Baptists in Eastern Essex

Burnham on Crouch, Southminster and Tillingham Baptist Churches


Burnham Baptist ChurchBurnham Baptist Church

From the mid 1400's some people were having doubts about religion as taught by the Catholic Church not least because most services were conducted in Latin which few people understood.

By the 1500's English translations of the New Testament were being circulated despite severe punishment by the state if people were caught with the translations.

Non conformist prayer meeting were held in secret throughout the County.

Even with the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne and the adoption of a protestant church did not stifle objectors, who were empowered by an understanding of the New Testament, to enforced worship.

The first Baptist Church in the UK was founded in 1612 at Spittlefields, London although the congregation were persecuted and imprisoned.

In the Book Baptist Churches in  Essex ( 1932) Dr W T Whitely who carried out historical research into the Baptists  suggested " The evangelisations that began in Essex with 1639 was the origin of the Baptist Church at Burnham on Crouch.

In the following years a number of Burnham People appeared before Quarter Sessions for non attendance at church and refusing to pay their church rates.

In 1684 The Church authorities accused local fisherman , John Lewis of leading a Baptist Group that were sufficiently organised to have a burial ground in the garden of Thomas Glace, a dipping pool for baptism run by William Couch and a school run by Mary and William Diamond.

In 1689 John Couch , a Burnham man was appointed as National Treasurer of the new Baptist Church.

The members of the church continued to grow so that by that start of the records held by Burnham Baptist Church there were 93 members in 1691 which put pressure on meetings as they continued to be held quietly in houses and outbuildings

By 1712 when the climate towards nonconformists had improved and the Baptists were able to opened a dedicated meeting place at the Jews Well house (a now demolished building that was  immediately to the east of the Clock tower in High Street). This building was used as a meeting place until 1789 when ,after the death of Ham Stacey, the membership had declined to just 4 persons which meant that the bills were not sustainable and the Baptist returned to meetings in their houses.

In 1786 the Essex Baptist Churches met and agreed to form an association of Essex Baptist Churches.

The Churches involved were Braintree, Burnham on Crouch, Coggeshall, Colchester, Earls Colne, Harlow, Langham, Potter Street, Ridgewell, Saffron Walden, Waltham Abbey and Haverhill from Suffolk.

Pastor Luke Davies was sent to Burnham on Crouch in 1794.

He immediately carried out evangelical work with the help of the existing four members and quickly established a large enough group to re- open the meeting house as a Baptist Chapel



Southminster Old Baptist Church

In 1797 a 20 year old man called John Garrington was baptised at Burnham. He held the post of Town Schoolmaster but managed to play a vital part in the running of the church. On two occasions he was offered the job as Pastor of the Church and despite initial refusals accepted the role in 1811 remaining as Pastor until 1855.

During his stewardship the Church continued to grow in size of congregation and facilities

Rev Garrington did much to establish Evangelical Religion in Eastern Essex as illustrated by the following story from the Baptist Magazine  of 1830 of the establishment of a Baptist Church at Marsh Road, Tillingham.

Mr Garrington the Pastor of the Church at Burnham was returning from London by coach in July 1816  when he became acquainted with a Baptist friend who was going to Bradwell on business.

Their conversation turned principally to the state of religion in that neighbourhood.

The next day being Sabbath his friend witnessed with sorrow the total destitution of everything like the gospel of Christ and took the early opportunity of going to Burnham and urging on Mr Garrington the need to introduce the gospel there.

This led Mr Garrington to pray and ask for  divine direction and look out for a room and one was opened in Nov 1817.

Here the preaching was continued for two years by Mr Bailey and after his removal by  Mr Haynes employed by the Essex Itinerant society.

Those who were converted were added to the church at Burnham.

Mr Haynes left and was not replaced with the responsibility for the members returned to Mr Garrington.

This coincided with a  period of illness for Mr Garrington which meant that he was unable to spend much of his time at Bradwell.

Mr Wesley who was a lay member who had been converted by Mr Bailey stepped into the breach and led services.

Brother Wesley led their devotions and preached to them with great acceptance.

he has now been engaged for about 4 years preaching five times a week during which period between 20 and 30 people have been called to the knowledge of the truth and the fellowship within the church.

The place overflows with hearers and their list of Sunday School is 180.

In 1810 John Haddon was sent to Southminster where he commenced evangelical work to raise a congregation and succeeded even living rent free with a church member called Sarjeant Wilson .

Baptist ministers continued to lodge with members of the church for many years at Southminster as no house seems to have been provided and ministers salaries were too low to allow them to buy or rent a house unless they had independent means. In 1871 Rev Thomas Jones is listed in the census as living with church member William Ely.

In 1860 the membership was high enough to raise funds and to build a Church in North Street, Southminster.

By 1829, William Colins, The Baptist Minister at Burnham estimated his congregation at 40 people.

On Tuesday 28 September 1830  at Tillingham, Essex a Baptist Church was formed with 35 persons. Mr George Wesley was ordained as their pastor.

Mr C R Blackett Pastor of the Independant Baptist Church at Southminster led the service.

The annual report for Baptist in 1835 provided some data on the churches

Burnham on Crouch - 49 members , 110 hearers and 37 children at Sunday School

Tillingham - 63 members - 450 hearers but no Sunday school members listed

Southminster was still independent and so no data is listed.

In 1861 the Peoples History of Essex lists 28 Baptist Chapels in Essex including Burnham and Tillingham.

By 1864 the number of churches in the Association had risen from 12 to nearly 70 but the Association was split between factions and was dissolved.

Ten Churches met and agreed to form the Essex Baptist Union to replace the Association.

The Churches involved were Ashdon, Braintree, Burnham on Crouch, Colchester, Earls Colne, Halstead Head Street, Halstead North Street, Langley, Sible Hedingham and Thaxted.

The other churches including Southminster continued to operate as independent Baptist Churches.

Burnham established a band of hope for young  people  which grew to large numbers meaning that they had to rent extra rooms locally for bible reading classes on Sunday afternoons and hold an additional service at 7am to fit all the worshipers into the church.

By 1904 Southminster Church led by Rev G T Ennals had  joined the Union and provided practical as well as spiritual help to the poor by setting up a soup kitchen.

In the same year Burnham was led by Rev Charles Gooding who was so inspirational a figure that attendance far outweighed their facilities and the current Baptist Church was built.

Southminster continued to grow in strength under the leadership of Rev F R W Heath  and S W Sawday up to World war One.

Tragedy struck the Congregational Church at Southminster when it was destroyed by a German Mine.

Talks between the Baptists and Congregationalists in Southminster agreed that they should join together to worship and both religions used the Baptist Chapel in Burnham Road.

As years went on the congregation grew and the old chapel was sold for use as a house and a new United Reform Church was built in North Street, Southminster close to the spot of the original Congregational Church.


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