Brookdale Extension Project 1971
A Brief account.
The church extension project of 1971 was a result of two factors: firstly the growth of congregations, especially at Sunday evening services; and secondly the growth of the Sunday School and youth work, which was bursting at the seams on Sunday afternoons and several nights of the week.
The first gift to the building project came from Mr. H.J. Manners, a holiday-maker from Kenilworth near Warwick. He had stopped at Preacher's Rock one Sunday night in 1969 to hear Mr. Gove speak, and had been converted there and then! When he heard of the building plans, he reached into his pocket and donated £5.
Very graciously, he was invited to be a guest at the opening ceremony several years later, and the church records have his grateful reply on file.
Late in 1969, the building fund was opened, and loans and gifts started to appear. By February 1970, £6350 was available for the building, by November, the members were told that £12,003 was in hand. During the building phase itself, more money came in to meet the stage payments, some of it just in time. Including all the furniture and fittings, we think the final figure was about £39,000, in an age when an average house cost £4000.
Church records show that the building plans began modestly in 1968 with some sketches by the church treasurer Hedley Mogridge. Mr.Gove tried his hands at sketch plans too, as a surviving letter to the architect shows. But it was Don Horsnell's excellent large-scale sketch plans [still in our records] that encouraged the deacons to contact Colin Wide, a christian architect from Wellington, Somerset, to draw the first real plans. We've kept all the plans, and while the 20 foot [6 metre] extension to the actual church was carried out to the letter, the church hall extension turned out to be radically different.
On the second area of work, there was another obstacle: the old “green hut” [the beloved church hall] was in the way, right where the new building needed to go. It couldn't be demolished, because it was vital to have it there so that all of Brookdale's meetings could continue; so the only thing was to move it sideways into the council car park, with permission, and with payment of £50 for the rent of the car parking spaces that would be lost for “the season.” The cine film shows the hut being moved by volunteers one Saturday. The hut was moved on rollers until it cleared the site where the new hall was to be built, and “landed” safely on block piles in the council car park, just in time for it to be used by the “Senior Christian Endeavour” meeting that evening, as if nothing had happened in the meantime!
But the biggest test was still ahead. In Don's words, “Having dug 15 feet down for what should have been 6 foot foundations for the new church hall, we still hadn't found anything solid to build on. This meant that if we carried out the plans as per the architect, the church halls would all be underground! At midday an emergency prayer meeting was called on site, with as many deacons and building committee members as possible attending at short notice. From this came the decision to move the proposed building 6 feet further away from the church in a bid to find solid rock; and after 4 test holes were dug at the 4 corners of this new location, rock was duly found about 7 feet below ground. This discovery altered the building completely.” It was then decided to build the sports-hall below ground and the meeting halls above, with a barrel shaped roof on top instead of the much higher pitched roof from the architect's drawings. The bonus that came from this was that the new block could have 14 Sunday School classrooms on 2 floors, corresponding to the 16 foot height of the sports hall, instead of just 7 on one floor with an 8 foot height.
Another wonderful “coincidence” was the way the concrete beams for the roof of the sports-hall, each weighing a ton, were moved into position. The beams arrived on 4 lorries by 9 a.m., but the hired crane didn't have a long enough boom to swing them across the site and into position. The lorries were filling the whole council car park, just sitting there, and people weren't happy! And to make matters worse, it started pouring with rain. Actually, the rain put everything right. When Don phoned for another crane, it would have to come from Sparrows of Exeter, which would take ages. But wait a minute: the heavy rain had prevented a crane from working on a site in Barnstaple, and this crane was ideal for Brookdale's beams. It soon turned up, the job was done by 6 p.m., and the lorry drivers went home happy.
Don was was very thrilled to be able to get “crinkle cut” bricks to match the 20 foot extension to the original church; and equally pleased to get the same profile roofing tiles as for the original. That doesn't often happen in the building trade after an interval of 33 years. The only way you can see from the outside that the original church was extended is that the roof tiles nearest the stream are less weathered. Other changes of plan are also worth noting: the extra space between church and church halls meant there was room for a small bookshop and courtyard with pond to be included.
When the metal letters for the church text JESUS CHRIST IS LORD arrived on site, the workmen fooled around and made it ask the question: Is Jesus Christ Lord? Don is in no doubt that the good Lord was indeed the supervisor of the whole project, especially with all the adjustments that had to be made in unforeseen circumstances. The atmosphere between the varied bands of workers whom Don assembled was marvellous, and each of them received a Bible to commemorate their work. The final timetable was very tight, though. The last few floor tiles were being laid on the day of the opening, and volunteers from church were still clearing up when the food was arriving!
Lil Richards records Saturday 27th November, 1971 as the start of a wonderful weekend together for church folks and invited guests, and orders of service have been preserved. Copies of letters from people near and far who were unable to attend were read out at the Saturday tea, and they too are in our church files. Hedley Mogridge, the former church treasurer now in his wheelchair, unveiled the Dartmoor granite stone with the inscription from Psalm 127 verse 1: “Except the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain that build it.” After tea the cine film of the building project made by local dentist and church member Stuart Tucker was shown (see above, but sadly we have lost the original commentary soundtrack), and at the service that followed the honoured guest Ron Evans [minister 1951-54], asked us what kind of building we were involved in. Was it one we were trying to make for ourselves, which we vainly hoped would reach up to God? Or was it, as our church should be, a reminder of the good news that Christ had actually reached down from heaven us save us, if only we would put our trust in him?
The current generation has much to be grateful for, thanks to the financial and practical sacrifices made 40 years ago.
The early 1990's
Back in 1967, Arthur Gove [then minister of Brookdale] had arranged with his nephew Theo, who was then farming at Warcombe Farm near Lee, to rent one of his fields to a church in Hounslow, where Mr. Gove had previously been the minister. Why would a Hounslow church want to rent a field 200 miles away? So that their Boys Brigade company [and other similar organisations] could use it for their annual camps by the sea. Where better than in glorious North Devon? And so it was that a young coach driver from that church, who had a natural gift with children and teenagers when it came to explaining the good news of Jesus, would for many years during the 70s and 80s be part of the youth work team that came down with their Boys Brigade from Hounslow to camp on this very field. Geoff Hills was this young man's name; but not even Geoff could have believed that one day he would own Warcombe farmhouse, and be the caretaker and a trustee of that same Boys Brigade camping field.
It was in 1989 that Geoff approached a few friends at Brookdale to see if there was anything he could do to help us, and so Geoff quietly asked some friends if they would pray for him, as he felt that God was calling him to offer his services as our “part-time pastor for 6 months.” For some months this group of friends at Brookdale, and friends at his home church in Hounslow, prayed for clear guidance. Eventually in 1991 the leaders at Brookdale were officially made aware of Geoff's offer, which was gratefully accepted. So began a new era in our church's history.
Geoff's ministry was welcomed by the young and the old. His original and imaginative children's talks on Sunday mornings spoke to all ages, and his lavish cooking efforts won teenagers over too. His unconventional dress on Sundays took some time for some to get used to, but his ability to get alongside everyone in the fellowship, and listen to anyone too, was the hallmark of a ministry.
After his first six months were up, the church asked Geoff to stay, and he gladly did.
And so the Geoff Hills who volunteered in 1991 to “take services at Brookdale once a month; to do funerals and weddings when needed; to represent our church in the town; and to chair our church's leaders' meetings, only for six months until you find a new minister,” is still at the heart [and in the hearts] of our church 20 years later ..... and counting! We suspect that whether he has any official titles or not, he'll still be taking school assemblies, still speaking to the folks at the Susan Day Home, still cooking meals, still doing youth work with teenagers, still representing Brookdale in public, and still doing his amazing children's talks at special services for years to come.
To the left are a collection of videos taken during the 1990's at Brookdale Church. Let us know if you recognise people in these videos.
We have quite a few of these, so more will be added over the coming weeks.