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But whilst this effort was made to extend our borders, the cause was not doing well in this town. Some worthy friends went to America, and others proved unfaithful. In this enfeebled state the little flock became disunited, and seeing no hope of restoring them to a healthful and happy state, the preacher, sometime about 1821, dissolved the society. When this was announced, poor Mrs. W. was so affected that she rose up and ran out of the chapel exclaiming, “ The New Connexion is done up in Birmingham." But she was greatly mistaken. The Church was merely dissolved that it might be restored under more encouraging prospects of success. That very night the truly pious entered afresh into covenant with each other, and thus commenced a new era with this society.
After this, nothing particular transpired until 1828, when Birmingham again appeared on our list of circuits. My first acquaintance with some of these worthy friends commenced at that time, and in 1834 it was my happiness to be stationed amongst them. It was not without fear and trembling that I entered on this important sphere of labour. But the Lord brought us here, and in mercy he opened our way to usefulness. We soon found ourselves surrounded by a generous and affectionate people, and some degree of success attended our humble efforts. Believers were quickened and a number of young friends brought to God, who still continue faithful. It is pleasing to see them now occupying the most important offices in the Church; and being pillars in the house of God, we trust they will go out no more for ever.
Having removed some pecuniary difficulties, and finding the cause strengthened, the friends resumed conversation about a new chapel. Collectors went out, and plans were put in operation which soon placed about £80 in the treasurer's hands, to be ready when called for. To establish our little cause and extend its borders we preached in various localities, and held service in private houses, hoping more favourable openings would soon present themselves. We often thought, and talked, and prayed about Hockley, or the north western part of the town; and every one was on the alert to find out a suitable place of worship there. At one time it was thought we had succeeded. A room was taken at a moderate rent. Bills were printed and posted, and arrangements made for the opening services. We were all delighted, and every heart beat high with prospects of success. But, alas! we were doomed to suffer disappointment. At the very last hour the proprietor changed his mind, locked up the place, and disappeared, leaving behind him, not the key, but a message to the effect that the room should not be used as a place of worship. A legal process might have taught him a different tune, but it was thought better to pocket the affront, which we did, with a firm determination not to rest until a good opening in that part of the town should be effected.
This pious resolution was kept in view, and sometime about the close of 1836 a small room was obtained over a blacksmith's shop on Hockley Hill. Here they commenced preaching, and opened a Sabbath school, Messrs. Heafield and Culliss were the superintendents. They began with eleven scholars, and books were carried for their use every Sabbath morning in a pocket handkerchief. Here was the origin of our present large and flourishing school in Unett street. It was indeed a day of small and feeble things, but being followed up with becoming
But the upper
zeal, the scholars and teachers gradually increased. room of a blacksmith's shop was not a suitable place in which to remain. It was inconvenient and annoying, especially as the noise of the bellows, and the clangour of hammers when shoeing horses often interrupted their religious services on the Sabbath day. These interruptions, however, were not without effect, for the friends took advantage of them, and resolved to have a better place. No suitable room could be obtained, and therefore, after the most serious and anxious deliberations, they resolved to build a chapel; not a central one, to supersede Oxford street, as was originally intended, but a second chapel, which soon gave rise to another society.
One Sabbath day, while these deliberations were going on, a venerable man with a white head was seen standing on a vacant piece of ground near St. George's church. He had a hymn book and Bible in his hand. A goodly company surrounded him, and after singing and prayer he preached Christ unto them. That man was Brother Harris, and that plot of ground was the very spot on which our noble chapel in Unett street now stands. It was opened for Divine service in April, 1838.
In forming plans and erecting this chapel, the brethren had not all the advantages which wisdom and experience might have supplied; but their zealous and enterprizing spirit carried them forward, and the topstone was brought on with shouting grace, grace unto it. Perhaps it would render our records too minute, were we to go into all the particulars attending the erection of this chapel. Suffice it to say, that there does not stand within the range of the New Connexion, a chapel on which the marks of true devotion and connexional loyalty are more deeply engraven than on this. It cost tears, and toils, and sacrifices of which no one can form a proper estimate but the parties themselves. We know one dear brother, the foremost in every good work, who often denied himself a dinner on the Sabbath, that he might have more to give towards this erection. Such a man may be allowed to speak about others who were baptized with a similar spirit, and in doing so, be has melted many a heart, and furrowed many a cheek with tears. Not long since he stood up to speak in one of our social meetings. The dream of former days came over him, and with ineffable cheerfulness he adverted to scenes they had passed through in rearing that sanctuary. His own privations were passed over in silence, but the sacrifices of his brethren were told in a manner that cannot be forgotten. He referred to a time when they were under the necessity of raising £20 to meet an imperative demand. As usual, they met at five o'clock in the morning, and after trying every scheme which could be suggested, there was no alternative but to pay the money, and each man was required to raise one pound towards it by the following Saturday evening. This was no easy task, with such scanty wages as some of them received; but being resolved on, it must be done. Saturday evening came, and, faithful to each other and the cause they had espoused, the brethren were there with the proceeds of their hard week's earnings. They all laid down the money, except that one brother could not exactly come up to the mark. The fact is, he had only nineteen shillings; it was all he possessed, and all he could obtain. With a cheerful heart it was cast into the treasury, and in some way the additional shilling was supplied. Surely, such acts of christian benevolence may be told, as a memorial of them.
But the chapel was not well arranged. It was an awkward, barn-like place; and, if possible, the school room was still worse. There was not an air of comfort about either of them, and no one could be surprised they did not succeed.
In this state our estimable friend the never-to-be-forgotten Richard Barlow, Esq., found this little flock in 1812. His noble and generous spirit sympathized with them, and to him, under God, they ascribe the dawn of their prosperity. Mr. B. had taken the lead in one of the largest schools in Birmingham, where he had well earned and long enjoyed universal esteem. In coming to Unett street, he brought all that zeal and affection by which he was so eminently distinguished in his former sphere of labour ; and in a short time he became the very centre of attraction amongst our friends. Indeed, he was just the man they wanted. His experience, his example, his counsel, and his piety soon gave him an influence which no other man could have acquired. An enlightened mind and a sanctified heart qualified him for pre-eminent usefulness amongst such a people. He saw his position, and wisely improved it. On joining our friends, his attention was immediately directed to the choir and the Sabbath school, where he was always at home; and gratitude will inspire many hearts throughout eternity for his faithful and self-denying labours. He was the chief instrument in effecting the enlargement and improvement of Unett street chapel. Conference encouraged them by a liberal grant, and in a very short time it assumed its present form and appearance, being sixty feet long and forty-eight wide, with suitable galleries. Dr. Reed, of London, and the Revds. s.
S. Hulme and W. Baggaly, preached at the re-opening. A good tea meeting followed, when John Ridgway, Esq., presided, and the evening was enlivened by stirring addresses from ministers and friends.
Whilst the cause was progressing in this direction, another agency was at work in the eastern parts of the town. Here a home missionary was employed by our philanthropic friend, Mr. W. Ridgway, of the Staffordshire Potteries. Several churches have followed this noble example ; but we believe this worthy friend of the New Connexion has the honour of having opened the first home mission in Birmingham. To aid and facilitate the missionary's labours, a suitable room was taken in Aston Road. Here a Sabbath school was united with the usual services of the sanctuary, and a goodly number of children resorted thither for instruction. Every Sabbath three little girls, neat and somewhat respectable in appearance, were present. They were sisters. Their punctuality and orderly conduct secured affection, and proved a great source of encouragement. Their parents attended no place of worship, nor made any profession of religion. One Sabbath afternoon they returned from school, and found their father as usual, reading the newspaper. The oldest took courage and spoke to him on the subject. " ( father,” she said, “you should not read the newspaper on the Sabbath day; the minister says those who do so are wicked, and will go to hell.” The words reached his heart. They unnerved his arm; and as he said in our last lovefeast, “ the paper dropped from his hands he knew not how." The reproof was followed up by earnest and affectionate invitations to the house of prayer. They prevailed, and the children were delighted to see their parents in the sanctuary, where they met with encouragement, and were induced to go again. This led to their conversion, and years of exemplary conduct show that they have not received the grace of God in vain. Two dear boys are gone from this family to glory already. The father has been a faithful society steward for seven years; their only son William is a useful local preacher ; and the three sisters are all members of society, all tract distributors, all Sabbath school teachers, and all missionary collectors. Had we no other proof of the efficiency of HOME MISSIONARY labours than this, we would thank God and take courage. May this pious house be preserved blameless to the coming of our Lord.
Considerable sums of money have been expended at various times in making alterations and improvements in Oxford street chapel. But after all, it is not, neither can it be, made such a place as we should have in this large and respectable town. No doubt there are those who prefer this little sanctuary to the most spacious and elegant one that could be erected. The fact is, their affections are entwined about it, just as we linger o'er the place in which we spend our early years. And we are not surprised at it. In our own minds many pleasing reminiscences are associated with this little out-of-the-way chapel. It often reminds us of by-gone days, and of many kindred spirits who are now before the throne. We cannot forget the devotion of a pious Mrs. Hillier, and the warm responses of a Thompson, who often made those walls ring with his loud and hearty amen. There, too, we used to see a Samuel Beswick and his beloved Catherine, both of whom are now with God. Our dear young friend Martha Doyle, sister to our estimable Mrs. T. Bradburn, found her way to heaven and carried her certificate to glory from this humble sanctuary. And more recently still, Daniel Demery—a miracle of grace, young William Taylor, and our admired Bonnys, father and son, have left their spiritual birth-place to flourish in happier climes. Here they first learned to know the Lord : and here, too, they often joined us in our sacred exercises at the footstool of mercy. Now they are before the throne, swelling a nobler chorus in the celestial city. True converts are the richest ornaments of a christian sanctuary. God has put a great honour on Oxford street chapel. We know many who point to it as their spiritual home.
“And when the archangel's trump
Through earth's and sea's domain;
Of those who date their birthplace here." But though the affections of many friends are thus riveted to the old place, they approve of an intention to erect a new chapel, and are cheerfully subscribing towards it. A little is already in hand for this purpose, and other sums are promised, in addition to the grant kindly offered by Conference; so that we trust the day is not far distant, when this desirable object will be fully realized. But we want a school as well as a chapel. Conference has wisely stipulated for both, and Messrs.
. Beswick, Bradburn, Hawkins, and the friends are not less determined to associate these two objects, whenever the building is commenced.
In 1844, Unett street friends secured a fine piece of ground adjoining the chapel, and carried out their long-cherished intention of erecting spacious and convenient school rooms upon it. This was a great
accession to our cause in Birmingham. The ladies are now preparing for a bazaar, by which they hope to raise sufficient to improve the entrance to the chapel, and effect such other alterations as are essential to the comfort and convenience of the congregation. This will complete an establishment on this side the town which does honour to the zeal and liberality of the New Connexion; and most sincerely should we rejoice to see the Conference sitting within its walls. The school has a good staff of useful teachers, and about four hundred children on the books. Fifteen scholars and thirty-two teachers are members of society. The congregation, though not large, is steady, and we hope somewhat improving. We have an excellent library and instruction society in active operation, and a fine tract depot, which regularly sends out hundreds of these little messengers of truth every Sabbath day.
In 1847 the Circuit sustained an irreparable loss in the death of Mr. Barlow. His removal was one of those painful and mysterious dispensations of Providence, at which we can only wonder and adore. At times we are tempted to murmur, but we must not, we dare not repine. “ The Lord reigneth,” and he says, “ Be still, and know that I am God." His death was sudden and unexpected, but he was fully prepared. Our truly estimable Sister Ludlow watched his dying bed with the deepest solicitude, and still delights to dwell on those pious expressions which dropped from his sainted lips. “My dear sir,” she said, “ you are now going down into the valley and shadow of death. To which he replied, “Yes, I know I am, but it is only the shadow of death.” And when reminded that he had never known the promises to fail, he exerted all his energies and exclaimed, “O no! glory be to God, I know they are all true by happy experience."
But though Mr. B. is taken away, the God of providence and grace has spared us his excellent partner. She inherits his spirit, adorns his name, and does honour to those great principles for which he so nobly contended. The interests of the Church and Sabbath school have her undivided attention ; and after a long life of piety and usefulness, we trust she will meet our departed brother in the skies.
Wishful to extend our borders and give increased strength and efficiency to the Circuit, the Oxford street friends, led up by Brother Harris and family, built a beautiful little chapel at Sparkbrook, a rising place on the south side of the town. It was opened last summer. The seats are let, and congregations exceed our most sanguine expectations. The class has received some good accessions, and the Sabbath school is doing well. Whilst this place was in progress, Unett street friends built a small chapel in Bridge street, of which a short account appeared at page 564 of November Magazine, 1849. So that, though we commenced without a chapel, we have now four connected with Birmingham societies. The Circuit embraces Lichfield, Ogley Hey, Nechells, and Smethwick, where arrangements are made for erecting a chapel in the spring.
A very powerful, fine-toned organ, built by our worthy friend Mr. Holmshaw, was opened in Oxford street chapel, on the 25th ultimo, when sermons were preached by the Revs. W. Baggaly and W. Beresford. This instrument does great credit to the builder, and is admirably adapted for a much larger chapel, in which we hope it will soon appear to the greatest advantage.