08 September 2022

Finding two hidden, former
Baptist chapels in Winslow

Winslow Tabernacle, the former Baptist Chapel off High Street in Winslow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Baptist tradition in Winslow has its roots in Keach’s Meeting House, one of the few Dissenters’ Chapels surviving from the 17th century. It has survived in a virtually unaltered state externally, and is hidden behind fences and rich foliage in a back garden. But its tranquil setting adds to the sense of time standing still in this corner of the small Buckinghamshire town.

Keach’s Meeting House is built of red brick, and is partly concealed by the neighbouring properties in Bell Walk, close to Winslow’s former cattle market and the Bell Inn. The chapel takes its name from Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), a man of humble origins and no formal training who became one of the best-known Baptists ministers of his day. Keach was a native of Stoke Hammond and joined the Baptist Church in Winslow in his early teens.

The church soon recognised his preaching gifts, and, although it never actually called him to be its pastor, it set him apart for ministry. He married Jane Grove of Winslow, and during his time in Winslow he was regularly jailed and placed in the pillory, both in Aylesbury and Winslow, where his books were burnt publicly in the Market Place by the common hangman.

Keach moved to London in 1668 to become pastor of a small group of Baptists in Tooley Street, Southwark. For many years, he preached to large congregations in a building that had to be enlarged several times. He wrote over 60 books, and in the last 15 years of his life, he led a campaign to introduce congregational hymn-singing.

He died in London in 1704. His church later relocated to Newington where, as the Metropolitan Tabernacle, it became identified with the great Victorian Baptist preacher, the Revd Charles H Spurgeon.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1680s, Baptists in Winslow were constantly summoned before the Archdeacon of St Albans because they had not ‘received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper’ according to Anglican rites and had not attended Saint Laurence’s Church, the parish church in Winslow.

Keach’s Meeting House is tucked away in Bell Walk, Winslow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Keach's Meeting House was built in Winslow in 1695 on land belonging to William Gyles, a prominent local draper who died in 1702. It is a small rectangular building, with walls of red brick in Flemish bond, and a tiled roof gabled to the east and west. The north front has two small rectangular windows with leaded glazing and external shutters; between them is a timber framed porch, which was mostly renewed around 1958.

The building has been altered inside at various dates. The meeting house has a 17th century Communion table and several monuments and floor slabs. The pulpit, centrally placed along the west wall, is surrounded by box pews, and open-backed benches.

The desks against the east wall have hinged tops and four lead inkwells, for the use of the Sunday School that began was commenced in 1824. A gallery was built at the east end in 1827 to accommodate the influx of Independent or Congregational seceders. A small burial ground on the north side of the meeting house is surrounded by a brick boundary wall.

William Gyles and his son Daniel surrendered the meeting house to charitable uses in 1696. Thomas Forster (1685-1746) a former elder of the Chesham Baptists, married Sarah Gyles in 1719 and moved to Winslow. Daniel Gyles re-established the meeting house with nine new trustees in 1722, for the use of ‘Baptists, Dissenters from the way and communion of the Church of England and Presbytery’, and Forster remained pastor until 1729.

The meeting house came back into use in 1799 through the efforts of Thomas Wake, the Particular Baptist pastor of Leighton Buzzard, and the Bedfordshire Union of Christians, and it was used by both Baptists and Independents or Congregationalists. By 1800, the services seem to have alternated each Sunday between each denomination. [The Independents moved out in 1816.

Eight people formed a Particular Baptist church in Winslow in 1807, and the Independents moved out of the meeting house in 1816 when a new Congregational Chapel was acquired on Horn Street. The gallery was built when a group seceded briefly from the Independent (Congregational) Church in 1827.

After a decline, the church was reconstituted in 1862-1863 with 13 members, but these finally died out in 1926. An attempt to re-establish it in 1936-1937 failed, and the meeting house has only been used for occasional services since then.

The Revd JA Spurgeon opened the new Baptist chapel in Winslow in 1864 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Meanwhile, the foundation stone of a new chapel, the Baptist Tabernacle, was laid by Henry Kelsall of Rochdale on 3 May 1864, with Spurgeon preaching at two services that day and visiting the old Baptist Chapel at Keach’s Meeting House.

The legendary Baptist preacher, the Revd Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), visited Winslow on 7 October 1856, and between the two services light meals were provided in the Bell Hotel. He returned to Winslow for two services on 10 February 1858, when it was noted that ‘the Morning Service is chiefly designed for members of the Church of England.’

However, the resurgence of interest in the General Baptist cause in the Victorian era was beyond the capacity of the meeting house. The Baptists of Winslow met in July 1861 to discuss appointing a resident minister. They used Waddesdon Hill Particular Baptist Church, and its minister for two baptisms on 9 November 1862.

A church of eight members was formed in Winslow in November 1862, and one of Spurgeon’s students, Robert Sole, was sent as the pastor. A site for a new chapel was acquired, and the foundation stone of the Baptist Tabernacle was laid by Henry Kelsall of Rochdale on 3 May 1864, with Spurgeon preaching at two services that day and visiting the old Baptist Chapel at Keach’s Meeting House.

Spurgeon’s brother, the Revd JA Spurgeon, opened the new chapel on 15 September, 1864. Once again, a meal was served in the Bell Hotel. By then, the church had grown to 62 members, and the Sabbath school was attended by 70 children.

The chapel was built of brick, and could seat about 300 persons. The features included classical windows and an elegant west gallery for the choir, with there were separate meeting rooms. The building costs came to £600, and the builder was J Munday of Buckingham. The Revd Robert Sole was publicly set apart and ordained at the Baptist Tabernacle on 1 December 1865.

Tenders were invited in 1880 for a new schoolroom beside the Baptist Tabernacle. The new schoolrooms were opened as the Centenary Hall on 3 August 1880 by Spurgeon’s son, the Revd Charles Spurgeon of Greenwich.

The Centenary Hall could hold 400-500 people, and included a class room, three smaller rooms and a gallery.

The Baptist Tabernacle was criticised in local newspapers in 1881 when the new hall was held for a meeting with speeches by leading members of the Liberal Party, with the support of the Baptist pastor, the Revd FJ Feltham, who would leave for the Isle of Wight in 1883.

The Centenary Hall was effectively the local headquarters of the Liberal campaign in the 1885 and 1886 general elections, while the Revd JS Poulton was the pastor. It was reported that the hall was ‘readily granted in the cause of civil and religious liberty,’ and both the Baptists and the Congregationalists openly supported Sir Edmund Verney as the Liberal candidate in North Buckinghamshire.

The chapel fielded its own cricket team at the end of the 19th century. A large portion of the chapel ceiling fell in 1885, and for three weeks the services were held in the School Hall. Later, after further renovations, the Baptist Tabernacle reopened on 5 January 1898.

Meanwhile, the Centenary Hall was the venue in 1893 for a protest meeting against the Irish Home Rule Bill, labelled as ‘the Great Betrayal.’ The speakers included Lord Cottesloe, a former Chief Secretary for Ireland (1845-1846), Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, Liberal MP for Aylesbury, and the Irish-born W Hussey Walsh.

The hall was also used for meetings of the Women’s Liberal Association and the District Liberal Association, addressed by the Liberal politician, Herbert Samuel. During general election in 1900, the main Liberal meeting in Winslow was held in the Centenary Hall.

The Baptist Tabernacle was an unusual as an early supporter of women’s ministry, and a daughter of the Rev TJ Feltham, a former pastor of the Tabernacle, was among the women who preached there.

The Baptist Tabernacle was reordered in 1929, when the pews were rearranged to provide a central aisle, and the chapel acquired an organ when Swanbourne Baptist Church closed.

The former Baptist Tabernacle can be found at the end of a laneway been 156 and 158 High Street. Today, Winslow Tabernacle is an evangelical Pentecostal Church, and describes itself as a ‘Bible-based Spirit-led evangelical church.’ Services are at 10:30 and 6 pm each Sunday.

Keach’s Meeting House is hidden behind fences and rich foliage in a back garden in Winslow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Thursday 8 September 2022

Scenes from the life the Virgin Mary in a window by Charles Eamer Kempe in the chancel of Saint Laurence’s Church, Winslow (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship marks the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8 September) and is celebrated as a Lesser Festival.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The birth of the Virgin Mary in an icon by Mihai Cocu in the Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 1: 18-23 (NRSVA):

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.



Today’s reflection: ‘Magnificat’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [8 September 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to Vaughan Williams’s arrangement for the canticle Magnificat.

Yesterday [7 September 2022], I was listening to ‘The Old Hundreth,’ his arrangement of the canticle Jubilate, which is one of three New Testament Canticles associated with Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. In the Anglican tradition, the canticle Magnficat is associated with Evening Prayer or Evensong.

When Gustav Holst died in 1934, Vaughan Williams lost his greatest friend. He missed Holst for the rest of his life and invoked his spirit in several works of the 1930s and 1940s. His setting of Magnificat or the Song of Mary (Luke 1: 46-55), one of the three New Testament canticles, is one such work, looking back to the Holst of The Hymn of Jesus, which Holst dedicated to Vaughan Williams and was first performed in London 95 years ago on 25 March 1920.

Vaughan Williams composed this setting of Magnificat in 1932. While he was working on this setting, Vaughan Williams wrote to Holst explaining he hoped ‘to lift the words out of the smug atmosphere which had settled on them from being sung at evening service for so long (I’ve tried hard to get the smugness out; I don’t know if I have succeeded – I find it awfully hard to eradicate it).’

It was first performed 90 years ago at the Worcester Festival in 1932, conducted by Vaughan Williams with Astra Desmond singing the solo part of the Virgin Mary.

Vaughan Williams later produced another arrangement for a Dutch chamber orchestra based in The Hague in November 1937, but four months later he ‘had no acknowledgment & no word of any kind from them.’ He expressed his frustration about this in a letter to his publisher, Hubert Foss of the Oxford University Press, written on 25 March 1938.

It is scored for contralto soloist, women’s chorus, and an orchestra consisting of two flutes (the first player has a very prominent solo part; the second player doubles on piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, Indian drum, glockenspiel, celesta, harp, organ, and strings.

This is an unusual setting of the text. After an ethereal opening, a contralto/mezzo-soprano soloist sings the text while the female chorus interpolates with other texts in praise of the Virgin Mary. The contrast between the rhapsodic lines of the soloist and the more reflective emotions of the chorus results in a moving work.

At the bottom of the first page of the vocal score of Magfiicat is a note in very small type: ‘N.B. This setting is not intended for liturgical use.’

Chorus:

Hail, thou art most favoured,
The Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,
And the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee:
Therefore that holy thing which shall be born on thee shall be called the Son of God.

Mary:

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my saviour,
For he hath regarded the low estate of his hand-maiden:
For, behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done great things;
And holy is his name.

Chorus:

Hail, Mary full of Grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee O Lord most high.

Mary:

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

Chorus:

Fear not, Mary: thou has found favour with God.
Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring
forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest:
And he shall reign for ever;
And of his Kingdom there shall be no end.

Mary:

Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

Chorus:

Hail, Mary, full of Grace. Hail.

The Virgin Mary with her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, in a mosaic by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969) in Mullingar Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Thursday 8 September 2022:

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of bless├Ęd Mary:
grant that we, who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image
and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God Most High,
whose handmaid bore the Word made flesh:
we thank you that in this sacrament of our redemption
you visit us with your Holy Spirit
and overshadow us by your power;
strengthen us to walk with Mary the joyful path of obedience
and so to bring forth the fruits of holiness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Season of Creation,’ was introduced on Sunday by the Season of Creation Advisory Committee.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for countries in the Global South, which are disproportionately affected by the visible consequences of the climate crisis.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org