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Nonconformity in the Swindon area

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Swindon, Wiltshire, Englandmap
Surname/tag: Hacker
Profile manager: Martin Hacker private message [send private message]
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Nonconformity There were three nonconformists in the parish in 1676 but none in 1783. In 1846 a house, probably in Broad Hinton village, was licensed for dissenters' meetings. That may have been the house at which a 'Bible Christian or Baptist' held meetings in 1864. There were then c. 50 nonconformists, including 'Baptists or Brethren', Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, and Mormons. Some may have attended chapels in Broad Town, where nonconformity flourished in the 19th century. A Methodist chapel in Broad Hinton was apparently built in the late 19th century and in use in 1925. It was disused in 1981. The 'Brethren' of 1864 may have been Plymouth Brethren, a group of whom met in houses in the parish in the 1920s and 1930s.[1]

Plymouth Brethren, Broad Hinton In the early 20th century a group of Plymouth Brethren used the Mission Hall for their meetings and worship; the Hall was next to the shop and bakery. The Brethren later moved to a purpose-built wooden building in the village. As membership declined the group merged with the Plymouth Brethren of Swindon. In 1937 the meeting room of the Brethren was the building which in the early 21st century is the village shop and post office. [2]

Swindon The work at Swindon, in Wiltshire, began with the visit of Charles Russell and Edward Hurditch, who arrived in the district with a Bible carriage. At that time the influence of a spiritual awakening in that part of the country was making itself felt, and on every hand there was an earnest desire for the Word of Truth. This was followed by a real work of grace and many were brought into the Kingdom. After fulfilling their brief mission the evangelists left the district, but in response to many appeals they returned to commence a more permanent work. This was in 1880. A tent was pitched on almost the same spot upon which the Regent Hall now stands. During the mission and afterwards, much valuable help was given by such brethren of repute as Henry Varley, Ned Wight, J. Denham Smith, as well as others whose names have still a fragrant memory.

Many of the young converts, along with those Christians whose hearts had been revived, eager to testify for the Master, found a ready outlet for their pent-up zeal in the open-air. Dinner-hour meetings were held near the Great Western Railway works entrance. Such new form of religious energy aroused bitter opposition, and some of the leaders were summoned by the police for obstruction. This proved a good advertisement, and as large numbers were attracted to the Gospel through the street-preaching, it became necessary that a place be sought out for indoor meetings. A hall was secured in King Street, but this soon proved inadequate. An auction-room in a good central position was afterwards purchased and named the Central Hall. In the summer of 1883 the work was transferred to this hall, where for a number of years a remarkable ingathering of souls for the Master was witnessed. Several noted characters in the town were converted. Two of these, Edward Williams and Richard Picket, came out boldly for the Lord and were singularly used as open-air preachers.

In 1883 a young man named William Hooper was brought to the Lord through the instrumentality of Joseph Dore—one of the most active and faithful workers in the mission-—and soon after his conversion was baptized with about fifty others. Mr. Hooper, in the vigour of youth, threw himself into the activities of the mission and for over half a century continued steadfast in the work of the assembly, unmoved by the vicissitudes through which it has passed. It was largely due to his efforts that both the Regent and the Kingsdown Halls came into being.

The meetings of the Evangelistic Mission, by which name it was known, were conducted much along the lines of “Brethren” at the present time. This continued very happily until early in 1889, when trouble arose over matters of a doctrinal nature, which resulted in about forty of the most active workers withdrawing from fellowship and the collapse of the Evangelistic Mission in Swindon.

Many of the brethren and sisters were now without a spiritual home. Some of them turned to the denominations, while others lost their way. A few, however, kept together under the guidance and care of Thomas Hacker, who had been a pillar in the mission. These believers, twelve in all, on the 30th of November 1889, met in Merton Hall to consider the advisability of commencing a meeting on Scriptural lines in fellowship with what they knew as “Open Brethren.” It was decided to do so in that hall. The advice and help of Dr. Maclean of Bath was sought and readily given; and the first meeting for the breaking of bread took place on the following Lord’s Day morning. When the object of the gathering in Merton Hall became known, many Christians who understood the truth and were feeling the dearth of spiritual life, sought out the little company of worshippers. The joy of the infant assembly was increased when the Lord owned the testimony in the Gospel in many conversions taking place.

There was now a steady increase of numbers, and in 1898 it was decided to rent what was known as Queenstown School. The Lord continued to prosper the labours of His people, and it now became necessary to consider the erection of a building of their own. The Regent Hall, which was opened the following year, was the result. With the establishment of a testimony and a growing Sunday School, the Gospel was now carried to the neighbouring villages, resulting in the formation of one or two assemblies. Principally through the frequent visits of Dr. Maclean to Swindon, a warm missionary interest has existed in the assembly since the early days. The assembly has for many years been represented in the foreign field by two of their brethren, George Sims and Arthur Morse, with their wives, who went out to Central Africa. [3]

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