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Wiltshire Community History

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Old Baptist Chapel, Southwick

Old Baptist Chapel, Southwick Date Photo Taken 2004
Uploaded 15/10/2008 08:11:11
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Map Latitude 51.29502826533429 : Longitude -2.2301065921783447
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

Southwick and North Bradley were home to one of the earliest and largest centres of the Baptist movement in the county. They were represented at Western Baptist Assembly Meeting of 1655 and at that time it was said that the members were numerous and influential. During the time of persecution, from 1660 to 1689 they met in Witch Pit Wood on the Cutteridge estate. This was owned by William Trenchard, died 1710, who was a Justice of the Peace and a Member of Parliament, sympathetic to the Baptist cause.Congregations of 1,000 and more met in a dell under the protection of Trenchard. In 1669 meetings were also being held in a field, attracting between 200 and 300 people, while in that year Major William King built a meeting house called Pig Hill Barn. This was on the road between Bradley and Southwick, near to Scotland, and could accommodate between 800 and 1,000 people. It was near Pig Hill Farm House, owned by Anthony Bissie, who came from an influential and ancient local family. He was a Baptist himself and was able to afford protection to the meeting. It was used until 1688, and probably to 1709, being only demolished in the 19th century.

By 1671 as many as 2,000 Baptists were meeting at Southwick and Brokerswood; many hundreds of these came from other parishes. In 1672 Thomas Collier, the great itinerent Baptist preacher, was licensed to preach at Southwick and Bradley. In 1676 it was recoreded that 340 out of the 440 inhabitants were nonconformists. Apart from the above many details up to 1689 are unknown although it is likely that large numbers of Trowbridge people worshipped here before a Baptist chapel was built in that town. After 1689 the congregation could worship freely but numbers declined as chapels were built in other parishes. In 1707 a new chapel was built on the land of John Miller. This measured 30 feet by 16 feet, by 9 feet high; it was a thatched building with a gallery over the door. Sited in front of the present chapel it attracted a congregation of 300 people within a few years. The church declined under Thomas Sayer (1744-85) and little is known about it at this time.

It revived under his successor, William Norris, son of a local man who was 77 when William was born. A new chapel was built behind the old one in 1815, the foundation stone being laid on 15th May.The Chapel is in brick with stone windows and doorways, and a slate roof. The old chapel was demolished and some of the better materials were reclaimed to build a vestry at the back of the new chapel. The chapel was dedicated on 31st October 1815, certified as a meeting house in February 1816 and paid for by 1817. The church here prospered and on Census Sunday in 1851 there was an evening congregation of 370, while the Sunday School had 120 pupils. In 1861 the pastor, Henry Nightingale left after disputes with the greater part of the congregation. Some members left with him and formed the Providence Baptist Chapel, but this had little effect on numbers at the Old Baptist Chapel. In 1872 the chapel was modernised. From 1879 the pastor was William Doel, whose parents and grandparents were members of the church and who attended Sunday School there. He collected materials on the history of the chapel, later extending this to other Baptist chapels in western Wiltshire, and in 1890 published these histories in 'Twenty Golden Candlesicks!' The chapel continues to thrive, ministering to the people of Southwick.

Pictured here is the open air baptistry.

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