How it all began…
Written by Eileen Bell and Jeannie Rookley in 1989.
‘Eileen Bell (née Spiller) and Jeannie Rookley met when they were both 29 at Romsey House Bible College, Cambridge, in 1967. Both had felt led to go there in order to study realistically the foundations of their Christian faith, so that they would be better equipped to share that faith in teaching and training young people. Prior to that, Eileen had worked at her parents’ farm and guest house (three miles outside Seaton) and had been involved in a local Christian youth group. Jeannie had been teaching Mathematics for eight years and had spent the last three years as a resident at the Mayflower Family Centre, where David Sheppard (now Bishop of Liverpool) was the Warden.
After only one term at Romsey House, their friendship developed to the point where they were praying together for “a little cottage by the sea in the West Country where we can invite people to stay and tell them about Jesus”. During the Christmas vacation Eileen shared this idea with some close friends of hers – John and Audrey Anning (John has since been our accountant for 21 years). They immediately told her about a young Christian solicitor called John Perowne who had just bought a house which he wanted to be used for the Lord’s work. John Perowne had, in fact, been to a wedding in Exeter, and used the opportunity to look at properties in the area. An estate agent in Seaton told him about Upcott, which was divided into two flats. One of them was for sale, and the other was expected to be available soon. When he looked at Upcott, John felt that this was the place the Lord wanted him to buy, so he went ahead and bought both flats as they became available. Eileen was prepared to follow any leading from the Lord, and through the Annings was able to see Upcott at Easter. When she first saw Upcott, her first thoughts were, “Help Lord, we weren’t praying for a house that big!” But second thoughts were, “I wonder if…”
Back at college, Eileen and Jeannie continued to pray together regularly, with more and more emphasis on “Upcott” as a possible venue and with faith and excitement growing in their hearts. In May they went to visit John and his mother, Lady Perowne, in London, and John told them he wanted the house to be used for some kind of Christian work. He was prepared to let them move in that September, which gave them a few months for God’s will to be confirmed.
Two respected and mature Christians were consulted at this stage – Mrs Habermann, the Principal of Romsey House Bible College, and David Sheppard, the Warden of the Mayflower Family Centre. They challenged both the girls’ motives and their calling, and also drew their attention to the many problems and responsibilities ahead. As Eileen and Jeannie prayed over their advice, they became more and more convinced that it was right to go ahead. Neither of them had much money nor any experience in running such a place, but both felt that the responsibility was not theirs, but God’s, and their part was a response to His ability.
And so it has proved down through the years. There have been many ups and downs, much hard work, and pressure of people and time. But there has also been the joy of seeing God changing the lives of people in whom He is at work, taking all the responsibility and working out His purposes. Truly when God launches a sailing ship, all the crew has to do is trim the sails: the rest is up to him!
One week before they moved in, Jeannie was offered a job at Queen Elizabeth School, Crediton, teaching Maths! With great excitement, enthusiasm and faith (and very little else!) they moved into Upcott on 8th September 1968. On 9th, term began and Jeannie went off to school. Eileen was left to unpack and prepare for the first visitor – due the next day!
So that’s how it all began. And now looking back over the 21 years that have passed, we have so much to thank and praise God for. Over the years, the work at Upcott has grown into a team ministry backed up by committed Trustees from different denominations, all of whom have been involved in the work for many years.
“This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.”’