THE STORY OF THE CHAPEL IN GOLDHANGER
Compiled by Maura Benham
This story is compiled mainly from the records and memories of Mr Arthur Powell of Tiptree, Mr John Wilkin of Goldhanger, reminiscences of Goldhanger people, and records held at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford. Mr Powell's father was a Wesleyan preacher on Circuit, and Mr Wilkin's father played a prominent part in running the chapel from 1926 to 1946. In 1807 a sheep dresser aged 29 named George Alexander came from Wiltshire to Goldhanger. He was an uncompromising Methodist, preaching In the villages and walking frequently to worship in Colchester. He also helped to form the Wesleyan Society in Chelmsford. In Goldhanger he preached first in a room opposite the mill at the top of Fish Street, but soon he had to move to a building round the corner in the Square which in 1826 was a small cottage which became known as Alexander Cottage.
Writing of the Essex country parson, 1700 to 1815, in the book "Essex Heritage", Arthur Brown suggests that the failure of Anglican clergy to live in the unhealthy coastal areas, many as pluralists with a good town residence in such places as Colchester and Maldon, left the field open for the growth of the Methodist/Wesleyan chapels in those areas. And one may wonder if the entry of 1768 in Goldhanger Churchwardens accounts indicates a non-resident rector: "to washing the surplice for Mr Keene when he was Over". Mr Keene Is listed as Rector 1765 to 1770.
George Alexander settled In Goldhanger and married Sarah Harper of Althorne (an area better known for its Primitive Methodists), and they had ten children, four of whom died In infancy or early childhood. The Tithe Map of 1839 shows that they lived in the house which prior to 1827 was known as Robkins and is now 6 Head Street. The eldest son John married and had at least three children, one of whom died in Infancy. He is recorded as a baker in Goldhanger in 1847, and one may wonder if he had the bakery still remembered at the top of Fish Street which may well be the building where his father first preached. In the census return of 1851 Sarah Alexander, by then widowed, was living in Church Street with two daughters, Sarah Ann and Ann. Another daughter Mary was living with the maltster Jacob Belsham, a widower of 56, as his housekeeper. The next entry lists John Alexander's family of wife and three children and his 13-year old brother Charles with them. John's occupation was then entered as a shepherd.. It is not clear whether the "entry "Church Street" relates also to Jacob Belsham's and John Alexander's houses. The census of 1881 shows John as a sheep dresser, aged 60, living in Head Street, "married" but with no entry of wife. The tombstone in the churchyard commemorates John and Martha, but the dates and much of the writing have become illegible.
George Alexander's work as a preacher had spread and grown and was sufficiently established to appear on the Circuit Plan in 1819. Twenty years later a chapel of 90 sittings was erected in the centre of the village, just beyond the Square and behind some houses in Head Street, The deed conveying the property was completed on lit October 1840, and contained the following statement: ' "all that piece of land situated In Goldhanger Street containing a length from North to South at each end thereof, 35 feet, and a breadth from East to West at each end 25 feet upon part of which a chapel has been erected, and all that piece of ground or way Leading from the high road to the said piece of land already described containing in length from North to South from the cart way of the high road to the first described piece of ground 60 feet (but from the fence on the greensward adjoining the said high road to the said piece of ground 34 feet only) and in width 4 feet and which said piece of ground intended to be surrounded and boarded on the east* west and south by parts of ground called Levers retained by the said William King." It would seem that the deed appointing trustees dated 1st October 1840 was not enrolled till 1st February 1842. The trustees of 1842 were J.Belsham, J.Bentall, Wm,.King, I.Belsham, John Wood, Janes Bentall, James Carter and Rev. J.Williams.
In these years both church and chapel seem to have drawn Large congregations. The Quarter Session records of 1829 refer to a place in Goldhanger styling Itself "Independent Methodists", with John Baker, the Wesleyan Minister, giving attendance as 100. The records of 1829 also mentions a group of Antinomians in Goldhanger. For the church, the Rural Dean's report of 1841, giving a population figure of 496 as In 1831, and noting that this was in 108 families, answered the question as to what proportion belonged to the church as "The Greater Proportion". In a return made 10 years later it was- stated that "Goldhanger Church contains 260 free and 80 other sittings. Congregation varied from 260 to 300." Later in the century the building was also used by the Friendly Society known as "The Good Intent whose Rules and Regulations printed in 1870 state "Now held at a Certain Meeting House or Wesleyan Chapel situated in Goldhanger Street."
The Annual Circuit Trustees Minute Book of Chelmsford Methodist Circuit (the former Chelmsford Wesleyan Circuit) shows a decision made on March 24th 1885 to form new Trusts in Maldon and Goldhanger: "It was thought desirable that a new Chapel Trust should be formed at Maldon and the Superintendent was requested to arrange for same. Resolved that the Goldhanger Trust be formed as soon as possible and that the boundary line be marked off." Those present were Rev. J.F.Morrison, in chair. Rev. Thos. Horton, Messrs. Coleman, Coppin, Morton, Stratford, Freeman, Death, Bevis, Leech, A.N.Morton, Pilchin. The' Goldhanger Trust was renewed on 20th July 1885, being comprised of Henry S.Coleman, Alfred G.E.Morton, Basil H.Harrison, George Henry Coleman, James Rice Freeman, Thomas A.Death, Samuel F.Stratford, Samuel Finch, Joseph Uisbey, John C.Frost, Alfred Wade.
The same minute book shows that in 1902 Goldhanger had all receipts in advance, and it was reported that ground had been fenced in. In 1908 Goldhanger expenses included £14.18.7, the cost of renovating the chapel. The Local Preachers Book shows changes in the time of service. In March 1907 it was changed from 6 to 6.30p.m. during summer months, and in December 1910 after long discussion it was decided that evening service "be discontinued^ In the absence of Mr Todd and resumed on his return". It was noted in March 1916 that Bro. Clarence "Woodyard of Maldon showed distinct promise as a preacher. It was agreed that opportunities should be given him to accompany the brethren to Goldhanger, and that he should be encouraged in his ambition to preach, but in September it was decided that evening service should be suspended (during the winter months) for the time being due to the shortage of preachers, Goldhanger was retained in the Circuit Plan of 1919, although it was reported there was no one to take charge. In June 1923 Mr Woodyard's offer to raise a Mission Band at Maldon to run a monthly service at Goldhanger met with approval, and in September he reported that "since the Mission Band work had been formed in Goldhanger there had been a distinct improvement in the congregation and in its spiritual temperature", He was thanked and it was proposed Chat this should continue.
Nevertheless it seems that the chapel was not prospering in 1923 when Mr Stanley Wilkin came: with his family to live at Bounds Farm, He was a staunch Non-Conformist, but finding the church was the leading light in the village he went there. However, it did not suit him, and as he and the Rector were both men who held their views strongly, he turned his attention to the chapel. There he played a leading role until his death in 1946, despite the Rector's warning that "to flirt with non-conformity is to preach infidelity". Evidently the work had revived by 1926 when an additional piece of land was purchased and the Trust renewed with the following names:- Geoffrey Coleman, Jas. Price Freeman, Jas. Wisbey, John Chas. Frost, Fred Bowell, Harold Finch, Alfred Jas. Appleby, Abraham John Harris, Fanny Gowers, Edith Smith, Albert Edward Joslin, Charles Hy. Wm. Songer.
Mr Wilkin's son, John, played the organ for some 16 years and has many memories of the chapel services. In the 1920's they seldom had a Minister and Mr Wilkin would take the service as he saw fit; he liked the Quaker ways and would encourage the congregation to get up and speak. John remembers the Moulton family who lived at Charity Farm and would attend with four or five children, Mr Moulton helping to take the service. He tended to say very lengthy prayers, and once went on for such a long time that Mr Wilkin suggested they should sing a hymn while he finished. At this time 25 to 30 attended. In the evening the service was run on the usual Wesleyan lines with a rota of those willing to take it, Mr Powell’s father often taking part. Some Goldhanger people have memories of attending the church service in the morning and the chapel in the evening. Women remember an earlier generation enjoying the Sunshine Hour Afternoons held on a Wednesday with a programme of hymns, prayers and a cup of tea.
John Wilkin has memories of Charlie Ruffle who started up a brass band which played in the chapel, John joined in, playing the violin, or the saxophone, or the harmonium. Others who Joined in were Bob Brazier, playing the, violin, and his brother Dick on another instrument. Charlie had been a keen supporter of the Salvation Army and liked its infectious enthusiasm. The words of two of his poems are given below.
John also remembers Charlie's long working life with Wilkins Tiptree Jam firm. As a child of' 13 when his family were in difficulties he went to John's father Stanley at the Jam factory and asked for work. He was told to get a spade, so he went to Colchester with the carrier and bought one for I/- which was a days wages. The firm took him on and he became foreman at Park Farm, Oxley Hill, moving to Goldhanger when Stanley Wilkin came to Bounds Farm. He was devoted to Stanley Wilkin and modelled himself on him. His band came to an end during the Second World War, and John went into the RAF and lost touch. But on Charlie's retirement John saw him with a new spade at his house Just inside the gate of Bounds Farm and stopped to wish him well, He said the spade had cost £3.7.6, just about a day's wages!
In January 1942 another renewal of the Trust was made, consisting of Alfred John Denny (died 10.9,47), Fred Powell (died 11.12.49), Harold Finch (died Feb. 1962), Edith Smith .(died 1958). Albert E.Joslin. Charles H.W.Songer, Reginald Powell, Wesley J.Havis (died 1969), E.A.Everett, Annie Cooper, Gertrude Clarey, Verna Wenlock, Elsie Finch, Gertrude Cruse, F.G.Fox (died 1961), W.J.Warr. By 1993 Arthur E. Joslin, Charles H.W.Songer, Reginald Powell, E.A.Everett, Annie Cooper and Gertrude Clarey are known to have died.
On Mr Stanley Wilkin's death in 1946 "Happy Sam" Ruffle took on his work, but he moved away prior to 1955. The Model Deed was adopted in 1950, but gradually the Society faded until in 1962 services ceased. Finally, in 1967 and 1969 permission was obtained to sell the premises and they were bought by Mrs G.W. Wakelin in 1969 for £100. The final Trust meeting was held in 1970. It was intended to use the money from the sale as part payment for roof repairs at Burnham, but as these repairs were paid for from proceeds of the sale of Mundon and Althorne chapels and Fambridge Road Maldon the net amount of £96.85 was finally paid on April 4th 1975 into the Circuit Advance Fund.
Manuscript notes of Arthur Powell of Tiptree, entitled “Goldhanger”, 2-pages, undated, but contain a reference to 1975 (held in the local archives)
Essex Heritage, edited by Kenneth Neale, Leopards Head Press 1992
Essex Records Office DP/79/5/1 1755-1862
Church Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths
Compiled by Maura Benham, 1993
CHARLIE RUFFLE'S POEMS
This was to have been set to music for use in the chapel:
A Bright Side, Somewhere
Is your eyesight defected, do you see things aright
Do you look on the dark side or the side that is bright
Dark belongs to Hell's regions, of that dark shade beware
Think of this truthful saying, there's a bright side somewhere.
There's a bright side somewhere
There's a bright side somewhere
Do not rest till you find it
There's a bright side somewhere.
When the rain falls from heaven causing nature to bud
Some strange folks start to grumble .saying this will make mud
Though the clouds hide the sunshine but the sun shines up there
And the rain makes the dust lay, there's a bright side somewhere.
Its just as you view things. Just as sure as you're born
Some can look at a rose bud and can see but a thorn
Yet others see roses on the bush that aren't there
They will bloom in due season, there's a bright side somewhere.
This Charlie described as "a little short poem which is very funny":
A Slight Mistake
He paced along the crowded street, his pace was sad and slow
He heeded not the busy crowd but seemed crushed down with woe.
At last a by street down he turned and reached a churchyard drear
He sat upon an old grave stone and shed a bitter tear.
A sentimental parson passed and saw him with bowed head
Then up to him the parson went and this is what he said
You probably have lost a friend your sadness tells me so
For death respects no age or rank, it strikes the great and low.
Then he who sat upon the stone replied in accents sad
I've got a pair of new boots on, they pinching me like mad.