A Brethren assembly was established in Woolpit, Suffolk, in 1841. Prior to this, meetings had begun in the nearby village of Tostock in 1839 where a local landowner, Mrs. Brown, had a house with a barn and granary licenced for Dissenting worship, although it has been suggested that Anglican clergy were initially invited to preach there. These meetings took on an increasingly Brethren character and drew worshippers from surrounding villages, some converted under the ministry of a Captain Towers.
The Meeting Rooms at Woolpit were erected for the use of believers and the building had space to accommodate 300 worshippers. It included a cottage, stables and there was an adjoining burial ground. A significant Brethren community developed at Woolpit which reflected the strong Brethren presence being established in West Suffolk as a whole. The Suffolk returns from the census of religious worship of 1851 recorded an average of 100 worshippers at morning meetings. The records show that the Woolpit Assembly attracted worshippers from further afield, for example a large number of believers came to Woolpit from Rawstorne Street, London, in 1844. It is believed that John Nelson Darby and George Vicesimus Wigram may have preached at the Woolpit Meeting Rooms.
The collection includes a series of letters from 1869 to 1874, a number of which were written by G.V. Wigram to the Woolpit Brethren claiming that he was the true landlord of the premises at Woolpit. The Brethren replied objecting that the room and the cottage had been built by Mrs. Brown for the use of the believers meeting there. Wigram was the 20th child of Sir Robert Wigram, a prominent Irish merchant and shipowner in Wexford and London. G.V. Wigram wished to take orders in the Church of England but was refused as a result of his extreme evangelical beliefs. He met John Nelson Darby in Oxford in 1827, joining the Brethren at this time. Wigram was later instrumental in supporting Darby when he split from the majority of the Brethren in the late 1840s to form the Exclusive Brethren which rejected the fellowship and open communion of the Open Brethren.
The archive contains an obituary of Henry Heath who became a significant figure in the Woolpit Brethren. While working as a school master in Tawstock, Devon, and studying for holy orders, Heath met Robert Cleaver Chapman, pastor and evangelist, who himself became an influential figure in the Brethren. Chapman invited Heath to Bible readings at his home at No.9 New Buildings, Barnstaple, and this was the beginning of Heath's involvement in the Brethren. After working with Chapman in Barnstaple, Heath moved to Hackney in London in 1848 where he played a central role in the Brethren assembly. He came to Woolpit from Hackney in the early 1870s to conduct the funeral service of the evangelist Captain Towers. Heath remained at Woolpit until his death in 1900 and it is reported that people came from 15 different villages to worship under his ministry and he was responsible for the establishment of a number of congregations in local villages.
On 26 January 1906 the Meeting Room was registered as a place of religious worship and on 17 February the same year it was registered as a building for the solemnization of marriages.
The papers also include an obituary of Arthur Cecil Rhodes Pitter, the son of a Church of England minister who was born in Jamaica in 1844. Pitter joined the army in 1862 and on leaving in 1872 became a gospel preacher. In 1875 Pitter moved to Tonbridge in Kent where he worked with Mr. John Maxted evangelising local villages and he married Maxted's daughter during this period. Pitter spent a number of years in Kent and Eastbourne and then moved to London in 1894, largely working in the East End. He spent the last five years of his life in charge of the work at the 'Woolpit Room' until his death on 20 November 1922. Pitter was buried at the Woolpit burial ground and approximately 300 friends from various assemblies attended the service.
The minute book and appointment books in the collection provide details of the more recent services, meetings and social events held by the Woolpit Open Brethren Assembly who celebrated their 150th anniversary in April 1991.