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Baptists in Basingstoke: c.1867 to 1939

Sarum Hill Baptist church

There were no Baptist causes in Basingstoke recorded in the religious census of 1851. Sixty years later, however, there were two - a Strict (also known as Ebenezer and Particular) Baptist dating from about 1867 and an Open Baptist from 1908. The Strict Baptists had a chapel in Church Street and one of their leading members was Thomas Burberry, the founder of what has become a global brand in the fashion industry. It is not known precisely when the Strict Baptist cause came to an end but the chapel was sold to the Basingstoke branch of the Post-War Brotherhood Movement in 1936 and the building was renamed Brotherhood Hall (later ‘Moose Hall’, ‘one of the local halls for meetings, dances, wedding receptions and other activities’).                                                                                  

The Open Baptist cause principally owed its establishment to the efforts of the Revd Alfred Bird an evangelist from Whitchurch who, with assistance from the Southern Baptist Association, guided the fledgling Church during the first couple of years of its existence. For its premises the cause acquired the old British School buildings on Sarum Hill, which were converted into a place of worship. In addition, a number of the institutional markers of church life, such as a Sunday school, women’s group and Christian Endeavour Society were soon established. The Church also formed a close bond with the other major Nonconformist denominations in the town. Served by a succession of diligent ministers the cause thrived during the War years and into the 1920s and 30s. As well as leading and guiding the Church, some ministers were active in other spheres of community life. For example, the Revd Frederick West (1910-12) was a supporter of the cause of women’s suffrage; the Revd Sydney Wing (1925-32), served as a borough councillor from 1926 to 1930, topping the poll on both occasions when he sought the support of the electors; and, following the outbreak of the Second World War, the Revd John Hill (1935-39) resigned in December 1939 to begin a ‘new life as a medical orderly in the R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps].’ As the Hants and Berks Gazette observed Hill’s ‘action must arouse the keenest admiration of the townsfolk.’

At some point during the 1930s the Church ‘severed its connection’ with the Baptist Union, the Hants Baptist Association and the Baptist Missionary Society and affiliated instead to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. However, it continued to be known as “Sarum Hill Baptist Church”.

(For the source of the quotations please see the pdf link below).

Roger Ottewill

November 2018

Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.

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