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Mrs. Louisa Martindale painted by Clara Ewald in 1904

Miss. Harriet Baker


Click the picture for enlargement


The Martindale Centre as it was built in June 1907

The Martindale Centre has stood in our village and at the heart of most villagers lives for many years.

In the past it has been used as a church, meeting hall, scout hut, doctor's surgery, play centre as well as a meeting place and continues to be an ugly, although useful village asset.

After the second world war a large corrugated iron hall was built at the back of the main hall to be used as additional accommodation. You can read the leaflet that was handed out later on this page.

On Wednesday February 24th. 1909, The Daily Chronicle published the following article which gives an insight into how the Martindale centre was conceived plus a little of Mrs. Martindale's character. All punctuation  (and a couple of errors) have been left exactly as published.

The Daily Chronicle Wednesday February 24th. 1909


This small village in Sussex is one of the few places in England where a woman has been accepted as minister. Miss H. Baker having occupied that post for some fifteen months. She is not the first woman to have enjoyed this honour, for Miss Gertrude von Petzold was minister of a Unitarian church at Leicester; recently she accepted a call to a church in the United States.

Miss Jane Brown was called to the pastorate of Brotherton, a mining village in Yorkshire, in which she officiated for some years. I am also informed there are women pastors in Wales. When Mrs. Martindale, late of Horsted Keynes a few years ago, she found no Congregational places of worship. She is devoted to “Independency”, the sect to which two of England’s greatest men, Milton and Cromwell, adhered, and after a time she decided that a Congregational hall in Horsted Keynes would have a field of usefulness. 

As the Liberal women of Brighton know, when Mrs. Martindale decides that a thing requires to be done, it is done, sooner or later. The money was collected, largely from her friends and family; amongst the former should be named. Mr. W. A. Hounsom, J.P., who contributed very generously. The hall is a beautiful little building, admirably adapted to village needs, substantially built and tastefully furnished. It cost £1,873, and was opened in June 1907 free of debt.

 The Equality of the Sexes.

 It is one of the many cases where the fine French adage, cherchez la femme verifies a woman’s brain, not to lay undue stress on the shekels contributed to its realization, it was a right and proper thing that from the very first there should be absolute not theoretic equality of the sexes, even in the conduct of the services. This was laid down as a formal condition. Most people are aware that women vote in the business meetings of the Congregational Church just as men do; so far, no Mrs. Humphry Ward or Countess of Jersey has ever arisen to rebuke them for exercising a right that both sexes regard as simple and elementary.

Mrs. Martindale relates that as she was reflecting how best to attain the ends she sought, she cam down to breakfast one morning to find two letters on her plate. One was from a lady who had often preached by invitation and who indeed has very considerable gifts for preaching, Miss Harriet Baker, offering to take some of the services at the new hall. The other was from the authorities of Hackney College, Hampstead, to say that they would be glad to have the new hall as a practicing field for the students.

 Miss Baker takes up the Work.

 Both offers were accepted. Miss Baker, besides preaching, had formerly conducted large and successful Bible classes at Brighton; one of these has developed into a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon gathering and was a distinct success. It is admitted on all hands that she is a cultured and attractive speaker; nor are her gifts lessened by careful preparation.

 It was arranged that Miss Baker should now reside in Horsted Keynes, taking alternate Sundays with the students of Hackney College. She also takes the week-night service, besides conducting cottage meetings, and in the summer open-air services in the neighbouring villages of Birch Grove and Danes’ Hill. [sic] She also gives lectures frequently , having had great experience and a long list of acceptable subjects. The hall possesses an excellent lantern presented by a friend, and the lectures are generally illustrated by slides.

 I wend down to Horsted Keynes for the express purpose of hearing Miss baker preach. Her style is refined, the matter well arranged and thought out. The sermons lasted each half an hour, and were fully equal to the high level usually found in the Congregational Church. I was struck by the relatively large number of heads of families (Horsted Keynes is only a small village) who listened to Miss Baker’s soft melodious voice and excellent delivery with the closest attention. I have heard American women preach, so that for me it was not a new experience. I simply had confirmed an opinion formed years ago: That to have a woman in the pulpit is becoming and decorous; I know it is in accord with the practice of the early Christian Church. From the pulpit-cushion hung down an embroidered scroll, “Holiness becometh thine House”, and the holy lives of women whose lips and hearts have been touched by the living principle of religion become that House also. As I listened to Miss. Baker’s excellent sermon, there floated into my mind a little scene from an American book read many years ago. A working man who attended a church under a woman pastor was being chaffed by his comrades. He replied something like this: “There ain’t so much o’ the woman on’t as you’d suppose. She just gives the word, and we hear it. And she works on them growin’ lads something wonderful; they now come to church reg’lar. The marriages too seem to hold; you can’t get out of them any easier because a woman’s tied the knot!”.

 A Wider Sphere Probable.

 Most people with whom I have spoken have the same feeling about a woman preacher as about a woman lecturer. If the necessary gifts, culture, and, above all, the call to the work, we should beware of permitting prejudice to assume the mastery over reason.

 In the pulpit Miss Baker wears a black gown and cap. She has already baptized some of the youth of Horsted Keynes. She presides at the communion table, and on the very day of my visit, a paper was being signed by the householders as a preliminary step to enable marriages to be solemnized in the hall. It is well known that Congregationalists usually pray extempore. Miss Baker possesses a gift for prayers, and led the devotions of the little church with dignity and reverence.

 Her services at Horsted Keynes have been highly appreciated, but perhaps a small village is not the best field for her talents and it is thought that before long she may find a wider sphere in a large town.

 There is little doubt that churches of every denomination are suffering from a lack of cultured, spiritually-minded men offering themselves for the ministry. The older men are there, but there is a shortage in recruits. The other day the Rec. Stephen Drew, Mr. Gladstone’s son-in-law, complained that for the last five years he has been unable to find a curate after diligent seeking. A London daily pointedly inquires what is the salary. It is certain there is nothing like necessity for breaking down prejudice. We can hardly expect that the sacerdotal Churches of England and Rome will yield easily to innovation. In both these communities woman has a relatively poor position. But the Free Churches who have fought a good fight for liberty and human dignity are constituted differently; the weight of the centuries, of custom, is less burdensome, and besides, several have already conceded the point. Probably the post of assistant minister to some hard-worked, broad-minded man, who has prayed and practiced that in “Christ is neither male nor female, bond nor free”, will prove to be the best field for the energies of a woman who is called to the great honour of the ministry.

 A Large Field of Usefulness.

 Afterwards I accompanied Mrs. Martindale over the institute, connected with the hall. Here are several class-rooms for the meetings of all kinds, the nucleus of the new (and first) village library. Below the church is a club-room, to assemble in which the village slate-club has already abandoned the public-house, a stable for the convenience of those who come by trap from a distance, a bicycle shed and a kitchen. The founder has foreseen the day when there will be a demand for cookery and laundry instruction; the equipment is already there.                                                


Louisa Mertindale's grave in Horsted Keynes churchyard.
Louisa Martindale's grave in Horsted Keynes Churchyard
(Click picture for full size copy)


Opening of the New Church Hall 1 July 1950
Thanks to Bob Fry we can now reproduce a complete copy of the leaflet that was handed out on the opening of the new hall at the rear of the Martindale. Some say this was built on the foundations of a wartime hut used for emergency supplies. Either way the foundations still survive.

Reproduced here is the text from the centre pages of this leaflet


AS we reach another milestone on the road of Congregationalism in Horsted Keynes, it is well to pause awhile and look back in thankfulness to Almighty God for His many blessings at all times, and particularly for His guidance and encouragement in days of adversity. In gratitude, too, we remember the children in our retrospect, for the story of our little Church, is to some extent the story of the work among the children.

More than half-a-century ago there were attempts to establish Congregationalism in the village, but none were successful until 1900. It was in this year that Mrs. Louisa Martindale, of Cheeleys. Horsted Keynes, then 67 years of age and a woman of strong will and purpose and of striking personality, made known her desire to satisfy a local demand for a place of worship on Free Church lines. Her leanings were towards Congregationalism, and she enlisted the support of a Mr. W. A. Hounsom, J.P., who purchased, for £160, the delightful site on which our buildings stand, and conveyed it to the Sussex Congregational Union. Mrs. Martindale was a member of the well-known Spicer family, and a sister of Sir Albert Spicer. With her friends, she set about raising the necessary money, and in the following year the "Congregational Hall and Institute," which altogether had cost £1,875, was opened free of debt. It was one of the first Institutional Churches in the country, and as such was intended to be the centre of the village life.

Regular Sunday services for Divine Worship were planned and a Sunday School was started, and from the very nature of the building it will be seen that weekday activities were also catered for. A wall of the main Hall was specially made as a screen for lantern lectures, and ante-rooms and the basement provided facilities for dressmaking and cookery classes, a Slate Club, a Public Library and so on. There are still men in Horsted Keynes who belonged to the old Village Band, which had its headquarters at the Hall, and many residents, no doubt, who attended the Band of Hope meetings held there. The grounds, themselves, were sufficient to permit the erection of a building for worship only and even a manse, but circumstances have not so far developed that way.

Mrs. Martindale's dynamic leadership continued to influence the work until her death in 1914. Then the main responsibility fell upon a faithful few, and hard times were experienced between the two Great Wars. A stage was reached when, in the words of one of the few, " we were just people who went to church and hoped there would be a preacher." At this time we were grateful for the help afforded us by the. Rev. Gwillyrn Thomas, then Minister of Cuckfield Congregational Church, who welded us together and sustained us until the Rev. J. M. Nicholson arrived in 1936 as Minister of the new Lindfield, Ardingly and Horsted Keynes Group of Congregational Churches. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Nicholson and Miss W. Bowrey, our present Church Secretary, started a Children's Church, with only eight young people. This number gradually grew and, with the advent of the Second World War, was destined suddenly to soar to the large total of 80 by the influx of London evacuees, some of whom bad never before been in a church. The open arms extended to these young guests created a tremendous amount of goodwill towards our Church, as was to be evidenced at the end of the war when the evacuees began to return to their homes. The local children we had gained remained with us, and we are still some. 50 strong—all village children. We started, back in 1939, with a week-night service for children, from which grew the graded club gatherings for the development of body, mind and spirit. Our Women's Meetings originated from the desire to provide for the lonely mothers of the evacuees, and our Guild of Friendship is also mainly composed of parents of our children. In the last few years we have developed a Red Cross Link for the young people, who have found in this another source of social activity as well as a channel for serious effort in their Health Courses. We have also, at various times, given hospitality in our premises to campers who, in summer time, have come from Brighton and London.

In this way we have done our best to make the Hall and Institute a centre of village religious and social life as the founder intended, but the time came when, towards the end of 1948, a Church Meeting decided to implement a desire which had been felt for some time, namely that we should retain the sanctity of our building for Divine Worship and accommodate our weekday activities elsewhere.

So it was that we began the uphill climb to this new milestone. We decided upon a new Church Hall, and engaged Mr. D. Adshead Grant, B. Arch., A.R.I.B.A.. to draw up the necessary plans. We met with no objections from the Planning Authorities, who even congratulated us on them. We wish to express our appreciation of the fine work of Mr. Grant, Mr. Spurgeon (a descendant of the famous Dr. Spurgeon), Mr. K. ,]. Davis (the builder) and his team of workmen. We found, too, a ready generosity among our friends, for which we are grateful, and with the Hall Fund mounting to £400 last year, plus the support and encouragement of the County Union, we put the building work in hand. The result you see to-day in the realisation of a venture which is going to cost us, in all, something over £1,300.

In looking back we cannot forget those ministers and lay people who have, with God's good grace, led us through the years. The first minister was a Miss Harriett Baker, who sustained the pastorate for at least 18 months, from .January, 1908, sharing her work with students from Hackney Theological College, London. She was followed in 1910 by the Rev. W. G. Howe, who incorporated Horsted Keynes with Ardingly until April, 1918, when Mr. Cyril N. Turner (known to-day as Church. Secretary at Ardingly for more than 30 years) commenced a short lay pastorship which lasted until March, 1919. In that month Horsted Keynes and Ardingly again became combined, this time under the ministry of the Rev. A. L. Walker, M.A., an arrangement which terminated in 1927. At, this period our cause in the village was at its lowest ebb, but New College students and laymen bravely struggled on until 1033, when the Rev. Gwillym Thomas came to our aid at a critical time. After he left we were, for a period, without a minister again, and then the Rev. .1. M. Nicholson came to the Group which was to remain under his care for 10 years. During his time we were blessed with two splendid Student Pastors in the Rev. J. K. Antrobus and the Rev. Harold Johnson. It was in November, 1947, that the Rev. A. D. Trinder came to our Group and took up residence in Horsted Keynes. We are thankful for his leadership and for the inspiration he gives us, and with him we express our gratitude for the continued help of the laymen, outstanding among whom is our good friend Mr. W. Corbett Cooke, who comes regularly each month from Brighton.

We believe that God put it into the mind of Mrs. Martindale to begin our work in Horsted Keynes on Free Church, principles, and by His good hand this Witness has continued in season and out of season. We believe we still have a Witness to make in the village, and we look forward to the future with joyful faith that He will lead us on to greater work and progress.

(Text reproduced from original leaflet has been carefully checked but if you find any obvious errors please let us know.)

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An interesting page with pictures of some of the more famous graves in the village churchyard


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