Wychwood Baptist Church

Baptist History

(based on extracts from “A History of the English Baptists” by Underwood)

A John Smyth is attributed with being the first English Baptist. In 1606 he separated from the Church of England and formed a non-conformist congregation. John Smyth and those who followed him wished to worship according to their own conscience and be guided by the New Testament model of church life and governance and not dictated to by the State church.

His immediate successor Thomas Helwyn having established the first Baptist church in Spitfield just outside the City of London, sent a demand to the King (James 1) for universal religious liberty. Stating that no one had the right to persecute others for their religious beliefs for which only individuals themselves were accountable to God. In an age when persecution of those who did not conform to the States dictates on religion was the norm it was not surprising that he was immediately imprisoned, where he died shortly afterwards.

Antagonism between the King and Archbishop and the non-conformists’, who grew in numbers, continued until the Civil war when new found liberties allowed much greater freedom and the official authorisation of Baptist and other non-conformist worship places.

On the return of the King (Charles 11) in 1660 persecution returned, many Baptists were imprisoned and others emigrated against a background of being excluded from being allowed freedom of worship and amongst other things the ability to serve in the Civil Service or Armed forces.

In the 1670’s the King eased the laws and allowed non-conformist “teachers” and meeting places to be recognised officially and John Bunyan (author of Pilgrims Progress) and other Baptists to be released from prison. There was another period of persecution when James 11 was on the throne but he put out a Declaration of Indulgence in 1687, suspending all penal laws on ecclesiastical matters. The jails were emptied, chapels were built and since that date there has been no active persecution of non-conformists.

In the reign of William and Mary a Toleration Act (1689) was passed abolishing compulsory attendance at the services of the Church of England but the exclusion of non-conformists (Dissenters) from some sectors of public life continued.

In the 18th century churches were established throughout the country, mention being made of Bourton on the Water where Benjamin Bedome (1717-1798) was a minister for over 50 years. (early in the 19th century it was a lady, formerly a member of the Bourton Baptist church who lived in Milton u Wychwood, Ann Upstone, who was instrumental in starting non-conformist meetings in the home of Mr Pill in Upper Milton).

During the 18th century there was a religious revival mainly associated with the growth of Methodism under the leadership of John Wesley. Baptists were divided into two main groups at this time, the Particular Baptists and the General Baptists and it wasn’t until the 19th century that the two groups merged.

Growth in non-conformist churches continued into the 19th century and missionary societies were formed for foreign and home evangelism. William Carey was one of those who promoted mission in India. One of the most well known Baptist preachers during the Victorian era was Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). On one occasion in 1861 he preached to over 23,000 people in Crystal Palace.

The mission initiatives link in with our own history. The first Pastor of what was then the Milton u Wychwood Baptist church John Hirons had been a missionary in Russia where he was imprisoned then expelled and became a Home Missionary in the Wychwood area before becoming the Baptist Pastor in 1837 when a church was formed with five members. Prior to this the local Baptists had been members of Burford Baptist Church coming under the Pastorate of John Smith. An early feature of the activities of the local Baptists was the start of a Sunday School of which it was said that “nearly all the inhabitants of the village (in the 19th century) had at some time been scholars”. Edwin Groves brother of Alfred Groves was an early superintendant of the Sunday School and a memorial to his memory describes him as “Apt to teach; patient”.

The Sunday School was part of the Cotswold Sunday School Union formed by various Free Church Sunday Schools in the Cotswold area. It is reported that in 1908 when the Union celebrated its jubilee, 5,000 people gathered in the Moreton-in-Marsh cricket field including 2,000 Sunday School children.

A church building that had been constructed in 1808 in Milton u Wychwood was replaced in 1839 by the current building as the congregation outgrew the old building. In 1867 this was added to by the construction of a School Room used for the Sunday School and let out during the week for community activities which later included a Council Infant School. In 1889 to mark the Jubilee of the church building a Jubilee house was constructed in what is now Jubilee Lane as a manse for the Pastor.

Original Trustees of the current church building (1839)
(elected from the congregation)

William Huckvale, Grange Farm, Bruern
Sampson Pratt, Bruern Abbey
William Pratt, Tangley
Edward Upstone, Upper Milton
Thomas Palmer, Bourton on the Water
Thomas Groves, Lower Milton
Thomas Coles, Chadlington
Thomas Clark, Lower Milton
John Coulling, Lower Milton

Beliefs of early Baptists (extracts from “A History of the English Baptists” by Underwood)

P32 Towards the end of the 16th century groups within the Reformation Puritan movement separated from the State Church maintaining that the Church should consist of men and women who had consciously dedicated themselves to Jesus Christ and his service not all the persons baptised in the parish.

P37 As the 17th century began the first Baptist Pastor John Smyth’s conviction was that the New Testament taught that baptism should follow profession of faith, should precede admission to church membership and that the Bible knew nothing of infant baptism.

P81 In Cromwell’s time the in the middle to the 17th century the majority of Baptists took exception to the idea of a State Church which they thought as inconsistent with the fundamental principle that a true Church is a voluntary association of believers, each congregation being autonomous under the headship of Jesus Christ guided by the truth contained in the Bible.