Artillery Street Evangelical Church has been in Colchester a very long time – over 170 years!
Back in 1839 a small group of Christians (calling themselves Primitive Methodists) decided to buy some land and build a church. The land they bought had some barracks built on it which were at that time being demolished. There were few, if any, houses in the area and the track to ‘Barrack Ground Chapel’ became known as Chapel Lane. In later years as the area developed and the streets took on names with historical connections, Chapel Lane became Artillery Street.
However, from an historical viewpoint, this church is most famous for being the place where Charles Haddon Spurgeon – a very famous Victorian preacher – was converted in January 1850. As a lad of 15, Spurgeon was struggling up Hythe Hill in a snow blizzard one Sunday, trying to get to another church in Colchester. He realised he was not going to make it and turned instead into this chapel in Artillery Street. Here he heard the simple Gospel message from Isaiah 45:22 ‘Look to Me and be saved’. His life was changed that day forever; he gave his heart and life to the Lord, and trusted Him for the forgiveness of his sins. Like many today who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Spurgeon found peace with God and experienced a personal and meaningful relationship with Him.
Right up to the 1900’s Colchester grew around the chapel. Paxman Engineering relocated to a 13 acre farm known as “Stonehouse Farm” on Hythe Hill. Many Paxman engineering employees lived in houses near the works. This tightly packed terraced housing still surrounds the church today. But by the 1930’s there was (sadly) little doctrinal difference between Primitive Methodists and General Methodists, and in 1934 the two denominations combined.
The chapel in Artillery Street had now lost its strategic importance as the main Primitive Methodist chapel in this part of East Anglia, and attendance declined. From the second World War until the present day, the church has had a chequered history. On 30 November 1956 the trustees agreed that the chapel would close after the evening service of 24 February 1957.
The building was sold to a businessman. However the businessman never really used the building and in August 1959 a music group called the Gospel Aires started leasing it as a place to practice. Some local people decided to join the group for a Sunday evening service and later a morning service and Sunday School was added. A trust called Datchett Evangelical Fellowship became interested and received money to buy the building in 1965. Three years later a pastor was called who served the church for thirteen years.
By July 1989 however the church had gone down to three faithful members and again there was pressure to close the church. The church called another Pastor (Derek Hale) in 1991, and the work was strengthened and established once again.
In 1999 Derek contracted cancer and passed into glory later that year. The church struggled on until Jeff Avery became Pastor in 2007, but this ministry ended in 2009.
The present Pastor, Peter Millist, commenced in January 2010.