The extract below was sent to me by Sue Vernall who is researching her ancestry in the Villages. They have been published in Generation which is a New South Wales Genealogy Magazine.
This book being intended to preserve a regular list of all children now belonging to the Sunday School at Providence Chapel Penknap - and all those who shall be admitted thereafter. It is considered desirable that a brief history of this school, from it's commencement to the present time should be inserted here as an introduction to be seen in the future by those who may use or examine these records.
And by having the past in review in reference to this school well may it be asked, "Who hath despised the day of small things" with the firm belief that whatever it attempted for the Glory of God and for the present and eternal welfare of his creatures, and conducted under the simple direction of his word and under the auspicious influence of the Redeemer's Gospel Kingdom, the blessings of heaven will vouchsafe it's ultimate triumph and success.
It is fresh in the memory of many now living that Providence Chapel was built during and opened at the end of the Summer of 1810. While it was building or when nearly completed several of the members and friends who were sincerelt atached (sic) to the ministry of the Revd. George Phillips, being advised by him and encouraged by his evangelical and enterprising spirit were disposed to collect and teach a ceratin number of ignorant children belonging to Marsh Dilton and Leigh - until some time after the chapel was opened this school was conducted every Sabbath in certain shops that were unoccupied belonging to Madam Ballard near Pippins Bridge. This was the first Sunday School attempted this side of Westbury. The good people of Westbury Leigh Chapel (who had succeeded to expel Mr. Phillips from them) being provoked by the information of this school and by his (Mr. Phillips') friends, to love and good works, were also induced to set up a Sunday School there in very short time after. This school was removed from the shops to Providence Chapel as soon as it became tolerably well fitted with pews and was conducted in it for 25 years. The first person who acted as Superintendant was Mr. Stephen Adlam to whom by way of acknowledgement for several years a few of the friends made a small present of money at Christmas. But when he resigned it, Mr Thomas Curtis, Mr John Harris of Hisomly, Mr John Harris of Clay Close, Mr William Ball of Dilton Marsh, and Mr Samuel Tucker superintended the school alternatively for a short time. Then for some years the charge of superintendance devolved more exclusively on Mr Thomas Curtis until 1822, who was then succeeded by Mr Elias Millard the present superintendant. The hours of attendance being always from nine o' clock to half past ten on each Lord's Day morning, and from quarter past one to half past two in the afternoon. (The afternoon time for teaching since the opening of our new school room has been extended until a quarter to three o' clock.) The number of children in attendance during those years avaraged (sic) from 100 to 180 or 190. It is worthy of observation that many of those who were taught to read in this school have been called by grace, are now members of the church, and some have died happy in the Lord. Others tho' scattered in the world and become respectable members of society, and all have read or heard sentiments of Bible truth here in their childhood which it is hoped they will never be allowed wholly to forget. The majority by far of those instructed in this school, being the children of weavers, subject to regular weekly labour while very young, never had any other education by which they could learn to read.
Reckoning then, at the low rate of 100 children being taught here every three years, full 900 now grown or growing up into life may be considered to be indebted to this school during the space of 27 years perhaps for all the religious instructions they ever had in the world.
In the Spring of 1835, two years now since, the hurch and congregation guided by the officers and trustees of the place, resolved to put into execution what had long been needed and as long desired and contemplated, only the means and convenience were wanting, namely, to enlarge the burial ground and build a school room behind the chapel. Land being obtained from the adjoining field, enclosed about 28 roods or poles, which made the purchase deeds cost upwards of fifty pounds. The burial ground which was before of a triangular form was now made square, the chapel was lengthened 12 feet and a half, and the school room erected, measuring the breadth of the chapel 32 feet by 25 in the clear.
The entire expenses of building and purchse amounted to 454 pounds which expense has been met and paid for by various efforts at home and some liberal assistance from some neighbouring towns and churches - excepting about 140 pounds which remains a debt at this time. These facts seem to deserve a place here, as the leading object that caused them to transpire was the errection (sic) of our convenient schoolroom.
It should also be recorded that Mr. John Hopkins one of the trustees and an original member and supporter of Providence Chapel came from London on purpose and spent two months gratuitously on the spot to superintend all the proceedings owing to whose care and judgement very strict economy was observed and secured throughout.
It is likewise worthy of being recorded here, that the school was regularly conducted for several months while the schoolroom was errecting (sic) and the chapel enlarged, in the large old dwelling house by Pippins Bridge, which being empty was kindly and gratuitously lent by rs. Harris of Diltons Marsh during the occasion.
Since the opening of the schoolroom the school has increased and appears to be in a flourishing condition. Alomst all the present teachers, amounting to about 40 were formerly scholars in this school; so that under the blessing of God, it has grown to nourish itself. Since the increase of the school to 200 children it was deemed expedient to appoint a secretary as coadjuter with the superintendant to which office Edward Curtis was elected by the teachers.
For several years after the commencement of this school its current expenses were defrayed by private subscriptions made by a few of the leading freinds without a public collection, but now as for many years past a public collection is annually made to meet the expenses of books, reward books and a treat of some cakes etc. given to the children at Christmas. In this collection the church and congregation usually distinguish themselves for liberality (not withstanding their deep poverty) and long may they continue in this to abound.
In closing this brief account we may therefore say, "hitherto the Lord has helped us". What has God wrought. Not unto us, not unto us but to Thy Name O Lord give Glory for thy truth and mercy sake.
Many of the fathers where are they; their bodies rest in the grave and their spirits we trust, with Christ which is far better. May the children who are at present instructed rise up a seed to praise the Lord. And let all the teachers now engaged delight to do the work and to call the Lord blessed. Saying from heartfelt experience:-
Lord how delightful tis to see,
A flock of children praising thee,
At once they sing at once they pray,
They hear of heaven and learn the way.
SIGNED: March 5, 1837
Shem Evans (Minster)
Elias Millard (Superintendant)
Edward Curtis (Secretary)