The Fellowship now known as Emmanuel Evangelical Church was founded in 1866 following a visit of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to Newport in the previous year when many thousands of people assembled in the Cattle Market to hear him preach.
For over eight years the congregation met in a variety of locations, including a sail-loft and rented halls. Then in 1875 a Baptist Chapel was opened in Alma Street and our Church continued to meet there and was known as Alma Street Baptist Church for over 100 years.
The old premises in Alma Street were compulsorily acquired by the Council and demolished in 1976. For almost 18 months we me in the YMCA while the present building was being constructed. It was opened on November 12th 1977.
Below are some extracts of the history of the church, much more is recorded in the church archives.
1865 – Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached in the Cattle Market arena in Pill on 3rd October 1865. It was organized by Commercial Rd Bapt Church. The visit of Charles Haddon Spurgeon in 1865 attracted thousands (said to be between 10 to 12,000 people) to the Cattle Market to hear his sermon (church buildings were too small to cater for the thousands). They came from all around the South Wales area on special trains. Spurgeon’s text was ‘and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely’. Rev 22 v17’. The events were organized by Pillgwenlly Baptist Church (later called Commercial Road Bapt Church). There was some controversy over the fact that they charged one shilling for entrance. For some this was equivalent to a day’s wages. One of the leaders of Commercial Rd BC (John Pardoe Thomas) objected to the charge and later resigned from the church leadership. He felt so strongly about this that he, and some like minded people, started a new church in 1866 in a sail loft of his father’s firm in Canal Parade (opposite the new (2014) Newport University Library buildings).. These premises soon became too small also. They moved to the upstairs rooms of the Prince of Wales Hotel for a short while until in 1867 that was full to over flowing also.
1866 – The first pastor elected by the New congregation in 1866, later to be called Alma Street Baptist Church, was their own member, John Pardoe Thomas. The attendance grew very quickly and people were eager to hear God’s word preached with urgency and enthusiasm.
1874 – The church congregation was growing year by year and the rooms were becoming over crowded (membership now 85 but with an even larger congregation), so a Building Fund started with £8. By faith they sought ground on which to build a church buildings. Land was found in Alma Street and bought from the Tredegar Wharf Estate. Plans were drawn up for a building to hold 600 people. It cost £838 to build.
1875 – The Alma Street Baptist Church building opened in January 1875 and an opening meeting was addressed by Dr Stock of Huddersfield. A special collection of 16pounds 10shillings was taken up.
1899 – The Pastor Rev Pardoe Thomas retired due to ill health in 1899. He had been the faithful pastor since the Church started in 1866. On a memorial plaque on the wall in the Emmanuel vestry an inscription says ‘For 34 years he served his master’s cause with zeal and devotion’. Rev. J Meredith Jones was appointed as the minister, he had been inducted earlier in the year as a Co-pastor.
1904 – Revival years. There were signs that the 1904 revival and the working of the Holy Spirit did effect the Alma St Church.The church was marginally caught up in the spirit of revival events and some meetings went on until late in the evening. The meeting were always packed out with overflows into adjoining rooms. Comments and reflections from Gwynhefin Thomas on the mood of the revival said he, ‘felt the pure triumphant joy of revival days had turned into spiritual pride. The great revival prayer of ‘Bend Me’ had gone. If we could have stayed low in humility, who knows whether the divine influence would have continued in force…. A little bit of self came in and we lost the Heavenly dove who had descended in order to glorify Him. When self comes in God goes out always…..more than one mission has been hindered by giving publicity to it and counting people …. It can give the impression that the missioners were the means of reaching them and not the Holy Spirit’. These comments are pertinent for any generation wanting to evangelise.
1915/6 – Rev J Meridith Jones retired from being a pastor at Alma St BC to take up a post in Cardiff to become secretary of the Baptist Union Sustentation Fund.
1916 – The Jubilee Booklet shows that the Celebrations for 50 years lasted from Sunday Oct 22nd to Monday Oct 30th, 1916. Unfortunately the booklet did not throw a great deal of information of the happenings of the previous 50 years. A quote in the literature said,…. “It is not the purpose of the present effort to trace the history of the Church, nor to record the faith and bravery and growth of the Church numerically and development in the church spiritually”. “Nor to list the persecutions and difficulties which have beset these and their successors….”
1917 – The ordination of Rev Griffith Harris (Port Talbot) as pastor along with Rev T Reeves and co-pastor and leaders in Alma Street Baptist Church took place.
1921 – Rev Edward Elliott became pastor of the church with Rev E.C.Gates as his assistant.
1934 – The Rev H.Luther Jones (of St Helen’s , Swansea) became pastor of Alma St BC . He served as pastor until he was called up to go into the forces as a chaplain in 1939.
1941 – Rev B.J. Allsopp became minister and he was a Bible based sound preacher. He moved on in 1949 when he took up a position in Haverford West.
1956 – John Bennett became the first full time pastor of Alma St BC since the leaving of Rev Allsopp in 1949. He was ordained and inducted as minister in September 1956 (he was aged 27). Some of the back premises ruined during the war, were so unsafe that they had to be demolished. The freehold of the land was purchased. There were thoughts that, one day, a new buildings could be erected in the space. The fortuitous purchase gave the Church in 1970s extra land to negotiate with the Council when considering a new plot for the Church in the redevelopment plans of Pill.
1961 – Mr Harrison preached in Alma St for the first time, he was a well qualified theology student from Oxford. His sermon commended itself to the church leaders and he was invited back in April 1962 to preach with a view to becoming the pastor. A unanimous vote by the church and leaders made this possible and Rev Graham S. Harrison, BA,BD,B.Litt was inducted as pastor in September 1962.
1966 – Rev Harrison was appointed as the Chaplain to the Mayor of Newport, Councillor L.Pardoe Thomas. His relation was the first Pastor of the Alma St Church at its formation in 1866. The official Mayoral service was held in Alma St Church. This link to the Council and recognition of his principles by the Councillors was later to prove a grand opportunity to speak to Councillors when decisions were being made about the redevelopment of the Pill area and the demolishing and rebuilding and relocation of the Church premises.
1970 – The redevelopment of the Pill area was being planned by the Council. Discussions started with the Newport Planning Office about relocation of the church in their planned redevelopment of Pill.
1973 – After much discussion a possible location of the Chapel permises were suggested by the Council in Rutland Place. As no longer on Alma street the process of finding a new name for the church was started and eventually agreed to be ‘Emmanuel Evangelical Church (Baptist)’.
1976 – The last service in the Alma St Church was in April, in some ways it was a sad sight but in other ways it was a relief as the building was costing a lot to maintain. The church moved to use the facilities of the YMCA in Commercial Street.
1977 – In November the New Emmanuel Church was opened. The preachers were Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones and Rev Vernon Higham. Total cost of the new Church Building approx £212,300 as stated when the finances were finally paid in 1980.
At the opening the following statement was made..
‘Above all we would render praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God under whose providential care all this provision has been made. It is our desire to use that which He has entrusted to us for His glory. In an age of uncertainty, confusion and despondency He calls us to make known the unchanging message of the everlasting gospel that is always man’s only hope. His Word, the Bible, is our authority, and its message – of salvation for sinners by His grace and through faith in His eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ – is the message that we shall endeavour to proclaim in and from our new home.‘