May Street Congregational Church, Basingstoke: 1913-1941
In 1913 London Street Congregational Church in Basingstoke purchased and reopened the Nonconformist Mission Hall in May Street, which had formerly been the home of the now defunct Railway Mission. For the next 28 years, the Hall was blessed with effective leadership, both clerical and lay, and offered a spiritual home and social centre for those living within its catchment area, one of the poorer parts of Basingstoke. The Hall’s first pastor was John Gamble, who served from 1913 to 1915. Describing himself as ‘God’s ambassador’, one of his early innovations was lantern slide services which were, not surprisingly well received. Following Gamble’s departure, what became known formally as May Street Congregational Church did not have a dedicated pastor but shared one with London Street’s village chapels. All of these pastors made their mark. Noah Brewer (1916-22) was, for example, ‘a man of firm convictions and evangelistic fervour’; John Jefferson (1923-27) ‘a good organiser, musical, and a very faithful preacher of the Gospel’; William Robinson (1927-31) ‘a zealous and devoted minister’; Frederick Ewen (1932-36) a man who loved ‘people of all ages … [and had] an inexhaustible sense of humour’; and Kenneth Boxall (1937-40) ‘a man of great wisdom and experience’. For many years there was a thriving Sunday school, branch of the Band of Hope, Young People’s Guild and Mother’s Meeting. In addition to acts of worship and missions, there were public teas and fund raising events. In 1925 the Hall was renovated at a cost of between £50 and £60. Following the outbreak of the Second World War every effort was made to carry on as usual, but by 1941, with the Church being situated in a ‘danger zone’, this became increasingly difficult. Boxall had resigned in the autumn of 1940 and a few months later, first the Sunday school teachers and scholars joined with London Street, and then church members did the same. Although May Street’s demise had undoubtedly been hastened by the War, it also reflected the difficulties involved in sustaining a place of worship in a deprived part of town.
(For the source of the quotations see the asset)
Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.