A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Sharpness Union Church (1880-1930)


Mr. and Mrs. F.G. Marling

Frank G. Marling: ‘The First Fifty Years of Union Church, Sharpness 1880-1930,  published by T & W Goulding, Printers and Publishers, Nelson Street, Bristol, 1930.


Foreward – I have been asked to write a history of Sharpness Union Church, of which I have been a member since its foundation fifty years ago. I have preserved a few records, but nothing like sufficient to make the story complete. The indulgence of those who will fail to find herein what they would wish to see is earnestly asked for. I trust enough is set down to enable them to fill the gaps. F.G. Marling, Esk House, Wotton-under-Edge, July, 1930.

  1. The Place and People Had we arrived at the Back of Beyond? The Gold Diggings? Or where?

There were “Diggings” enough! A big hole, some 25 feet deep, 14 acres in extent. And others!

Rattling cranes, fussy little engines on crazy-looking railways. Rough-looking, hard-working navvies, shovelling rougher soil into tip-up railwagons. Rows of turf huts, low and bare and black of roof. Huge stones, traps for the unwary, everywhere.

Could ORDER ever come out of the CHAOS? PEACE from this riot of NOISE?

And with order and peace, opportunities for meeting together in Christian Fellowship?…

Those of us who remember SHARPNESS NEW DOCKS in the making, recall with a smile the story of a honeymoon couple who drove in a trap from Coaley to Sharpness to celebrate the wedding day. Arriving within a mile of the prospective Port, to a place where the road forked, they enquired of a man who was breaking stones by the roadside, which was the way to take. “Well,” said the roadman, “’Ee can take thuck way, or thick way, but whichever road ‘ee do go, ‘tis a rough un!”

“Rough,” more or less, Sharpness may have been in those days, swept by Atlantic gales, burnt up by blazing sun in Summer, and, especially as time went on, struggling against the disadvantage of neap tides, fluctuating trade, ships ever growing too big for the facilities available, etc., yet these disabilities, and the efforts to overcome them, served to help build up the resolute character of the Sharpness people.

Plain, matter-of-fact folk, no pretence, plenty of grit and determination, a way of surmounting difficulties much influenced by the experiences of seafaring men who frequented the port, many indeed themselves “Sons of the sea,” therefore of broad vision and sturdy character, these were the people to whom the Union Church at Berkeley lent a sympathetic ear when settlers therefrom appealed for help, in the late seventies, to found a non-conformist church at Sharpness.

  1. Ways and Means


A Committee of Berkeley and Sharpness friends was formed, who, during the pastorate of the Rev. D. Evans at Berkeley Union Church, set to work collecting funds.

Through the medium of the Rev. Wm. Hurd (a previous pastor of the Berkeley Church), Mr. George Smith, of Dursley, and others, in 1879 a piece of land was purchased fronting the lane leading to Oldminster Farm, in the centre of what has become known as Newtown. An excellent position, serving not only the Docks, but also Wanswell, Brookend, Pitbrook, Sanigar, etc., as well as Newtown itself, which grew up around the church. Including legal expenses, the site cost £210.

The Rev. W.J. Humberstone succeeded the Rev. D. Evans as pastor of Union Church, Berkeley, and took an active interest in the enterprise, bringing it to fruition.

Largely through the generosity of Mr. W.M. Welham, the Treasurer of the Berkeley Church, who advanced the sum of £400, it became possible to erect an iron building, consisting of a church, to seat 210 persons, and a small vestry. The building cost about £500.

3 Hopes Realised


On a beautiful day in October, 1879, the foundation stone of the church was laid, in the presence of a large company, by Alderman Viner Ellis, Mayor of Gloucester.

Opening services were held on Sunday, 25th January, 1880, when the Rev. W.J. Humberstone preached afternnon and evening to large congregations. On the following Tuesday a public tea and meeting took place, when addresses were delivered by the Revs. John Park (Stroud), John Bullock, M.A. (Stonehouse), W.J. Humberstone, and others.

The opening services were continued the following Sunday, when the Rev. W. Ewens, of Uley, was the preacher.

A Sunday School was started on the second Sunday, February 1st, with 17 scholars and half-a-dozen teachers. Within six months there were 150 scholars on the books.

The first Communion Service was held on 29th February, 1880, communion plate presented by Mrs. John Platt, of Gloucester, being used. At the third Communion Service on 26th April there were 18 present.

  1. Some Early Workers


Mr. John Whitfield, recently from Wotton-under-Edge, was the first Church Secretary. He was succeeded by Mr. F.G. Marling, Mr. S. Dalby, Mr. Warren Smith, then Mr. John Chiswell. For some years Mr. John Heaven has worthily filled the office.

The first Treasurer was Captain James Calway, the Harbourmaster. Mr. George Field followed him, and held the position for many years, when his son, Mr. Herbert L. Field, became Treasurer, and still acts.

Mr. William Francis, who was superintending the erection of the stonework of the Severn Bridge, was chosen as the first Sunday School Superintendent, Mr. A. L. Marling Secretary, and Mr. F.G. Marling, Librarian, with Mrs. Johnson (now Mrs. Atkins) Treasurer.

Mr. Francis removed from the district in 1882, when Mr. William Calway was appointed, remaining in office until he went to Bristol in 1893, whem Mr. F.G. Marling became Superintendent, holding the position until he retired from business and went to reside in Wotton-under-Edge, August, 1929.

  1. Propitious Events


In May, 1880, a Bazaar was held in Stothert’s Shed, alongside the tidal basin, in aid of the building fund. It was opened by Lady Fitzhardinge, of Berkeley Castle, and £110 was realised.

July, 1880, saw the celebration of the Centenary of the foundation of Sunday Schools by Robert Raikes, of Gloucester. This was locally observed by the Union Sunday Schools of Berkeley, Sharpness, and Wanswell, who joined in a procession from the Sharpness Union Church to the Sharpness Pleasure Grounds, where some 400 partook of tea and received medals. 110 were present from the Sharpness School.

A Clothing Club was started in 1884, on the suggestion of Mr. J.H. Whitfield, who was chosen the Secretary. Mr. F.G. Marling was elected Treasurer, holding the position until 1929, when the membership was over 300, and the annual amount paid in exceeded £500.

When founded the church was carried on as a branch of the Union Church, Berkeley, and shared the services of its pastor, the Rev. W.J. Humberstone, who was for a time assisted by the Rev. L.G. Bamford. The latter resided at Wanswell, and had Sharpness under his special care.

Subsequent pastors were the Rev. W.H. Jones and the Rev. R.R. Colett.


 6 Rev. William Bailey, First Pastor


Early in 1898, with the sanction and support of the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire Congregational Union, the church was severed from that of Berkeley, and the Rev. William Bailey, trained at Western College, Bristol, and late Pastor of Winchcombe Congregational Church, became its first minister.

The Rev. W. Bailey was a man of strong personality, of sterling worth and unblemished character. A Christian minister and a gentleman. A man of faith and prayer. A great believer in and upholder of the fundamental truths of the Bible. His life and work as pastor of Union  Church endeared him to everyone. He was ably supported by his wife, a lady of gentle and lovable character.

Under Mr. Bailey’s guidance great strides were made, the church membership doubling itself in three years. It was singularly fortunate that such a man as Mr. Bailey should have been in charge of the church for nearly twenty years, laying in those early years of its history a foundation and a tradition, the effects of which remain in the hearts and lives of his people and their successors. His work for the Sunday School, the Christian Endeavour, the Choir, the London Missionary Society, Band of Hope, and other good movements will long be remembered. As a sick visitor Mr. Bailey cheered many by his earnest and kindly ministrations.

Well may he have said with Lord Houghton: “I shall pass through the world but once, therefore, and good things that I may do, or any kindness I may show, let me do it now; let me not Neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

The Memorial Pulpit which was unveiled to Mr. Bailey’s memory on 25th July, 1929, fittingly commemorates his ministry, but one can also look around on the present church and schools, which owe their erection mainly to his untiring energy and devotion, and see in them a memorial to his life of faith.

  1. The New Church and Schools


It was not long after the erection of the original iron building before the same became too small for the growing needs of the church.

After some years of effort the debt on the building had been paid off, and a start was made with a fund for extension.

Then came Mr. Bailey, through whose influence in the County the building fund received a great impetus. The original proposal was to build new schools only. This was put aside in favour of a new church, the old building to be moved to the rear and used as a schoolroom. As time went on it became evident that it was inadvisable to retain the old building, and eventually plans were prepared for an entirely new set of buildings to cost about £2,000.

By July, 1901, some £900 had been raised, and the tender of Messrs. Orchard & Peer, of Stroud, for the erection of a range of brick buildings, comprising a church and schools, exclusive of heating apparatus and seating, for £1,750, was accepted. The architect was Mr. J. Phipps, of Yorkley.

The old building was pulled down by a number of the men connected with the church on the august Bank Holiday, and the sale of the materials realised £33.

Accommodation had been secured during the erection of the new buildings in the Co-operative Hall near by, and one of the most impressive services held there was a hurriedly arranged Prayer Meeting on the Sunday evening, when news arrived that peace had been declared and the South Africa War terminated.

8 Foundation Stones


On Wednesday afternoon, October 2nd, 1901, Memorial Stones were laid for the new Church and Schools. The weather was beautifully fine, and a large crowd assembled at three o’clock, when the Pastor, Rev. W. Bailey, opened the proceedings. He was supported by …, J. Shield Eley (Tortworth), … and many others.

MEMORIAL STONES were laid as follows:-

  1. The Church and Congregation Rev. W. Bailey…
  2. Foreign Missions –
  3. Religious Unity –
  4. Religious Liberty –
  5. Prayer –
  6. Praise –
  7. Faith –
  8. Hope –
  9. Charity –
  10. Christian Endeavour Society –
  11. Temperance –
  1. The Sunday School – Mr. F.G. Marling (Supt.).

The Sunday School Scholars marched in procession and liad gifts of money on the last named stone.

At five o’clock 250 persons sat down to tea in the Co-operative Hall. Afterwards a Public Meeting was held, presided over by Mr. Henry Daniel, Chairman of the County Congregational Union, the speakers being the Rev. W. Bailey (Pastor), Rev. J. Hardyman…

The amount collected during the day was £130.

Shortly after this the English Congregational Chapel Building Society voted a free-interest loan of £400, repayable in eight yearly instalments, Hassel’s Trust Fund £100, and the Sunday School Union £100, on similar terms. Including these loans the building fund had now reached about £1,500.

9 Opening of New Church and Schools


As the new buildings grew day by day enthusiasm increased, and the opening day was eagerly looked forward to and prepared for.

The opening took place on June 4th, 1902, when memorable gatherings were very largely attended.

At 5.0 a.m. about 40 men of the church on their way to work on the Docks, met for prayer, led by the Pastor.

At seven o’clock another similar meeting was held, attended by the church workers.

A Young People’s Service took place at 10.0 a.m., presided over by Mr. F.G. Marling, when about 250 children and 100 adults were present. An address was given by Mr. W.C. Oatway, Secretary of the Bristol Sunday School Union. Each child was given an illuminated souvenir of the occasion.

  1. The 25th Anniversary


In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the church, a Re-union was held on 25th January, 1905. Many old scholars and teachers were present in response to over 400 personal invitations sent out.

At 3.o o’clock the Pastor…

At four o’clock a reception of former teachers and scholars took place. Mr. Wm. Francis (Supt. From the foundation of the school until 1882), Miss Calway, representing her brother, Mr. Wm. Calway (Supt. 1882-1893), and Mr. F.G. Marling (Supt. Since 1893 and still acting), received the visitors, who were introduced by Mr. S. Dalby, Church Secretary.

After a capital tea, Mr. Geo. Field presided at the Re-union Meeting, supported by Rev. W. Bailey, …, F.G. Marling, …

Others present included … Mrs. M. Marling…

  1. Farewell to First Pastor

… Mr. Bailey preached his last sermons as pastor of the church on Sunday, 29th July, 1917,  … On behalf of the church and congregation and other subscribers, Mr. F.G. Marling handed to Mr. Bailey a roll of Bank of England notes to the value of £50.

  1. Mr. F.E. Quick, Student Pastor


The departure of the Rev. W. Bailey left a great blank, but the church kept together, and maintained essential work.

Some time in 1918 it was arranged that Mr. Frank E. Quick, a Student at Western College, should become Student Pastor for a time. He became exceedingly popular, especially with the young people, and did great things in keeping interest in the work and preparing for post-war activities. He returned to Western College on its re-opening after the War, in September, 1919.

  1. The Sunday School


Year in year out the Sunday School has flourished. Ever a devoted body of officers and teachers have laboured with enthusiasm, branching out into various activities on behalf of the young people.

During the 50 years some 1,200 scholars and teachers have been admitted to the school. For some years the average number of scholars on the books has been round about 200, with about 30 officers and teachers.

In the Spring of 1923 Mr. F.G. Marling, the then Superintendent, conceived the idea of introducing the “House System,” somewhat after the pattern of the public school plan of “Houses,” into the Sunday School. It proved such a success in retaining the elder scholars that the system was consolidated and extended, and still flourishes.

At the National Sunday School Union Autumn Convention, held at Swansea on 11th October, 1927, Mr. Marling gave a description of the system, which was very enthusiastically received, and since then the system has been adopted by a number of Sunday Schools in different parts of the country with success.

The Jubilee Anniversary of the Sunday School took place on Sunday, June 23rd 1929, this being the 50th Anniversary. The Rev. J.G. Palmer preached morning and evening. Mr. F.G. Marling, Supt., conducted the Young People’s gathering in the afternoon. The services were well attended, and the collections were a record.

On the following Thursday, about 400 parents, teachers, and scholars were present at the Treat in the Sharpness Pleasure Grounds, and partook of tea. Many others of the general public attended in the evening.

As usual there was a procession from the church to the grounds, headed by the Sharpness Silver Prize Band, the scholars wearing fancy headgear appropriate to their “Houses.” A full programme of sports provided great interest.

  1. The Choir

… Others serving as assistant organists have included Miss A. Marling…

  1. The Working Party


The story of the church would not be complete without some mention of the Working Party, which for many years has done so much to raise funds for the church. It is the backbone of the annual Sale of Work, which usually takes the form of a costumed Bazaar, with scenery effects, for which Mr. James Tandy and a large number of helpers are responsible. In connection therewith a Garden Produce Show is held. The whole affair forms a fine social event. …

Other names recalled include … Mrs. F.G. Marling …

20 The Jubilee


In celebration of 50 years’ existence, Jubilee gatherings took place in January 1930.

Special Services were held on Sunday, January 26th, when the preacher was the Rev. A.C. Collins-Williams, of Hastings, who had been the predecessor of the present minister, the Rev. J.G. Palmer, B.A. The morning, afternoon, and evening services were well attended.

On the following Monday evening a public tea was held at 5.30. At 6.30 Mr. Cyril Barnfield, Captain of the Sunday School (House System), conducted community singing, and at seven o’clock the Rev. J.G. Palmer presided over a Public Meeting, when a large number of church members and others were present.

The speakers included the Rev. A.C. Collins-Williams, Mr. F.G. Marling, of Wotton-under-Edge (former Sunday School Supt.), and Mr. John Chiswell (former Secretary of the church).

By request, Mr. Marling gave a brief outline of the history of the church, as he had been connected with it during the whole of the fifty years.

He said that some little time after the Sharpness New Docks were opened in 1874, evangelical services were commenced in a small wooden room adjoining the Dry Dock, the Harbourmaster, Capt. James Calway, taking the leading part in the arrangements.

The attendance soon outgrew the accommodation, and a lady who heard of the circumstances presented an iron room which was erected at the east end of Dock Row, and services were then held there under the auspices of the St. Andrew’s Waterside Mission, with financial assistance from the Sharpness New Docks Company. At these services some of the Church of England prayers were used.

Subsequently the control of the services was handed over to the Vicar of Berkeley, and eventually full Church of England practices were introduced, whereupon those of the congregation who accounted themselves to be nonconformists, including Capt. Calway, Mr. O.G. Marling, and others approached the Union Church, Berkeley, and asked for assistance in establishing services more in accordance with their belief. This led to the founding of the Sharpness Union Church. Mr. Marling then gave an outline of the history of the church up to the present day.

  1. Summary


If the whole story of Sharpness Union Church could be told, it would be found to be crowded with notable events bound up with the lives and interests of a host of people, many of whom by force of circumstances are now scattered up and down the country or in lands over the sea.

… Happy associations linger round the names of the… the Marlings…

July, 1930


Missionary Secretary – Miss A.M. Marling


Vice-President – Mr. F.G. Marling

Pianists – Miss A.M. Marling and …


Intermediate Dept. – … Miss A.M. Marling, …’



See also:

For photographs of the building:

‘Sharpness: Catholic Chapel of Our Lady Star of the Sea’:



4 comments on “Sharpness Union Church (1880-1930)

  1. Pingback: Frank George Marling (1863-1954): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

  2. Pingback: Frank George Marling (1863-1954): Reading and Writing – Writing Lives

  3. Pingback: Frank George Marling (1863-1954): Illness, Health and Disability – Writing Lives

  4. Pingback: Frank George Marling: (1863-1954): Transcript – Part Two – Writing Lives

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