The origins of the Valley Church stretch back to the 1800’s and the Taskers Iron Works. Taskers owned the Waterloo Iron Works in the village of Anna Valley. In 1867, Taskers opened the Waterloo Workmen’s Hall.
The purposes for which the Waterloo Workmen’s Hall was provided were briefly outlined by the chairman, Mr. W. Tasker, Junior.
- For the physical comfort of the men employed at the Iron Works.
- For their mental improvement, by compiling a library, holding “penny readings”, evening classes and concerts. A Sunday School was proposed also.
- For their moral benefit, by elevating their tastes, and providing a wholesome alternative to the village alehouse.
The hall was built right opposite the Plough Inn which eventually closed as the Workmen’s Hall became the centre of life in Anna Valley, both spiritual and social. The day school was moved to the building and in 1893 the building was extended to provide a “smoke room” and a coffee bar. Most of Sunday the place was closed, except for the Sunday school, as the Workmen’s Hall had not originally been intended as a place of worship.
The hall in Anna Valley never had the feeling of being “a consecrated building”. Rather the Tasker family knew that the real church was the people who had become Christians in the locality. The building in Anna Valley was simply an outworking of their Christian faith and their care and concern for their employees. The Workmen’s Hall was intended to provide for the needs of the whole man, for wholesome entertainment as well as Bible studies, for village celebrations as well as education.
Eminent Christians including Hudson Taylor the founder of the China Inland Mission (now known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship) were among the excellent speakers who came to the hall in Anna Valley, often through the assistance of the Evangelisation Society.
Prayer and personal evangelism were also key driving forces in Mr Tasker’s life and he often took others with him to preaching engagements in the surrounding district. He also taught others how to prepare sermons, and how to conduct service so that later they went off on their own, to preach in the villages around, often in a farmhouse or cottage or in the open air. The church meeting in Anna Valley has always provided a steady stream of local preachers, and in fact, has been responsible for the opening of regular services elsewhere. One such work established from Anna Valley was the setting up of the mission hall on the main road in Ludgershall, which had its official opening in 1904. This aspect of prayer, evangelism, training, preaching and planting churches continues as part of the work of the Valley Church to this very day.
In 1892 the first baptism of a born-again Christian took place in the brook of Ann, and prior to the building of the baptistry in the Anna Valley Hall in the late 1980’s, the brook was a common place for the baptism of Christian converts. From 1894 to 1965 a weekend bible convention was held on the annual August Bank Holiday at the hall in Anna Valley, to which many Christians from the surrounding districts came.
Shortly after the First World War the Mission hall property was invested in a group of Trustees and the financial responsibilities for the maintenance of the hall and its activities was shouldered by the local church, the name being changed to “Anna Valley Mission Hall”. Only for one very brief period was there a paid worker connected with it. Rather church officers and deacons were elected annually to arrange services, distribute funds to the poor, visit the sick and maintain the testimony to a living Saviour.
When Messrs Taskers of Andover (1932) was formed provision was made on their property across the road from the Hall for canteen and recreational facilities. So for some time the Anna Valley Hall has no longer been a “Workmen’s Hall”. The day school was also one of the many smaller schools closed by the education authorities between the two world wars (closure of village schools is not a modern recent event!).
Over the last two decades much has happened in the life of the church originating in Anna Valley. In 1983, the twenty or so people still meeting faithfully in the hall in Anna Valley believed that it was right to call a paid worker to lead the church to help it in its task of proclaiming the gospel to Anna Valley and the surrounding neighbourhood. God clearly confirmed that the man for this task was Mr. Philip Bush, the son of one of the members of the church who was at the time teaching in the north of England. After much work by church members in renovating Eastern House for the Bush family, Philip Bush was inducted as pastor of the Anna Valley Church, then known as the Waterloo Free Church, in August 1983. A period of growth followed and the membership of the church increased and the premises in Anna Valley were enhanced. After six years, Philip and his wife, left the church to serve God in a short-term placement with WEC International (a missionary society) at a school for missionary children in Senegal in September 1989. During his time at the church Philip established other elders as part of the leadership team and, when he left for Senegal the work in Anna Valley was continued by the remaining elders.
In October 1991, these elders appointed Bernard Sanders, from the Winchester Family Church, as the paid leader of the church, which once again led to increased growth. The church then appointed James Hodson in September 1992 to work alongside Bernard and the other elders in developing the work of the church. The church meeting in Anna Valley has always wanted to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible in the locality. As an expression of this, and also in recognition of the fact that more people in the church lived outside Anna Valley than in it, the church name was changed to The Valley Church, Andover in 1993. Increasing numbers in the church, following a successful Tent Mission between Roman Way and Cricketers Way, meant that the premises in Anna Valley were no longer suitable for all the meetings of the church and in October 1993 the church started holding its Sunday morning meetings in the Winton School in Andover. Also, continuing its history of planting new churches in surrounding areas, a new church, Jubilee Church, was started in Salisbury by Bernard Sanders, together with a group of people from Salisbury who had been meeting with the Valley Church, in April 1995. Later another church, Newbury Family Church, was planted out in Newbury by Bernard with a couple from Andover and three people from his old church in Winchester.
Meanwhile the Valley Church in Andover purchased premises in Bridge Street from Test Valley Borough Council and renovated the building as The Bridge Community Building. This project was partly funded by the development of the site in Anna Valley as a residential site, but the rest of the funding was raised by donations from the members and mortgages. The first part of the building opened was The Vine Book Shop in January 1998, with the Coffee Shop and the rest of the building opening in January 1999. The building is now the base for four charities, with the possibility of another one moving in during 2009. It is also well used by other charities and agencies for training, meetings and community activities. The Valley Church also uses the building for meetings on occasions, but has normally met as House Churches around Andover since 1998, when it stopped meeting regularly at Winton School.