Fifty Years in Retrospect – 1908-1958

Transcribed from a speech given by Miss Robbins, at the opening ceremony of the current church building on Saturday, 28th March, 1959.


I never thought I should come to the opening of such a nice building as this, after all this time.

The first date was May 22nd, 1908. I was worried about my brother’s workpeople and the people round here. There was only St. Paul’s Church. A good many people won’t go into a Church of England. They want something more homely. So, I asked my brother if I might have open-air services in the dinner hour, and we had them daily from May 22nd, until it got too cold. It was for my brother’s work-people, and for the houses all around and about. We got a good number. I think Mr. Gear – I don’t know if he’s still alive, I can’t remember where he lived – but, I THINK he was the first one to speak. Mr. Edward Lobjoit lent us the harmonium, and that we kept, right until November 1917, when he asked for it back! … there were reasons!

Then we started the Sunday evening services in my brother’s big packing shed, or barn – on Sunday evenings right up until 1911, so that was 2 years, 2 months and a bit; in a barn which had stables at the side and all along the back, and the horses were there and sometimes they neighed though the services. On one side only there were gas jets – you see, my brother had vans packed there and they only needed jets if there was a thunderstorm coming and it was very gloomy, or they were a little late in packing – so, they had jets, no economisers, just raw jets. Well, we managed with those, just one side only. We had vegetable boxes to sit on, bare vegetable boxes, turned up on one side, eight in a row, several rows, and we did have a nice number of people come.

We put straw down for their feet, to keep their feet warm. We did have – and you had it here in the Old Hall – a thing like a huge big urn in the middle, but it was a gas heater. And the door – I think my brother bought a lot of wood, and you know when you buy at an auction you get things you don’t want – well, he got an old door, and we used the old door and put that on the vegetable boxes. One of the men made a desk, a reading desk, and I’d got an old tapestry table-cloth, and that was laid across for a carpet, and we had a screw put through so that the desk couldn’t fall down.

The first service had to be held with the speaker using a candle – those gas jets weren’t very much good for reading by the table (the table wasn’t made then but I used a table from my home which was across the road) and he held a candle in his one hand and his Bible in the other, and read. Gradually improvements were made. Gas pipes were put on both sides, then gas jets fitted with incandescent mantles; a batten was put all the way round, with screws; and a friend of mine, who was a Court dressmaker, got her work-people, without payment, (we had to do things without payment in those days), to make some long, very long – Oh, quite the length there (referring to the top of the church windows) to the floor, and we had serge curtains, with rings to hook on to the batten. And the vegetable boxes – well, after a time I thought they did look rather poor and it was rather bad for best dresses, so we bought some red felt and cut it in strips for eight boxes and laid those along.

It looks as though I’ve got a lot – but it won’t take me long to get through!

Saturday afternoon we used to go across, some of us – and you can imagine what it was like when the horses were there, and when there were vegetable boxes and some of the leaves and things would fall – the floor badly wanted sweeping, and very often we had to put down water and then leave it, and come over in the evening and sweep it up, and then put down sawdust to dry it, and then had to leave it until Sunday to put the straw down; we then had to put the boxes down, cover the boxes; we had to hang up the curtains; incandescent mantles had to be put in place, you couldn’t leave incandescent mantles – for, with a market gardener’s vans to be loaded you can imagine what would happen to the mantles – so they had to be taken down and they were placed in a box specially arranged for them; a platform was erected with the reading desk, it was screwed on, and the tablecloth put down for the rug.

Sunday evening … although it was Sunday we couldn’t leave the place like that, because the men came in very early and we couldn’t clear it in time for my brother’s work to go on, so, Sunday evening, after the evening service everything had to be removed – curtain taken down and folded, red felt taken off vegetable boxes and carefully rolled, incandescent mantles lifted and placed in the specially prepared box and, all together, with platform and reading desk, stored in a small adjoining shed, where there was a cupboard which we were allowed to use.

Oh, how happily those people worked. They loved it, and the little children … I don’t know if anybody here remembers Mrs. Moore with her eight children; her husband died and she was left with eight children … her children, bit by bit, came over as they arrived, and I sed to have on my lap – the babies; and, at Wednesday afternoon service I used to take the babies across my lap and play the harmonium. The harmonium was stored at my home, and wheeled on a home-made trolley to and fro on Sundays. That started in 1908.

Now we come to 1910. We had a ten days’ mission and Mr. Charles Eltham – I don’t know what’s become of him – and Mr. A. H. Carter conducted this ten days’ mission and, on the Saturday – I think it came about the middle, I turned up the calendar and tried to find out exactly – it must have been on Saturday, October 19th, preceding the evening service we had a High Tea, to which about 100 came.

Sometime in October folks began to complain – they had stuck it for two years – they began to say, “Oh! isn’t it cold”. I said “Go home and pray that we may have a building”. During that week I asked my brother – just at the corner here, where you have got the car out here – just at the corner there was a (I was just going to say, three-cornered jam tart) a three-cornered piece of land, not a bit of good to my brother for market gardening, but simply full of weeds, so I asked him if we might put up a building. “Well”, he said, “there’s no-one to say we mustn’t”. So he told me of a builder at Ealing, a Mr. Harris, and we got in touch with him, got the plans, with the result that the price was settled and he started building. He gave us January 8th, 1911; we could advertise and ask the people to come, but, if you were here Saturday, January 7th 1911 you’d have said, “you couldn’t” I went over to my father and he said, “You can’t open”. I said, “we must open, it’s advertised; it’s been given out and we’re going to get in”. Those men worked right up to with ten minutes (we didn’t want to go into Sunday) – ten minutes off midnight, and then we got in. Mr. Charles Eltham came the next morning; it was all finished; there were odds and ends; but not finished like this.

We started morning services as well as evening, and every evening through that week we held services with a Chairman and a Speaker. The money for the cost of the building, and the chairs, some of them are here, no not here, in the other place (you’re sitting on far better chairs now – right up to date) – they were obtained through my asking – I turned into a beggar, personally, and writing letters, and, in reply we got the money. During that week, while we had those services, we got every penny so that, by the end of the first opening week, we were without debt. My motto has always been, “place of worship should NEVER be in debt” – I hope I’m not treading on anybody’s corns.

We started at once, Tuesday afternoons, Women’s Meetings; Tuesday evening, a service for children followed by a service for adults. I wouldn’t have many services during the week; I believe you can get spiritual indigestion, and I think you can make your home just simply to sleep in, and to eat in, and you very often think you are doing a lot of good by being at many services and neglecting your home, and no home life.

A year after opening we started the Sunday School – January 7th. Six months after that we had turned the Sunday school into six classes; it was a communal Sunday School at first. Then, on October 20th, we started Communion Service, the third Sunday of each month, in the morning. All who loved Christ as their personal Saviour were invited; no-one restricted; it was the Lord’s Table, and it was between them and God if they sat down unworthily.

We started open-air services after the evening services; sometime, I can’t remember when, but we went round to Cranford Lane, outside the Rising Sun public house – I believe it’s still there, but I don’t think the little Mission Hall is, and we wheeled the harmonium along on the trolley round there, and we had services.

The Speakers … You’ll wonder how we got them. For Sundays I gathered them from people who lived round-about, so that they didn’t travel. Tuesday week-night services I got them from various places; it didn’t matter whether they travelled or whether they didn’t. Now and again we had a week’s mission for the children. There was a Mr. Edmond, from the Children’s Special Service Mission, and Mr. Ramsay Wallis; and then the children used to go home, and they would come back with a text. I remember Mr. Ramsay Wallis taking one and speaking on the text “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever”. There was one family lived just across the road, the Smiths – nothing to do with the Secretary – there was a large family of them and they were good at writing out what they’d heard, but one of them wrote down, “Jesus cries yesterday, to-day and for ever”. It shows how carefully one has to articulate the last letter, when you are speaking for those at the back. All speakers came free of charge. I wrote and told them we were poor; we couldn’t do anything else, and some accepted their fares. No speaker was asked again if found NOT suitable for the people. It’s my firm belief that the people should be studied NOT the speaker. I hope I’m not treading on people’s corns again. It isn’t everybody who is suitable for a particular neighbourhood. I know a minister in Hounslow – he’s dead now – he wasn’t a bit suitable, and he told the Bishop so. He came from Ealing – a very different type of people from Hounslow – he left his card here, there and everywhere. I don’t know how it is but, anyway, most Hounslow people didn’t understand card-leaving, and he didn’t go again, and his place got empty, and he told the Bishop he wasn’t suited and asked him to move him, but he wouldn’t, and he died … not from that!

We had some delightful services in the Barn Mission Hall. We had a Mr. Eldridge, a builder, of Twickenham; he’d got a model of the Tabernacle, and it just fitted in so that all the way round, in a single file, we could stand outside it, and he most delightfully (I think in two or three nights of the week) explained the different parts of the Tabernacle, and what they typified – the character of Christ.

Then I went to Westminster Chapel and heard Campbell Morgan and saw his big blackboard, how he took the Gospel of John, and I think I remember most now, how he gave a titles to each chapter; well, I expect you all know the tenth chapter, say, is the Good Shepherd chapter; you know the fifteenth is the True Vine; and, from that, I got a big blackboard – I don’t know if you’ve chopped it up for firewood, have you? – and Mr. Jesse Sayer, at least I think he turned into Dr. Jesse Sayer, I didn’t know him then, he came and divided up the Book of Romans and taught us about that. Then, Rev. Samuel Wilkinson, of the Mildway Mission to the Jews, he came; Mr. Sidney Collet, another, the author of “Scriptural Truth”.

Then I went to the monthly conference of Dr. Campbell Morgan, and there I met a Jamaican Baptist Minister, and I asked him to come. I’m not good at remembering, but I remember what he preached, and I know the little Mission Hall was packed, and I know I sat on a pocket handkerchief in the vestry, and the steps of the platform were occupied, and he preached morning and evening, on a Sunday.

My brother, Mr. A. J. Robbins, he came and gave a lantern lecture service on Pilgrim’s Progress; next to the Bible he loved Pilgrim’s Progress, and he DID love his Bible, and he DID love Pilgrim’s Progress.

After a while we found an extension was necessary. October 1913 … I got in touch with Mr. Harris, of Ealing, again; he gave us an estimate, and we drew the plans out, and he said, “I’ll start at once”, and I said “No, you won’t. No, you wait till we’ve got the money”. So he went away. In a very short time I got the money, all the money, not a farthing over, nor a farthing under. I remember the day when the last cheque came, it just exactly finished it, and I got immediately on the telephone and said, “Mr. Harris, start away”.

They were the two rooms at the back. There was a Mission Hall, and the place right across at the back we used for the infants; and then we wanted a place for the Girls’ and Boys’ class, and those two rooms behind it were the extension. So that place was out of debt.

Then, spring-cleaning. I would like you to have seen it. We couldn’t afford a lot of painting, and all the rest, and we got together and got buckets of water, and we started; one had one strip down there, and another had another strip down there, and there we were, and we knelt down, and I knelt down and scrubbed too, for I wouldn’t have asked them to do what I wouldn’t do myself.

Collections … When the Barn Mission first opened a collection was only taken the third Sunday in the month and given to outside work – China Inland Mission, Mildmay Mission to Jews, etc. Then it was thought the people were missing a blessing by not giving, so morning and evening collections were started; the Sunday School had boxes passed round, and that went to foreign work.

The object of the service was always, right from the beginning, right from the yard services, right the way through, always for the Bible to be taught, an the Bible only; no whist drives, raffles, bazaars, or anything but Christ to be lifted up. If anyone loves Christ deeply they will select the outside amusements that Christ would like.

Speakers were asked, some were asked, and asked again and, I don’t know if I’ve said this, have I? I’m not sure if I was looking at it before – speakers were not asked again if they were not suitable. And I remember one man coming to me. He said, “When are you going to ask Mr. So-and-So again?” I said, “I’m not asking him at all”. “Well”, he said, “if you ask him I’ll come”. “Well”, I said, “I’m afraid you must stay away”. “Well”, I said, “he’s come and he has given us all he can give us, and we hear the same thing over and over again, and I’m not going to starve the people.” And I always do contend that the people must come first, and if the speaker or the preacher is wanting to serve God and finds that he is not suitable for the people I CANNOT understand him staying. I had one minister say to me that he might not be suitable for that particular place, but he might be suitable for somewhere else. In any other work, in a chemist’s, in a draper’s, or anything, if the worker didn’t suit the job they were asked to resign. Why, in the highest of all works do we permit unsuitable folks to carry on? Aren’t we Christians cowards in this respect? Instead of the very, very best for God’s service we fear hurting one worker; the worker should be only too glad to stand on one side and seek some other sphere.

Perhaps I ought to mention that, after a time I had my father, he was a cripple; I put him to bed for 11 years, and I did my brother’s farm work, and I got all the speakers, and I did all the visiting for the Barn Mission Hall, and father was as good as gold over it. Then, I began to wonder, supposing he were ill, there was no-one in the Mission Hall, no-one who attended there that was suitable for leadership. There wasn’t one that I could have asked, or said, “Now my father’s ill, if I send you word, you carry on”. No, there wasn’t one I could have asked; they were splendid people, and Christians, but I thought, “well, what shall I do?” and, at last, I thought “I’d better affiliate it to a church”. I look around all Hounslow; some had whist drives, some had raffles. No. No, it wouldn’t do. I wanted Bible, Bible only, that’s what God’s House should be for, and nothing else. And, at last I affiliated it to what is now, I hear, called the Hounslow Evangelical Church.