Wednesday, 20 April 2022

The ‘nonconformist’ traditions
continue in the story of three
churches in Stony Stratford

Stony Stratford Community Church … the Baptist presence dates back to the 1650s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In recent weeks, I have written about many of the churches in Stony Stratford, including the parish church, Saint Mary and Saint Giles (and here), the surviving tower of the former Saint Mary Magdalen Church, the former Saint Mary the Virgin Church on London Road, now the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Ambrose and Saint Stylianos, and the Catholic parish Church of Saint Mary Magdalene at the north end of High Street.

But Stony Stratford also has three churches that represent the three main strands in the English ‘non-conformist’ traditions: the Baptists, the Methodists and the Congregationalists.

Horsefair Green is a pleasant open green space edged with lime trees. Stony Stratford Community Church, facing onto Horsefair Green, is a member church of the Baptist Union, and represents a long Baptist presence in Stony Stratford that dates back almost four centuries.

A meeting of the General Baptists of the Midlands decided to send out ‘messengers’ to plant new churches in 1651. It is not known whether this included Stony Stratford, but the Baptists were established in Stony Stratford at an early stage.

The first Baptist groups in Stony Stratford were served by itinerant pastors, and they met usually in private houses and barns. John Emerson of Cosgrove and W Fortnell leased a plot of land west of the ‘Cofferidge’ in 1657 and a chapel was built with seating for 100 people.

The earliest Baptist burial in Stony Stratford is recoded in 1701 ‘at the Cofferidge.’

When the Revd John Brittain died in 1733, this Baptist community declined rapidly. It was recorded in 1824 that the Baptist community, ‘over the past thirty years, had been so reduced as to excite the fear of its becoming extinct.’

However, the Revd John Simmons, who had arrived in Stony Stratford a year earlier in 1823, seems to have brough a new lease of life to the Baptists of the town. The original Baptist chapel was demolished, a new one was built, and he remained in Stony Stratford until he died in 1830.

Stony Stratford Community Church seen from Cofferidge Close (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Frederick Ancell (1850-1919) of High Street, a builder and local benefactor, was a well-known member of Stony Stratford Baptist Church. In 1921, the Ancell Trust bought land for the Stony Stratford Sports Ground.

Stony Stratford Community Church faces Horsefair Green, backing on to what was Cofferidge Close before it became a new shopping centre in recent decades. The church has been renovated and extended in 1907, 1930, 1935, 1955-1956 and 1985.

Today, the ministers of Stony Stratford Community Church are the Revd Jacqui Green and the Revd Stuart Earl.

Stony Stratford Methodist Church on Silver Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Methodists or Wesleyans have had a presence in Stony Stratford since the mid-18th century. In the 1770s, a local group of Methodists began to meet for worship in a large barn behind the Talbot Inn, now 81 to 85 High Street.

John Wesley visited Stony Stratford on at least five occasions, and during his visits between 1777 and 1779 it is said he preached both under the ‘Wesley Elm’ in the Market Square and in the barn off the High Street, behind the Talbot Inn.

The Methodists continued to use this barn as their meeting place until 1844, when the present Methodist Church on Cow Lane, near Coffereys Close, formerly Cow Fryers Close.

Cow Lane was the mediaeval ‘Back Lane’ along the western edge of the old town. It was renamed Silver Street as part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee in 1887. As for Coffereys Close, it became Cofferidge Close.

The ‘Wesley Elm’ in Market Square has long disappeared: it fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease in 2007 and was replaced in 2008. Today, the Methodist minister in Stony Stratford is the Revd Dr Margaret Goodall.

The ‘Wesley Elm’in Market Square has long disappeared and was replaced in 2008 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Congregational Church on Wolverton Road also dates from 1823. The pediment contains a shaped stucco plaque that reads, ‘Congregational Church 1823.’

Today, the building belongs to Stony Stratford Evangelical Free Church, and the Revd Keith Plant is the minister.

The Congregational Church, Wolverton Road … now Stony Stratford Evangelical Free Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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