even begin to estimate the immense spiritual value of the humble ministry maintained so faithfully during the past hundred years.