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Baptists in Harrold

Grace Baptist Church January 2008
Grace Baptist Church in January 2008

The Grace Baptist Church was formed in 1994 when the old Harrold Evangelical Church amalgamated with the Baptist church in Carlton. The building it occupies is the old Mission Hall. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has no archive relating to the Grace Baptist Church or the Evangelical Church but mentions of the latter in other sources can help to flesh out some of the history.

The hall was built in 1876 by Miss St.Quintin who lived next door. In 1879 it was described in a ramble through Harrold. The writer had asked a number of inhabitants about the chapels, without success, bur eventually learned that: "a small new building near the market-place was a Mission Hall, where Mr. Croxford held a service every Sunday evening, and where meetings of different kinds were frequently held on other evenings".

The mission is described as "Unsectarian" and was later known as the Harrold Evangelical Church. The hall was licensed for marriages in 1889. Miss St.Quintin's obituary dealt with the creation of the Hall: "Then, some twenty years or so back, upon the personal invitation of Miss St.Quintin, Mr. and Mrs.J. C. Croxford visited Harrold, and conducted a three months' mission, which comprised Gospel preaching and good work generally. These services were held in the club-room of the Old George Inn, which had been purchased by Miss St.Quintin, through whose instrumentality that long established hostelry was closed as a public-house (according to the common acceptation of the term) and converted into a "British Workman". Mission services were carried on there for a few years, and largely attended. During the winter of 1875, Miss St.Quintin made an offer to Mr.Croxford to the effect that if he would take up his residence in Harrold and carry on evangelistic work here, she would be enabled to accomplish the realization of a long-cherished desire to erect a Mission Hall, as a centre for gospel teaching with temperance advocacy and good work generally. In order to do this the "British Workman" was pulled down and on its site was built the handsome and commodious structure now one of the most prominent edifices in Harrold, and well situated for its usefulness".

The demise of the George was related in the Bedfordshire Mercury of 2nd September 1876 relates: “A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER. Some years ago, in the centre of the town there was a public-house known as the “George”, and through its position it had a large share of business. But there came a time when the old sign of the George was taken down, and instead of that could be seen over the door “Temperance Hotel”. The property has changed owners, and it now belongs to a lady whose name as an earnest worker in all philanthropic movements is so well known, Miss St.Quintin. It was the for some time carried on as a “British Workman” public house, that is, a public-house without intoxicating drinks. At first this did not meet with the success that was anticipated, as it was not attended by the class of persons whom it was intended to benefit and the good work seemed to droop a little. But at the beginning of last winter fresh endeavours were made, Sunday evening services were conducted in the Mission-hall, prayer meetings held weekly, a night school established, and the effect was a great revival of interest in the movement. The attendance at some of the meetings was more than could be provided for, therefore the coming winter campaign the whole of the old buildings have been pulled down, and a very handsome Temperance-hall, or Mission-room is being built on the site. The contract for the building was about £900, and the work is being done by Mr.Hull, of Bedford, and is to be finished by the last week in October next. Well would it be if every village which had a public house to spare had a lady as generous as Miss St.Quintin to convert it into a Temperance-hall”.

 Paster Croxford in 1897
Pastor Croxford in 1897 [Z50/54/20]

The same newspaper reported the opening of the Mission Hall in its edition of 2nd December 1876: “OPENING OF THE MISSION HALL. The opening services of the new Mission hall built by Miss St.Quintin have been held during the past week. The hall was opened on Sunday evening by Mr.J.C.Croxford who gave an address founded on the words “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” The time for opening the hall was six o’clock, but by half-past five a large number of people were at the doors waiting admission, and in a very few minutes after the hall was thrown open it was filled to overflowing, many being unable to obtain admission. The opening hymn was one composed for the occasion after which the hymns were selected from the “Songs and Solos” as used by Mr.Sankey. On Monday, meetings were held in the afternoon and evening, addresses being given by a Parsee convert, of the name of Mody, who gave a very interesting account of his conversion, and by Mr.Tuppin of the Evangelisation Society. On Tuesday a pubic tea was provided which was well attended, afterwards a public meeting was held and gospel addresses given by Messrs Croxford and Tuppin, and a meeting of a similar character was held on Wednesday evening, Mr.Croxford expressed his hope that during the coming winter there would be a meeting of some description held every evening”.

The Bedfordshire Mercury for 1st December 1888 reported something that would have had the George's old patrons heckling: "On Tuesday evening an able lecture was delivered on the Temperance question by Mr.Weatherill, of Oxford, to a fair audience. Mr.Weatherill dealt principally with the vast amount of money spent in intoxicating drink, which no doubt was some cause of depression in trade; he asked all present to sign the pledge and stick to it".

Front of 60 High Street in May 2008
Front of 60 High Street in May 2008

Pastor Croxford, who started the Mission stayed for at least 35 years and lived at Rose Cottage, 60 High Street; he seems to have left some time between 1910 and 1914, being last mentioned in a Directory held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service for 1910. The next directory after 1910 in the Service's possession is that for 1914 and Pastor Croxford is no more but George Henry Way has arrived and is living at Fair View Cottages. The next directory, for 1920 shows him living at Mission Hall House. He last appears in the directory for 1931, the 1936 Directory listing Albert Henry Bernard Edmunds at the Mission hall, as does he last in the possession of Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service, that for 1940.

In 1927 Harrold was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act of 1925 which enacted that every piece of land and building in the country has to be valued to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting the Mission Hall noted the following accommodation round the back and attached to it: a stone and tile house consisting of a living room, kitchen, scullery and wc downstairs, three bedrooms and a box room above, with, outside, an earth closet, barn and small garden, round hall. The owners were the Mission Hall Trustees and the occupier George Henry Way.