Neston Gospel Hall, Wiltshire, England
Exactly when a local group of Christians started meeting together in Neston, is not known. But what is known is that a certain Mr. John Edridge, the owner of Pockeridge House, held meetings in his drawing room. In 1832 Rev. John A. Methuen, Vicar of Corsham (and undoubtedly related to Lord Methuen's family of Corsham Court) resigned the Church of England, and after being baptized joined the company of believers meeting in Neston, known as Corshamside. Whether John Methuen met with the believers in Pockeridge House or at the Malthouse is not totally clear, but in any case the believers had found a place where they could meet and remember the Lord's death by the ‘breaking of bread’. A hand-written, undated, unsigned letter has been preserved, which appears to have been written around the turn of the century from which some of the following will be extracts:
‘. . . It may encourage some of God's children if we give a little account of the Lord's work that followed this humble beginning, which it pleased God to prosper and bless. In cottages, in the open, in drawing rooms, and wherever doors were opened they, like the Thessalonians, sounded out the word of the Lord. Souls were saved and saints were built up and led on in the way of truth. The Old Malthouse would no longer serve the purpose, for the work of the Lord grew, and the need of a more suitable place was felt . . .’
They believed the truth of Scripture that ‘My God shall supply all you need’.
‘. . . and it pleased God to supply a suitable meeting place in His own blessed way . . .‘ The letter continues: ‘. . . the place of God's providing was a convenient Gospel Hall, holding between 100 and 200 people . . .’ The Gospel Hall and the adjoining ground were given to the assembly by Mr. Edridge of Pockeridge House as a ‘. . . place of preaching and a graveyard for the society of brethren . . .’ Unfortunately, the generous donor died whilst the hall was being built and was buried alongside it in the graveyard. He died on the 5th January 1856 aged 68 years and was the first to be buried there. The local believers erected a large memorial expressing their indebtedness to one ‘. . . who had it in his heart to build this place of worship . . .’ His relatives sought to have his body exhumed, since they did not want him to be buried in some ‘. . . unconsecrated field . . .’ In recent years a road in Corsham has been named after him.
Later in 1856 the Gospel Hall was opened and amongst the trustees were a local gamekeeper, a butcher, a blacksmith, and Captain H. M. Becher who was associated with George Muller of Ashley Down Orphanages.
The first wedding was held in 1866 between Henry Smith and Hannah Cheadle, who was the schoolmistress at the Moor Green local school. Henry Smith was the first of five generations of Smiths knowing the Lord's blessing and baptized at Corshamside (Neston) and joined local assembly fellowship - still being present in Corsham assembly today. 1867 saw the second wedding at Corshamside – Thomas Sawyer and Ruth Davis. These families, including the Smiths, were amongst the most influential within the assembly history. But none more so than Samuel Davis (Ruth's brother). He was highly regarded amongst the assemblies and was instrumental in the conversion of many.
At the turn of the century it became necessary to enlarge the hall on account of the increasing Sunday school. This had begun 30 years previously and scores of children had been led to the Saviour through it and grew up to serve Him.
From the assembly about 20 went out into the surrounding villages spreading the gospel every Lord's Day. God gave both increase and blessing. Up until the outbreak of World War I a very large men's Bible class flourished and often went out to hold ‘open-air’ meetings in the district. In 1910 there were 82 in fellowship, some of them travelling from the nearby town of Corsham. A gathering commenced in Corsham and 12 of the believers from Corshamside went to help form the new meeting. In 1926 the Primitive Methodist Church in Station Road was purchased for those meeting in Corsham.
In the 1950s Tom Moore, a Wiltshire evangelist, conducted children's missions and there was a large increase in the children's work. Bob Stokes (then a missionary in Fiji and more recently a gospel radio broadcaster) held a notable mission in Neston: souls were saved and there was much local blessing. Subsequently, there were tent-based missions held by Counties evangelists.
Over the past 170 years or so, the Assembly has been an influence in the surrounding district more than its founders could have ever imagined. Few of the older established families in the area have not had a family member in fellowship at one time or another.
In more recent years the assembly has declined numerically as many of the believers have been called home. Being a smallish village and having little employment, young people and families are few. However, the work continues, the presence of the Lord amongst us is still a blessed reality, and we are earnestly praying for increase. There has been much prayer and exercise of the believers concerning the future and two local fulltime workers have commenced a visitation programme in Neston and Corsham in fellowship with both assemblies, with a view to home evangelism and possibly a preaching campaign later.
Please pray that this work of God, which had its humble beginnings almost two centuries ago, will both continue and increase until ‘He who shall come, will come’. His name be glorified.