Our History - Hawick Home Mission 1873 to 1985


Hawick Home Mission 1873 to 1985


A history by Rev. Kenneth W. McNeish

Kenneth was our Pastor from 1981-1988 during which time Hawick Home Mission closed and bequeathed their property to Hawick Baptist Church. He subsequently wrote this history and gave me a copy when I last visited him. I have re-typed it to post it on our website under the “Our History” section. 

In December 1985 Hawick Home Mission closed down and handed over to Hawick Baptist Church the property and Minute Books of the Mission.  As I was present at that time I felt it right to record something of the achievement of this great work so that Christians know what has been done by this “great cloud of witnesses”.  The Hawick Home Mission had various small accounts which were printed in the “Hawick Express”, usually on special anniversary occasions.  A brief History of the Mission was produced in 1923 by James Tait and a further similar account in 1943 by A. Jardine.  Since the whole work has been completed it is possible to see the mission in the context of the times, and to ask questions with the benefit of the whole story.  There are certain distinctive periods of the work which we shall look at in chronological sequence.

1.  From 1873 to 1884 could be regarded as “From Birth to Mission Hall

The spirit of prayer and revival touched the lives of John Beattie, Willie Miller and Tom Bell.  These men were concerned about the spiritual state of Hawick and in 1872 they met together for prayer.  The evangelists Messrs. Scroggie and Dunn were at work in Galashiels, and they were visited by Tom Bell.  His first attempt to persuade them to come to Hawick was not successful.  He again returned beseeching their help and we are told burst into tears saying “must Hawick go to Hell?”  The evangelists could not refuse this request.  Meetings were held in the Exchange Hall.  At first the response was small but soon the town interest was roused and large meetings were held with an overflow accommodated in St. Mary’s Church.   Many came to Christ at that time and it was said that there was a fear of God upon the town.  After four months of meetings the evangelists left.  Scroggie recommended the formation of a Home Mission.  It was agreed to call a meeting to discuss this suggestion.  This took place on March 1st 1873 when some 46 people at once enrolled as members.  A committee was elected consisting of:- President William Miller, Vice-President John Beattie, Treasurer Alex Tomline and Secretary John Fowler.

Messrs Scroggie and Dunn paid a second visit and a large camp meeting was held at Netherhall where 2,000 were present.  In June 1873 Lord Polwarth invited members of the Mission to spend the Common Riding Saturday at his home Mertoun House. This was to become a feature of the Mission.


The Mission was clear in its object namely the dissemination of the Gospel of Christ.  It was also quite specific in having a doctrinal base which was clear on all the great evangelical fundamentals.  The Mission believed in the inspiration, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures; the doctrine of the Trinity; the depravity of man as a consequence of the Fall; the incarnation of our Lord and His work of atonement for sinners and Hid mediatorial intercession and His reign; Justification by faith alone; the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion and His sanctification work; the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body; the coming judgment and Heaven and Hell.  The Mission also believed in the divine institution of the Christian ministry and the obligation of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Those who drew up the basis may well have been aware of the coming liberal trends in the historic churches and so sought to safeguard this work.


At this early stage all members were obliged also to be members of their denominational churches.  In the first Rollbook members are recorded as coming from 15 Hawick churches.  The Mission undertook to hold a Gospel Thursday evening meeting and a Sabbath evening meeting.  At that time the Hawick churches met on Sunday morning and afternoon.  With the backing of the Churches and Lord Polwarth, who was after all an M.P., there was widespread interest and encouragement.  The forming of a choir of committed people from many churches greatly enhanced the witness.  The work was to continue for the next ten years in hired halls.  A prayer meeting was held each Saturday evening.


It is known that in 1887 there was friction over the rules which the Mission had drawn up, and the majority of the Committee did not continue in office.  But God in His grace overruled and the work continued. 


At the Old Year’s Soiree in 1883 the question of a new hall was discussed.  At once £50 was promised towards the project.  A Building committee was formed and it was agreed to purchase Oliver’s old Auction Mart at a cost of £451.  In the Title Deeds those who witnessed the transfer of the Mart to the Mission were Magnus Sandison of Highlaws, Eyemouth, and Rev. John Grant of Eyemouth Baptist Church.  Sandison revived the work of the Baptists in Eyemouth and supported Grant.  The money for the Mart was raised by public subscription.  To erect the new Hall would cost £1,300 which was a vast sum at that time.  The members raised £319 by means of a penny-a-week fund, and at Christmas 1890 a sale of work realised £422.  The total debt on the building was not fully cleared until 1894.


It is as well to record that the Hall was large enough to have a Soiree on Old Year’s Night 1918 when 700 were present, all seated at long trestle tables.  There was also a small hall with a partition which could be pulled across to add or subtract accommodation.  The Hall was equipped with a gallery and six texts were painted round the walls.  Toilet facilities and a Committee room were also provided.  In 1886 the membership stood at 194, with many others attending the meetings.


2.  The period of much advance – 1883 – 1905


This period of progress coincided with similar growth in all areas of Hawick public life.  There had been a railway line with England since 1862 and this was bringing more trade to the town.  The population was growing and many new buildings were being put up.  The Baptists erected a new church in 1883, while Wellington Church, built in 1886, and Wilton South in 1895 are also examples.  Hawick Public Library was opened in 1904.


The Mission records the visit of many evangelists with continuing growth of the work.  In 1888 a meeting was started at Newmill, and A. Jardine’s history states “at that time there was no speed limit and your one-horse-power vehicle could race along at such a speed that the four miles were covered in about 35 minutes!  By 1904 the Newmill meeting had an attendance between 60 and 70.


It would be typical at this period to find the Mission workers speaking in the open air at the Millers Knowes on a Sunday afternoon, or at the Baker Street Lodging House, Drumlanrig Home (the Poor House) or at the Sanatorium. 


The Mission was to have a Christian Endeavour Society founded in 1896 by the Baptist Vice-President of the Mission, George Pennycook.  In 1903 the CE membership was 68, and there was also a Tract Society which in 1901 had 77 members.  Meetings for children were held on Sunday mornings, and children were not expected to attend meetings unless accompanied by an adult.  This is recorded in the minutes of January 1890.  For the children’s benefit a magic lantern was purchased in 1891.


During this period of advance there were, however, several vexed questions.  There was the question of unity with the Salvation Army.  The S.A. held a meeting in the Tannage Close, and it was felt that since the message preached was the same it might be feasible for some union to take place.  The Mission however would want to run the Tannage Close meeting and they were opposed to the high rent being paid for the premises.  In the event no union took place.


Temperance became of great importance to many in the Mission who had signed the pledge.  One of the Mission members – F.M. Renouf – was connected with the liquor trade as he ran the Washington Hotel.  Consequently there was a strong feeling that he should resign, although as he continually pointed out he had broken no rule.  It would appear that many committee meetings in 1888 were vexed over this question.  The Minute of June 1888 states “whereas it is admitted generally amongst all Christians that the drink traffic is one of the greatest obstacles to the spread of the Gospel and one of the most fruitful sources of vice, immorality and ungodliness, we as a Mission and as Christian workers deem it our duty to express our abhorrence of it and to show no complicity therewith.  Therefore we move that no person connected with it directly or indirectly shall be allowed to have any part in the direction or management of the Mission.”  In spite of the fact that this was the view of many members, F.M. Renouf refused the ruling and there were some who felt he should not resign.  It is interesting to  note that on September 10th 1888 he was asked to close the meeting in prayer, and later he became President of the Mission in 1904!


It was evident that Mr. Renouf was a man of much persistence . . . Rule 3 of the Mission clearly stated that members had also to be members of their own denominational churches in the town.  F.M. Renouf moved that this be deleted and the rule changed to read: “ Members shall consist of Christians of evangelical faith who shall be approved of by the Committee.”  Between 1892 and 1907 this matter was brought up eight times and when it was finally passed it could be said that the Mission had become in fact a church as it was the only spiritual home of some of its members. 


The sympathy of the churches in the attitude of some of the local ministers also had begun to change.  The Minutes of June 1892 tell that there was alack of interest in the work of the Mission among many of the ministers in the town.  It is also the case that the Mission did not approve of some aspects of the Common Riding activities, and it was agreed that no minister in Hawick would be asked to preach the Gospel in the Mission if he was involved in the Common Riding.


In terms of membership the Mission was subject to fluctuations often caused by trade as people moved in and out of Hawick.  In 1889 there was a roll purge when 68 names were removed leaving a membership of 241.  In 1893 on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary there were 210 members, 46 of whom had joined during the year, and yet by 1897 there were only 134 members including 22 new members.  1899 gave a report of 194 members, while in 1900, 210 members were recorded with 14 additions.


 There was a desire to change the time of the Sunday evening meeting to 7.30 p.m. in 1902.  By this time the town churches had begun to change their services from afternoon to 6 p.m., thus conflicting with the time of the Mission service.  The voting on the Committee shows that this was becoming a problem of loyalty to church or mission.  The motion to change was defeated by 9 votes to 6.


It is clear that by 1904 the Mission is still looking with expectation for Revival, but there are also reports of lethargy on the part of some members and absences from meetings.  It might be said that by this date the Mission had reached its peak: many fine meetings were still being held but attendances began to decline. 


3. The years of “Holding on” – 1905-1918


The Annual General Meeting of 1905 records that during the previous year less than 200 attended the Mission picnic and that there was a feeling of depression abroad.  It is quite clear that this same feeling was evident at the AGM in 1900 when it was stated that Sunday evening attendances were moderate.  The ministers in the town were lamenting empty benches in the different places of worship.  The Mission longed to see back again the days when the Hall was filled.  The decline in their numbers was blamed on the evening services being held in the churches. 


The Mission had also begun to do some work among the soldiers at Stobs Camp.  The AGM of 1907 again takes up the same complaint of lack of Sabbath attendance.  The C.E. now had 51 members and the lodging house meetings were not encouraging.  The membership was given as 134.  The following year the membership again rose to 167, in 1909 it stood at 192 and in 1910 at 195.  It helps to understand the work of the Mission to know that in 1909 the C.E. had 76 members, while in 1910 50 were attending the meeting at Newmill.  It has to be remembered that trade conditions had much to do with these ups and downs.


Among those invited to speak at the various meetings of the Mission were the Baptist pastors.  Rev. Donald McNicol and Rev. Wm. Ashby were much loved in Mission circles.


The war of 1914-18 created great difficulties.  There was the threat that the Hall might be required by the Army.  This proved to be an unnecessary fear.  The meeting at Newmill had to be discontinued at one point because of lighting restrictions in 1917.  The C.E. was much affected by young men being away at the war.  The Mission choir was greatly reduced.  Five young men were killed in action.  There was a failure at this time to bring outsiders to the Thursday meetings.  The Mission continued to do the normal work but with fewer members.


4.  The inter-war years including World War II – Maintaining the Witness 1919 to 1945 


The Mission did not receive back into its ranks many who had returned from War service.  There followed a period of continuing struggle, with the usual activities and open air work being carried out.  It is interesting to read that in 1922 on the evening of the Common Riding Sunday the members formed up to make a great procession, along with the Baptists and the Salvation Army to march to the fairground at the Common Haugh.  The open air which followed must have numbered many hundreds.  This practice was continued for many years the focal point for the meeting being the area of Pinder’s Circus readily granted by the Show people and well attended both by them and the local community.


On the fiftieth anniversary of the Mission a small history was prepared, and it included the names of those who had entered fulltime Christian service.  It is quite impossible to place a value on this kind of list as only eternity can reveal the worth of the service.  The History mentioned that Hugh Shannon, William Aird, H. R. Bell and T. Anderson had entered the ministry: Mrs. Wilkes had gone to Congo as a missionary and Robert Porteous to China.  Those who had gone recently into Christian service were Rev. Hope Scott to Bowhill Baptist Church, and Rev. and Mrs. Waugh to the U. F. Church, Corstorphine, following a short period of missionary service to Morocco.  Mr. and Mrs. Moyes had done excellent work in Bradford. 


By 1923 the Mission was losing some of its grand old workers, and of the original committee of 11, only 4 survived.  A great friend of the Mission Lord Polwarth died in 1920.


In the account of the Mission given by James Tait in 1923 he insisted that this was essentially a working-class Mission which owed its existence to the liberality of ordinary working people.  Whilst it was true that Lord Polwarth had shown interest in the Mission, the main support unquestionably was from its members. 


In 1923 electric light was installed.  This had been considered in 1914 but was obviously delayed.  The Mission had previously used gas.  A bright Hall would have aided the work at that time. 


Special evangelistic campaigns continued to be held all through this period.  A. Jardine in his history mentions Dr. McKilliam of London, Mr. Michael Peden, Rev. M. Robson, Mrs. Bayertz, Mr. and Mrs. S. Thompson and Pastor F. Clark.  The Hall was filled night after night to hear these speakers and conversions took place.  The Minutes tell us that Isabell Pankhurst would also come to Hawick if the churches agreed.


The work at Newmill was discontinued in 1926 as the people no longer attended. 


A new departure for the Mission was the appointment of a Superintendent in February 1928.  Mr. Connolly agreed to serve for £200 per year.  He would pay his own expenses and the Mission would give him a donation at the end of the year; there would be a housing allowance.  This was a new step and 200 gathered for the Induction.  The evangelist Jock Troup took part and greetings came from the Baptists among others.  Mr. Connolly did not stay long in Hawick.  The reason for his leaving was given as the problem of housing and his desire to serve the Lord in other towns with Missions.  He stayed only a few months.  No doubt there were difficulties in settling an evangelist into a continuing pastorate, as well as the Mission Committee having to accept a change of role.  Thjhe Mission did not have a Superintendent again until 1957, although the question was discussed in 1938 and 1946.


During this period all the usual Mission activities continued – the Open Air witness, the C. E., the Thursday Gospel meeting, visits to the Poor House, sanatorium and Lodging House.  Anew heating system was installed in 1933 costing £160.  The spirit of indifference since World War I was at this time stated as hampering the work.  With many soldiers coming to Stobs Camp again in 1939 the mission sought once more to do work among them.  From the membership figures of 195 in 1910, and 107 in 1940, it is clear that in spite of many campaigns, the spirit of indifference was beginning to bite.


The Second World War brought its own problems.  There was a threat that the Army might take over the Hall. The organisation was depleted; the young men were called up.  A. Jardine mentions 16 members joining the forces, while five were directed into munitions work.  It had become very difficult to sustain the musical side of the Mission.  It is interesting to note that a legacy of £200 was invested in War Loan.  The Mission wanted to respond to the national emergency, and the Minutes report donations to war charities.  There was great difficulty in continuing the C. E. and problems in getting children to Sunday School. 


The Mission was fortunate in this period to have A. Waugh as President.  He held this office at the 4oth, 50th and 70th anniversaries.  In such a time of national emergency it was essential to have a long-serving Christian giving leadership.  It was with relief that in September 1945 the blackout at the rear window could be removed.


5.  The Time of Change 1945 to 1964 – a regular Pastorate   


The air of optimism which swept the nation had its own impact on Christian affairs.  The Mission had special campaigns in 1946 with J. Troup.  The AGM of 1946 reports that the Thursday evening meeting was well attended and results in conversions were good.  The Saturday evening prayer meeting was also well attended.  Campaigners had been started for the young people and the work among children continued.  The Open Air was held in O’Connell Street.


Again in 1948 we are told that the ministry of Rev. I. Powell was a special blessing with many coming to the inquiry room.  The C. E. had recommenced but was not well attended.  It is true that the numbers involved were not up to their former levels, but there were still encouragements.


In 1952 there was difficulty in continuing Open Air work at “The Horse” along with the Baptists.  The Baptist support was poor and the Mission felt that the work should be continued by them alone.   The Rev. G. Spiers asked them to reconsider this decision and promised Baptist support.  Hawick was changing as a town with people moving away from the centre of the town to Burnfoot and other new housing areas.  There was need to examine afresh the role of the Mission and its evangelism.  The old ways certainly had proved to be helpful earlier but greatly increased traffic would soon drown out Open Air meetings.


In 1952 the Mission started to hold Communion twice a month.  As many of the members regarded the Mission as their only spiritual home this was a natural and logical step.  More and more the Mission appeared to the public as a church.  There was a desire to have fellowship with like-minded bodies.   The Mission joined the F. I. E. C. in 1955 and began to look for a settled ministry.  It is right to ask “Was there a confusion of role between Church and Mission?”  That confusion certainly went back to the time when the Mission rules were changed by F. M. Renouf.


In 1957 the Mission called Pastor P.D. Chisnell as Superintendent.  This was a very significant event as he continued in office for seven years.  During his pastorate there were times when the Mission Committee members found it hard to accept the new role.  P. D. Chisnell had the problem of establishing a continuing ministry with those who had been accustomed to lay ministry.  Mr. Chisnell lived in the Burnfoot housing scheme.  During his stay in Hawick he did extensive pastoral work, especially as The Mission had a number of older members. 


A new pulpit was dedicated in 1958, MR. John Henderson, M.P. occupying the chair at the dedication service, and there were high expectations to justify its use.  The association with F.I.E.C. did not prove to be advantageous to the Mission and they withdrew in 1963. 


The ministry of P.D.Chisnell covered a vital period, but in spite of extensive and intense evangelism the numbers continued to fall.  No membership figures are quoted in the Minutes of this period.  After Mr. Chisnell, left the Mission elected a new President in July 1964.  Walter Glendinning was appointed to this office with 26 ballots returned and a majority in his favour. 


  1. 1964 to 1985 – Decline


The Mission clearly intended to return to the ways of working before there had been a Superintendent.  The question might now be asked if this was possible or realistic.  In 1965 the tenancy of the house at |Hillend Drive was given up and the garage in McLagan Drive sold.  It could be argued that without the number of members and having a poor response in evangelism the Mission was in a weaker state than when the work was started.  Could all this evangelistic work be carried on?  Those who had been active over many years were finding it increasingly difficult. 


Then there was the problem of property.  A large Hall was grand when filled but that was no longer the case.  The small hall was renovated in 1965 and the large hall was by this time only being used once or twice per year.  Roof repairs were urgently required and little money was available to meet the cost. 


In 1967 the firm of Lawsons, who occupied the adjoining property, offered to buy 2000 square feet of the hall for the sum of £2000.  They would enclose their part of the property with a new wall which would cost £450.  The Mission deliberated as they would have liked £3000, but eventually they agreed to sell for £2000.  The Minutes tell that no one was of the opinion that the large hall should be retained.  In 1974 a further small area was sold to give the purchasers easier access; this was sold for £250. 


The Mission property was now reduced to a small hall, committee room and toilet.  There was a derelict area left at the side of the small hall.  Upstairs a gallery was now useless.


Those who were left continued the work to the best of their ability.  There were complaints about the lack of prayer, but the “Bright Hour” started by Mrs. Chisnell and continued by Mrs. Stenhouse had 98 members in 1968  and was the best attended of all the meetings. 


In 1977 Youth with a Mission obtained the use of the gallery and floored over a derelict area of what remained of the old hall below.  Meetings conducted there by B. Scobie as an after church event were to be a help to some and a place of conversion for others.  The “Loft” meetings were of a more charismatic nature.  The town contacts made at this time would later become the basic membership of the “New Life Christian Fellowship”.  In 1981 this group started their own meetings in the Evergreen Hall. 


The last full AGM of the Mission was held in 1983, and there are no other Minutes until the final entry which contained the terms of handing over of the property to Hawick Baptist Church which took place on 1st January 1986.  The generosity of this act cannot be overstated as the Mission building could have been sold, but the desire of the Trustees was to see the property continue in Christian use.  The Baptist Church already used the hall for their Sunday School, and the property being just across the road from the Church made it most suitable as their hall.


The Baptist Church continued the Mission “Bright Hour” uniting it with the already long-established “Women’s Own” of the Church.  Leadership was shared between Mrs. Stenhouse and Mrs. McNeish with a new joint committee for the “Bright Hour”.


With the help of Bryan Oates the Baptist Church transformed the ground floor of the Mission property to suit their own purpose.  The Hall was extended by including what had been the derelict area. A new staircase was added for the possible future use of the upstairs floor.  A new kitchen was made and new toilets were developed out of the former committee room.  The Baptist used the hall for their week night activities, and started two “Mothers and Toddlers groups.  In all the work of renovation it was the desire of the church to retain everything that could be useful.  The text “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” was given a new facelift. 


That same Jesus had led the Mission all through the years.  Many famous preachers had occupied the pulpit bringing inspiration at that time.  The names of some of them have already been mentioned, but it is fitting to add that Dr. F. B. Myer, Rev. F. B. Jones and more recently Rev. P. H. Barber all preached in the Mission.  Mention has been made of the many who found Christ in the Mission and went on to serve the Lord in other places, but there are those in Hawick who now worship in the churches who look back to the Mission for first showing them the way to Jesus. 


In this account I have singled out the relationship with the Baptist Church to show how every Baptist minister gave their support to the Mission and to point out the way in which the Mission worked with the Church.  It would be true to say that some did feel there were conflicts of loyalty at times, but as both preached the same Gospel these difficulties were always overcome.


The “Hawick News” of 29th November 1985 stated: “A marked reduction in numerical support, coupled with the fact that many of the members are now senior citizens, some of indifferent health has led to the decision to discontinue.”


A further article appeared in the “Hawick News” on 3rd January 1986 called “An exile’s memories of The Mission”.  Mrs. Kerr nee Kennedy of Dumfries told of her wonderful memories of the Mission as a young girl.  She went on to relate how when she was 13 the good fisherman Jock Troup came to preach.  She was “saved” that night in the lesser hall along with many others.  She was ashamed to say that as the years rolled on she had been guilty of backsliding as her granny would have called it.  She had been given ethics for life and could look back on many happy memories.  While it is right to rejoice with her in all the good the Mission had been used to do in her life, the fact that she did not follow it all through would also be true of others living in Hawick.  If all who had been helped as she had, even within Hawick, had gone on with the Lord then perhaps the work of the Mission would have continued, but, as we have seen, indifference has been a curse for years.


God had His time for His work and we can only but praise Him for this wonderful achievement in Hawick for so long.  K.W. McNeish, Baptist Pastor. April 1988Hawick Home Mission 1873 to 1985







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