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Our History


Botley Baptist Church circa 1880

Quoted texts taken with permission from a project written by Christine M White in 1976,  and a typewritten historical narrative held by the Alden family of Malmsbury.

BOTLEY BAPTIST CHURCH has been at the heart of the community in Botley and North Hinksey since 1882, when Mr James Launchbury began holding services in his own cottage in Old Botley.

On Monday 21 March 1892, at a public meeting presided by Robert Alden of New Road Baptist Church, Oxford attended by “… all who were interested in the formation of a Christian church or society of believers, meeting for united worship and instruction in Divine things and the celebration of Christ’s ordinances”, Botley Baptist Church was born.  Regular meetings for “Divine Worship” were held in the Workman’s Hall in Old Botley, rented from the Earl of Abingdon.

Without the help of New Road Baptist who “had evinced a close interest in our work at Botley, supplying for the most part preachers for our society and always rendered such financial help if needed to carry on our work”, Botley Baptist would not have survived its first decade.

Faithful to its roots as a planted Church, Botley Baptist demonstrated a real heart and zeal for mission.  During the summer months, the Church organised “camp meetings” in Dean Court, Wytham Lane (now Botley Interchange on A34) and the Co-op Recreational Grounds on Botley Road, for the purpose of evangelism.  The onset of compulsory primary education and the rise in general literacy towards the end of the nineteenth century, opened up opportunities for Botley Baptist to be very active in“regular and systematic distribution of tracts, a feature of the times”.

It has been severally noted, “it was the custom to precede the public meeting with tea and Botley was famous in the fellowship for its teas”!

At the turn of the century, Baptist witness in Botley was well established. Minutes of meetings during the first decade of the twentieth century convey the commitment of members to tithe and give according to their income (1 Corinthians 16:2) to meet the expenses of renting the Hall. Their faithful giving resulted in an opening balance of £2. 19s. 1¾ d. in January 1912.

Confident of Botley Baptist’s role in God’s work in the community, an entry in the minutes book dated 13 March, 1912 states, “Mr Griffin reported that the land for the new chapel had been purchased (from the Earl of Abingdon) and that £5 had to be paid down.”  At the AGM the following year, it was “announced that through cultivating the new plot of land and selling the produce, a sum of between £3 and £4 had been made and handed to the Treasurer”.

The chapel on Botley Road which stood witness to the transforming work of Jesus the Christ for fifty four years was built in 1912-13, financed by the sacrificial giving of a small community, aided by an individual grant of £100. Dan Collett a stalwart at Wolvercote Baptist Church and a bricklayer, and Church member John Harris, Foreman of Kingerlee were among several who contributed in no small measure to deliver the completed building 5% below budget!“Within a few months after the outbreak of war, it was reported that all liabilities on the building had been cleared and that a balance of £4 could be handed over to the Treasurer (December 1914). Thus, as Europe plunged in to war, Botley Baptist Church began a new chapter in its history.”

The history of Botley Baptist Church is not all about money and building. A real heart for mission witnessed a significant growth in membership, attendance and the Sunday School during the years between the wars.

Regent’s Park College’s move to Oxford in 1927 was a blessing to many Baptist Churches. During 1929-1933 four student ministers and several others after the war, aided and sustained the work at Botley, made possible by members through generous grants towards their stipends.

In March 1932 a Women’s Bright Hour initiative started ministry among women. The tireless endeavours of Mrs J Tucker, Mrs E P Sharpe and Mrs Neale over several years laid the foundation for a robust women’s fellowship which continues to this day, now known as the Botley Ladies Group (BLAG).

The onset of the Second World War took its toll on Botley Baptist Church. Membership dwindled and the morning service was suspended. Members of New Road living close to Botley were encouraged to attend the afternoon service and New Road Young People’s Fellowship started a youth centre in Botley. During the war, Brixton Girl’s School was moved to Botley. Their use of the Church premises bolstered finances and Botley was able to contribute towards the work of BMS and make a donation to the newly established John Bunyan Baptist Church in Cowley.

“Just before the cessation of hostilities in February 1945, Mr J Bryant, a founder member, passed away. He was (remembered as) a staunch advocate of keeping the Church going during the lean years.”

The summer of 1945 witnessed the return of the garden party and evening concert, “no doubt in some measure a celebration and expression of relief that the war was over.”   A succession of several able student ministers from Regent’s Park College resulted in a growing congregation and Sunday children’s services of 60 in the morning and 52 in the afternoon! In October 1951, thirteen new members were received and by the end of the year, 10 more were received into membership through Baptism.

In 1952, at a joint meeting between Botley and Eynsham Baptist Churches, Richard J Hamper, student Minister at Regent’s Park College was unanimously invited to be the first full time Minister serving both Churches. Following his ordination and induction in August 1952, “the promise shown during his joint student pastorate was more than maintained during his full-time ministry.”

Despite decline in Church attendance nationally following the war, in 1952 Botley recorded 12 new members, 8 through Baptism. As the Church and Sunday school grew, it became necessary to consider larger premises. Financial assistance from the Baptist Union Corporation and the sale of South Hinksey Baptist Church helped purchase the land on the corner of Westminster Way and Chapel Way on which the Church is presently situated and a new Church building came into service on 9 September, 1967.

The new, larger church was commissioned as Botley and the surrounding area was being developed and growing. Sustained, active ministry by students of Regent’s Park College and ecumenical partners in the area resulted in significant growth in the Church community with more children attending Sunday School and adults participating in various programmes.

The history of Botley Baptist Church is an enviable tradition of earnest generosity, dedicated missions-mindedness and fervent faith.

At the turn of the twentieth century, as another Sunday School generation had grown up and moved out, once again many muttered prophesies of doom as they left for other churches. However, God does not leave us without His witness. A faithful core of praying members did what they knew best: prayed for renewed vision, and for God to intervene.

The Revd Hedley Feast, Senior Minister remembers when, “In 2004, as we approached our 125thanniversary as a New Road Church-plant in Botley, members wanted the Church to be of greater service once again, to the communities of Botley, North Hinksey, Cumnor and neighbouring areas”.

Under the leadership of Graham Ansell and Alan Woodward, Woodfield Brady Architects were appointed and given the brief to develop a scheme “that is community-centred, responding to the needs of the local area”.

THE BOTLEY CENTRE is Botley Baptist Church’s aspiration to provide a place of worship and fellowship and make available resources fit for purpose in the 21st century, which meet the needs of the residents, local businesses and the Universities, in this and neighbouring communities.

The partnership with Regent’s Park College has found fresh expression in The Botley Centre. Principal, Revd Dr Robert Ellis said, “The Botley Centre offers us the opportunity of extending our provision for students, and in such a way as to create a small self-contained community away from our main college site. It’s an exciting development.” It is our privilege once again, to have another student Minister from Regent’s Park College ordained and inducted into the service of the Church in July 2010.

 

HISTORY  OF  BAPTIST  WITNESS IN  BOTLEY  &  OXFORD

Source: British History Online

Picture of Mission Shed

A Baptist group was probably established in Oxford shortly after the surrender of the royalist garrison in 1646: Roger Hatchman, Matthew Jellyman, and Thomas Williams, restored to the city council in that year, were later described as Anabaptists. (fn. 50) Williams, a High Street milliner, was mayor in 1653; (fn. 51) he was ridiculed in a poem of 1654, Zeal Overheated, inspired by a fire in his shop. (fn. 52) Probably many of those fleeing Oxford during the Civil War learnt their radical views in the parliamentarian garrison at Abingdon; (fn. 53) the early Oxford Baptists were closely associated with the strong group in Abingdon, for Thomas Tisdale, Abingdon’s representative at meetings of the Abingdon Association messengers in 1653, represented Oxford after it had been received into the association in 1656. (fn. 54)

Probably associated with the early Anabaptists was a group of Fifth Monarchy men, of whom Richard Quelch, watchmaker, was agent for Oxford in 1657. (fn. 55) Vavasour Powell, a prominent Fifth Monarchy man, preached in All Saints church in that year, inveighing against the university, (fn. 56) and ‘a brother from Oxford’ was involved in Venner’s rising of 1657. (fn. 57) Fears in 1658 that Oxford Anabaptists intended to destroy the colleges were presumably related to the activities of the millenarian group. (fn. 58) With Hatchman’s encouragement, John Belcher, another Fifth Monarchy man, preached against the Restoration in January 1660 in St. Peter-le-Bailey church. (fn. 59)

The leaders of the Anabaptists after 1660 were Lawrence King, a glover, who held public baptisms before a scoffing crowd at Hythe Bridge, (fn. 60) and Richard Tidmarsh, a tanner, who had refused to serve on the city council in the 1650s. (fn. 61) King’s house was sometimes used for meetings but the main meeting-house was at Tidmarsh’s house in Titmouse Lane which continued to be used until at least 1715. (fn. 62) According to a late-18th-century tradition Tidmarsh used to haptize in the mill-stream near by. (fn. 63)

Unlike the Presbyterians and Independents, the Baptists had no ex-university preachers and their radical views were much more unpopular with the authorities. In 1661, after the general proclamation against Anabaptist and Quaker conventicles which followed the Fifth Monarchy rising in London, the meetinghouse in Oxford was ‘beset by the militia’, and some of the congregation were arrested. (fn. 64) Later that year Hatchman and King were gaoled for seditious speeches at Tidmarsh’s house; they and Tidmarsh refused the oath of allegiance. (fn. 65) In 1664 the local justices ordered the breaking up of unlawful conventicles of Anabaptists and Quakers, (fn. 66) and members of those sects were usually fined more heavily than Presbyterians. The ecclesiastical courts were sometimes more lenient, as in 1665, when an excommunicated Anabaptist was allowed time ‘to inform himself of those things which he at present scruples at’. (fn. 67) In 1669 the vice-chancellor, Peter Mews, punished some of those found at a meeting at King’s house by taking them to a sermon at the university church. (fn. 68)

After the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 Tidmarsh and King took out a licence for Tidmarsh’s house, where Tidmarsh preached, assisted by a ‘miller of Abingdon’. (fn. 69) After the withdrawal of the Declaration in 1675 there were a few more prosecutions, (fn. 70) and in 1681 the sexton of All Saints was presented in the archdeacon’s court for allowing King’s wife, an excommunicate, to be buried ‘without any divine service’. (fn. 71) At the time of the Rye House Plot in 1683 King’s house was searched for arms. (fn. 72) In the political changes in Oxford of 1688 Tidmarsh was briefly prominent, (fn. 73) but he left Oxford in 1690 to pursue evangelical work elsewhere. (fn. 74)

In the riots of 1715 the mob not only attacked the Baptists’ meeting-room but rifled the whole house. (fn. 75) Thereafter there is no record of Baptists meeting there, and by c. 1740 they were holding only a week-day lecture in a private house. (fn. 76) The remaining members attended either the Abingdon Baptist chapel or the Presbyterian meeting-house in Oxford. In 1780, with the active support of Abingdon, the few remaining Oxford Baptists and Presbyterians formally joined company at the New Road chapel. (fn. 77)

The new community did not at first flourish. (fn. 78) One of its first pastors left after adopting ‘heterodox views’ and until the appointment of James Hinton in 1787 the pulpit was so ill supplied that all who could do so continued to go to Abingdon. The principle of open communion caused occasional trouble in the congregation until the later 19th century: Hinton, for example, had to deal with dissension between Baptists and Paedobaptists in his flock in the 1790s, and in the period 1795-7 there was an abortive attempt to establish a separate Strict Baptist chapel. As Hinton himself believed in adult baptism there was a slight rise in the number of Baptist members, but under his guidance the congregation remained ‘soundly Calvinistic’ and middle of the road.

His arrival had an immediate impact on church attendance. In the late 1780s the crowded evening services attracted undergraduates, who behaved so riotously that the university forbade them to attend. Membership increased from c. 25 in 1787 to c. 270 in 1821, and the number of ‘hearers’ rose from 130 to 800 in the same period. (fn. 79) The meeting-house was twice enlarged during Hinton’s pastorate, and an extra two deacons were appointed in the early 1800s. (fn. 80)

Hinton’s most successful years were 1795-1805. From 1811, when his health began to fail, a succession of assistants was appointed, of whom one, Jenkyn Thomas, was particularly popular. Hinton’s success depended not only on his preaching ability but on his character, which won the respect even of such pugnacious opponents of nonconformity as Dr. Tatham, rector of Lincoln College. His moderation and tact enabled the united chapel at New Road to gain a respected position in the city.

After his death in 1823 his successors were unable to hold together the heterogeneous elements in the open communion, and by 1836 membership had fallen to 150. (fn. 81) In the 1830s some 28 members were lost to a new Congregational church in George Street and fewer than a dozen to the Adullam chapel. In 1853, after prolonged disagreements between the deacons and the minister, who was accused publicly of mismanaging his finances and leaning towards Anglicanism, there was a further secession to the Congregationalists of 23 members, including all the deacons. (fn. 82) Most returned after the minister’s resignation the same year. Congregations, which averaged 400 both morning and evening in 1851, (fn. 83) do not seem to have been badly affected by the earlier disagreements, but membership fell between 1853 and 1855 from 288 to 196. (fn. 84) Public dissension in the congregation continued until, in James Dann, pastor 1882-1916, New Road chapel found a worthy successor to Hinton. Membership rose to a peak of 368. In the earlier 20th century membership of New Road chapel fell, partly as a result of movement of population, partly because of the building of new chapels in the suburbs. (fn. 85) The chapel was in use in 1972.

The New Road Baptist chapel, (fn. 86) a large rectangular stone building, contains survivals of the Presbyterian chapel of 1721, which was almost entirely rebuilt in 1798. It was further enlarged and a baptistry added by John Hudson in 1819; baptisms had earlier taken place at Abingdon. (fn. 87) The chapel was endowed with several charities. By deed of trust dated 1786 Abraham Atkins of Clapham (Surr.) gave estates for the support of Baptist ministers, chapels, and poor members of congregations in 14 towns and villages, including Oxford, and by will dated 1791 he increased the endowment and the number of beneficiaries. In the early 19th century the Oxford minister was receiving £24, and £11 was spent on the poor or church repairs; by 1924 the income had fallen to c. £11 for the minister and c. £3 for the poor. (fn. 88) In accordance with the will of Charles Hughes, dated 1799, a deed of 1804 gave to trustees sufficient stock to yield £10 for the support of an assistant minister at New Road, and similar sums for the upkeep of the chapel, for the dissenting Sunday schools in Oxford, and for each of 12 neighbouring pastors, on condition that they preached once a year at New Road if required. (fn. 89) Henry Goring, by will proved 1859, gave £££1,000 for the support of the pastor of New Road chapel, and in 1879 the income was £31. (fn. 90) All three charities survived in 1972.

In 1823 a Baptist chapel was founded in George Street, St. Clement’s, with Hinton’s son J. H. Hinton as minister, but it closed in 1836. (fn. 91) A small chapel built in Middle Way, Summertown in 1824 was disused in 1830, and may have been closed by 1829 when one of its founders, William Carter, registered another meeting-house at his ironworks in Walton Street; there seems to have been a Baptist meeting at a private house in Summertown in 1831. (fn. 92)

The first major new Baptist chapel in Oxford, the Adullam chapel in Commercial Road, St. Ebbe’s, was built in 1832 for and largely at the expense of H. B. Bulteel, the former curate of St. Ebbe’s church; (fn. 93) it was designed by William Fisher and was for many years the largest nonconformist chapel in Oxford, seating 800. (fn. 96) Bulteel’s preaching and faith-healing attracted a large congregation, but the precise religious affiliations of the chapel are uncertain, since Bulteel’s own religious views fluctuated: after an association with the founders of the Brethren he seems, under the influence of Irving, to have abandoned strict Calvinism, probably returning to more moderate Calvinism later. (fn. 95) Bulteel left Oxford in 1846 and his successors, lacking his personal force and private means, were unable to hold together the congregation of the unendowed chapel. (fn. 96) In 1851 the chapel was described as Particular Baptist, and its congregation was said to be between 500 and 600. (fn. 97) In 1858, however, it was ‘dissolved’ and in 1862 was taken over by the Methodist Reformers. (fn. 98)

In 1868 it was bought back by the remnants of the ‘Bulteelers’, who, under Alexander Macfarlane of Spurgeon’s College, Camberwell, had started meetings in 1866 in the Chequers Sale Room in High Street, moving the following year to the former Quaker meeting-house in Pusey Lane. In 1869 the renovated chapel was opened by Charles Spurgeon. (fn. 99) The group was at first known as the Tabernacle Baptist Society, (fn. 1) but the chapel was later described as Particular Baptist, and remained so until its closure in 1937. (fn. 2) The remaining members joined with a Baptist congregation from South Hinksey to open a chapel in Wytham Street, New Hinksey, in 1938, (fn. 3) which remained in use, with a resident minister, in 1972.

In 1843 William Higgins registered a meeting of Particular Baptists in his house in Clarendon Place, Jericho, (fn. 4) and in 1851 the congregation averaged 60. (fn. 5) The address of ‘Higgins’s room’ was given as King Street, Jericho in 1869, and there was another meeting of ‘Strict Communion Baptists’ in Iffley Road. (fn. 6) The King Street Baptists were derisively called ‘Hypers’ in the 1870s, and may have been connected with the earlier group of Bulteelers known by that name. (fn. 7) In 1881 they built a chapel in Albert Street, Jericho, described as Strict Baptist, (fn. 8) which remained open in 1972.

A Baptist chapel in Caroline Street, St. Clement’s was recorded between 1869 and 1887. (fn. 9) A Baptist group meeting in Pusey Lane was recorded between 1883 and 1891. (fn. 10) Another group in Bridge Street, Oseney, in 1883 was perhaps the Oseney mission from the New Road church which owned a school-room in Oseney in 1878; (fn. 11) services continued at Bridge Street until 1921. (fn. 12) New Road church was also responsible for a mission in St. Thomas’s parish, where houses were licensed for worship in 1829 and 1830, and a new hall was built in 1893. (fn. 13) The mission had only 11 members in 1912, and had closed before 1940 when its site was sold. (fn. 14)

The assistant minister of New Road chapel, J. H. Moore, was holding open-air meetings in Summertown in 1896. A Baptist chapel was opened in 1897 on the corner of Woodstock Road and Beechcroft Road; (fn. 15) in 1898 New Road chapel ‘dismissed’ Moore and nine others to form the North Oxford church. (fn. 16) In 1903, at the request of the Baptist Union, New Road took charge of the chapel until 1909 when a further 21 members were transferred to North Oxford. (fn. 17) The chapel was rebuilt in 1955. (fn. 18) Baptists began to meet in a hall in Crowell Road, Cowley, in 1939, and in 1941, with the help and support of New Road chapel, the John Bunyan church was built. In 1964 it was replaced by an octagonal building of brick and glass, designed by Peter Reynolds. (fn. 19) The Headington Baptist chapel, in Old High Street, opened in 1836, (fn. 20) remained in use in 1972.