Bideford Baptist Church 200th Anniversary

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200 years of Baptists in Bideford

These words have been taken from a book produced in 1964 when our present building was opened.

In July 1818 Opie Smith Esquire of Bath visited this town and encouraged and assisted the few Baptists here to rent and fit up a large room for the purpose of public worship, preaching etc...The room we are told had been a malt house, possibly the rear of 10 Mill Street. Occasional services were held for about three years, but little progress seems to have been made.

Then … we were afterwards assisted by Mr Thomas Pulsford of Torrington, Mr J O Mitchell of Barnstaple and Mr William Harris of Bray Ford.  On the 20th April two persons were Baptised in the River Torridge by Mr Pulsford and these with eight others were formed into a Church.  The two baptized were Mrs Maria Wedge and Mr Israel Down, the place in the Torridge was at the foot of Bull Hill. Later that same year in August three women were baptized in the river at Crosspark. The church was officially formed in 1821. Meetings continued to be held in Mill Street, but things did not go well for the young Church and in January 1825 it was dissolved.

 

On May 7th 1829 the Church was reformed and this time as premises a coal -store in Honestone Street was used. Mr Lamerton who surveyed the Church’s history in a paper given at a Young Life Campaign Meeting in October 1930 suggests that “Methodist fire and Baptist water combined to form steam and the church made progress!” A Church Covenant was formulated and a Minister was officially appointed in the person of Mr Christopher Passmore(Autumn 1828-May 1830)  Mr Robert Pyne 1830-1835.

Marked progress and prosperity are reported and in 1837 when Rev John H Osborne became Minister so much so that the Church was evidently strong enough to build its first Chapel(our old building) in Back Lane now called Lower Gunstone.

                                           

The building of the Chapel started on 9th August 1837 and was opened on June 14th 1838. The Chapel was enlarged in 1838  . During the years to 1848 there had been much thought about the Communion at this time. Open Communion was agreed by the Church. In April 1848 there is a resolution that Tent Wine be used and then in the following month we read in the Church minutes;” Resolved that the Wine Purchased at Mr Wickham’s be analysed before being brought to the Table.

 

Sunday School: As far as the Sunday School is concerned, it met in the chapel (there were no other premises) boys in the gallery and girls downstairs. Discipline was ‘tough’ Unruly boys got a ‘cuffing’ and if they were particularly bad they were relegated to the ‘pulpit stairs’ a place no doubt in full view of the girls and their derisive titters. Heating of the premises was poor and often withheld altogether even in very cold weather to save money or work.

The schoolrooms were added in 1866 but had no classrooms or kitchen. This tells us that the number of children attending was rapidly increasing. During 1887 repairs and alterations had to be done to the chapel, the Mayor of Bideford at the time A Duncan Esq kindly granted the use of the Town Hall for our Sunday Services. October 1892 the membership was around 200 but all was not always “in the garden lovely” and letters were sent out  requesting better  attendance at church meetings as in September only 32 had been at a particular meeting.

 Musical accompaniment : was provide by at one point two flutes and a bass viola. Later on a Harmonium and then a small organ bought from the Church School in Old Town. In the closing years of the nineteenth century it was decided that the Church must have an organ of good quality and big efforts were made to transform the front of the church. A new organ loft was prepared and a new organ costing £240 bought. Various other changes were made including the provision of a new baptistry. The Church had now 570 sittings. The new organ was first played in public on July 26th 1899 when Miss Annie Williams L.R.A.M. gave a recital. Many events took place in this building until it was demolished in the early sixties. The schoolrooms remained in use until the late 1970’s when it was also demolished.   Radio broadcast services were held in 1948,1949,1956,1962. and many other meetings.

God had plans back in 1818/21 that Mill Street was the place He wanted His Church.

Our present building : The vision started back in November 1920 when the land with Hillgarden Temperance Hotel on in  Mill Street was purchased. Fund raising began and it was agreed that half the cost of a new building should be raised before any work actually began. The Hillgarden premises were let to various tenants. In January 1934 it was recommended the demolition of the building and two or four shops (which turned out to be four) be built on each side of the existing buildings leaving a road opening running back to where at some point in the future a new church will be built. Another thirty years passed before the present building was built.

The first turf was cut on a cold December morning in 1963.

The Foundation stone was laid on 8th April 1964.

The church opened on Wednesday 14th October 1964.

We continued to use the original school rooms until this was pulled down. The foundation stone was laid for the Church Centre on 6th June 1980 and opened 30th May 1981 (At the same time Hillgarden Flats were built,  but are now nothing to do with the church)

There have been changes to the inside of the church over the years as we maintain the fabric and care for our buildings.

The first Minister in this building when it opened in October 1964 was Revd Alan Fleetwood.

Our present Minister Revd Adrian Lloyd came to us in November 2019 and is the 27th Baptist Minister to serve God here in Bideford.

Over the years may events have taken place and continue to do so :Sunday Services and Children's Work, Prayer and Bible Study Groups. (Rope holders  for younger children  and Seven One Five for teenagers were held)  Flower Festivals, Plays, Musicals, Coffee mornings and so the list goes on.

Over the past eighteen months we have continued with meetings via Zoom and services on youtube thanks to modern technology when we have not been able to meet in the building.

 Our buildings are regularly used by other organisations .  We must remember that the buildings are bricks and mortar the people are the Church.

The vision of those involved at the start back in 1818/21 listened to what God was saying to them, prayed, raised money as still happens today before any work began.

God’s work never stops as His Church ‘the people’ of today   we can look back and give thanks, remember the past. 

                                                   

Be ready willing and able to work in the present. In the coming weeks we will be opening the church Monday -Saturday from 10 until 12  for prayer and quite time.

Looking to the future we must continue to pray and listen to God so that the work here in Bideford goes on for many more years.

We give all the Glory to God that we are here today.