The Complete History of
Clayton Gospel Hall
Since 1928, God has preserved this hall in Clayton and kept has His people there to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the community. Here those involved tell the history of the hall and of the church family who continue to use it faithfully.
Mr Richard Stammers, pre-1928.
Mr Charlie Firth, 1928-1978.
Merger with the Kensington assembly.
Pastor Peter Benn, 1978-2008.
Pastor David Jackson, 2008-2014.
Pastor Christopher Rushton, 2014-date.
Mr Richard Stammers, pre-1928.
Mr Charlie Firth, 1928-1978.
This chapter is edited, with thanks, from The History of Clayton Gospel Hall, written in 2001 by the late Mr Douglas Hartley for Clayton_History_Group. The author wished to acknowledge his debt to Mr Arthur Storey for information, particularly about the building work 1927-28. Additional thanks is due to Mr Stuart Downey, for the use of some of the photographs.
A Preacher at 'The Wells'.
The Wells (1900).
The history of Clayton Gospel Hall is bound up in part with that of The Village School, which is now Clayton_Library and stands on land given in 1819 by the then Lord of the Manor, Richard Hodgson. The school was erected by public subscription. The population at that time numbered some 600. Maintenance and use of the school were overseen by an elected committee of villagers.
It has been told that a preacher, travelling on horseback, came to Clayton and spoke at 'The Wells', the village place of assembly (now the roundabout). This visit could have been in the early 1870s. Subsequently a Christian group began amongst working class villagers, known locally as “the Gospellers.” At first, they had no recognised meeting place but met in members’ houses.
At one such meeting in a house in Town End, a young man seated on the staircase was much moved and experienced a great change of life. This young man, Richard Stammers, later became the senior elder in this local “Gospellers” church, or “assembly” as members preferred to call it, taking to themselves the English translation of the New Testament ‘ekklesia’ - although they would not have wished to be known as an ecclesiastical body.
Before this time the inhabitants of Clayton had no place of worship or day school, although a building called The Poorhouse had been used for preaching. The Poorhouse stood, by the roundabout, on the site of the former Gatehouse Working Men’s Club, which has been a Co-operative convenience store since Boxing Day 2006. The nearest churches were at Great Horton, Thornton and Queenshead (Queensbury). For many years Anglicans, Baptists, Independents and Wesleyans preached in the Village School but, in time, each denomination was enabled to build its own place of worship. Clayton now has five church buildings: Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Roman_Catholic and Independent.
“Gospellers” in The Village School.
The framework of Clayton Gospel Hall is built.
Minutes of The Village School Committee (August 1880) record that the “Gospellers” were allowed to use the school room on one night a week and on Sundays at a rent of nine pence a week. Minutes for January 1887 record a list of elected Village School Committee members, among whom Mr Richard Stammers is named. Later that year, the "Gospellers” were the only religious body in regular occupation of the school, although secular groups made use of it. A succession of village schoolmasters taught there, parents of pupils paying for their children’s education in “school pence”. The school room was last used as a day school in 1898.
Over the years the “Gospellers” increased in number. However, in 1906 a difficulty arose. Bradford_Metropolitan_District_Council proposed to use The Village School as a public library. The “Gospellers” tenancy of their place of worship was in jeopardy. They had not the resources to build a place of their own, nor perhaps the ability to present a convincing defence of their position to officialdom. But God’s help was at hand. A young gentleman had recently come to lodge in the village: Mr Ransome Cooper.
Mr Ransome Cooper.
Inscription stone above main entrance.
Mr Ransome Cooper was a qualified industrial chemist in the field of textile dying. He came for a while to work in Bradford, where the expertise of the Bradford Dyers Association was known worldwide. He was a linguist, widely travelled on the continent. More importantly, for the “Gospellers” at The Village School, he came from a flourishing Brethren assembly in the south of England. He was to act as their advocate.
In order to arbitrate on the issue of the continued occupation of The Village School by the group known as the “Gospellers”, representatives of The_Charities_Commission presided over a public inquiry held in the schoolroom on 16th July 1906. The following statement, on behalf of the “Gospellers”, was prepared and read by Mr. Cooper at this inquiry:
"A stone built into the wall of the schoolroom above the original entrance states that the building was erected by public subscription in 1819 to be a weekly Sunday school for ever, and an occasional preaching House for all denominations who acknowledge the Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This was occasioned by lack of any suitable accommodation for the various religious communities then to be found at or around Clayton; and each being too poor to erect its own chapel or meeting house, this schoolroom was erected by public subscription and used in turn by the various religious bodies.
By degrees, however, each was enabled to build a more convenient and exclusive place of worship, with the exception of those simple Christians who now meet, and for the past quarter of a century have met each Sunday and during the week for the worship of God. They have been and are still too poor to erect a building for themselves, and whilst in no wise claiming exclusive right of use, they pray to be allowed to use this schoolroom in the manner intended by the original subscribers to its erection.
That the need for which this schoolroom was erected has not passed away is evidenced by the fact that over 50 persons come more or less regularly to the Sunday morning meeting, and 80 or 90 on average attend the evening Gospel meeting, whilst the Sunday school, held twice on a Sunday numbers more than 120 scholars. Such a congregation and school is drawn almost exclusively from the poorest classes of this village.”
In the summing up it was stated that the local authority had gone beyond its strict legal rights in attempting to appropriate The Village School for the sole use as a library. The original declaration, setting out the primary use of the school, had swung the judgement of the commissioners in favour of the “Gospellers” case.
A library was subsequently opened in the building but the “Gospellers” remained in occupation for many years. The memorial tablet, still to be seen at the present library inner wall, records in stone the legality of their claim. For many years after leaving Clayton, Mr Cooper kept in touch with the assembly there, each Christmas sending a supply of scriptural calendars to be distributed among the members he had known.
The Gospel Hall - Building.
Leaflet advertising the opening of Clayton Gospel Hall.
After the alarm of 1906, it was thought wise to begin a building fund. Twenty years of what must have been modest but sacrificial giving to this fund resulted in the purchase from the local council of a plot of land, formerly allotment gardens, where Back Lane joins Bradford Road.
Plans would be drawn up, probably by a member of a Brethren assembly at Bolton Woods who had a building contractor and who took a continuing interest in the work. No doubt through his offices some building material would be acquired. It was thought that a mortgage was taken out, trustees and guarantors having been appointed.
Building began in 1926-1927. Trenches were dug and foundations laid, the majority of the work from beginning to end being done by the members of the assembly in the evenings or on Saturdays. Wood was obtained, some of it second-hand from the Great_Yorkshire_Show ground of that year. A timber frame was raised. A local joiner, then based in Town End, was called in to construct the roof. Only a limited amount of brick and stone work was incorporated. The concrete and pebble-dash walls stood the test of time [not being replaced until 2014]. Inner walls, ceiling and floor boarding were fitted. The installation of gas-lighting, plumbing, coke-boiler and heating pipes was overseen by a tradesman member of the assembly. A pulpit was built and pine seating provided.
Memory recalled the wives and sisters of the assembly regularly bringing refreshments to the men-folk who laboured so long and devotedly. A more dramatic recollection is of a night in 1927 when, during a violent storm, a thunderbolt fell on a nearby building and telegraph poles in Bradford Road were struck and split apart. By the grace of God, not a window of Clayton Gospel Hall was broken.
Eventually, after painting and decorating and scrubbing of floors, the building stood ready for occupation. The opening ceremony was held on Saturday 10th March 1928. It was snowing that day! Leaflets had been printed for the occasion and had been sent out to other Brethren assemblies in the Bradford area - at Girlington, Wyke, Odsal, Bolton Woods and Shipley. In the mid-afternoon of that Saturday a procession took place ‘from the free Library to the new Gospel Hall’.
The Gospel Hall - Church.
Whitsuntide Walk, led by Mr Charlie Firth and Mrs. Nancy Clayton (1950).
Mr Richard Stammers, by this time aged 72, ceremonially opened the door of Clayton Gospel Hall and welcomed members and guests. Later a festival tea was served in the Baptist schoolroom. The evening meeting was addressed by a local leader and by two visiting speakers.
During the 1930s, the assembly at Clayton Gospel Hall continued to make their contribution to the spiritual life of the village: communion service each Sunday morning for the baptised; Sunday evening gospel meeting, open to all, conducted by lay speakers from other parts of the city and sometimes further afield; morning and afternoon Sunday schools, with never fewer than 60 or 70 children on roll; monthly distribution of tracts in the Town End and Bradford Road areas of the village; occasional evangelistic campaigns which from time to time saw the hall filled to capacity. Occasional conference weekends were held, at which members gathered from Bradford, Leeds and Halifax assemblies to be addressed by speakers drawn from distant parts, even from the metropolis, or by missionaries at home on furlough.
Special weeknight children’s meeting featuring “magic lantern” displays were also held often; as were Sunday school Christmas parties and prize giving, with homely entertainment; the Whitsuntide Walk, followed by games and races in the field at the top of Middle Lane, with mugs of tea and Halford’s long-buns served to refresh parents and children.
The only collection box to be seen in the 1930s was in Sunday School on behalf of a pre-NHS Bradford Hospital Fund (now Sovereign Health Care).
Sadly, as years passed, membership dwindled through deaths, removals and other eventualities until in the early 1970s the situation appeared uncertain. However, there came a time when the assembly would be reinforced through a merger with a like-minded group from Girlington who had lost tenancy of their own meeting place. The ensuing part of the history of Clayton Gospel Hall is told in the following chapters.
Mr Richard Stammers.
Mr Richard Stammers, seated on the foundations of Clayton Gospel Hall, with his grandson Douglas Hartley - aged 4 (1927).
Mr Richard Stammers, senior elder of “the Gospellers” and the man who ceremonially opened the doors of Clayton Gospel Hall, died in August 1928. He had lived to see the conclusion of the building enterprise.
Mr Stammers was not a native to Yorkshire but came as a young man from Norfolk, probably around 1875. He would be part of the movement of labour from agricultural to industrial England. He found work at Beck_Mill ("The Old Mill”, Reva Syke Road) which has been leased by J. Benn and Co., advertised as ‘worsted spinners’. He worked not in the spinning sheds but in the stables across the cobbled lane. He was the wagoner and in charge of the horses. He married the eldest daughter of Isaac England, farmer at White Acre, Baldwin Lane. In later life they lived in part of Holme House, Reva Syke Road, now demolished. Before its division into three houses Holme House had been the dwelling of Alfred Wallis, who moved from there to the newly erected Glenholme.
To the end of his life, Mr Stammers remained a humble working man but he was known and respected across the village. A cutting from the local newspaper Telegraph_and_Argus of 12th August 1928 records:
The attendants in Clayton fairground stopped the whole amusements and stood with uncovered heads whilst the funeral cortege of Mr Richard Stammers, a well known religious worker, passed the fairground on its way (from the Gospel Hall) to the parish Church.
A memorial headstone still stands in the churchyard of St John the Baptist's Parish Church. It was erected by Mr W. H. Benn in recognition of 50 years’ faithful service to the firm.
Merger with the Kensington assembly.
Pastor Peter Benn, 1978-2008.
This chapter has been produced using information provided by Pastor Peter Benn, bringing Mr Hartley's history up to the point of Rev. David Jackson's succession as pastor in 2008.
Mr Charlie Firth’s Offer.
Harvest display (1980s).
At the time of the merger with the Girlington assembly, the congregation at Clayton Gospel Hall had whittled down to one family plus a few friends led by Mr Charlie Firth, whose father, Mr Samuel Firth, was one of the original trustees - alongside Mr Richard Stammers, Mr Luther Watson, Mr Herbert Crossley and Mr Arthur Clayton. A conveyance of land dated 20th August 1925 was made between these men, Mr Charles John Vint and the two elderly ladies who owned the land previously (Ruth Cluderay and Ada Patchett).
The Firths, hearing that another Brethren assembly in the city had lost their tenancy of Kensington_Hall, decided to offer Clayton Gospel Hall to this assembly as its maintenance had become an increasing burden and seemed untenable. Minutes of Kensington Hall Brethren’s meeting, March 31st 1978 record that:
An offer, from the assembly at Clayton, of the gift to the Kensington Hall assembly of the hall at Clayton, was considered in detail. Brethren considered that, on the whole, the offer appeared to be acceptable, but the feelings of the whole assembly should be sought and, above all, there should be the certainty in all our hearts that such a move is the Lord’s will for us. The matter is to be put before the assembly fellowship meeting on Sunday April 2nd.
The whole assembly accepted. This blessing had followed a rejection of their application for permanent tenancy in Kensington Hall and the selling of “the tabernacle site”, which had also been considered. The Firths were assured that the hall would continue to be used for the purpose for which they and their earlier contemporaries had built it and the assembly from Girlington had assurance of a permanent place of worship. The handover took place in April 1978 and a new era, in Clayton, began.
Mr Charlie Firth and his few companions were immediately welcomed into the incoming assembly. Indeed, Mr Firth remained at the Gospel Hall until his passing the following year. The words ‘With Christ - 3.2.79’ mark his passing, simply, in the register of church attendance. Following this, retiring elder, Mr Edward Hessey, continued Mr Firth’s duty of visiting Oakleigh Nursing Home on a monthly basis to administer communion to incapacitated member, Mrs Myra Muff. Just as Mr Stammers had lived long enough to see Clayton Gospel Hall opened, so Mr Firth had lived to see that its future was secure.
Kensington elder, Mr Hessey.
The incoming group began during the late 19th century when a relatively small group of Christian believers broke away from a now disbanded church of mixed denominations that reportedly met somewhere near the bottom of Thornton Road. They wished to form an independent assembly and were permitted to rent Kensington Hall from 1896 to 1978, boasting of similar activities to those at Clayton Gospel Hall.
Friendship between Clayton and Girlington assemblies can be traced back to Clayton's inception. Mr R. S. Stansfield, one of Kensington Hall's elders, gave a gospel talk at the opening of Clayton Gospel Hall in 1928 and was frequently invited back as a guest speaker, as well as to conduct the wedding of Mr Stammers' daughter, Louisa, to Mr Garner Hartley, a long time friend of Charlie Firth's.
One of the most prominent ministries supported by Kensington was the missionary work in Zambia of Mr Barry & Mrs Rachel Haigh, residents of Girlington, who were commissioned by the church in the 1960s. Upon their return to the United Kingdom in 2006 for retirement, Mr & Mrs Haigh joined a church family in the Midlands, native to Mrs Haigh. Their work in Zambia is still being continued by others today.
Kensington Hall, situated on the corner of Kensington Street and Willow Street in Girlington, was also used as a dancing hall and library. Only the library still remains and little of the promised refurbishment has taken place. Instead, a new community centre was built further up Kensington Street. A few brethren assemblies, similar in style to those which met in Girlington and Clayton, still exist in Bradford today at Bankfoot and Rebecca_Street Gospel Halls, as well as in Shipley at Westcliffe_Chapel.
A New Era.
A wedding reception that was held in the hall (1999).
On 2nd April 1978, the assembly from Girlington took possession of Clayton Gospel Hall, initially closing it down for refurbishment before re-opening again on Sunday 22nd October of the same year. The original intention was to re-name the building “Kensington Gospel Hall, Clayton” but this never materialised. The baptistery was modernised, central heating and fluorescent lights installed, wooden panelling placed on the inner walls and both the insides and outsides of the hall were painted.
The new trustees appointed were Mr Edward Hessey (chair of trustees and retiring elder), Mr David Jowett (secretary), Mr Peter Benn (treasurer) and Mr Trevor Hughes. As a result of Mr Hessey's retirement to Southport in 1981, Mr Jowett's removal to Bradford Cathedral in 1988 and the death of Mr. Hughes in 1991, Mr Benn eventually became known as “the continuing trustee.” As sole leader of the church family, he became known as “Pastor” in the early 1990s.
The minutes of 28/1/1980 record that ‘It was decided to have a text at the front of the hall: ‘He cares for you.’ This text, from 1 Peter 5:7, still remains as a summary of what Clayton Gospel Hall stands for and can be read by everyone who enters into the hall. The aim of the current church family is to continue showing the love of Christ to their community.
The newly merged assemblies continued to adopt the format that was familiar to both: Sunday morning communion service and evangelistic outreach in the evening, accompanied by a bible study on Tuesdays. A women's prayer meeting began on Wednesday afternoons, originally at the hall but the illness of life-long member, Miss Enid Bower, led to the meeting being held at her home so that communion could be brought to her. After Miss Bower’s passing in 2004, the women continued meeting in homes with Miss Margaret Sinclair as the new host. A men’s prayer meeting was also started at the home of Pastor Peter Benn. Although both have since been incorporated into a regular prayer meeting for the whole church family at the hall, the ladies continue to organise annual retreats each summer.
Holiday Club (2000).
Children's and youth outreach took the shape of “Sunshine Special” meetings for younger children on Wednesday evenings, followed by a youth night for teenagers. These two groups were combined into one in 1999 and the mixed age group has continued as such ever since.
Afternoon Sunday schools were ended in September 1983, when an alternative crèche was provided in members’ homes to enable parents to attend the Sunday morning service. During the 1990s, children would be taken into one of the smaller classrooms during the sermons, as is the current Sunday school practise.
In 1997, following a successful “Riding the Wave” mission the previous summer, children’s outreach extended to the running of summer holiday clubs every weekday morning for several weeks each summer. These lasted until 2012, when it was decided instead to partner with activities at the estate community centre.
Pastor Peter & Mrs Lyn Benn.
Pastor & Mrs Benn (2004).
Mr. Trevor Hughes, a much respected and long-standing member of the Gospel Hall who was renowned for his devotion to prayer, passed away in November 1991 shortly after introducing a close family friend into the fellowship. Often Mr Hughes would open meetings with prayer and it was once recorded that ‘It was pointed out by Trevor that we need to watch how we pray, that we do not use prayers for an indirect method of criticism of each other’. His affectionate “niece”, Lyn, became immediately useful within the church, prompting the quip from Mr Tom Foster: “I hope this one stays, she’s a worker!” Not least of these efforts was praying with a then five year old Christopher Rushton that more children would attend the church services. Sunday school has prospered ever since!
Pastor Peter & Mrs Lyn Benn married on 24th November 1993. Together, they embarked upon a dual ministry that saw many lives changed by the gospel, particularly amongst former drug and alcohol addicts within the city, to whom they opened their home. In 1997, they became involved with Gambian_Morning_Star_Mission and a visit from Pastor Modou Sanneh in 1998 saw the conversion of Mrs Benn’s mother, Evelyn Duckett - the lifelong best friend of Mrs Mary Hughes, Trevor’s wife. In the final years of her life, Evelyn was cared for at home by Pastor and Mrs Benn (at times alongside addicts). In 2005, after her mother’s passing, Mrs Lyn Benn suffered a stroke due to post traumatic stress but she gradually made a remarkable return back into ministry.
Pastor Peter Benn had been accompanied for the last fifteen years of his ministry in Clayton by a great encourager who took after her “Uncle Trevor” in faithful service and devotion to prayer. The inside of the hall was again transformed from near degradation, children’s work took on a complete new lease of life and the church became more accessible to the lowest members of society. Mrs Benn was herself a former alcoholic and the eldest of nine children in a gypsy family.
Throughout all this, Pastor Peter Benn continued to provide the direct and inspirational teaching for which he is best known. For 47 years he taught the church family; first as a youth leader then as co-elder and finally as pastor. A modest congregation, the departure of co-elders, continually short funds and an unkempt building never deterred his faithfulness. Two sermons, a Bible study and a prayer meeting is a lot for anyone already in full time employment to undertake every week!
The first experiences of public speaking for a young Mr Peter Benn was when the men who led him to Christ encouraged him, aged 16, to stand on a soap-box in Bradford city centre and share his testimony. From that point on, Peter was responsible for much inspirational and challenging teaching. Retirement from research science in the late 1990s allowed entry into full time ministry. Half of the money received from the sale of engineering company Eldon Ltd. was put into the church and the other half lived on. In 2008, Pastor & Mrs Benn announced that they would be moving to Canada to be closer to Lyn's daughter. Clayton Gospel Hall was to be left in the loving care of a new pastor, Rev. David Jackson.
Peter and Lyn Benn are now continuing to serve the Lord faithfully over in Canada, where they pastor a new church plant and lead ecumenical bible studies. Leaders of the local church families are reported to be huge fans of Peter's English accent!
Giants of the Faith.
Church event (2016).
Clayton Gospel Hall has been blessed with many giants of the faith, too many to record individually in detail. One of the most remarkable examples of this is the humble and faithful service to everyday church family life of Miss Enid Bower. Brought to Kensington Hall by her auntie in 1927, six month old baby Enid never left. She passed away, aged 78 in 2004, leaving behind the current record for greatest length of service to the church family. Throughout her years, Miss Enid Bower distributed many tracts and leaflets, supported the work of missionaries and acted as treasurer. Her example is paralleled by Mrs Edna Whittingham, known as Peter Benn’s “spiritual mother” and serving for 71 years.
This legacy of service and encouragement is continued to this day by two similar beacons: Miss Margaret Sinclair and Mrs Edith Foster.
Pastor David Jackson, 2008-2014.
Pastor Christopher Rushton, 2014-date.
This chapter is currently being produced! Why not be part of it?
Fairtrade roses (2021).
Despite the sudden and unexpected passing of Rev. David Jackson on 4th May 2014, the church family at Clayton Gospel Hall is continuing to seek to minister the love of God to the community. We have introduced a membership to annually elect or reappoint a team (diaconate) to steer our church family, rather than relying upon a single elder or pastor.
From 2008, we have adopted a mission statement ‘others’, given to us by Pastor David. Before his passing, Pastor David initiated door-to-door outreach around the village of Clayton and oversaw the installation of disabled access, new central heating, double glazed windows, a new roof and replacement pebble dashing.
In 2010, we became part of Clayton Churches Together, participating in joint events such as monthly visits to a local nursing home, Lent study groups and Christmas carol singing - as well as proudly taking our first ever turn at hosting the United Good Friday Service in 2012.
Currently, the church family supports three missionary organisations: Bradford_Scripture_Display, Teen_Challenge and www.wycliffe.org/.
We hope that you will feel at home with us
during this new chapter of church family life!