On Sunday 14 October 1900 ‘large congregations’ attended Basingstoke’s Congregational Church to mark the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of their premises in London Street. This took place on 10 May 1800. Moving from a meeting house in Cross Street, the new chapel, which could accommodate 500 worshippers, opened on 25 August of the following year.
During the 19th Century it was twice enlarged in 1839 and in 1860 when the distinctive Doric columns, which survive to this day, were added to the front of the building. As reported at the time of the chapel’s reopening: ‘The Independent chapel, London-street, has been recently considerably enlarged, and a very handsome Roman Doric front substituted for the former one’ (RM 29.10.1860). Indeed, it was subsequently described as ‘one of Basingstoke’s outstanding buildings, with its attractive façade complete with pillars of Grecian style’ (Attwood 2001, 67). These are clearly shown in the accompanying image. The interior alterations involved the addition of ‘a large number of roomy pews’ and the adoption of ‘a new system of lighting which … [had] a very beautiful effect’ (RM 29.10.1860). Redecorations and the addition of schoolrooms were also undertaken as the century progressed. Thus, by the time of the centenary celebrations it was a substantial and handsome place of worship. Moreover, London Street was Basingstoke’s largest Nonconformist Church in terms of its membership.
At the Sunday services held to mark the centenary, the musical contributions were of ‘a high order and … naturally festal in character’. The Sunday morning service included a hymn specially written for the occasion by the minister, the Revd Capes Tarbolton, who was a renowned poet. On Monday, a tea was followed by a public meeting chaired by the Mayor of Basingstoke, Thomas Maton Kingdon, one of the deacons (i.e. lay leaders) of the Church. The meeting was addressed by many leading Congregationalists, both ordained and lay. The minister and Church Secretary, George Gage, spoke of different aspects the history of the Church, which dated its origins to 1663, and how improved accommodation would be provided for the Infant (Sunday) School in recognition of the centenary. The Mayor who had been present at the jubilee celebrations in 1851 spoke of his reminiscences and ‘the great mercies and blessings’ that the Church enjoyed [reference]. He was followed by the Revd Richard Allen Davies of Ventnor, who had ‘known Basingstoke’ and London Street ‘for 35 years’. Central to his message was the view that it was ‘the spirit of a minister and the spirit of a people which loves its minister that makes the history of a Church’ and by implication these were evident at London Street. Another member of the clergy who contributed was the Rev Henry John Perkins, minister of Albion Congregational Church in Southampton, ‘a Hampshire man … [who] was born not far from Basingstoke’. He praised the accomplishments of Nonconformity, in general, and Congregationalism, in particular, during the 19th Century.
The next speaker was the Chairman of the Hampshire Congregational Union, ‘Mr J.A Hunt of Southampton, a sturdy Nonconformist of the old school who … [felt] that the distinctive principles of Nonconformity need[ed] to be understood and propagated more than ever.’ Finally, the Revd Tarbolton’s predecessor, the Revd Henry Barron, spoke of his memories of past ministers of London Street and expressed the hope that those celebrating the second centenary would be able to do so with even greater thanks for what God had achieved through their efforts.
He ended with the last verse of the previously mentioned hymn:
Build thou with us, that we may build for Thee;
Through the new times our Living Helper be;
Give latter glory greater than the old;
Until at length shall dawn the age of gold,
Until the years shall reach their perfect sum,
Until the great Desire of Man shall come.
The very extensive newspaper article on which much of this short article is based was reproduced in the form of a brochure for those who wished to have a souvenir of the occasion.
Attwood, Arthur The Illustrated History of Basingstoke (Derby: Breedon Books, 2001).
RM = Reading Mercury
All other quotations are from Hants and Berks Gazette, 20 October 1900.
Contributed by Roger Ottewill April 2020.