Smethwick Gospel Hall, West Midlands, UK
Allan Roberts, Smethwick, West Midlands, UK
A CELEBRATION OF 100 YEARS OF TESTIMONY THROUGH
At the time it was built, Smethwick Gospel Hall was in the county of Staffordshire. Its founder member was Mr. John Farren, who is described in a legal document as a ‘gentleman’, i.e., he was a man of private means and therefore he had no need of an occupation. He was thirty years of age when he commenced the building of the Hall and it was said that no load of materials could be delivered to the site without his personal inspection and approval.
John Farren could not have chosen a better site to build the Hall than on the corner of Hume Street in an area that was known in those days as Bearwood Hill. As the Hall was being built, so were the houses in nearby Claremont Road and the school in Waterloo Road. It was therefore ideally placed in, what we would term, a housing estate, which provided a catchment area for the five-hundred-strong Sunday school. The date on the brickwork above the entrance indicates that building work was commenced in 1901.
The Hall was officially opened with a conference on Saturday 15th October 1902 and by the end of that year some 200 believers had been added to the assembly. It was an imposing brick building in the early English style, and was often referred to as ‘the PB cathedral of the Midlands’. It comprised a spacious meeting hall and a large Sunday school room, with classrooms and many other ancillary rooms attached. One of the most unusual items, found on the side of the building, was a brass serpent on a pole. Many children must have gazed at it with some trepidation. It was taken down in the late 1920s, but the outline was still visible on the brickwork. Sadly, as a result of financial difficulties, the front of the building that faced the High Street was sold to the local Cooperative Society in 1912.
The Sunday School played an important role in the life of the assembly from the very beginning. The schoolroom and the adjoining classrooms could accommodate six hundred children. Mr. Farren was the superintendent until his home-call at the young age of 56. In those early days many of the children had never been to the seaside; therefore, it was a very special occasion when they were taken either to Hoylake or to Rhyl for a Sunday School outing. Prior to this they had visited only local places.
From 1902 a well-known Bible teacher would visit annually in the Spring to give ministry. Later in the year an evangelist would conduct a gospel campaign. Mr. Fred Elliott from Scotland was the most frequent visitor, until his retirement in 1960. He was well loved and his ministry much appreciated. Many conversions took place at this time. Other well-known evangelists that visited have now gone to be with the Lord, were Tom Rea from Belfast, Aneurin Ward from South Wales, Arthur Greenwood, Ben Sutton and, everyone’s favourite, Luther Rees.
There is a great deal of history associated with the wonderful old building in Hume Street; this however, sadly, has now gone. A new building, still called Smethwick Gospel Hall, has been erected on a site just around the corner in Windmill Lane. A quarterly newsletter was commenced in 1993 with the aim of maintaining contact with former members of the assembly and engendering prayer for each other. Many interesting, touching and evocative articles have been received from far and near and circulation has grown to over fifty copies per issue. Keith Finney, an ex-member, has written a book entitled Memoir of Smethwick Gospel Hall. At the conclusion of his book the present-day elders of the assembly have posed the question, ‘What of the future?’ They write, ‘In those 100 years there have been many great changes in society. We have seen great technological advances, tremendous improvements in living conditions, an increase in the health and wealth of the nation, the spiritually of the nation has declined. So we see our role as vital in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to a lost generation. We can glory in the fact that all around us has changed, but the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever, and the gospel is as productive as it ever was. We see new challenges ahead in presenting the gospel in a relevant way to the local community in this materialistic and hedonistic society. We ask you, through prayer, to join us in this challenge that we may see growth and revival and that the testimony will continue through the next one hundred years, if the Lord has not come. So we press on with Christ Jesus to do His will for His glory’.