Chapter 4

To all alike proclaiming, one church, one faith, one Lord

For some time the Cambridge Village Preachers Association had wanted their stations to join the Cambridgeshire Baptist Association. The CBA however was reluctant to accept a block registration for all nine chapels and insisted that each place register separately. Accordingly it was necessary for each of the chapels to formally constitute itself as a church and this Girton did in 1913. They had prior to that date had a treasurer, Miss Fanny Whybrow and a Secretary, Mr. George Canham, but there is no mention of deacons or of Church meetings as we would know them today. Matters discussed locally (as with the renovations) were passed to the CVPA for approval. As a requirement of membership of the CBA that process started to change and the nine chapels became more independent. In the past other people have looked for the earlier minute books of Girton (and the other causes) without success.[60] We now believe the reason for them not been found is that they do not exist. Each of the chapels started a minute book only as they became autonomous. The Girton minute book starts in 1913 and the first thing recorded is a wonderful statement of purpose.

We assembled here in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ believing it to be in accordance with His will, agree to form ourselves into a Christian Church.
A fellowship of Believers in the crucified but now risen and exalted Son of God our Saviour, in order that we may help one another to love and serve God, and by united effort take to others the salvation we ourselves have found in Him.
We take the Holy Scriptures to be our only rule of faith, worship and obedience. We Preach and practice Believers Baptism but while commending it to the conscience and loyal obedience of all, we do not make it a term of admission to our fellowship to which we welcome all who have ‘Repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’. Who love our Lord Jesus Christ and depart from iniquity.[61]

So what of the church in those early days of independence. It had a membership of nineteen and interestingly the Histon minute book in transferring two members to Girton refers to Girton as “the new church”.[62] Not all the members lived in Girton, several such as Mr. Prior, the Sunday School Superintendent, lived in the city. (The original church role is given in Appendix B). The congregations averaged fifty on Sundays[63] and the Sunday School had about forty scholars and six teachers.[64] There was a mid-week meeting on a Thursday evening and regular weekly prayer meetings on a Tuesday evening which “although few in number attend, the spirit has been good”.[65] A group of the Baptist Women’s league started and was making progress, but “through the motor services from Cambridge being taken off, some difficulty is experienced in getting speakers, therefore, just now it is somewhat quiet, but the friends are expecting to wake up (God willing) in the New Year.”[66] The Chapel had a branch of the British Women’s’ Temperance Association, they won a banner in 1915 for trebling the membership of the branch,[67] and the Histon Branch of the “Sons of Temperance Society” were hiring the chapel fortnightly for their meetings.[68] Along with all these regular activities there were many special events during the year. the following sample gives a flavour of the social life of the chapel.

A service of song entitled ‘Nell, the story of a London Waif,’ was given in November (1912). There was a good attendance. The connective readings were given by Miss F. Wybrow, and the following also took part:- Miss Wybrow, Mr. and Mrs. Cole, Mr. and Mrs. Riches, Miss North and Mr. George Canham. The children helped with the choruses.[69]

A New Year’s Social was held on Thursday Feb. 8th (1912) and passed off very pleasantly and successfully. Solos, recitations and readings were given by Cambridge and Girton friends. During an interval in the programme, light refreshments were handed round. The plants for the table decoration were kindly lent by Mrs. J. Lilley Smith.[70]

On May 7th (1914), Mr. Alphonso Smith came over and gave us a lecture illustrated by interesting experiments on “The Effects of Alcohol on the Human System”[71]

The biggest event of the year though was the still the Harvest Festival and perhaps the grandest ever was the first held in the refurbished chapel on 26th September 1912.

The tastefully decorated chapel was filled as it has not been before, and all the proceedings were marked by genial enthusiasm and by the strength, sweetness and simplicity of the Gospel. The guests at tea more than occupied the tables provided. At the evening meeting the chapel was crowded; our president, Mr. J. Chivers, took the chair, and expressed his unqualified delight in the renewed vigour of the work at Girton, and the beauty and convenience of the renovated chapel. He recalled his early memories of the place; his visit with his father in very early days, and the great interest taken in the work by his brother, Mr. William Chivers. Mr. A. Rhodes gave an eloquent address. Mr. H. Starte dwelt on the past of Girton, and roused us by his animated gospel fervour. Mr. W. M. Hackleton also spoke. The Cheryhinton Free Church Quartet Party gave us some delightful music between the addresses. Mr Prior in a brief speech moved a vote of thanks to all friends who had unitedly worked so hard to make the meetings successful. Miss Whybrow in a neat little speech supported the motion, emphasizing our pleasure at the visit of our President and Mrs. Chivers. This was passed by acclamation, and the meeting concluded with praise and prayer.[72]

There were though some sad events during the years of renewal. The family of Mr. Nathan Whybrow lived next to the chapel and had been involved with cause since it started in 1859. Their house was always open to the friends from Cambridge when officiating at the chapel. Besides the parents, there were three children, a son Nathan Edward (usually referred to by his second name) and two unmarried daughters, who lived at home, Mary Elizabeth and Fanny Jane. Mrs. Elizabeth Whybrow died in April 1910, at the age of eighty-seven. She had been house bound and in failing health for some time, but her “interest in the things of the kingdom continued unabated and her last thoughts found expression in the mention of ‘My Father’s house'”.[73] Sadly her husband followed her but three months later at the age of eighty-five. His obituary published in the local newspaper described Mr. Whybrow as someone who “belonged to a past generation” and “was greatly esteemed and respected for his integrity”.[74] In business he had been a saddler and harness maker, retiring only “a year or two ago on account of the weight of advancing years”, but he had also been a rate collector and tax collector for Girton, Oakington, Westwick and Madingley. He had been a trustee of the chapel from its commencement and had also been a trustee and treasurer of the Girton Charity.

Only a few years later at Christmas 1916, the younger sister, Fanny Whybrow also died. Both Whybrow sisters were well known in the village, and had been mainstays at the chapel during the difficult years. Fanny was herself a generous giver for the cause and was Chapel treasurer for many years until failing health forced her to resign in 1914. She was one of six teachers in the Sunday School and although women were not at this time taking the Sunday services, she would regularly give the address at the mid-week prayer meeting. Fanny, along with her sister, was responsible for decorating at harvest and she was instrumental in organising many of the social gatherings which were such a happy feature of the Girton Chapel, as the following report will show:-

“A meeting arranged by the village friends, under the direction of Miss F. Wybrow, took place on December 5th. 40 sat down to tea, and the object of the gathering was made evident by Miss F. Wybrow, who in an animated and graceful speech, presented Mr. H. Prior with a handsome Bible, and Mr. Geo. Canham with some books, subscribed for by Girton friends, who recognise the patient devotion to the cause, especially among the children, shown by our friend and his young helper.”[75]

Miss Mary Whybrow survived her sister by twenty-two years. She was a very talented musician and is frequently mentioned in the quarterly reports from Girton such as at the Sunday School anniversary in 1915 when, “We had very great help from Miss Whybrow, who not only presided at the organ, but took great pains to teach the children and ‘grown ups’ the beautiful selection of hymns chosen for the day.”[76] Although a member of the Baptist Church, Miss Mary Whybrow did not limit her playing to the chapel. She frequently played in other churches, including being organist and choir mistress at the Parish Church for several years during the war.

Another leader of the church had died in 1914. Mr. Henry Prior was one of the special committee of the CVPA appointed to look after Girton in 1902. Although some of the committee members changed over the years, his name remained constant. He eventually became a member of the church and the “indefatigable” superintendent of the Sunday School.[77] Although he lived in the city in Jesus Terrace, Mr. Prior was well known and respected in the village. His sudden death on 1st May 1914 was a considerable shock to the church. A CVPA report speaks of the work at Girton as, “His abiding memorial”.[78] He had a rare spirit, patient and brave, quiet and resolute. A photograph of him in the chapel archive bears the following inscription:- “His patient and self denying labours for many years at Girton Chapel were crowned with success. He was beloved by the children and all who knew him held him in affectionate esteem”. Thankfully he lived long enough to see the result of his toil in an active and flourishing church and would have been thrilled to read the report in 1915 that, “Many of the Girton lads, who at one time tried the patience of Mr. Prior, are now to be seen amongst the congregation, listening to the Gospel as given out by the self-denying members of the CVPA”.[79]

Years before such losses from the fellowship were devastating, but now the church was in a stronger position. After Henry Prior, Horace Bradfield took over as Sunday School Superintendent, until he was called up for the army. Mr. Fred Cole succeeded Miss F. Whybrow as treasurer and after Mr. George Canham moved to Swavesey, Mr. William Pettit took on the role of secretary. Increasingly Girton was functioning as an independent church and having joined the Cambridgeshire Baptist Association, the CBA encouraged them to become part of the Baptist Union. This though the church members were reluctant to do, perhaps fearing that in joining a larger organisation they would have to sacrifice their new found independence. A special church meeting took place in August 1918 and after speeches from Mr. A. Rhodes and Mr. T. Pask and assurances that the work should be carried on with “no alterations whatever”,[80] the meeting decided to join.

In 1918 there were two special contrasting services that are worthy of note. In December there was a memorial service for Reginald John Cranfield, “One of our dear Sunday School boys, who was killed in action in France.”[81] Earlier in the year the chapel was registered for the solemnisation of marriages and the first time it was used was for a double wedding on Thursday 19th September. Miss Ruth Bradfield, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs. John Bradfield of Huntingdon Road married Mr. Harry Morris Hutt of Cambridge and her brother, Mr. Fred Bradfield married Miss Helen Honour Page of Haverhill. The Reverend Robert Smith of Histon officiated and Miss Mary Whybrow played the organ. The newspaper report of the time goes on to say that, “The chapel was nicely decorated and was crowded with well-wishers, many being unable to gain admission.”[82]

Girton was now a flourishing church, part of the Cambridgeshire Baptist Association and a member church of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Although they were still one of the preaching stations of the Cambridge Village Preachers Association, the last few years had seen the fellowship start to operate as an independent church. The prayers of the past and of the present were being wonderfully answered and the Lord was blessing the fellowship. As the church secretary reported in the quarterly magazine for April 1917;

“Girton village Free Church folk are well served We have a bright, clean and attractive building, well cared for by Mr. F. Cole and our energetic caretaker, Mrs. Kidman. We have devout leaders, sweet singers amongst our elder girls, a full and well managed Sunday School, and there is a happy and united spirit with us.”[83]

[60] J.T. Bloxam The History of the Baptist Church at Cherry Hinton 1843-70 the author states “The minute books in our possession do not begin until 1918”

[61] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 12.2.1913

[62] Histon Baptist Church Minute Book, 18.3.1913

[63] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1915

[64] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1912. (The April 1915 edition states that 120 sat down to tea at a scholars’ and parents’ meeting on 28.1.1915

[65] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1915

[66] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1915

[67] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1915

[68] CVPA General Council Minutes, 12.12.1912 (They were still meeting at Girton in 1925)

[69] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1912

[70] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1912

[71] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, July 1914

[72] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, October 1912

[73] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, July 1910

[74] Cambridge Independent Press, 5.8.1910, p. 8

[75] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1908

[76] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, July 1915

[77] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, October 1909

[78] CVPA Annual Report 1914-5

[79] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, January 1915

[80] Girton Baptist Church Minute Book, 5.8.1918

[81] ibid, 15.12.1918

[82] Cambridge Independent Press, 27.9.1918, p. 8 (Fred Bradfield had been invalided out of the army having lost a leg in action)

[83] Cambridge and County Baptist Quarterly Magazine, April 1917

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