The Methodist Chapel
A BRIEF HISTORY OF METHODISM IN OAKINGTON By Roger Greeves Minister
In 1820 there arrived in Cambridge a Mr. Joseph Reynolds. He came on foot from Tunstall in the Potteries. Ten years earlier that area of Staffordshire had seen the beginnings of a religious and social movement call the Society of Primitive Methodists, which was formed after a break with the Weslyans. The key issue had been once again, how to reach working people with the gospel. Hugh Borne and William Clowes wanted to use a style imported from America, which involved ‘Camp Meetings’, somewhat resembling John Wesley’s original, ‘primitive’ methods. But the national situation was highly unstable and the government feared revolution. Legislation was prepared against open-air gatherings. The Weslyans were anxious not to fall foul of the law, and soon both Bourn and Clowes found themselves ejected. They continued their work among industrial and agricultural worker up and down the country and Primitive Methodists soon became a driving force. Its influence, particularly on the Trades Union movement, far exceeded its numerical strength. Joseph Reynolds was Primitive Methodist and shared his colleague’s passion for giving the gospel to the voiceless and powerless and struggling with them to improve their wages and living conditions. He was poor himself, and had to live on what he could beg on his journey to Cambridge, which included cold cabbage and Pea-husks. One in Cambridge, he began to hold open-air meetings at Castle End. Before long he had collected a group for friends, whose activities gathered strength. This was happening in many parts of East Anglia. Edward Rogers says of Primitive Methodism that it was a “working-class movement with a distinctive ethos and a driving purpose. It was not a school for revolutionaries. There was too ingrained a resistance to autocratic leadership for that: But it was a model school for pertinacious, indomitable, constitutional and democratic reformers”. In 1823, the Cambridge group built their first Chapel in St. Peter’s Street, at the back of the present site of Castle Street Church. The work grew so fast that by the end of 1824 Cambridge dad become head of a Circuit, which then became the base for a staggering amount of out reach in the area.
After some time, members of the St. Peter’s Street Society began to visit Oakington. In the summer of 1845 they begun to hold meetings in some cottagers’ homes and by September there were eight members in Oakington. For fifteen years they continued to meet in each others homes, but then felt the need to build a Chapel in the village. In January 1862 the Society resolved. ‘that the Revd W Swindills be empowered to offer £10 to Mrs Chapman of Oakington for a sale of land on which to build a Chapel, if he cannot obtain it for £8’. We do not know whether Mr. Swindles encountered any difficulties with Mrs Chapman! But we do know that there were problems with The Circuit Building Committee, who wanted to know why so small a Society needed a Chapel. The reply came back, ‘that the Society remained small because it only had a small house in which to preach the word and that it could not contain all those who wished to hear the word’. They got their way – and their Chapel. It was a building half the size of the present Chapel, speedily erected and opened in September The resident preachers were Messrs. Swindills and Glew. This first Chapel was outgrown in ten years. The pressure mounted for a larger building, and on 30 November 1875 the foundation stone of the present building was laid by Mrs. A. Doggett, a member of the Society. This building had been in use ever since. It is of plain design and manages to capture the atmosphere of light and airy simplicity that has helped generations to worship God.
Moving with the times
The interior of the Chapel was laid out in 1875 with pews (the First four rows taken from the 1862 building) and a platform pulpit (constructed by Messrs. Arthur Barker and Ernie Hall of Castle Street without charge.) Recently the interior was redesigned as a dual-purpose area, with chairs instead of pews, a moving pulpit (!) and a closing screen to house the Table. These alterations remain memorable for the fact that they were carried out in the freezing winter of 1965 and icicles were frequently discovered on the ceiling! However the work was completed, after 700 hours of voluntary labour and with the help of Mr. F. L. Unwin of Histon. The building was re- opened for worship on Easter Monday, when the key was turned by the Senior member of the Society, Mrs. A Golding. In this centenary year, the Society once again felt the need to expand the premises to meet the present day circumstances. An appeal has been launched to raise money for a new room and kitchen to be built at the back of the Chapel. This will relieve the pressure on the Chapel itself and give more scope to the growing Sunday School. The new room will also be of value to the whole village community, which lack a meeting place of this size. We hope to go into our second century properly equipped for both Sunday and weekday work.
There has been a steady stream of men and women who have made up the life and witness of Methodism in Oakington. One name that cannot be ignored is that of Mr. William Doggett, who was a teenager in the 1860s when the first Chapel was built. He was fascinated by the fact that an old man used to go so often into the Chapel and appear to be talking to someone although quite alone. William was found listening outside the door and was invited to come in. He decided to become a member of the Society and found there a living faith for himself. For more than fifty years he served the Church, holding at different times the offices of Sunday School Superintendent, Society Steward and Local Preacher. Older members of today’s congregation remember William Doggett as a man of great faith and devotion. In later life his hearing declined, but he made sure he never missed a sermon and would sit right under the pulpit with his hand cupped to his ear. He would listen intently to all that was said, and many preacher and ministers found themselves quizzed by him over a statement, even during the service !
William Doggett met and married Kate Thoday, who came from another strong Primitive Methodist family. Her father was the keeper of the Pumping Engine at Smithy Fen, Cottenham and came originally from Over. He worked hard among the village societies, often walking more than 40 miles on a Sunday to conduct services. Tragically he was killed in 1862 while servicing the Pumping Engine, and his wife was left to bring up five young children. A sidelight on his death is that the Methodist Times reported that the Vicar of Over had at first refused to allow his burial in the churchyard, but later relented. A service was held outside the churchyard, with about 500 people present. The coffin was lifted over the wall to the grave, which was then levelled. There is no indication as to where he was buried.
It is interesting to trace the progress of William and Kate Doggett and their family. They remained devoted to the Chapel through thick and thin. Even in the bad times, Kate would put aside a little tea and sugar weekly for the Chapel Teas. They also gave their children every opportunity. Alfred went to Canada and did well at farming. Sam became a missionary in Newfoundland after training at Cliff College, later serving as a minister of the Church of Canada. Kate became a school teacher at Wisbech. Arthur went to live in Shelford and served as a Deacon in the Free Church there. Two other children of the marriage died in infancy.
The youngest member of the family, Hubert, took on his father’s mantle and served for many years as Sunday School Superintendent and Society Steward. He had a lively Christian experience, great tolerance and a great sense of fun. He had an immense influence over all those who knew him and his widow, Kath, is still very much part of the life of the church.
But the picture is by no means entirely composed of Doggetts. We remember the Neal family and their influence on the Chapel. Herbert Neal was a great character and a strong cricket fan! He last played for the village team at the age of 70. His wife was a quiet and gracious Christian and their daughter, Marie, has been the Organist for over fifty years, being very much concerned in all the activities.
Mr. and Mrs. Will Chapman are well-remembered; Ada Chapman used to give recitations at he Guild, and older members always recall one in particular, called ‘Potatoes’! Their son Harry worked in the Sunday School for some years and was a Local Preacher in the Circuit, before going into the Baptist ministry, serving in London and Cheltenham. He returns as a special preacher during the Centenary celebrations.
Mrs Brickwood, always known as Aunt Tot, sang alto in the choir and was always ready to undertake any job that needed doing.
Another singer was Mrs. Georgina Doggett, who was still singing solos when almost seventy. Mr. and Mrs. Len Golding are remembered for two things; they always used to entertain the Circuit preachers in their house when they came to take the services, and Mrs. Ada Golding, now 90, is our oldest member. Many more names tumble from the memory. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Chapman, who have given long service; Mrs. Stonebridge from Westwick, who always chose the hymn ‘We’re Marching to Zion’ at the Guild when she was leading; the Gilder family, especially Mrs. Guilder’s memorable recitations; the Whiteheads, the Wilsons, the Aldersons and the Neals who all came up through the Sunday School. So many more could be named, and we give thanks to God for this rich succession of characters and followers of Jesus.
Some Preachers and Ministers
The privilege of leading worship and preaching the gospel is shared in Methodism by Local Preachers and the ordained Ministry. Many of both have come to preach at Oakington, and are still remembered with affection. Among the Ministers the names James Rose and George Ireland stand out, for their care during the first World War. They were followed by Percy Hoyle, a good preacher and musician, who was responsible for the purchase of a new organ. Then came T. B. Heward, a gracious man and excellent pastor, who rarely preached from the pulpit, preferring to be down among the congregation. The Rev. J. R. Quine was Minister during the time of the Methodist Union in the thirties, when the separate strands of Methodism came together, and then in succession came Stanley Oakley and Hubert Martin, who went on to become Chairman of the East Anglian District. The Rev Alfred Binney brought good preaching and a strong flavour of Yorkshire wit and Eric Sarchet went down particularly well with the Woman’s Meeting with his down-to-earth Christian experience! In the sixties, very many appreciated the caring ministry of Raymond Rowland and he was followed by Donald Elworthy. The present Minister, Roger Greeves, can claim even longer links with Cambridge than Oakington Chapel ! His great-great-grandfather, John Greeves, took over from the first minister of the Cambridge Wesleyan Circuit only five years after it had been founded, in 1821. His family has been in the Ministry without a break since 1815 and his uncle, Frederick Greeves, was a minister in the Circuit from 1930 to 1933.
It is impossible to record all the names of Local Preachers who have given service down the years, but a few must be mentioned. Mr. Ritchings from Peterborough was always a welcome visitor and used to bring along his concertina. We remember Jumbo Garner recounting the story of his conversion in King’s Lynn, the tears streaming down his face. From Sturton Street came Messrs. Underwood, Enderby, Pratt and the brothers Deeks; still with us are Charles Savidge, Jack Langford, Alf Savidge, Sid Woodcock and many more. From Over came Mr. Whybrow, only five feet in height, but with a voice like thunder. From Castle Street came Ernie Hall, Percy Marsh, Sid Manning and the Bidwells. A giant of them all was Mr. William Coles from Cottenham. A magnificent preacher, a good story-teller and full of humour. There were many more who came and played a part in preaching the good news of the gospel.
The Fellowship of the Church
The Church is first and foremost a living fellowship of Christians. For them so be built up in their faith and formed into whole and useful members of the community two things are needed: the opportunity for regular worship and the chance to meet together in a variety of ways.
The forms of meeting have changed and developed over the years, to meet people’s needs as they arose. Here Edwin Doggett remembers: “I suppose one of my earliest memories was of the Sunday morning Prayer Meeting after the Sunday School. I often used to stay, mainly because I was allowed by my grand-father to choose and give out the hymn which came before his prayer. Several of the members were Local Preachers and this was the time when they encouraged each other in their calling. There was William Collis of Longstanton and his brother Norman, who delivered the weekly newspaper, the old Independent Press, around the village each Friday. That Sunday Morning payer meeting also included Joe Jellings, Herbert Hopkins, John Missen and John Harradine.
The Wednesday Guild used to attract young and old and bring them together in fellowship. Everyone was encouraged to take part in a service of worship that perhaps we would regard as stereotyped. It seemed largely to consist of singing, recitations, readings and a speaker. Yet I remember how often the Chapel was filled.
Services of songs were very popular. East winter the Choir would learn at least one new song service and take it round to other Chapels in the district. Travelling to Chapels such as Hasllingfield and Childerley Gate could be quite an adventure. Once the Chioir went to sing at Childerley Gate on their local Feast Tuesday. They all went in a farm wagon driven by Kim Doggett, but on the way home the oil lamps on the wagon began to flicker. The oil had almost run out. In order to get them home, Len Golding had to shake the lamps to keep them alight. Kim Doggett kept saying ‘keep shaking, Lenny’. Many years later, during a very boring sermon, Lenny was observed to have dozed off – but still shaking the lamp!
Later there were great times travelling to these meetings in George Moore’s old Model T Ford grocer’s van and hen his bill-nose Morris. Jimmy parker’s bus was real luxury but we also went on bicycles! Another highlight of the year was the Camp Meeting, always held early in August. The Cottenham Salvation Army Band would parade from the station through the village , stopping at various points to play and sing, until they reached the Meadow, now Mead View. Here stood the wagon which served as an open-air pulpit. In those days the open-air preachers could send the word echoing to the hundreds who gathered without the aid of any amplification. I remember the men who led those meetings – Jumbo Gardner, Ted Burgess, John Smith, John Underwood and Alf Haydon. Not forgetting Sergeant Major Charlie Gifford, always trying to raise another shilling to make the collection up to another pound. We always looked forward to the Sunday School Anniversary, although I well remember a painful experience hen I rebelled at a singing practice one evening. I ran out of the Chapel, pursued by my mother, who finally caught up with me and sent me to bed. It was often an extra occasion for some who had a new suit or dress in times when money was short and new clothes came very infrequently. Again there were recitations, which were valiantly attempted by the children, some with more success than others!
In the Summer there were Sunday School treats in the Meadow, with games and teas and races. Everyone got a prize, winners and Loosers. Later on there were outings to the seaside in Paddy Brown’s ‘Lord Astor’ open-top, solid-tyred, luxury charabanc.
On Good Friday there were meetings and teas, given by members. Four tables were laid over the pews in the corners of the Chapel to take the food, and there was a copper tea-urn. If you didn’t provide food for yourself, or a ‘tray’ as it was called, you gave five shillings, and this helped to cater for the visitors who came to join in the Good Friday services, from Cottenham and Castle Street. These links still continue, and a party will come from Castle Street for the Centenary celebrations.
On the lighter side, Oakington Methodists have always been keen on plays and concerts. Sometimes we went ‘on tour’ in neighbouring villages. (Who enjoyed themselves most ?!) rehearsals and performances were usually hilarious and a lot of talent was revealed. Hubert Doggett could never learn his lines and ad-libbed, putting everyone else in great confusion. Great fun was had by all.
A lot of work has been done amongst younger people and from time to time groups of young people have gone out to other Chapels, Old people’s Homes etc to sing and entertain. In recent years the Ambassadors Guitar Group spent a lot of time doing this, with great success, until they went away from the village to college and to work.
Two aspects of the weekday life of the Chapel flourish today. One is the Woman’s Meeting, which is strong and highly valued by many ladies in the village. The other is a weekly meeting for Bible study which meets, like the original Oakington Methodists, In people’s homes.”
POSTSCRPIT “TO BE CONTINUED………………………………….”
I hope you have enjoyed this brief survey of Methodism in
Oakington. It is full of affectionate reminiscences which bring to life the one hundred years that we are celebrating in 1975. If there has been anything good in it all, then all the credit and honour goes to God.
‘We’ll praise Him for all that is past, And trust Him for all that’s to come.’
We are very thankful for what has happened. But do not want to be nostalgia blind as to the fact that all those men and women in the past have laid a foundation for us to build on for the future.
Above all, we want to look to the future- the next hundred years, if you like – with strong faith and clear vision. What are the priorities? I would want to say.
Let us CELEBRATE the existence of God and his love for men; learn more about Him, talk about Him and worship Him together.
Let us COMMUNICATE with those who are longing for the word about God; share with others every element of Christian faith and set forward the values for everyday living that flow from it. We are now back in the situation where those beliefs are not a common possession.
Let us CARE for the whole life of the village, its people, old and young, and its development. When a human need presents itself to us, for Christ’s sake let us respond with love. Let us CO-OPERATE with all Christians in the village, in the atmosphere of trust and charity that is developing. We want to work alongside all those who are followers of Jesus Christ.
In practical terms our commitment to the future is expressed in the plans to build a Community Room on to the Chapel. We are doing this.
- to give greater scope to the Sunday School and the life of the church during the work. -to give the village community a modestly sized space for meetings and welfare work (The design takes into account the needs of a pre-school playgroup, but it will be adaptable for many other purposes.).
It has been a real privilege for me to be a Minister at Oakington and I can witness to the strength of the Society, in it’s wide age-range and depth of commitment. I firmly believe that God can use this fellowship for good in Oakington, and pray that He will lead them may I ask you to do the same ? and please will you support the Centenary Appeal for £4000 by making a gift, large or small ? a form is included in this booklet, for your convenience.
Thank you for your interest and your support. May the power of God’s spirit be felt more and more at work in our lives.
Roger Greeves Minister