Newport URC: a brief history

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One of the principal founders of the dissenting interest which spread to Newport via Arkesden, Clavering and Wenden was Rev. Francis Holcroft, a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge.  After his ejection in 1662 he became Minister to a congregation at Eversden which lies 6 miles W.S.W. of Cambridge; the congregation was drawn from a radius of some twenty miles encompassing Hatfield Heath, Stansted, Arkesden, Clavering and Ely.  From there, separate congregations were ‘planted’, each with their own minister.  From the Meeting at Wood Hall, Arkesden came an initiative determined on 22nd December,1682 which is recorded in the records of the Saffron Walden District of Essex Congregational Union, “At the close of the year 1682, the Clavering and Wenden Church was formed, the Minister preaching at the two places alternately.  In the Autumn of 1778, the Chapel at Wenden, being in a dilapidated state, the trustees pulled it down, and built a new one at Newport to meet the growing wants of that more central village.  A suitable piece of ground was given by a Mr Cranmer of Quendon Hall.”  He was a descendent of the Archbishop of that name. 

This took place under the ministry of Mr Harrison who preached the first sermon in the new Independent Meeting House on Whit Sunday, 23rd May 1779.  Mr. Harrison was succeeded by Mr. John Bailey, a student of Homerton Academy who was ordained on 4th July, 1781 in Newport to serve there and in Clavering.  Past differences of opinion led to a division in the church in 1785 which resulted in the permanent separation of the congregation. Mr. Bailey’s supporters retained the chapel at Clavering while his opponents held possession of the chapel at Newport and the burial ground at Wenden, but were without a minister.”

Records give details of a tombstone at the Old Manse to Thomas Living which was dated 18th March, 1784 and the following information.  “At last, a new minister, Rev. Edward Bryant, was appointed to the Newport meeting house in July, 1785.  A secession from the church occurred in 1794 which resulted in the formation of the Little Meeting and the appointment of a separate minister. This separation persisted until 1814, when illness prevented Edward Bryant from continuing his ministry to the old Meeting. The two congregations were united under the ministry of Rev. J. Hopkins, who continued as minister until 1850.  Side galleries were added to the meeting house in 1855, to accommodate the growing congregation, and a Sunday School built in 1861.  By the time Rev. John Hutchin began his ministry in 1878, the meeting house was in a bad state of repair.  It was originally intended to restore it, but the architect recommended that it needed completely rebuilding, so a new church was built and ready for worship by June, 1879.  A new two manual organ was built there in 1893, and was renovated in 1928.”

However, this building, too, suffered from lack of maintenance and was used for the last time in 1974 when worshippers transferred to the Old Manse.  This practice has continued with the purchase of the former doctor’s surgery in Wicken Road.  This bungalow with Quiet Garden available to the public is available as a day retreat venue.  It has simple facilities and a comfortable worship room which is particularly suitable for Christian meditation and ‘alternative’ forms of worship.

In her ‘History of the Congregational Church in Saffron Walden’, the Rev’d Lydia Rapkin noted, “During his ministry at Abbey Lane, Saffron Walden, Rev. A. Trinder was invited to become minister of Newport as well.  This was agreed on  October 31st 1963.”  In 2009, a single pastorate on two sites was formed, Abbey Lane and Newport United Reformed Church, Saffron Walden.