Some Account of the Baptist Church at Wantage, Berks
The Baptist Magazine 1818
Early Records of Baptist Churches
Of the rise and progress of this church, it is not easy to gain a correct knowledge; as the account in the church book is extremely confused. It is said to have had its beginning about 1648, but on what occasion, from what church or churches, the members came, or of what number they consisted, is not mentioned.
Mr. Robert Keate was their first stated minister and pastor; and was called to the work from among themselves. He began to preach when about twenty-three years of age. He is said to have suffered much for non-conformity; being imprisoned once, and threatened frequently.*
At first they had no stated place of worship, but used to meet together in private houses; after some time, however, they procured a place at or near Grove, a village about a mile from Wantage.
In 1680, a gentleman, whose name was Styles, made the church a present of 500L [pounds], to be disposed of as was thought most expedient for the benefit and support of the interest. With part of this money they purchased an estate at Inkpen, in the neighbourhood of Newbury, Berks; the rent of which is appropriated to the use of the minister: and with the remainder they purchased, in 1692, a barn in Grave-street, Wantage, which they converted into a meeting-house, with a small parcel of land adjoining for a burying ground.
In 1696, Mr. John Tull was called to assist Mr. Keate in the administration of the word and ordinance from amongst themselves, by the unanimous consent of the whole church. Mr. Keate dying March 5th, 1709, Mr. T. became sole pastor; and the church appointed Mr. Thos.
* Mr. K. attended the general Assembly in London in 1689, and appears to have been a minister of great respectability. See Ivimey's History, vol. ii. p. 69, 70.
Lovil, another of their members, to assist him in preaching. Mr. L. died in May 1713, and Mr. T. soon after.
In August, 1713, Mr. William Jones, a member of the church, was called to the ministry, and employed as their minister and pastor. At that time the church was in a very flourishing state, consisting of ninety members; but since that period it appears to have been gradually declining. Mr. J. it is said was a very learned man, and applied himself closely to the study of the longitude; and thereby injured himself in his temporal circumstances, and in his ministerial abilities. As might be expected, the church declined in number, and became dissatisfied; in consequence of which Mr. J. resigned his pastoral office in 1737; and died the following year. From that time to the present, they have been in the habit of frequently changing their ministers; and this perhaps may be considered as a principal cause of that continued declension of the church, and of the melancholy state to which it has been reduced.
After Mr. J.'s decease they were supplied for some time by Mr. Strange, a gentleman recommended to them by the Rev. Mr. Fuller, of Abingdon; but it does not appear that he was ever settled amongst them, nor had they any other than occasional supplies till 1745. About this time Mr. John Beasley, a pupil of Dr. Doddridge's, came on trial, and being approved by the church, was ordained to the pastoral office October the 9th in the same year: Dr. Stennett and Mr. Turner were engaged in the work. - Mr. B. continued with them near ten years, and went from thence to London, where he preached only occasionally; he died August the 16th, 1795. In 1755, a Mr. Isaac Woodman came on trial; he staid [sic] with them two years, but was not ordained.
At Michaelmas, 1757, Mr. Samuel Bowen, an ordained minister at Horsley, in Gloucestershire, was invited, and accepted the invitation. He continued here till his death, which took place in August, 1764. He is said to have been useful in his life, and died remarkably happy. *
The church being again destitute, applied to Mr. Sam. George, who was then at Salisbury: he came first as a probationer, and his ministry being approved, he was ordained in 1765; Mr. Evans, of Bristol, and Mr. Turner, of Abingdom, were the principal ministers engaged.
Mr. G. continued with them but a short time; he had long laboured under a consumptive complaint, and fell a victim to this disorder in 1767.
Wantage was now in a very unsettled state for some years: - sometimes they had ministers on trial, and at other times they were supplied by neighbouring ministers, and by the students from Bristol.
In 1767, Mr. Larwill, and several others were with them: and Mr. Hiller about a year and a quarter in 1768 and 1769, and a
* A remarkable instance of Divine mercy deserves to be recorded, which occurred during Mr B.’s ministry.
Mr Richard Jones, son of the Rev. Mr Jones before-mentioned, a surgeon and apothecary at Coventry, who had been a very profane man, and an avowed deist, came to Wantage in 1760, and requested Mr B. to baptize him, wishing, as he said, to make a public profession of Christ in his native place. After giving a very satisfactory account of his conversion and religious experience, the solemn ordinance was administered to him; he returned to his former situation, and died January 21st, 1762.
Mr. Wills in 1770. In 1771, they were supplied by Mr. Wood, Mr. James Biggs, Mr. Dunscomb, Mr. Rippon, (now Dr. Rippon of London) and Mr. Purdy. In 1772, June the 30th, Mr. J. Biggs came on their invitation from Bristol; and was ordained to the pastoral office, August the 5th, 1773.
Messrs. Hugh, and Caleb Evans, of Bristol, and Mr. Turner, of Abingdon, officiated on the occasion. Mr. B. remained with them upwards of seven years; but discouraged on account of his little success, the great declension of the church, and the improper behaviour of some of the members towards him, he removed from hence to Dublin, in March, 1781.
After Mr. B's removal, the people invited a Mr. Love, then of Kingston Lisle, a village about six miles from Wantage, who came for a short time amongst them; and in February, 1782, removed to Carton, in Bedfordshire. Mr. L. afterwards left the Dissenters, entered the Church of England, and became lecturer of St Michael’s, Wood-street, London.
The church now applied to Mr. Evans of Bristol to recommend to them a married man; in compliance with this request, he recommended Mr. Thomas Smith who was then a student in the academy. Mr. S. first came to Wantage November 16th, 1782; staid three months; and then returned to Bristol to finish his studies.
At their particular request he returned to them June 5th, 1783, and in compliance with the advice of friends, Mr. S. became ordained July the 11th, 1787: Mr. Dunscomb delivered a discourse on the nature of ordination, and offered up the ordination prayer. Mr. Turner gave the charge, and Mr. Dore, of London; addressed the people. Mr. S. continued with them till October 1790, and removed from Wantage to London, where he preached occasionally, and afterwards settled at Kingston-Lisle; where he continued to exercise his ministry to the great satisfaction of his people; was much beloved, and died February the 23d, 1812. He was interred in the burying ground belonging to the meeting house, Wantage.
At this time Mr. Enoch Francis being at liberty, who had many years been pastor of the Baptist church at Exeter, they applied to him; and after hearing him some time they unanimously requested him to become their pastor; with which request he complied in December 1790, and continued with them till June, 1794.
They had now various supplies for some months; when inviting Mr. West, of Carlton, he came as a probationer in 1794, and his ministry being approved, he settled as their pastor.
Mr. W. continued with them upwards of sixteen years, and removed to Dublin in Ireland, in June, 1811, where he is comfortable, respectable, and useful.
After Mr. West's removal, the friends invited Mr. Pryce, then at Wellington in Shropshire, who being then moveable, visited Wantage in 1811. Here, however, he did not long continue, but removed to Falmouth, in Cornwall, in 1814, his present situation.
From 1814 to 1816 they had various supplies, principally ministers from the neighbouring churches, and other supplies as they were able to obtain them.
In the spring of 1816, Mr. Jas. Jackson was in Oxfordshire supplying Watlington and Chalgrave
for some months, but not having any permanent engagement, he was requested to supply Wantage. With this request Mr. J. complied, and his labours obtaining the general approbation, the friends repeated their request. - During his stay at Watlington he paid them several visits: since December last he has been resident amongst them, and has now become their pastor, to which office he was ordained. July 9th, 1817.
The Rev. J. Kershaw, of Abingdon, opened the services, by reading the thirty-third chapter of Exodus, and offering solemn prayer.
The Rev. J. Bicheno, of Coat, Oxon, performed the introductory service, asked the usual questions of the church and minister, and received Mr. J.'s confession of faith.
The Rev. William Steadman, D. D. (formerly Mr. J.'s tutor) offered up the ordination prayer, and delivered a very impressive charge from John, v. 35. “He was a burning and a shining light.”
The Rev. J. Dyer, of Reading, addressed the people from 1 Corinthians iv. 1, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” And the Rev. D. Williams, of Fairford, concluded in prayer.
> Met again in the evening, when the Rev. Mr. Davies, of Oakingham, prayed; Rev. Dr. Steadman preached from Philippians i. 12, “The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;” and the Rev. Mr. Welch, of Newbury, concluded. We have reason to believe that the services of the day were eminently blest to many souls.
[From The Baptist Magazine, April, 1818, pp. 134-137, via Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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