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Drawing of the First Congregational Church in Buckley in 'A History of St. John's Congregational Church Buckley 1792 to 1947' by Rev. Robert Shepherd, M.A. (Cantab)"

Saint John's Congregational Church, Buckley Mountain, Buckley


This drawing of the First Congregational Church in Buckley is in 'A History of St. John's Congregational Church Buckley 1792 - 1947 by Rev. Robert Shepherd, M.A. (Cantab), subtitled: "with a short historical survey of early congregationalism in its relationship to church polity in general." Opp. p 28. See 28.363 for main entry and below for Chapters V - VII. Chapter VII describes Howell Elvet Lewis' ministry at the church during 1880 - 1884.

To see all seven entries for this booklet, enter "Shepherd, Robert Rev, M.A. (Cantab)" in the author field of the Reminiscence search page.




Buckley-Mountain Congregational Church


The First Protestant Church in Buckley. Erected 1811.

(Reproduced from "History of Buckley and District" - T. Cropper


Editor's note:

I was unable to find the drawing in either the original or the reproduced copy of Thomas Cropper's "History of Buckley and District". As most of the other illustrations in Robert Shepherd's book were attributed to Cropper's book, it look as if this could be a publishing mistake. The initials in the bottom left-hand corner of the drawing are "W.E.R.".



However, the picture appeared in the "Souvenir Programme of Buckley Congregational Schoolroom Re-opening Celebrations, Thursday 23rd June 1938" p.11. Perhaps this is where Robert Shepherd obtained it from. The caption stated:

Congregational Church Buckley, prior to 1870

Entries covering this programme are 206.1 - 206.18

To see all the other entries, enter 23.6.1938 in the DATE FIELD







Rev. E. Ambrose Jones (1870-1873).


Those who accept the Providential guidance of God in human affairs will find no difficulty in believing that the Rev. E. Ambrose Jones, the next Minister, was called of God to the ministry of this Church. The conditions under which he came were of a Providential order. It appears that the Church was expecting a visit from a well known Minister who lived in Mr. Ambrose Jones' neighbourhood. But a few days before the Sunday this Minister died suddenly. Mr. Ambrose Jones, knowing of the engagement at Buckley, came uninvited as a substitute preacher. At the time Mr. Ambrose Jones was not in a Pastorate although he was an ordained Minister. He had been in College for a teacher but had turned to the ministry. On his arrival in Buckley he reported the death of the Minister expected and asked to be allowed to conduct the Services. The Church allowed him to do so. Sunday School was as usual held in the morning, and the Minister for the day very often addressed the School at the close of the Service. Mr. Ambrose Jones was invited to do so and complied with the request. He spoke in a very slow, quiet and subdued way which certainly did not impress those present. James Hughes at the close of the address, in a most mournful voice exclaimed, "Another miserable day." But he was not content with complaining. He went to the young Minister and said, "Young man, we like lively preaching here." "Yes, yes," said Ambrose Jones, and smiled. Few were present at the afternoon Service in the Chapel. They expected little from the Minister for the day. But when Ambrose Jones began preaching, the congregation was thoroughly aroused and before he had finished his sermon, James Hughes was weeping aloud. The news of a great preacher for the day spread rapidly and the Church was crowded for the evening Service.


The preacher proved to be as magnetic and powerful in the evening as in the afternoon, and the enthusiasm of the people knew no bounds. The deacons met at the close of the evening Service and asked for an interview with the preacher. They soon discovered he was without a pastorate and at once asked him if he would accept an invitation to this Church as Minister. He said he was willing to do so and they invited him to remain as their Minister without returning home. He did this, and for a time stayed at Hawkesbury Place. When his wife joined him later they took apartments at Mr. Fisher's farm on Daisy Hill. His stipend was £75 a year. Unquestionably this young preacher was a pulpit genius of the first order. He was instantly such a success as a preacher that the Chapel was filled to overflowing with eager listeners. It was necessary to be in the pews an hour before the Service commenced, to be assured of a seat. And people began offering money to purchase the opportunity of hearing this amazing young preacher.


Wherever he preached, the Church was crowded to its utmost capacity and on one occasion there were more people outside the Church than inside. So the Rev. Ambrose Jones stood on a chair in the doorway of the Church to preach. He made a profound impression on everyone who heard him and his sermons were remembered, many in detail, 40 years and more after he left the district. I have listened as a boy to many of these being recounted with text, introduction, development, application and peroration all complete, 50 years and more after the Rev. Ambrose Jones had passed away. His peroration at the close of the sermon lasted for 20 minutes at least, with a flow of language that completely overwhelmed the congregation. He held the people breathless for this time and almost mesmerised them with his powers of oratory. Mr. John Taylor, no mean critic of preaching, once said he regarded Ambrose Jones as a greater pulpit orator than Spurgeon.


Stories about his preaching would fill a book. It has become almost legendary. His style of preaching was most dramatic and more or less conversational. He gave the facts necessary to the introduction of the sermon, very often in the form of an imaginary conversation, as when he bent over the pulpit and spoke to an imaginary Jeremiah in the dungeon prison. By asking this imaginary Jeremiah questions and then repeating his imaginary answers he made Jeremiah tell the story of how be came to be in the dungeon prison. His sermons must have been the greatest possible contrast to the theological and doctrinal sermons of his predecessor, the Rev. John Griffith. No preacher, however great his reputation, moved the people so powerfully as the Rev. Ambrose Jones. And his preaching was not in vain. He brought into the Church a number of young men who became prominent workers in the House of God later. Mr. John Taylor and Mr. Joel Williamson who served this and other districts so faithfully for long years as lay preachers were both inspired by the Rev. Ambrose Jones to undertake pulpit work. He had a jovial and happy disposition that endeared him to the people who loved him.


From the commencement of his ministry the Chapel had been hopelessly inadequate to accommodate the crowds anxious to attend the Services, and this made imperative the need for another Church which had already been felt. The building itself had for some time been in a bad condition and there had been some discussion on building a new Church rather than endeavouring to repair the old one. Apparently the intention had been to spend £200 on repair work at first. But the need for a new Chapel prevailed. The decision to take this step was made after a Monday evening prayer meeting, when the voting was unanimous in favour of a new Chapel. With characteristic promptitude the members at once, before the meeting came to an end, began to promise subscriptions for the purpose, and before the meeting closed £137 had been promised. Following this meeting a general Church meeting was called which confirmed the decision already taken. The only question left for consideration was the size and character of the Chapel to be built. Some felt that a building costing about £800 would prove sufficient for the Church's needs. But the Rev. Ambrose Jones was more ambitious and far-seeing. He brought an architect to discuss the matter with the Church officials who persuaded them to look beyond their present needs and build for the future requirements. They agreed to his suggestion and plans were drawn up for the present fine Church, with a seating accommodation for 650 people. The specification for the building stipulated that the work should be completed by the 1st of August, 1873, the contractor to forfeit £2 a week if the contract remained incomplete after that date.


The old Church of so many cherished memories was taken down so that the new building could occupy the same site. All available material from the old Church was employed in the erection of the new Chapel. So that the present building incorporates a portion of the first Chapel. A large window from the former Chapel is built into the back of the present Church, and I believe some of the coloured glass in the present coloured glass window in the Church's vestibule was also in the old Chapel.


While the building was going on, the Services were held in the Schoolroom. A foundation stone was laid by Mr. R. Sinclair in 1872, and the erection proceeded rapidly. The cost of the new Chapel was about £2,000. It would have been much heavier but for the fact that the men of the congregation, after mining the clay from the Common, made and burned the bricks required for the building of the Chapel without payment for their labour. This was not only a labour of love on the part of these workers but constitutes what must be quite a unique mode of chapel building. It certainly lightened considerably the financial burden of the undertaking.


Under the enthusiastic leadership of the Rev. Ambrose Jones the raising of funds to meet the financial liability incurred went on apace. Various means were adopted. The chief source of income was Subscriptions, not only from the congregation but from other Churches who felt they were under an obligation to come to the help of their brethren. The women, who were determined to do their part in raising the money required, arranged for bazaars and were able to hand over to the building fund £300. The joyful anticipation of having a beautiful Church in which to worship was at its peak when a dark cloud came between the Minister and his deacons, and the Rev. Ambrose Jones resigned. It was a tragedy that the one who had done so much towards the erection of the Church should leave before its completion. His resignation was deeply deplored by the people and many implored him not to leave the neighbourhood. They offered to build a hail in which he could preach and to find his stipend. But very sorrowfully he refused, saying his presence in the district would harm the Church. His farewell sermon preached to a great crowd of worshippers had as its text "Amen," "Hallelujah." Amen for the past, as he said, and Hallelujah for the future. Like all his sermons, it proved to be a most impressive utterance. He never, of course, preached in the new Church. But on one wet, stormy night, when the building was nearing completion, after tramping many long miles through pouring rain, weary and drenched to the skin, he sought the door of a friend's house where he spent the night. With the dawn he arose and crept away to look upon the new Church he had done so much to make possible. It was the last time he visited the district and shortly afterwards, while still a young man about 28 years of age, he died with the words on his lips "My God hath forgiven me all my sins." This young pulpit genius will be remembered as long as the Congregational Church stands, which is a lasting monument both to his greatness and his abiding influence.









Rev. J. D. Thomas (1873-1879).


Any Minister as the successor of the Rev. Ambrose Jones would occupy an unenviable position. With memories of his preaching still vivid, it must have been a most difficult task to fill his place. But the Church in spite of the brilliant past did not hesitate to call a young man straight from College, Mr. J. D. Thomas, and in doing so bore witness to his ability as a preacher. Mr. Thomas commenced his ministry on the first Sunday in June, 1873, and was ordained on Dec. 1st, 1873. On that occasion the Rev. John Griffith asked the candidate for ordination the questions then put to him. The Rev. Mr. Peters, of Bala, gave the "charge," and the Revs. Burford Hooke, of Mold, and Darnton, of Chester, also took part. For a time the Rev. J. D. Thomas conducted the Services in the Schoolroom until the new Church could be completed. But by Nov. 25th, 1873, the building was finished, and the Opening Service of the new Chapel took place on that date. The Rev. John Griffith announced the first hymn and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Pearson, of Liverpool, preached on this very happy and joyous occasion. The new Church must have rejoiced the hearts of those who had laboured so incessantly in various ways to erect it. It is a noble structure with its beautiful frontage and lofty steeple. All the pews and woodwork of the interior are of polished pinewood, light in colour and of rich appearance. In two respects the interior differed from the present building. The pulpit was close up to the back wall of the Chapel and the gallery ran against the wall on both sides preventing access to the organ gallery. The large coloured glass window over the back gallery was presented to the Church at a later date by Mr. Robert Griffith and Mr .J. P. Griffith in memory of the Rev. John Griffith. The building was lit with oil lamps which were set on stands at the end of pews at intervals all down the aisles. We can well imagine the appeal this new Church would make to the worshippers who had found a home worthy of their Fellowship. The Rev. John Griffith, of course, was still in the Manse and joined the congregation in worship. The young Minister had to face Sunday by Sunday something like an ordeal. The Church had been made theologically minded and his sermons were often made the subject for theological discussion and argument. Apparently his preaching was not always considered orthodox by the Rev. John Griffith who did not hesitate to attack any deviation from the theological position acceptable to himself.


The Church Meeting in those days was a Religious Service, the only business transacted being the admission and dismissal of Church members. So there was every opportunity for the members to discuss openly the theological teaching of their Minister. And more than once he was called upon to defend statements made by him in the pulpit. He tells us though that he never lacked support. For every opponent he had twice as many supporters. He speaks of one of these occasions in this way, "Once in a Church Meeting I was very severely handled on account of a sermon which I had preached the previous Sunday evening. To be quite candid a part of that sermon was not my own, and although they didn't know it, it was the parts which were not my own that they found fault with."


This may seem harsh treatment for a young and inexperienced Minister but it was the best possible thing that could happen both for him and the Church. He knew when he went into the pulpit that he was speaking to people who were theologians, alert and well able to question anything he might say. What could be more inspiring and helpful to any Minister than such challenging conditions? The business side of the Church's life was very free and easy, indeed almost lax. Church business was generally conducted at the close of the Sunday School on Sunday mornings. But no minutes of previous meetings were ever read, because no minute book was kept. There were not even meetings of the diaconate to discuss Church business and give guidance to the Church. What a light all this throws on the character of the Sunday School, when there were present deacons and Church members in sufficient numbers to transact all the business of the Church. Indeed Edward Price, the senior deacon at that time, had been teaching the infant class for 50 years. But we naturally wonder what this devout man taught the infants when we remember that whenever he addressed the school he invariably dealt with the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity.


The Church had no rules for its guidance. The New Testament was regarded as giving all the guidance which the Church required. That was not to be altogether deplored when we realise that the spiritual life of the Church took precedence over every other feature of Church activity. It was no uncommon thing to find sixty to eighty people present at the Prayer Meeting on the Monday evening, and the Rev. J. D. Thomas made this comment many years after leaving Buckley, "There were four or five men who could pray as I never heard men pray either before or since ; it seemed as if they had really got hold of the Almighty and had brought Him bodily and potentially into the room." Among these mighty men of prayer were James Hughes and Benjamin Lloyd, " a prince in prayer."


The Minister was paid his stipend fortnightly when he went to tea with the Treasurer, Mr. John Taylor (Senior), who "paid over to me what was due with such a beaming countenance that I felt somehow the sum was twice as large as it really was." How homely and pleasant were the ways of this Church! The harmonium was still in use for the Services but while Mr. Joseph Griffiths in 1876 was on a visit to his son, Mr. J. R. Griffiths, in London, he saw an organ for sale which he induced the Church to purchase after Mr. J. R. Griffiths had inspected it and recommended its purchase.


So the new Chapel installed a new organ, which was opened by Mr. J. R. Griffiths in August, 1877, and Mr. Charles Taylor became the organist.


The Rev. J. D. Thomas besides being a preacher of ability was a most conscientious pastor to his people. He knew his people personally and not merely as people to whom he preached. And he was welcomed in the homes of his congregation as a personal friend.


While still a Minister here Mr. Thomas married Miss Catherall from Hawkesbury, who unfortunately died after a short married life. He then married Miss Martha Catherall of Pren Brigog.


He left Buckley after a very successful ministry of six years duration and went to Runcorn.








The Rev. Howell Elvet Lewis (1880-1884).


The Rev. H. Elvet Lewis came as Minister in 1880. He was the youngest Minister the Church ever "called." He was not 20 years of age when he commenced his ministry and to the elderly deacons of that time he was just "The Lad."


In praying for him they did not call him their Minister, it was rather God bless the lad." He was ordained here and entered on his ministry under the best possible conditions. The Church was an intensely spiritual fellowship with its weekly Prayer Meetings, centres of great spiritual power, and its Society Meetings of a high order. The Sunday School was well equipped with teachers of the best type and Mr. William Catherall!! (Pren Brigog) acted as Superintendent. There was a wealth of young life waiting to be moulded and influenced and brought into the fellowship of the Church. Mr. Joseph Griffiths, the senior deacon, drew largely upon these young people to form a choir, with their singing practices every week, and occasionally on a Sunday.


The Church was happy in its fellowship and running very smoothly in all its organisations.


A young Minister could not have found a more congenial atmosphere or better conditions under which to develop his powers. And the Rev. Elvet Lewis took every advantage of these conditions and never lost an opportunity of advancing the Cause of Christ. A man of ten talents, he quickly showed he intended to secure other ten, and he did so. He took a very keen interest in every branch of Church life and work, and in dealing with the leaders and workers displayed a measure of tact and understanding that was very remarkable in one so young. He knew what he wanted and he knew how best to secure his aims. He made it his business to visit regularly the homes of his people, not only that he might bring help and consolation to those who needed them but in order to understand better their mentality and personal dispositions. As a preacher he was endowed with a most musical voice, pleasing to the ear of his congregation. His sermons were rich in suggestion and ideas and his language beautiful with poetic thought and phrase. Most naturally he attracted large congregations and the Church was filled with devout worshippers.


Some of the adherents of those days came from long distances and travelled in horse carriages. Accommodation had to be found for the horses, and stables were built at the back of the Church for this purpose. As the Services were held in the afternoon and evening, the people from a distance used to bring along provisions for their tea, and the Minister very often joined them for this meal.


The Rev. Elvet Lewis was especially happy in his work among young people and exerted a great moulding influence over them. He formed a Band of Hope to instil into their young hearts the principles of total abstinence. This became a very flourishing organisation with a large membership. He realised that the old Society Meeting did not appeal to the young people and he persuaded the Church to discontinue this Meeting which had been a feature of its life for many years, and form a Mutual Improvement Class. This offered more and greater opportunities to the young people to develop their powers. The Sunday School was his greatest sphere of influence. And what rich fruits he gathered from his labour there At one never-to-be-forgotten Communion Service this young Minister had the supreme joy of welcoming into the fellowship of the Church 90 people, almost all of them young people from the Sunday School. How powerfully this speaks of his influence and successful work among the young.


The Sunday School, then a large one, was not allowed to forget the claims of work abroad. Mr. William Catherall (Pren Brigog), the Superintendent, was a great Missionary enthusiast, and he never failed to bring before the School the needs of Christian enterprise in foreign lands. By the distribution of pamphlets dealing with this work, and addresses to the School, he awakened and kept alive interest in the London Missionary Society. I have heard that whenever he spoke about the little black children" the tears streamed down his face.


No opportunity for an effective ministry was neglected. The Sunday School still met in the old Sunday School building whose accommodation was very restricted and limited. It is doubtful if all available scholars could have been accommodated there. So a move was made to form a Sunday School and hold Services in the Trap (Ewloe Place). The Minister was fortunate in having at hand workers able and willing to carry out any kind of work and service required of them. And Mr. William Jones (The Gatehouse) and Mr. Charles Gerrard undertook to organise and superintend this piece of pioneer work. A number of scholars were brought together there and Miss Agnes Jones (Mrs. John William Jones) made herself responsible for teaching them. In addition to this Sunday School work, preaching Services were held there and the Minister and others carried on this side of the work. The venture proved very successful owing to the splendid work and devotion of those who had undertaken to carry it through.



When the new Schoolroom was built, the scholars from the Trap Sunday School were transferred there occasioning a great increase in the number of scholars.


The Rev. Elvet Lewis had rooms with Mr. Joseph Catherall (Post Office) and after being here for a little time brought over to Buckley his brother, Tom Lewis, who attended the Alyn Grammar School, Mold. Tom Lewis proved to be a very brilliant scholar and became the Rev. Thomas Lewis, M.A., B.D., Principal of Brecon College, South Wales. He has often visited our pulpit and is always assured of a very hearty welcome.


The Rev. Elvet Lewis had a very happy and successful ministry here and he left the Church much stronger and better equipped for future ministry in the world. He was greatly beloved. But he robbed the Church, as his predecessor had done and as his successor was to do, by marrying and taking away one of the best workers of the Church. Just before he left Buckley for Hull, he married Miss Mary Taylor, of Cherry Orchard Farm, Broughton. No special occasion in the life of this Church seems complete without the Rev. Elvet Lewis and he has visited the scene of his first ministry again and again. When he celebrated the Jubilee of his ministry in London in 1930, Mr. Jonathan Catherall attended the celebration as this Church's representative. But that did not satisfy the people. The Rev. Elvet Lewis was invited to continue the celebration at this, his first, Church. He came and spoke of his long ministry to a crowded Church and was afterwards presented with a gift by the Church to mark his Jubilee in the ministry.


This Church has watched with growing pride and gratification the career of this "lad" of nineteen years of age who has become so famous in so many ways. His ministerial career was crowned by his election to the chair of the Congregational Union of England and Wales. A number of his hymns appear in our Congregational Hymnary. In Bardic circles in Wales he is almost without a rival and has held the supreme offices. He has been honoured by University and State alike. He has received the M.A. and D.D. degrees in token of his great services to Congregationalism and the religious life of the country.


The State honoured itself when it granted him a State pension in recognition of his many services religious and literary rendered to his country. While I write this he is enjoying a well-earned rest in retirement from ministerial duties. But his services in the pulpit are sought as eagerly as ever and his voice still proclaims with all its former music, the Gospel of the Master he has so dearly loved and so faithfully served throughout his long and distinguished life.


Author: Shepherd, Robert Rev, MA (Cantab)


Year = 1870

Building = Religious

Event = Historic

Gender = Male

People = Single

Extra = Visual Arts

Extra = Pre 1900

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