The First 150 YearsClick here for a list of Previous Ministers
In the beginning
The history of the Baptists in Whitstable goes back a long way. The first records show that a Mr Davis of Broadstairs rented the disused Wesleyan chapel in Middle Wall to form a Baptist Church here in 1869. (There are indications that Baptists existed in Whitstable as far back as 1792, although it seems that that venture ceased in 1808.) The work here was difficult and discouraging but the Rev C H Spurgeon sent one of his students to take charge and, later, a friend of Spurgeon came to encourage this little company − 17 people formed the first membership.
In 1874 the work was flourishing sufficiently for the Baptists to buy the chapel from the Wesleyans − after haggling over the price (£500). The history written by Rev R S Burden plots the ups and downs of Whitstable Baptist Church − it closed for a short time in 1889 and, after re-opening, services were often conducted by students from Spurgeon’s college.
Membership was now up to 35 but again there were financial difficulties. Spurgeon gave 10/- (50p) a week to help and a system of pew rents was adopted: 2/- (10p) per quarter in the middle and 1/6 (7½p) at the sides, but a resolution was passed in 1900 to allow free seats to visitors after the first hymn had been sung!
All work & no pay
One of the ministers was appointed with no salary although he did receive the offerings and the pew rents. Fortunately, the situation improved and the following year his salary was set at £80 and a few years later increased to £100. Another indication of the financial difficulties was that the £3 registration fee, required to license the church for weddings, could not be found until 1903. Times were hard!
Plants, Galleries & Extensions
It wasn’t all bad news, though. Throughout the years this Fellowship has sent students to Spurgeon’s (and other colleges) for ministerial training and has sent and supported missionaries abroad. They also “planted” a church at Tankerton − Swalecliffe Free (Baptist) Church. In 1908 they agreed to extend the premises for the Sunday School at a cost of £450 (although it actually cost £640) and a few years later, in 1911, the chapel itself was enlarged by the addition of the vestibule and galleries, which doubled the seating capacity to 350.
According to the records, this improvement was much needed and due, in no small part, to the “exceptional preaching powers” of Rev Roland J W French.
Our ministers were a diverse lot − Rev H Passmore (1891 − 1898) was totally blind and was assisted throughout his very productive ministry by his devoted wife.
In 1913 the church took up an offering for the Titanic Disaster Fund. The first organ was installed at about this time and this was subsequently replaced by the present one in 1923 − some of the current members well remember having to pump the organ before it was electrified.
Church at war
The closeness of Whitstable to the Channel caused concern during the war years but very few meetings were allowed to lapse and some new ones actually began − the Baptist Women’s League was started on 6th June 1940. The premises were hardly damaged at all by enemy action although they were vacated for a short time during which the Freemasons kindly put their hall at the church’s disposal.
It was agreed to purchase a manse in 1945 (for £1150), following the Annual Church Meeting at which it was declared that the balance was the largest on record (but neglected to say how much!)
Read all about it!
Our church magazine, “The Messenger”, was born in 1948 and is still going strong today. (click here to read the latest issue on-line − and earlier ones, too).
In 1951 the church was decorated and the Minutes record, “that £20 be spent extra to add to the beauty and dignity of the church”. Unfortunately, 1953 will be remembered in Whitstable, and elsewhere on the East Coast, as the year of the flood. The church was flooded to a depth of four or five feet − nearly £1000 worth of damage was done and many records were lost. The Fellowship were invited to join with the congregational church while the buildings were repaired.
This was not the first time − in December 1897 hundreds of homes and shops suffered great damage and loss, our church among them was flooded to a depth of four to five feet. Our friends at the congregational church had helped us on that occasion, too!
In 1960 the now-ancient hot water boiler gave up and was replaced by electric heating. Ironically this, too, was replaced quite recently − by a hot water boiler!
Change The Rules
Since the beginning, this church, in common with all Baptist churches, was run by the members − all of which were baptised believers. In 1957, the rules were amended to allow communicant members − those who had not been baptised but who, in all other respects, upheld the principles of our Baptist church.
The first lady deacon was elected in 1962, although the rules had been amended eight years earlier to allow this event − provided that their numbers did not exceed more than 25% of the Diaconate and that they did not serve at communion! (That rule has also been amended!)
Renovate, Decorate and Re-Build
There had been a temporary building standing alongside the church, which was used for Sunday School and a variety of other purposes. It was originally licensed by the council for a period of three years. The license was subsequently renewed − and then renewed again. Twenty something years later the council decided enough was enough! The building would have to come down.
New History Book
For our special Anniversary, in 2009, we produced a new history book (can you have “new” history?) which charts the ups and downs of our church over those first 140 years. It contains the complete text of the two booklets produced for our earlier anniversaries − the 75th (1944) and 100th (1969), and some previously unpublished articles from earlier ministers and members. The final section covers the forty years since 1969 and brings it right up to date (almost!). It costs £5.00 (+vat) and you can order your own copy on-line here.
And this is where we are today, in a lighter, brighter and altogether more attractive place in which to worship God
“Throughout its history Middle Wall has had many faithful and loyal church members and we pray that this succession may long continue thus enabling the church to bear its witness in succeeding generations. What of the future? We can only say that we believe that the same Lord will continue to be with His church to guide and bless it.”
Registered Charity Number: X20357 © Tony Harris 21/07/2019