|Revd Tim Williamson|
|Revd Nick Hudson|
|Revd Brian Durkin|
|Revd Harold Sparkes|
|Revd Wilfred Chapman|
|Revd Derek Ford|
|Revd G H T Blake|
|Revd G R Feakin|
|Revd P G Kirby|
|Revd H A Gates|
|Revd Gordon Jones|
|Revd Edley Willings|
|Revd B Collins|
|Revd Colin Bryan|
|Revd J E Makepeace|
1874 Building rebuilt
|Revd F W Goadby|
|Revd J E Simmons|
|Revd S Green|
1787 Building opened
1786 Church Formed
|Revd Coxe Feary|
John Wheatley was one of the most extraordinary men who has lived in Bluntisham
Wheatley was born in Earith in 1812 and little is known of his early years except that his mother was a widow with many children to bring up, and although very poor was able to give him some education at a dame school.
His interest in natural history was first stimulated when, as a boy, he watched kites wheeling for hours on motionless wings over the Heath, where he had been sent to mind sheep. He was apprenticed to a carpenter and in 1829 he came to Bluntisham, where he remained as village carpenter for the rest of his life.
At the age of 25 he read Dick's "Solar System" which inspired him with a passion for astronomy. His first task was to construct a telescope. This he achieved by grinding lenses from the bottoms of glass tumblers to a focal length of 6 feet with a 1 inch object glass that gave a magnification of 72 times. No tube was used for this first telescope; the lenses being simply fastened to a metal rod. For this type of telescope a reflector was also necessary. At that time a way of silvering glass was unknown and reflectors were cast in metal and ground to shape.
After failing to find a Foundry which could successfully undertake the casting, Wheatley then decided to attempt it himself. Having obtained sufficient copper, tin and silver, he hired the Waldock Foundry at St. Ives for three days. The copper was first melted and the molten tin and silver added to form an alloy more brittle than glass. After a second melting it was poured into a mould and left to cool for three days. Waldock moved the mould in ignorance and cracked the speculum before it was set. Wheatley, in disgust, put his metal into a sack and returned home.
In 1865, Wheatley had a furnace built in his own yard at Bluntisham. Here he made a successful casting which he covered up with many layers of dry earth and sawdust. This was allowed to cool gradually for many weeks, thin layers of the covering being taken off every few hours during both day and night. This method proved completely successful. While the metal was cooling he made a machine for grinding the reflector which then occupied all his spare time for another six weeks. At the end of that time he had a perfect 18 inch reflector telescope with an 18 foot focus.
Wheatley made several more telescopes and at one time had the fourth largest ever made. He was now in touch with the leading astronomers of the day such as Herschel and Lassell and made many important observations. Among these was the re-discovery of Belaugh's Comet.
In those days it was the custom to confine most building operations to the summer months and in some years Wheatley would close down his business completely from the end of October until April in order to devote the whole of his time to his experiments.
Wheatley was an accomplished musician, and he even made the instruments with which to produce his music; a fine quality organ and cello.
In spite of his absorption of the latest scientific theories, many extremely radical, Wheatley never faltered in his Christian faith. He loved to reconcile ingeniously, and to his own complete satisfaction, the record of Genesis with the latest scientific theory of the Creation. His faith was a practical one and for many years he was a member of Bluntisham Baptist Church and a teacher and superintendent in the Sunday School. Even here he demonstrated his craftsmanship in building two beautiful scale models of the Temples of Solomon and Herod for use in the school.
Wheatley took great delight and interest in building the second Bluntisham Meeting House and Sunday School. Every piece of timber had to pass his exacting scrutiny and none with the slightest defect was used. All the carving was done by his own hand and, in the fashion of the mediaeval mason, some of the carved heads in the School are undoubted likenesses of his friends and himself.
Among many models that he made was one of a farmstead. This was sent to the 1851 Great Exhibition and was awarded a silver medal.
Perhaps because he was childless, he loved, and was loved by all the village children, and both in and out of Sunday School undoubtedly influenced many of them for good. He was often seen as obstinate and opinionated, but these were some of the same qualities that enabled him to achieve the results he did, although lacking education, money and patronage. There is little doubt that had he possessed these he might have reached a high place in the scientific world of his day.
Much of his work is now lost or its whereabouts unknown but a little still remains in the village. There are examples of his work in the Baptist Church.
From "A cloud of witnesses" by Michael Haykin in The Evangelical Times online; March 2002
Reproduced with permission
Coxe Feary (1759-1822) sustained a long pastorate in the village of Bluntisham, about fifteen miles north of Cambridge, England. He was raised in the Church of England, but during his teens became dissatisfied with the irreligious conduct of worshippers at the parish church.
He considered attending a Baptist church in a nearby village — perhaps the work at Needingworth, which had been founded in 1767. But he found the church consisted of ‘narrow-minded’ hyper-Calvinists, who pronounced ‘destruction on all who did not believe their creed’.
For a while he attended a Quaker congregation in Earith, another nearby village, because their views accorded with his belief in the freedom of the human will and the saving merit of good works.
In 1780 he read James Hervey’s Theron and Aspasio (1755), a massive defence of Calvinism. The book greatly challenged Feary’s religious notions and he was deeply disturbed by its arguments.
Offended, he put the book down without finishing it. But two years later he felt constrained to pick it up again and give it a fair hearing. The result was his glorious conversion.
He was seized with a passion for the salvation of the lost in his village. For instance, he wrote the following plain words to a neighbour in 1783: ‘I must beg you to attend to the Scriptures, and to pray to God that he may enlighten your mind by his Holy Spirit, that you may see the gracious privileges contained therein.
‘They, my friend, are the only rule for us to walk by — they testify of Christ — point him out as the only procuring cause of a sinner’s acceptance with God, and his enjoyment of eternal felicity.
‘He hath made peace through the blood of his cross, and through that blood we have redemption. It is with regret of mind, my friend, that I think of your carelessness, for I have a great desire for your everlasting welfare, which has been my chief motive for writing to you.
‘Therefore, examine yourself impartially — consider how your affairs stand with God, and see if you have an interest in the merits of Christ; for if you have not (I dare not flatter you) you are in a state of death.
‘I hope, therefore, you will say: "What must I do to be saved" I shall reply: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved".’
The awakening in Bluntisham took place during 1784-1785. By 1784 Feary was sitting under the evangelical preaching of Henry Venn (1724-1797) at Yelling, about twelve miles away.
That same year he came across the works of George Whitefield (1714-1770) in a bookshop in St Ives. What is amazing is that he had never heard of Whitefield or his remarkable ministry.
So taken was he with the sermons of the great Evangelist that, the very same evening, he read one of them — ‘What think ye of Christ?’ — aloud to a small gathering of shepherds and farm labourers in his house.
It must have made an impact, for the following evening a man of means in the village, a certain John Kent, arrived with several others requesting Feary to read another sermon. Flustered by the group, and afraid of being considered ‘a Methodist preacher’, Feary refused.
But the impromptu congregation would not take no for an answer and Feary relented. A poor woman was so deeply moved by Whitefield’s words that she urged Feary to read yet a third time at her house the following evening.
Feary agreed on the condition that she would tell no one. But the thing could not be hid. When he arrived at the house it was packed with neighbours.
Feary continued reading sermons in that woman’s home throughout the winter of 1784-1785. In the spring of 1785 they had to move to a larger home to accommodate the numbers attending.
A genuine spiritual awakening gripped the village, as many were moved to ask that old, but utterly vital, question: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ This work of revival laid the foundation of the Calvinistic Baptist work in Bluntisham.
Eventually, Feary ran out of sermons to read. So it was that he ventured to expound a section of Scripture himself.
A barn had been fitted out for the congregation by John Kent and, on 28 December 1786, Coxe Feary and twenty-five other believers joined together to form a Congregationalist church.
They came from a number of the surrounding villages, including Colne, Somersham, and Woodhurst. Feary was chosen as their first pastor.
Over the next few years, friendship with Robert Robinson (1735-1790), the well-known Baptist of Cambridge and author of the hymn ‘Come, Thou fount of every blessing’, led to Feary’s embracing of Baptist views.
But it may also have been this friendship which led Feary to imbibe deistic ideas, for in his final years Robinson did not maintain a firm grasp on orthodox doctrines.
Feary recalled this period of his life — the early 1790s — thus: ‘I appeared infatuated with a desire of wild speculations which ... soon produced a kind of scepticism, which led me to look on all Christian experience as enthusiasm [fanaticism], and was ready to treat it with the utmost contempt, as cant and hypocrisy.
‘This brought a damp upon my soul, chilled my affections for God, and love for the souls of my people. In this state of mind, my devotional exercises were, at times, very formal and flat.
‘Preaching became dry, and I believe very uninteresting. No conversation suited me, but that which turned upon Politics or Theological controversy. In short, I appeared to myself to be making rapid strides to Infidelity and Deism.’
It is amazing that a man who had known revival at the beginning of his ministry should sink to such depths! But by the close of 1791 Feary had become alarmed at what was happening to him.
He was brought, he said, ‘to lament my case before God, who very justly might have given me up to strong delusions to believe a lie, as a sure sign of future destruction.
‘But, adored be his holy name, he has caused the riches of his grace to be manifested in me, the chief of sinners, by bringing me back to his fold again.
‘I am, beyond the shadow of doubt, confident, that salvation is entirely of grace, and that Jehovah will have mercy because he will have mercy.’
A useful preacher
Eighteenth-century Calvinistic Baptists, like many of their fellow Dissenters, regarded preaching as the pre-eminent aspect of public worship. But not everything that went by the name of preaching pleased them.
They wanted plainness and simplicity in preaching. Hercules Collins (d.1702), the pastor of Wapping Baptist Church, London, from 1676 till his death, explained: ‘Rhetorical flashes are like painted glass in a window, that makes a great show, but darkens the light...
‘The Prophets and Apostles generally spoke in the vulgar and common languages which the ordinary people understood: They did not only speak to the understanding of a king upon the throne, but to the understanding of the meanest subject.’
Writing in the autumn of 1802 to a friend studying at the Bristol Baptist Academy (the only Baptist seminary in England at the time) Feary counselled: ‘I hope you make a point of studying two sermons every week, that you disuse your notes as much as possible in the pulpit, and that you constantly aim to be the useful, more than the refined, preacher’.
Feary explained that he was not advocating the use of ‘vulgar’ speech or common slang in sermons. Rather, he wanted his friend ‘to commend [himself] to every man’s conscience in the sight of God, and to the understanding of [his] hearers’.
In other words, his sermons should be easily understood by all his hearers, so that he would be a ‘useful’ preacher and ‘an able minister of the New Testament’.
Such a minister was Feary. After his death in 1822, Newton Bosworth (1776-1848), a well-known Baptist of the era who eventually emigrated to Canada, said of him: ‘Mr. Feary was in many respects, an extraordinary man.
‘The moral reformation which, by the blessing of God, he effected in his native village, and its neighbourhood, and which must have afforded him, in the retrospect, unspeakable delight, is an event to which under all its circumstances not many parallel cases can be adduced.
‘Without education, except in the slightest elements of it … he produced a most remarkable and permanent change in a great part of the population around him; commencing his labours without a single follower, continuing them, with an ardent, yet well-tempered zeal, amidst alternate hopes and fears, successes and discouragements, and ending by the formation of a flourishing church and congregation — the latter amounting to seven or eight hundred persons.
‘If, as Scriptures assure us, "he that winneth souls is wise", Coxe Feary’s reputation as a wise man cannot be disputed.’
The incredible beginnings of this church all date back to one man, Coxe Feary.
As a child, he was raised in the local Church of England church, but during his teens became dissatisfied with the conduct of the worshippers. In 1780 he read James Hervey’s ‘Theron and Aspasio’ (1755), which greatly challenged Feary’s religious notions and he was deeply disturbed by its arguments. Offended, he put the book down without finishing it. But two years later he felt compelled to pick it up again and give it a fair hearing. The result was his conversion, he was seized with a passion for the salvation of the lost in his village. By 1784 Feary was travelling to listen to the evangelical preaching of Henry Venn (1724-1797) in Yelling, about twelve miles away.
That same year Coxe Feary came across the works of George Whitefield in a bookshop in St Ives. He was so inspired with the sermons he immediately started reading them aloud to a small gathering of shepherds and farm labourers. It must have made an impact, as the following evening other villagers arrived requesting Feary to read another sermon. Flustered by the group, and afraid of being considered ‘a Methodist preacher’, Feary refused. But the impromptu congregation would not take no for an answer and Feary relented. A poor woman was so deeply moved by Whitefield’s words that she urged Feary to read yet a third time at her house the following evening. Feary agreed on the condition that she would tell no one, however when he arrived at the house it was packed with her neighbours. Feary continued reading sermons in that woman’s home throughout the winter of 1784-1785. In the spring of 1785 they had to move to a larger home to accommodate the numbers attending. Eventually, Feary ran out of sermons to read and began to prepare his own sermons. A barn had been fitted out for the congregation by John Kent and, on 28 December 1786, Coxe Feary and twenty-five other believers joined together to form a Congregationalist church.
In 1791 Coxe Feary adopted Baptist views and was baptised in the River Ouse along with many other members of the congregation. The church has been part of the Baptist denomination ever since. The church grew and increased in number during Coxe Feary’s time as minister. With some of the congregation travelling from a great distance away to hear his preaching.Therefore, a number of ‘satellite’ churches were established around the local villages including Woodhurst, Somersham and Colne and indirectly other chapels at St Ives, Wilburton and Pidley.
In 1818, Coxe Feary became too ill to continue his pastoral work and Rev Samuel Green of Dereham came to assist. In 1822, Coxe Feary sadly died, having developed the church to a membership of over 800.
The First Church Building
On 10th April 1787 the building of the first church began and by 27th October the church was completed. The building originally was 40 ft by 31ft but a further 14 feet was added onto the back in 1797, increasing the depth to 45ft. In 1805 a vestry was added to the rear of the building and in 1817 a gallery was added for the school children.
The original building looked very similar in shape to that today with the gable roofs and simple design. The doors and windows have changed location and the square façade of the church has been softened with porchways added.
The Sunday School Building and John Wheatley
In 1842 a school hall was built next to the church building. A local villager, Sunday School superintendent and carpenter, John Wheatley, was instrumental to the redevelopment of the Chapel and later the church. Using his exacting carpentry skills and eye for detail he produced stunning sculptures and carvings which can be found in both the Church building and church hall.
Of particular note are the faces of twelve characters spread around the main church hall. These are believed to be either the elders of the church or Wheatley’s close friends. However, some do also show a close resemblance to previous ministers.
In 1874, the church raised £1000 to rebuild the church and purchase a house for the minister. The original intention was not to re-build entirely but to alter and improve the old chapel. A new roof was made of finely carved timber but when the old roof was taken off, the walls were found to be in such a bad state that they had to be pulled down and rebuilt. The plan was, therefore, to do this without disturbing the interior. In the Spring of 1874, a passer-by would have seen the strange sight of the galleries, high-backed pews, and the entire interior of a chapel standing in the open air with no walls surrounding them or roof covering them! On pulling down the walls it was then discovered that the foundations of the old chapel were also unsafe, so these were renewed as well. This meant that the old pews and the large pillar in the centre of the building were also removed.
Whilst the church building was being redeveloped, John Wheatley was again very instrumental in the carpentry and building work. During this time, he was requested by the church elders to keep the decorations to a minimum, in keeping with the simple, less ornate stance that the Baptist denomination had taken in contrast to the Church of England. However, Wheatley decorated the church with detailed carvings of decorative vines and flowers trailing across the length of the roof. His response to the elder’s request was to carve into the wood his initials and in Latin the words ‘Deo Optimo Maximo’ which translate ‘to God, the Best and Greatest’.
At this time, it is believed that the entrance hall and detailing were added to the front of the church building. In total, the repairs and alterations plus the new manse cost over £2300. This was a vast sum for an agricultural community when average wages were less than £50pa.
By 8th June 1875 the new building was complete, incorporating many of the original materials. When rebuilding, it was of vital importance that the new building looked very similar to the previous building, in order to retain some of the character of its predecessor. By just 1881 all the debts had been repaid.
World War 1
During World War 1, there was a national appeal to help Belgian refugees, and two families were adopted by the village. One of these families were called the Pittoors. The family had four sons and the father was an ornamental ironworker. During their time in the village, they lived in the Chapel schoolroom (currently the church hall). He was provided with a small forge and a supply of Swedish iron which he sold in order to keep his family. He made many beautiful items such as the sign for Walnut Trees house in Bluntisham. In 1916 the Pittoors were obliged to leave the village and undertake munitions work in Letchworth. The villagers were sad to see them go and the family was reluctant to leave their new home.
After the war the Pittoors frequently expressed their gratitude and they returned several times. Mr. Pittoors made a gift for the Chapel when the War Memorial was unveiled ‘as a mark of their appreciation of the kindness shown to them in their exile and as a contribution to a memorial to our fallen’. The beautifully ornate flower stand with poppy designs can still be found in the church building today.
In 1987, the church celebrated the 200th anniversary of the church building where a number of special events were held. On one occasion, everyone dressed up in clothing authentic from the creation of the church and processed through the village with the Minister Rev Durkin leading with a Shetland pony and trap. As part of the celebrations they also held a service where they read the original sermon preached by Feary 200 years earlier. Apparently however the sermon was much longer than expected and there were a number of burnt Sunday dinners that day!
2010 saw the beginning of the ‘Renewal Project’ where the church hall was extended and renovated to provide modern facilities to the congregation and villagers including meeting rooms, storage, kitchen and more toilet facilities. The hall is now used by many local community and church groups including Brownies, Keep Fit and Little Fishes.
Bringing us right up to date, we have now finally paid off the debts from the renewal project in 2010. Therefore, we are in a period of looking forward and thinking about how the buildings will need to be adapted and improved to be continue to be used in the future for the benefit of the congregation and villagers.