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Isaac Septimus Nullis and the Silchester villages

by David Young

If you look in the 1851 census for Quick’s Green, Berkshire, you will come across a household consisting of Thomas Street, aged 68, and his wife Ann, aged 60. They were so poor they were receiving parish relief. Even so, Ann had once said to a needy man, “I have a shilling; you can have that.” That same man was, or later became, a Primitive Methodist minister, and was able to leave her £50 when he died. His name was Isaac Septimus Nullis.

Despite Ann Street’s poverty, and no doubt obscurity in the eyes of society, if you look in H. B. Kendall’s The Origin and History othe Primitive Methodist Church, you will see a photograph of her in front of their cottage on page 337 of Volume II. It seems that the little white thatched cottage has since been demolished, but that it stood in the garden of an existing larger house, behind the now closed Primitive Methodist chapel.

Isaac Septimus Nullis and the Silchester villages

Septimus Nullis

If you read the biography of Isaac Nullis you will learn that when Ann was ‘ripe in years, and in great part confined indoors’; she was still ‘full of faith and the Holy Ghost’; and her praise was ‘in all the churches who know her.’

The biography is by Jesse Herbert, and is called The living Sacrifice: the life of Isaac Septimus Nullis (two editions, 1870, 1888), and being contemporary with Nullis, gives a good feel of the times. But why should Ann Street, this poor elderly saint, be included, not only in it, but also by Kendall, in the biggest denominational history the Primitives Methodists ever produced?

The story goes back to the coming of John Ride and his co-workers into Berkshire. Ride was a Primitive Methodist minister, whose ministry was so powerful and so successful, under God’s blessing, that he eventually became known as ‘The Apostle of Berkshire’. He also preached in villages of northern Hampshire. When Ann came under his ministry, she told:  

I saw and felt my state as a guilty sinner; my feelings were at times almost intolerable; I prayed and wept – wept and prayed, and at last I ventured to believe that what was told me was true – namely, that Christ died for me, and that God would pardon me if I believed in His Son Jesus Christ; and glory to his name, as soon as I trusted in the promise, peace flowed into my heart. 

At once she made her home a house of prayer. And what a pleasant home it was, despite the poverty!  

…that cloth, as white as driven snow; the chairs and table reflecting back your features, so bright are they; and the ‘old dogs’ [irons used to support the fire], which look you in the face as you turn towards the fire-place, with bright and shining faces, ‘welcome’; in short, all is bright, and mostly cheerful. In this home a little has been made to go a great way. 

Her religion was “emphatically practical”, and was characterised by strong, ardent, enduring love, and by hope:  

We had almost said she is all hopefulness, the hearty grip of the hand, the earnest “Look up, my brother,” and even the sparkling tear-drop starting from her upturned glistening eyes, speak of Hope, strong, bright and blooming. 

In 1849, revival came to the parish of Ashampstead (which includes Quick’s Green) and to the surrounding area, by means of the Primitive Methodist evangelism. Meetings were held in Ann’s home, and, as the Nullis biography continues, “Many a captive has ‘leapt to loose his chains’ under her roof; many a tempted and struggling soul has been cheered and encouraged on their way by her advice, sympathy, and prayers.” One such soul was Isaac Nullis himself.

He was born in October 1828. When he was a young man, he attended meetings, both in the chapel and the cottage at Quick’s Green, and after a meeting at Ann Street’s home, in March 1850, back at his own home he came into the assurance that God had forgiven him for his sins and accepted him as a brand-new child of God. Nullis immediately sensed a zeal for the conversion of others.

One of the places he preached at was Silchester, in Hampshire. The first Primitive Methodist chapel there was built of poles from the forest, and furze gathered from the common. It was a primitive structure (with a small “p” as well!) and it began to fall into decay. In March 1839 the Reading Circuit quarterly meeting resolved to gather money to buy a house and garden at Silchester, and to build a new chapel. The chapel was opened on Sunday 27th October 1839, with George Wallis and John Coxhead as preachers. It is still in use as the Methodist church hall, with a newer chapel built on to it.

The Primitive Methodist Chapel, Silchester

On 25th February 1855 Nullis recorded: “Salvation Meeting at Silchester; had a mighty time, while preaching from the 25th verse of the cxviii Psalm, ‘Save now’ etc.” That February he was very active in services there, at which about twenty people professed faith. The 1855 Circuit Report records that “lately the work of the Lord has broken out on that side and we are enjoying a gracious outpouring of the Spirit.”

On 8th April Nullis recorded, using spellings of the time:  Glory be to God! The work is moving all round Silchester, Tadley, Baughurst, Chatter Alley, Upper Wootten, and East Sherborne. 

On Sunday 27th May he attended a camp meeting at Baughurst, “when five souls were brought to the Saviour”. The following day he went to a camp meeting at Silchester, and six persons professed faith. The following day found him at a tea meeting in Baughurst at which about two hundred people were present. This was followed by a powerful prayer meeting at which some 15 or 20 people came to faith. “The speaking was most mighty… Glory! O, it was a victory, we did shout. Br. Symonds was in his glory, he is a fine fellow in meetings of this kind.”(James Symonds was one of the circuit ministers.)

In August 1855 he went to Silchester for a fortnight to take services in place of James Symonds. These found him at Tadley, Silchester, Charter Alley, with conversions at each place, including at Silchester four young men on 7th and three young men and a woman on 14th.

After serving elsewhere, he returned to the area in September 1864 and held revival services at Silchester, Charter Alley, Pit Hall and Wootton St Lawrence. Again he saw people come to faith in Christ, “and one or two received the deeper baptism.” He recorded:  

At Chatter Alley on the Sunday there were several penitents, among whom was a woman of profligate habits and disreputable character. At the Baughurst missionary meeting two were saved, one of them nearly seventy years of age. Last Sabbath evening eight or nine were crying for mercy. On Thursday night I attempted to close the meeting, three or four times, but failed to do so, till one in the morning; seven found peace, one of them a man nearly seventy-five years of age.

On 28th November he wrote that “Four more obtained pardon… the place seemed filled with the sweetest influence of the Holy Spirit.” On Sunday 4th December “the chapel was crowded, numbers could not gain admission. The following week ten were saved; two of them very strong young men, who had become very hard drinkers; and two old men… This work continued till over seventy were brought to Jesus.” In 1866 he was back in the area, taking meetings in places which included Charter Alley, Silchester, Wootton, Hannington, Mortimer.

I was born in Basingstoke in 1946, and my early Christian life was spent in the churches of the Methodist Basingstoke Circuit. It is where I began to preach. In about 1964 I met elderly men in chapels, including Wootton St Lawrence and Charter Alley, where Isaac Nullis had preached with such effect a century or more previously: men probably born in the final decade of the 19th century, who looked back to those days which they probably heard of in their youth. The quality of their conversation attracted me to their faith, and I reached a decision which might have been expressed in the words of Ruth in the Bible: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” It set the direction of my life till now.

Isaac Nullis died in April 1868. In 2012, I visited the chapel in Quick’s Green and spoke with a lady walking her dog along the path beside the chapel. She knew approximately where Nullis’s grave is in the chapel burial area, and took me to find it. I transcribed as much of it as I could easily do; here is what I read:

IN MEMORY OF ISAAC SEPTIMUS NULLIS WHO WAS BORN AT ASHAMPSTEAD OCT 9TH 1828. HE WAS BORN AGAIN OF THE SPIRIT MARCH 31, 1850. AND PASSED FROM EARTH TO A LIFE BEYOND IMMORTAL LIFE APRIL 8TH 1868. FOR SO HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP – PSL 127:2.

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