Newbury Ward History Event

by Rachel Guy


The year 2023 marks 180 years since artist William Warner Major walked the streets of West Berkshire teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ as the first missionary of the church in the area. The Newbury branch was organised in June of that same year, thanks to his efforts. In January of this year, the Newbury Ward gathered to celebrate this momentous anniversary by showcasing their research in an evening of posters and presentations, socialising and soup!

Display at Newbury CH event

Colin Williams from the Newbury Ward spearheaded a research campaign in December 2020, digging deep into the rich historical resources available, to learn about the first missionaries and saints in the area. On his journey of discovery, he organised a group of history enthusiasts from the ward, and reached out to local history groups. The depth of research would not have been possible without the help of The Newbury and District Field Club, The Hungerford Historical Association, and other local experts, who were all very generous with their time. With their help, we were able to pinpoint locations of worship, forgotten streets mentioned in diaries and hidden baptism sites. What started as an individual labour of love, became a wonderful community effort, not just within the Newbury ward itself, but within the local area as a whole.

Henry & Mgt Ballard family

Many of the people involved in the project came along to support it and among its attendants were Church History experts, local history experts, members of the public, and members of the Newbury congregation; old and young, past and present. The event brought old friends together, and new friendships were forged. It also brought people who had not attended church for many years. Our full time missionaries were guests of honour, being the current representatives of the missionary work in this area. They formed part of a long and important legacy of men and women who have walked our local streets, knocked our doors, and brought the message of Jesus Christ to local people for 180 years.

There was a beautiful spirit as we read the posters together, looked at the pictures and listened to the memories of others, all of which helped connect us with those saints from 180 years ago, whom we celebrated. The history of Newbury ward and the church in that part of the country, is compelling, and tells of deep personal struggles as well as intense opposition that the church as a whole faced here; enough to require members to meet together quietly, and be baptised in secret in the middle of the night. Winston Churchill addressed the presence of members gathering in this region in the House of Commons, responding to some discontent, and the fight for a building was one that persisted for many years, with the older members of the current congregation remembering holding meetings and activities in peoples homes, until such times as they had a building of their own.


Familiar names crop up in the Newbury Ward history: James E. Talmage, who grew up in Hungerford, Berkshire, and was baptised in the middle of the night when he was ten years old. Also, Henry Ballard, the great grandfather of Elder M Russell Ballard, who lived just outside of Thatcham, and was baptised in 1849. As we celebrated our past together, it was clear we were all part of a living, breathing history, whose story will be told in future anniversary presentations one day, and whose ripple effects will be felt for generations. We celebrated our part in a beautiful symbiotic cycle of missionary and membership that started in 1843 and continues in 2023. The congregation of people have changed, they have waxed and waned; we’ve gone from meeting in people's homes, to having our very own building, and from being baptised in local rivers and bodies of water in woodland, in the dead of night, to having our very own font, and the freedom to perform those ordinances in daylight. The message that brought us all together in the first place, however, and that unites us with our predecessors, is exactly the same.

Our hope in presenting our history was that those attending might come away feeling part of an intricate tapestry of lives, woven together to create a strong, compassionate, loving congregation, who still, after all this time, believe in the same doctrines and beliefs that William Warner Major taught local people 180 years ago- namely, that Jesus Christ restored His church to the earth, that he has a plan for us, that he loves us, and that he wants everyone in the world to hear that message of hope.