I am told that the grace of God, through Methodist preaching, has revolutionised this village during the last decade. On all sides, and from independent authorities, I hear that it used to be notoriously one of the roughest places in the county. Drunkenness and horseplay made a journey through its streets by night almost as unattractive to "foreigner" as a trip through an East End court.
In the neighbouring hamlet Sticklepath, some twenty years ago, services were conducted by local preachers from Broadway and Chard, in the kitchen of a Methodist farmer named Solomon Brook. Among the earliest converts at these services were a Mr. and Mrs. Fowler, who also, in due course, opened their cottage for preaching.
To Sticklepath came week by week from Combe a few folk who were anxious for spiritual food. On the suggestion of Mr. James Baker, one of our Chard local preachers, who saw a splendid opening for mission work there, these friends hired a bakehouse in Combe and began a service of their own. This was during the ministry of the Rev. Caleb Street, who took a great and practical interest in the work.
By-and-by it came to pass that the bakehouse was burnt down, but not before Mr. and Mrs. Fowler had came to occupy a cottage on a rising knoll by the roadside close at hand To this cottage the people were heartily welcomed. Many will remember it throughout eternity as their spiritual birthplace.
Before long, however, another turn in the wheel of fortune brought our little congregation into a washhouse for shelter.
From the washhouse a move was made to the village coffee house from which strenuous and undisguised attempts were made to eject our ''schismatical” company. But the days of a great wakening for Combe St Nicholas were at hand.
Old Chard circuit had been taken over by the Home Mission Committee, and merged in the Devon and Dorset Mission. Not by increased grants, but by a new method of administration the office-bearers and workers were relieved of the crushing burden of financial responsibility which had for so long crippled them for any really vigorous aggressive movement. New hope had been kindled by the Chapel Committee's generous offer of special help in the provision of more adequate and suitable facilities for work and worship. The member now rallied round the first appointed Home Missionary minister, the Rev. Thos. Riley, with fresh heart for work.
Mr. Riley made Combe St. Nicholas his first object of attack.
Open-air services were held. The club-room in the village inn was taken for indoor Meetings, mission services were conducted congregations rapidly increased, and many were added to the church.
It was soon found necessary to provide a sanctuary. Accordingly, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were approached with a view to procuring a site, when, lo! the very piece of ground upon the rising knoll, where, in Mrs. Fowler's cottage, God had been building up for Himself a living church, was offered to us and purchased. The price was £50. Representations, however, were made to the Commissioners, not presumably to help Methodism, which, nevertheless, resulted in this excellent body's writing to say that, in view of the purpose for which the land was to be bought, £20 less would be taken for it.
The beautiful chapel, seating 130 people, with transeptal schoolroom as shown in the picture, was designed by Mr. Robert Curwen, of London, and built to the satisfaction of everybody concerned by Messrs. Fowler and Stickland, of Combe St Nicholas. The total cost was £600, and it was opened free of debt on March 1st, 1891.
From that day to this there has been steady progress. The ordinary Sunday congregation fills the chapel, and it is no unusual thing for the shutters to be taken down, and the school room thrown into the main building to accommodate the people. Our week night congregation averages from thirty to forty people. The church membership has increased each quarter for some time past. Last December we reported thirty-seven full and accredited members. Our Sunday-school numbers 120 scholars; our Band of Hope about eighty. There is an adult Bible-class, met by one or our chapel Stewards, Mr. Mark Bartlett; it has twenty-fire members.
How the people love their chapel. For the last four years Mark Bartlett has done the: work of a chapel-keeper, spending hours of labour upon it every week himself and not: charging a penny for his services. The old man often takes the key and wends his way up to this little temple to prepare, in prayer and study, within its sacred walls, his a Bible class lessons or pulpit exhortation.