Holden at 250 & the Pastor’s Pony

Last weekend, Holden Chapel celebrated its 250th anniversary. This fellowship is about five miles from Martin Top and we often support each other’s meetings. On the Saturday night, Robert Lawson, one of the grand old men of Lancashire/Yorkshire evangelicalism led the celebrations assisted by the Longtons of Wray. The following afternoon, his son David preached. His calm and considered expositions are a tonic in this day of feeble preaching and gospel-lite pulpit-fodder.


The church was initially conceived in 1766 at ‘Holden Green’, ‘for Protestant Dissenters of the Presbyterian or Independent persuasion’. It was probably founded by ‘pious, charitable and well-disposed persons’ who attended the chapel at Newton and desired a meeting house close to home. Its purpose was the ‘performing of public worship and Divine Service by able Protestant Orthodox minister or ministers, sound in the faith of Jesus Christ, and holding to the doctrinal articles of the Church of England’. In other words, it was a theologically conservative church, agreeing with Anglicanism on matters like the trinity, but not in its government by bishops or adherence to the Prayer Book.

The chapel then held 100 people and had a gallery, underneath which was the minister’s home. This would have been the dwelling of the church’s first minister, John Gawber. In 1777, a manse was built and the under-gallery became part of the chapel, where most of the present congregation are inclined to sit. When Gawber died in 1804, his tombstone was inscribed with

So sleep the saints and cease to groan;

When sin and death and have done their worst;

Christ hath a glory like his own

That waits to clothe their sleeping dust

The second minister, Henry Driver, from Colne, advised the Liverpool Home Missionary Society that he needed a Galloway pony upon which to do his visiting: “I’ve done a lot of missionary work in my time, but now my legs are failing me and I cannot walk as formerly. I have been used to take my Bible, my old Buchan and my medicine chest and minister to the temporal and spiritual wants of the people throughout Bowland. I could continue my work yet if I had a ‘gal’, but I haven’t one.” A subscription list was started, and the money raised. 

Several years later, Mr Driver was in Clitheroe, and lent his pony to Rev. Booth as he journeyed to Holden. The pony stopped each time it passed someone on the road, and Booth could not understand why. Upon raising the issue with Driver, he was told “When I go about among my people and meet any of them I stop and have a talk with them, and in that way the pony has got into the habit of stopping whenever I meet anyone. You see it is a missionary pony and been trained to it.”

Would that we Christians were more like that pony.