In considering the church history of Crich Baptist Church we reflect on the well-known saying that “all of history is His Story”, and I believe that the growth of the Christian church is the natural evidence of the life-changing experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each denomination is able to point to their history, and how they began. We also, as Christians who have the sub-title Baptist are likewise mindful of our rich heritage of faith, as indeed are those likely to be in the other denominations. This brief sketch, for that is all it can be, will briefly trace the beginnings of the Baptist denomination, but will likewise honour the evangelical zeal of other brethren, in areas much closer to Crich, without whose faithful obedience to God’s word, Crich Baptist Church may not be here today.
There have been many famous Baptists – John Bunyan, of Bedford, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress was a Baptist. Imprisoned on a number of occasions because he refused to stop preaching the gospel, of his written labours, the already mentioned Pilgrim’s Progress, has been translated, printed and re-printed so many times that it ranks second only to the Bible itself in Christian literature.
William Carey, was born in a small thatched cottage in Paulerspury, a typical Northamptonshire village in England, August 17, 1761. Born into a weaver’s family, Carey became the so called father of the modern missionary movement, and he too was a Baptist. At one time a humble cobbler, he gave such a powerful address at a meeting in Nottingham on the 30th of May, 1792 which changed his and many other peoples lives for ever. His sermon to the assembled Baptist Association included the phrase that many now remember “EXPECT GREAT THINGS FROM GOD, ATTEMPT GREAT THINGS FOR GOD.” Along with a number of others, Carey was to be eventually responsible for founding the Baptist Missionary Society. Carey himself set sail for India in 1793, and remained there till his death in 1834. It is worthy of note that one of Carey’s fellow workers in India was a printer; William Ward, from Derby, just 14 miles from Crich.
My third and final example of a prominent and famous Baptist of former days was given the title of “The Prince of Preachers”. Charles Haddon Spurgeon – called to his first pastorate at Waterbeach, in Cambridgeshire when he was only nineteen years of age, went on to become the pastor of arguably the most famous of all Baptist churches in the United Kingdom, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. In the Victorian era ordinary folk, statesmen, politicians and nobility would flock in their thousands to here ‘Mr. Spurgeon’ preach. My three examples might perhaps be deemed inappropriate, as all three were ‘Particulars’, not ‘New Connexion’ men.
It is against such a background of faith, and Christianity in action that we value and respect from whence we have come as Baptists. Our forefathers endured much, some, as in Bunyan’s case being imprisoned for seeking to live out what they believed. We are where we are because God used men and women of like faith and belief to establish a Baptist church here in Crich. None it would seem were a Bunyan, a Carey or a Spurgeon, but they were faithful in that to which God had called them, and it is their story which I wish to bring to you. In doing so, I will rely heavily on their own records and words.
The Beginnings of Baptist Church History
It would not perhaps be appropriate to begin any reference to the growth and development of any Baptist church in Derbyshire, and Crich in particular, without making any reference to other, earlier, events. As we will see, there are records that evidence the commencement of a Baptist witness in Crich around 1826, but this may not have been so had it not been for other significant happenings elsewhere nearby, and at earlier times.
I can therefore but make a brief and passing reference to the group of separatists from Gainsborough and Scrooby, in Lincolnshire, who, to escape persecution fled to Holland in the pursuit of religious freedom. However, in 1611 a small group, headed by Thomas Helwys (1550-1616), returned and in 1612 established England’s first Baptist church, near Spittalfields, in London. This first group of Baptists came to be called General Baptists, in that they believed in a general (or universal) atonement, in other words were Arminians in doctrine as far as salvation was concerned, believing that man had some aspect of ‘free will’ in determining his own salvation. Helwys himself was imprisoned not long after his return, and died in prison in 1616.
Dan Taylor and General Baptists of the New Connexion
The General Baptist churches grew in number, and if we make a large leap ahead in time, into the Mid 1700’s we find many of them being largely affected by the Evangelical Awakenings of the 1730’s and 1740’s, under the ministries of George Whitefield and John Wesley. Our main focus is naturally upon Derbyshire, and upon Crich especially, but it is a Yorkshireman who next claims our attention, and an evangelical Methodist at that. Dan Taylor was born at Northowram, near Halifax on the 21st December 1738. He preached his first sermon when he was not far short of his 23rd birthday. Taylor evidently read widely and studied much, and we are given to understand that he eventually became unhappy with some of the teaching and church government practiced amongst the Methodists. He left the Methodists in 1762.
It was not long before he became persuaded of the rightness of Believer’s Baptism, and it appears that his approaches to some nearby ‘Particular’ Baptist’s requesting Believer’s Baptism, met with their refusal on the grounds of his own Arminian views. They were however gracious enough to suggest that he might approach a group of General Baptists, but these were at Boston, in Lincolnshire. History tells us however that Dan Taylor and a friend were told about a nearer group of General Baptists at Gamston, in Nottinghamshire, and it was there that he was baptised on Sunday, 13th February 1763.
Dan Taylor’s influence, and the effect of his labours cannot be understated, and it became obvious to him and to others within the General Baptists that they, like many groupings before and since, had become divided on vital doctrine. There were those who like Taylor were out and out evangelicals, in the truest sense, and also held to biblical Trinitarian views of the Godhead. Others amongst the General Baptists were not so, and it seems that these fundamental doctrinal issues were the reasons why it was eventually felt that Taylor and other like-minded ministers decided that they could no longer fellowship with those who held ‘un-biblical’ views on matters so vital to the Faith. Thus, in 1770 “The New Connexion of General Baptists” was formed.
In presenting the evidence as to other evangelistic labours that considerably assisted the growth of the General Baptists in Derbyshire, I am compelled just to mention the significance of men from the church at Barton in the Beans, in Leicestershire. Their village preaching would often take them into several neighbouring counties, including Derbyshire. The names of these men, such as Samuel Deacon, Joseph Donisthorpe, Francis Smith, John Aldridge, John Grimley and several others beside are perhaps not familiar to many of us now, but they established and assisted works in a number of places, and it has to be said that Derbyshire benefited much from their zeal and labours for Christ and His kingdom.
As far as Baptist church history in Derbyshire is concerned, a number of references can be found which state that the Dan Taylor who I referred to earlier, actually visited Derby on the 31st of May 1789, and preached from Luke 2:10 “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.” The place of Taylor’s preaching is thought to have been on Willow Row, near the old gaol, in the Friargate area of Derby. Most of the writers that I have consulted would suggest that the beginning of a General Baptist church in Derby began around the time of Dan Taylor’s visit. The fledgling work was supported by the preaching of the men from the Barton Church and the preaching stations that they had established.
Brook Steet Chapel, Derby and the Influence of J. D. G. Pike
A chapel was eventually built on Brook Street, in Derby and although he was not the first Minister of the church, on the 10th July 1810 John (D) Gregory Pike was inducted into the pastoral oversight of the church. He exercised a very fruitful ministry in Derby until his death, in 1854. His heart was in mission, and he involved himself in wider missionary work, becoming one of the founders of the General Baptist Missionary Society. We also learn that he was not a person who cared much for town life, and it was said of him that he had a “partiality for village preaching.” In his book, “The Baptists of Derbyshire 1640-1914” Stephen Greasley refers to Pike thus “His ministry was to be the most significant ministry of any Derbyshire Baptist throughout the whole of the nineteenth century.” Under Pike’s ministry the Derby church grew tremendously, so much so, that they eventually occupied a new one on St. Mary’s Gate. I wonder what Pike would have thought? – to learn that the old Brook Street Chapel is now a ‘Wine Bar’. The rather grand building that was the St. Mary’s Gate church was eventually demolished, and it may be interesting to know that its rather imposing gates now stand as part of the entrance to Derby Cathedral.
The evangelical zeal of the friends at Brook Street, even before J. G. Pike, was such that one of its founder members, a Mr. Joseph Barrow was led to commence “public services” in Duffield in the early part of 1807. Cutting what might otherwise be a ‘long story’ short, the friends at Duffield, then under the pastoral oversight of one Richard Ingram began preaching in nearby Belper, in a room at the ‘George and Dragon’ on August 24th 1817. This initial somewhat longer introduction than I had planned, has been necessary because I needed to let you see how the growth of the General Baptists of the New Connexion led to the establishing of churches, leading eventually to their village preaching being introduced into Crich.
Early Baptist Church Church History – In Crich
The scantiest records remain of those very early days, but J. H. Wood in his ‘Condensed History of The General Baptists of the New Connexion’ records that a certain “Mr. G. Pike, then minister at Belper introduced preaching here is 1826.” Now herein lay a mystery, for a long time I did not have the answer. Could it have been J. Gregory Pike, the same man who was minister at Brook Street, or coincidentally someone with almost the same name? In actual fact it turned out to be one Godfrey Theophilus Pike, the brother of J. G. Pike. However, of one thing we can be certain, very occasionally J. G. Pike (the Brook Street one) was invited to preach at Crich – the Minute Book records it!
The initial ‘preaching’ may well have been in the open air, but no records are available to confirm this. One can only assume that following that initial gospel outreach, as a group meeting together as a formally constituted church, they would have sought somewhere to have their meetings, which likely would have been a house, or maybe some other room large enough to accommodate all who wished to attend. One thing is known of our humble beginnings, and that is in 1830 the General Baptist Church at Crich was formally constituted with a membership of some 20 persons, by 1831 that had grown to 31. The likelihood is that more people would have been present at each gathering, but the ‘book’ membership was as stated by J. H. Wood.
It seems that there was somewhat of a crisis in 1828, when the minister at Belper (G. T. Pike) left there. The Brook Street Chapel report in the Minutes of the General Baptist Association of that year record – “in consequence of earnest solicitations, and not of any wish on our part, we have received eleven members at Crich, who formerly belonged to the church at Belper; but should an acceptable minister again be fixed at Belper, and our friends at Crich agree to a reunion with that Church, we shall cordially dismiss them to their former friends.” This would seem to suggest that without being formally constituted as a church, they either wanted to or were obliged to be under the pastoral oversight of a recognised minister. They continued as a branch of the Derby church from 1828 until 1830 when, as I have stated they were accepted as a church in their own right. What is interesting to note is that even in those days, at that formative stage of our Baptist Church in Crich the members evidenced a degree of independence. The Belper church themselves in the same 1828 report stated “… Our congregations are sometimes encouraging. We have preaching at Heage, Morley, Pack, Milford, and Lane-End. One branch of the church has separated from us”, that church being Crich.
Stephen Greasley’s research for his book is helpful, in that he cites the names of the 11 people that were received into membership at Brook Street Chapel, on 10th December 1827:
Samuel (?) Slyder
The church at Brook Street evidently excluded Thomas Hudson in September 1828, for drunkenness. There were other members admitted to membership by baptism in 1828 while Crich was a branch church of Brook Street, the following were added:
Not having had opportunity to study the Brook Street Minutes, I am again grateful to Stephen Greasley for providing this further snippet of information – “A sharp letter was sent to one of the members at Crich for having his child sprinkled.” He was told that “he would be allowed to stay as a member if he admitted his error.”
On the 15th of September 1829 Brook Street also recorded: “The Crich friends having baptised several candidates and acted independently, to be informed that if they wish to act this way, we shall consider them as having withdrawn.” Brook Street made it quite clear that the conduct of the church at Crich was not considered orderly, “and cannot be allowed in future.”
It seems logical therefore to deduce that these events led to consideration of the establishing of a General Baptist Church in Crich, which did not rely on being a Branch of Brook Street Chapel, or of Belper. My understanding is that to be formally constituted as a church, they would have had to get the approval of the local General Baptist Association, but as I mentioned a little while ago J. H. Wood tells us that the Crich church was formed in 1830, with 20 members, and that they were duly received into the Association in 1831 having 31 members. A minister, Mr. J. Garrat was called to the pastorate of the church in 1834. His ministry lasted until 1845. The peak in those early years, in membership terms at least, was in 1843, when following 18 baptisms in that year, the membership reached 50 persons.
Our First Meeting House
I would dearly love to have records which document the discussions and plans which led to the construction of the first Baptist Meeting House in Crich, but sadly this is not the case. What is clear in the absence of these things is the continuance of faith which led to a building being raised in ‘Roes Lane’, which as we can be sure was opened for worship in 1839. This remained their meeting place for over 37 years, before they moved to our present central location in the Market Place, but more about that controversial move later.
It seems that they gave a name to that first Meeting House, because if you examine the building closely, you will see engraved in a stone just above the door the word ‘Ebenezer’. This word has much significance, as it refers to that passage in the Old Testament, where it is said of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 7 and verse 12 “then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it ‘Ebenezer’, saying, hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” Such help had evidently been forthcoming for our early Baptist friends.
The decoration of the first Meeting House was plain – as a Minute of April 22nd 1844 informs us “That the Chapel be whitewashed and done by the members.” The form of lighting would initially, I believe, have been with oil lamps, but we can record the thanks of the church in 1865, as on April 3rd, 1865 the Church meeting proposed “That Brothers Bush and Dawes be invited to convey the thanks of the Church to Mr. Smedley, for his kindness in fitting up the pipes for the gas to light the chapel.” Again we might also add that there were no street lights in Crich that were lit by gas, until 1921.
Such were the numbers of people pressing to attend, that it eventually became difficult to accommodate them all, and a balcony was eventually added. The records state that this was opened on 5th September 1853.
Believer’s Baptism – By Immersion
One fundamental Baptist distinctive is that of the baptism of believers by full immersion as being the Scriptural method. Such indeed was the form by which Jesus himself was baptised, and our first Baptist congregation sought to follow this practice. There is ample evidence elsewhere, that early Baptist congregations would seek out a local stream or river, where the water was deep enough to allow full immersion. Although I have no documentary evidence for this, one of our former members, now with the Lord, Joyce Lester – those who have lived in Crich as long as, or longer than I will remember Joyce – she always maintained that the first Baptists used the stream that flowed in the ‘dip’ at the bottom of Roes Lane, leading up to Parkhead. This would only have been about 200 yards or so from the chapel, so the assertion does have possibilities, but whether this was so or not, it does remain clear that full immersion is what they practiced, and of necessity they would have had to have somewhere to conduct such a baptism. An intriguing Minute from April 23rd 1843 states “That no more water be fetched out of the Baptistry.” Maybe they ‘fetched the water from the stream and tipped it into some suitable receptacle in the church? The location or place of their baptisms at this stage is, I fear, something we will have to leave not fully determined. In considering this question it is perhaps worth remembering that the first piped water did not come to Crich till 1906.
One note, which I trust will not upset our Weslyan Methodist friends, is found in the 1843 compilation of the General Baptist Repository and Record, it states: “Crich – On Lord’s Day, April 9th, the ordinance of believer’s baptism was administered in the General Baptist Chapel, Crich, to nine persons, six males and three females, in the presence of a large congregation. A sermon was delivered on the occasion from Daniel 10:21, “I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth.” Eight of the above persons had been members in the Weslyan Methodist Connexion, one of them an acceptable local preacher. In the evening the newly baptised were brought to the table of the Lord and received into the fellowship of the church in the usual way, after which the services of that highly interesting day closed, leaving feelings not to be described. O Lord we beseech thee send prosperity.” The records kept helpfully allow us to know who these nine people were, and what this does reveal is the area from where some of the Baptists of those days were drawn, as a result of that, my belief is that William Briddon may have been the ‘acceptable’ local preacher, and the others possibly those drawn from the Weslyan Methodist Connexion, as there is a small Wesleyan Methodist Church in Moorwood Moor. Interestingly, the Yeomans family have been connected with the small church there within the writer’s memory – and as of 2014 still are. The baptised people were:
William Hopkinson : Moorwood Moor
William Briddon : Crich
Thomas Mills : Plaistow Green
John Yeomans :
Alfred Mills : Dark Lane
Job Higton : Moorwood Moor (note: his parents Robert and Dorothy were baptised in August 1843)
Sarah Hopkinson : Moorwood Moor
Elizabeth Dicking : Moorwood Moor
Elizabeth Hardstone : Moorwood Moor
The Baptist Burial Ground
Until the Burials Act of 1880 non-Anglican burial services were not allowed in Anglican churchyards, so I find it unsurprising that the early Baptists in Crich given their independent mindedness; established their own burial ground. As there is no surviving plan or evidence that I am aware of, one can again only anticipate where such a burial ground may have been. It is believed to have been immediately adjacent to the church, covered by what is now a small grassy area. A Minute of August 10th, 1839 reads thus: “Resolved that John Sheldon be appointed the sexton of this “Burying Ground.”
Names of early Baptists will be mentioned as we proceed, but one member laid to rest in the Baptist burial ground was a certain Job Berrisford. His death and burial is described in the General Baptist Repository and Record as follows: “Mr. Job Berrisford, a member of the General Baptist Church, Crich departed this life February 8th 1843, in the 33rd year of his age. The subject of this brief sketch was accidentally killed on the limestone railway. He survived four hours after the circumstances transpired, testifying to all around him the happy effects of that religion which alone can make a dying bed feel – “soft as downy pillows are”. His constant language was, “Bless God, Oh what a good God I have. Sinners do not feel what I feel; if they did they would obey Him.” He expired with similar sentiments upon his lips. His mortal remains were interred in the Baptist burial ground. On the following Lord’s Day, in the evening, his funeral sermon was preached by the minister of the place, to a large and deeply affected audience, from Jeremiah 31:17, “There is hope in thine end.” The writer of this account closes by saying, “Lord when thou callest, like him may I go.”
Death, we can be certain eventually comes to all, but I cannot leave this section without briefly going back to two of the nine persons who were baptised on April 9th, 1843. Of the nine we have the knowledge that Thomas Mills was later killed in an accident in the Quarry, and that Job Higton died on the 15th of April, 1855. Job Higton would therefore have only been 13 years of age when he was baptised, as a believer, by immersion. He died at the age of 25, with this said of him – “Consistent in his life and peaceful in death. He adorned religion while he lived and it supported him in affliction and death.”
Without wishing to labour the point unnecessarily I will mention but one more testimony of the departed faithful, as it was recorded following their death. I do so, along with the others I have recalled simply to evidence the likely spirituality of these early Baptists, and on what a foundation we now stand. In a Minute of June 17th 1844 it is recorded of a Mrs. Carter Garrat, who may well have been the wife of the then Minister – “died on the 9th instant Mrs. Carter Garrat bearing ample testimony to the piety and excellency of that religion she had for many years professed. May this bereaving state be sanctified to the church as an eminent degree, and may we follow her as she followed Christ, till at length we arrive with her in the regions of unclouded glory” I think that the English language of the present day has lost something of its beauty, don’t you?
Early Minute Book Entries and Association Report
It seems that there had been at least six Church Meetings from April 1839 before any formal Minute was put down. This first Minute in our very first Minute Book is dated December 23rd 1839 and tells us that early Crich Baptists had decided as follows: “Resolved that we as a Christian Church solemnly revere the authority of the great head of the Church by celebrating His last supper on the first Sunday of every month.” Not unusual at all you might say, but it is pleasing to note that maybe without most realising it, we still follow the same practice that our founders began in 1839.
An interesting report was made by the church representatives to the Association in 1844, but a few years after they were constituted explains – “The state of our Church is a matter of lamentaion… deficient in brotherly affection….Church Meetings and the Lord’s Supper indifferently attended….depressed financially.”
By the year 1855 membership had risen to 55, but in the same year they reported to the Association as follows: “The members of the established church are very active here now, and have in some measure affected our congregations as well as taken away a number of our Sabbath School scholars. Still, our Sabbath School is by far the largest and most efficient in the village.”
In matters of church order and discipline they would perhaps be thought too strict by some today. A Minute of March 24th 1845 informs us that “William Greatorex and Thomas Mills be requested to visit those members who never come forward to the means of grace and with their contributions, and report to the next meeting.” This likely indicates to us that some ‘members’ never, or very rarely attended the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and that the church was minded to encourage such folk to consider their relationship with the God they professed to serve, and their commitment to the local church.
We can well believe that our forefathers were a feisty bunch, not afraid to do what they believed to be right, and again in matters of church discipline they took these things very seriously indeed. To them attending upon the Lord’s House was not to be part of just a social club. To become a Christian and a member of the church meant commitment. Although, no doubt the same type of issues will be dealt with differently by different churches, and Ministers will undertake their pastoral duties in a different way, the same issues remain even today in some churches. Listen to a Minute put down on January 26th, 1846 – “Resolved that those members that stands in the book and does nothing towards the cause be brought in before the Church, next Church Meeting.”
It is unclear as to what precipitated the decision, but later in the same year, 1846, on August 10th they – “Resolved that no member or members in this church shall be allowed to take anything upon themselves without the consent of the Church.” Their determination to have an orderly church life was, I am sure, well intended.
Exclusions, albeit some temporary, were a part of church life in those days. Let me illustrate this by two brief references. Surnames are left out so as not to embarrass any living relatives – April 23rd, 1855 “That Benjamin ……….., Joseph ……….., be expelled for disorderly and immoral conduct. Also Lydia ……….. for unchristian conduct.” Others were visited and interviewed by church officers appointed for the task – example “Resolved that H. Cowlishaw, I. Petts and I. Dawes be appointed to visit Mrs……….. for assisting at the Public House Tea Party, also Mrs. ………. for presenting herself there.”
The Derbyshire Conference
As now, and similarly to other denominations, the Baptists from time-to-time met in Conference. They would move the meeting to a different church each quarter, where accommodation would allow. The August 1843 Derbyshire Conference met at Crich. The chairman on that occasion was the minister at Crich, Mr. Garrat, and the Conference heard that the reports from the churches were favourable, thirty-one having been baptized, and there were sixteen candidates for that sacred ordinance, or for the fellowship of the church.
At the Conference a question was asked – “is it consistent for a professor of religion to exhibit Playbills in their public window and attend the theatre?” a very decided negative was given.”
Of this Conference it is recorded in the General Baptist Repository and Record – “The chapel was nearly filled with friends at the tea meeting. A very interesting open service was held on the Green (the present Market Place, where our church now stands), one of the brethren preaching from John 12:32 on ‘The attraction of the cross’. The testament of the preacher was offered for sale at eightpence, and was bought by a respectably dressed widow in the audience. A revival meeting was held in the chapel, which was addressed by Messrs. Garrat, Simons, Ward, Barton, Argyle, Kenney and Peggs. So, it would appear from this brief extract, that in this matter of open air preaching in the Market Place, we are doing something as present day Baptists which our forbears also engaged in as part of the work in proclaiming the Christian gospel.
Little is recorded about the church music of those very early days, but a somewhat amusing note is added to the Minutes of December 1858, when it is recorded that it was “Agreed that the Harmonium be withdrawn for the space of six months and Brother Wildgoose be solicited to learn to play the same.” It seems unlikely that Brother Wildgoose ever got to grips with the instrument as on the 3rd of January 1859 there is another Minute which informs us the Meeting decided – “That the Harmonium be sold and the set price be seven guineas and when sold the money be appropriated to a new singing pew.”
They evidently liked their singing, as a number of references are made throughout the Minutes to the choir, and it seems probable that during the period that the aforesaid harmonium was unplayable, that the choir led the congregational singing.
Like all churches, and our Baptist founding fathers were no different, they would inevitably have had substantial expenses. This would certainly have been the case with the cost of building the Roes Lane church. A very difficult problem was highlighted in 1842 when they asked the Derbyshire Conference for advice. The concern was about their chapel debts. It seems that the Conference responded by suggesting that a letter be sent to the churches that had not thus far supported them financially. It is a matter of record that in 1845, whether anything was done before I am unaware, but in March 1845 the current issue of the General Baptist Repository and Record contained the following: “The General Baptist Church, Crich, beg through the medium of the Repository, to inform the Connexion that they are in great difficulties, the money borrowed on their small chapel, £145, being called in, and required to be paid without fail in a few months. We hope to be able to realise among ourselves £50; but as there will still be a great deficiency, we are laid under the absolute necessity of making application to those churches who have not assisted us heretofore. We humbly trust that this appeal will not be in vain; as we are anxious to avoid the loss of our chapel, and the total overthrow of the cause of Christ among us.” It is extremely interesting to note that the value of the £145 they borrowed to build Ebenezer Chapel, down Roes Lane, in today’s money would likely be in excess of £9,500. The £50 they could “realise among themselves” and pay back in 1845 would be, in present terms, somewhere around £3.720. Of course, in later years, when they moved to build the present church in the Market Place the funds needed to raise and maintain the church, along with its day to day ministry would multiply far beyond what the first Crich Baptists required in the formative years.
It seems that the Baptists at Crich’s Ebenezer Chapel relied upon a system of seat rents for their regular finance along with special offerings, income from Tea Meetings and the occasional Bazaar, together with additional contributions from members, a system they continued to employ even when they moved into the present Market Place church, even though the practice of a weekly offering was discussed as being “the only spiritual way.” They evidently consulted on this issue and a certain Mr. Earp of Melbourne had replied to a letter on this subject. Weekly offerings, according to a Minute put down on 6th November 1860 were seen as – “a more excellent way in many respects to the old system and was also seen as the only Scriptural way.” The fact that they maintained an element of seat rents, despite voting in the weekly offering is an interesting one, they were eventually fazed out but not until much later than 1860 when the weekly offering system was discussed. I have some recollections from my father-in-law, Clifford Gration, which I will refer to again later, but Clifford stated that seat rents were still being used into the 1920’s. In statistics I have seen but could not find when I was preparing this, provision was made in Ebenezer Chapel for a number of free ‘sittings’, I think it was in the order of 30 or 40.
One writer that I have consulted in the preparation of these reflections on our Crich Baptist history suggests that our forbears appeared to lack the “missionary fervour” of other Baptists in the county, but that, I feel does them something of an injustice. Baptist churches existed in most of the local villages, so where would their own evangelistic zeal take them in planting churches? It is known that they did endeavour to negotiate for a piece of ground at Moorwood Moor to build a chapel, and also attempts were made to introduce preaching into nearby Holloway. Sadly, there appears to have been no lasting success obtained by, or memorial to these endeavours.
The Morning Service
An interesting move is noted in a Minute from the meeting on December 4th, 1860, when it was decided – “That a morning service be commenced on the first Lord’s Day in the New Year, to begin at a quarter to eleven o’clock, and that it be tried for three months.” Many people have wondered why our morning service starts at the somewhat unusual time of 10.45am, now we know; the Baptists of 1860 decided it. After their three month trial they must have preferred the morning service at that time, as it has continued from then until the present day. Prior to this they had met in an afternoon. An earlier starting time would of course have had significant implications for those coming to the church from further afield, as some of the congregation would undoubtedly have to either walk, from places other than Crich, like Wheatcroft, Moorwood Moor, Plaistow Green, Holloway, Whatstandwell and Fritchley. It may have been the case of course that some would come by horse and cart, although where the horses would be tethered can only be open to supposition.
Samuel & Elizabeth Barnes
I thought to refer at this point in the consideration of the history of Baptists in Crich by commenting on the remarkable awakening that took place in 1861, but by remarkable providence I have been made aware of a little of the story that concerns a couple of our earliest members. Someone corresponded with me about one of his relatives, who it would seem became involved with the first Baptists in Crich, and my correspondent informed me that his relative had left a diary (or Memoir as she called it) in which she described some of her experiences. This is inevitably out of sequence, but I judged it too important to leave out. Her account of her life is extremely touching and when I read the diary (which is on the Internet) it almost brought me to tears. This is not the place to describe everything she talks about, check Martin Mosley’s website for that but let me just mention a few things in which she describes the time she and her husband spent with our early Baptist friends.
Elizabeth Webster was born on the 10th of August 1798. She lived, as a child, in Alderwasley, near the Iron Works. Her father James Webster was often to be found in public houses, and it was not uncommon for Elizabeth to walk from her home at Alderwasley, on her own, at night, to the pub where her father had been drinking, in order to ensure that her drunk father arrived home safely. She cites at least one instance where she went from Alderwasley, to the “public house at Bullbridge”, and walked him back, along the canal path on the way home. It would, for a young girl, have been quite an experience. Her mother would occasionally beat her brother, and from what Elizabeth tells us she often tried to intervene to stop the beatings.
She did however still have natural affection for her parents, but as her story moves on we find her having moved away from home when she was 19 years of age to work for a God fearing man, a Mr. Harrison, at Fritchley. She returned home when Mr. Harrison died. Just after she went back home she became acquainted with Samuel Barnes, a farm worker from Wingfield Park. He was at the time doing some work for John and Charles Moolds who then owned the Alderwasley Iron Works. Elizabeth and Samuel fell in love and were married on the 23rd of April 1823. They lived on the farm in Wingfield Park. You get some idea of her circumstances when she says in the diary “it was a comfortable home for such an unworthy creature as me to go to, but it were not my lot to walk in silver slippers.”
One instance she describes which caused her many tears – Samuel had been reading the big Bible and he gave it to Elizabeth to put on the table. As she describes it, she had something on her knees and instead she put it on the floor, her “conscience smote her” and following a further request from her husband she put the Bible on the table. Her subsequent feelings are described thus, “Oh the times the tears have steamed from my eyes believing that I laid the Lord of life and Glory on the very floor I walked upon, and infidel could have done no more.” Although she enjoyed many a happy hour down Wingfield Park she states “…in those days I were tinctured with pharisaic leaven not knowing better things.”
Elizabeth states that she and her husband, Samuel Barnes attended the Ridgeway meetings at Heage. However, she says that “about the year 1828” (although we know it was a little before this), the Baptists commenced preaching in a room at Crich which my husband went to hear them, and he was quite attentive to their preaching. Likewise in the following year, 1829, he was baptised and continued amongst them.” Elizabeth describes the inner struggles she experienced, how that she “was chased and driven in her soul”, how that “she couldn’t get any comfort in the Bible, or any good works.” She evidently had access to some Christian books; one which is still available today was Baxter’s ‘Call to the Unconverted’. She says “I thought it contained something that I must know the worst of it”….”the heavens”, she went on, “appeared tremendous over my head.”
Long weeks and months went by and on one occasion she felt the “fault was in myself, and at other times I thought that I didn’t go to hear the right people.” So, on one occasion when she heard that there was something taking place at the Primitive Methodists (closed now, but the building still stands, up Sun Lane) she decided to go along. The record of that visit in her diary is quite revealing…..”I well remember that there was to be something particular at the Primitive Methodists one evening. I thought I’d go, for I thought I had got it into my head that I should hear something better than where I wont to go, but if I recollect aright there was not much sermon for many of them knelt down on the room floor all around facing one another. They began praying and shouting altogether till I couldn’t hear what one another said. I had the weakness at the time to think that all the folk that went to a place of worship at that time was Holy people except myself, but although I was in that dark and pitiable state of mind, surely, I thought can all this confusion be right religion for I was almost bewildered and my hearing for the better was that I returned home all the worse?”
Let Elizabeth’s words explain more to us, “But, I must return to those people that I have swerved from, the Baptists, my ardent desire was not to lose one opportunity of listening to their sounds, then I went regular to their place of worship. By and by I felt a desire to serve the Lord, which that desire grew gradually stronger and stronger until I was constrained to follow the Lord in His own appointed way.” “In 1830 I was baptised, not because others were, for I felt it right as plain as in saw the sun when it is risen, besides it was such a burden to my soul that I could not go from it, it took place in Harrison’s Mill Dam, Fritchley.” She says more, but just let me just add one more observation she makes from this very special occasion…..”I should have said at the time it took place I was pregnant of my daughter Mary, the reason why I mention the circumstance..I had a bad leg which I was not wont to have it in that situation before or since, but the following morning my leg was so much better I was quite astonished, and it became well like the other. But I did not attribute the mendment to the water being the sole cause for there was something instilled in my mind that it was the power of God.”
Elizabeth and Samuel were to continue to worship amongst the Baptists in Crich for another few years before they moved to a farm on Eastmoor, near Old Brampton. Elizabeth records her feelings for the times she spent with them …… “But to return to those happy enjoyments again with the people at Crich; I must say in all my wanderings that I enjoyed many a happy sermon whilst listening to those Baptist Minister’s sounds, Indeed I sometimes feel their sweetness to this day.” Later in her diary she makes a number of references to still having a copy of the hymn book they used at Crich in those days, and frequently she writes verses from some of the hymns that are especially meaningful to her experience at the time.
There is no doubt that the Crich Baptists of the late 1820’s and early 1830’s occupied a very special place in the heart and affections of Elizabeth Barnes. Both Samuel and Elizabeth, when they died were brought back from Nether Rod Knoll farm on Eastmoor, where they lived, to be buried in the churchyard of the Parish Church, in Crich.
Elizabeth’s account of her life is extremely moving, she endured a great deal, I have scarcely been so drawn into the account of someone’s life as I was with hers, there were times when as I was reading her account of her trials and tribulations I wanted to take the burden from her.
We must however return to the Baptists in Crich that remained, and the period 25 years or so after Elizabeth and Samuel Barnes left Crich. Let us go forward to 1861….. and the remarkable events of that year.
Did Crich, or the area from where our members were drawn ever experience revival?
The Great Awakenings in America of the 18th Century are well known to some, and others may be aware of other revivals, again beginning in America in the 1850’s. This move of God in a true revival eventually found its way to Northern Ireland in 1859, and from there to Scotland, from where it spread down through England and into Wales. Many thousands were converted and became Christians. How can we describe revival in a sentence or so, well, we can say that true revival is not man made, it is entirely a work of God. It cannot be ‘whipped up’ by emotional mood music, or other similar events. In the revivals I have referred to, intense and fervent prayer accompanied by powerful preaching seemed to precede such events. Men and women and indeed young people would feel the burden of spiritual guilt, and often come weeping, seeking for the forgiveness of their sins. In true revival, society noticed the difference, there was not as much lawlessness; lives you see had been changed for the good. Broken relationships were healed and peace generally prevailed.
Why do I mention such things in the context of Baptist church history in Crich? Well, whilst our area may not have seen the thousands converted that we can read of elsewhere, I am of the opinion that the effects of the 1859 revival were still being experienced as long afterwards as 1861. Obviously I cannot speak for other churches, but of the Baptists I can say they did, I believe, experience something of that ‘quickening’ that accompanies revival fire. It is best described by two Minutes in our book, firstly that of February 6th 1861 – “That there be a public meeting in the evening (note this was a public meeting) to commence at half past 6 o’clock; that our minister give an address on “The Great Religious Awakening of the 19th Century” ; and that there be a public prayer meeting afterwards.” I need to mention that a Tea Meeting had also been arranged for earlier on the same evening, which incidentally was Shrove Tuesday, in 1861, and that a note added afterwards to the Minute says “There seems something singular in an arrangement like this. Tea meetings and prayer meetings have not commonly gone together. A deep religious feeling had however, at this time, been extensively awakened in our neighbourhood, and the subject of the address and prayer meeting were alike adopted in order to meet the spiritual demands of the place, and that the best use might be made of the mighty and blessed influence which was at work in our midst.”
The Minute of March 5th 1861 explains further – “The Tea Meeting appointed for Shrove Tuesday was held. The day was fine, and 120 friends sat down to tea. The meeting afterwards was well attended and a good feeling prevailed. Some striking incidents in connection with the American revival were related, and many points of resemblance were noticed between that revival and the one in our own neighbourhood. Some permanent impressions, as has since been learned, were then made. A most excellent meeting for prayer was held afterwards. It began about 8 o’clock and lasted for two hours. The spirit of prayer was largely manifested. The Spirit of God was working mightily in our midst. Several prayed for the first time and felt it good to be there.”
(It should be here recorded that meetings for prayer and short exhortations had now been held, chiefly at friends’ houses, every evening (except Friday) for a month. The like gracious influences had been at work through the whole, and the like circumstances (i.e. awakened sinners commencing to pray earnestly for mercy and salvation) had attended all. Nor was this extra machinery set at work to bring about a revival. The revival came first, when Minister and people were not calculating upon it, and the extra meetings, as a matter of necessity came afterwards. The church was remarkably quickened, nearly every member being conscious of the Revival’s powerful influence. Such was the earnestness and importunity felt in prayer that words seemed feeble. The whole soul was poured out before God, and when words had ceased, sufferance was found in the deepest groans. There was no listlessness, no indifference: responses were many and earnest, and the prayer of one was the prayer of all. All classes out of the church were affected.”
Not unsurprisingly news of this most remarkable of events found its way into the report made to the Association. A shortened version of the report informs us: “Shortly after a remarkable religious movement began and spread rapidly all around us. Never before had we been blessed with such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit …. Sinners of every class, even some of the most hardened, were brought under the mighty influence. Drunkenness and profanity became almost unknown. Prayer and praise were heard everywhere ……. For four months this wonderful movement continued. Hundreds were awakened …. By baptism and restoration we have added about 40, and thus by the blessing of God we have doubled our numbers.”
Further comment is made in the Association report about a baptismal service: “On the Lord’s Day, March 24th 1861 24 persons were baptised in the Baptist Chapel, Crich, being the first fruits of the great religious awakening with which God has visited this place and neighbourhood. The chapel was crowded and many more were unable to gain admittance. In the afternoon they were received to the Lord’s Table. It was the most memorable day in the history of the Church.” By the following Conference Meeting, in June of 1861, a further 12 baptisms had taken place.
So, following the events described previously in regard to a revival in our own locality, the Baptists of that period saw the blessing of at least an additional 36 persons added to their number within a very short period of time. I would be bold enough to say that such a thing had not happened before; or indeed since.
From the Mountain Top to the Valley
One would like to think that the revival blessing would have continued, but sadly I must be fair in mentioning to you that after the happy and wondrous awakening that took place, disappointment was to swiftly follow. It is a matter of record that the then Minister, one William Shakespeare no less, the same one who had been at Belper for eighteen months before he came to Crich – “was not allowed to preach after the church became aware that he had gone after the Pastoral office of the Unitarians at Ilkeston.” Mr. Shakespeare, who had been trained at the Baptist College in Leicester, went on to be the Minister of the Unitarians at Ilkeston from 1862 until 1887. He died on the 14th of August 1909, aged 78.
The reaction of the early Crich Baptists is perfectly understandable, given the doctrinal differences regarding their ‘Trinitarian’ beliefs (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and that of the Unitarians, who in essence believe in the oneness of God and therefore deny the existence of the Trinity. Unitarians were also generally ‘Universalist’ in that they believed all mankind would be saved.
Concerning Mr. Shakespeare’s departure, the North Derbyshire Conference, held at Milford, in 1862, accepted Mr. Shakespeare’s resignation as Secretary of the Conference, and furthermore expressed the following comment: “….and regret that he should so far have changed his sentiments as to necessitate his removal from us.” The conference also gave their support to the Crich church, in that they stated: “…That we deeply sympathise with our friends at Crich under the painful circumstances through which they have passed, and recommend them to adhere to the doctrines assuredly believed among us.” The comments made at the Association, especially where they say that Mr. Shakespeare “should so far have changed his sentiments ……” lead me to the inevitable conclusion that the same doctrinal divisions which brought about the split between the General Baptists of Dan Taylor’s day, and the subsequent birth of The General Baptists of the New Connexion in 1770 still existed some 91 years later, in 1861.
I can but imagine the hurt that those early Crich Baptists would have felt, and the confusion that must have been in the minds of those new Christians, converted in the ‘Revival’ of 1861. It is my estimate that Mr. Shakespeare would have been around 30 or 31 years of age when he was the Minister at Crich, during the events described so encouragingly in the year of the ‘awakening’.
Nothing that could be interpreted as very remarkable seemed to have happened in the immediate years following Mr. Shakespeare’ s departure, but life and the work of the church continued, it had to, and in 1868 the report from Crich to the Association stated as follows, “Our congregations are tolerably good, and the Gospel is faithfully preached. The attendance at the Lord’s table is generally good, and at times truly refreshing. We have reduced the debt upon our chapel and expended considerable sums in improvements. Our Sabbath school is very encouraging and steadily increasing which leads us to contemplate the necessity of increasing our school accommodation.”
Some of Our People
Preachers, following Mr. Shakespeare’s departure, generally came from Derby or other churches in the Association, but we do perhaps see the increasing dependence of the church upon a number of individuals as far as the day-to-day life of the church was concerned. Baptist church history is not always about the famous and well-known, and although I could list more names, but not wishing to do an injustice to all of those who were involved, we might just mention a few of the local stalwarts who, over the early years, and on into the period when the church moved, were the focus for much of what happened:
Samuel Bennett – Described in the 1841 census as a Framework Knitter from Wheatcroft (although he may also have done a little farming), baptized along with his wife, Sarah, on 21st August, 1843. There is a touching remembrance of him in the present Baptist Church, that reads –
“In affectionate remembrance of Samuel Bennett – Who died April 24th, 1883, in the 68th year of his age – We have lost a standard-bearer who was foremost in the fight, true and tender, brave, courageous, with a heart that loved the right. But while we are weeping for him, he the crown of life has won, he is resting by the river and has heard the words “well done!”
Thomas Hardstone – An agricultural labourer in 1841, living in the ‘Pothouse’ area of Moorwood Moor. He was admitted into membership by baptism on the 18th of April 1847, his wife, Mary being brought into membership, again by baptism on the 16th December, 1848. Joan Wragg, a member at the Weslyan Methodist Church -, who many will credit with being an extremely helpful and knowledgeable person on the history of Crich – until her death a few years ago, always used to remind me that going back several generations, Thomas Hardstone was a relative of hers. Without doubt his contribution to church life was hugely significant. There is a tablet in the church, in memory of Mary Hardstone.
Isaac Petts – Lived in Fritchley, and was received into membership of the church in January 1858 along with his wife Sarah. He was a stonemason of great skill. There are numerous examples of his work throughout Crich churchyard, but arguably the most viewed piece of his work is Crich Cross, which he worked on, and certainly repaired in 1871. As well as the memorial in the Baptist church, mentioning Isaac Petts, Sarah, their Daughter Hannah and her husband Henry Howitt, there is a wonderful stone obelisk memorial at the family grave in the churchyard at St. Mary’s Parish Church. Sarah Petts died, in her 52nd year, on the 25th of January 1885. Isaac Petts died, in his 63rd year, on the 22nd of August 1888. Isaac Petts was also charged with the design of the new church here in the Market Place.
Henry Cowlishaw – I have somewhere in my files a reference to the Royal Commission Report of 1842 on Children in the Mines, Henry, at that time, as a youngster, was found to be working, breaking stone in Dukes Quarry, at Whatstandwell. Regrettably I could not find the cutting, but suffice it to say that it spoke well of young Henry, and commented how well he knew his letters, and that he was a scholar at the Baptist Sunday School. Henry went on of course to serve the Lord Jesus he loved, and was baptized on the 31st of March, 1844. He died, aged only 55, on 3rd April 1884. His wife, Mary Ann, only survived him just over a year, and died aged 56, on May 13th, 1885. On the memorial in the Baptist Church, regarding Henry, we learn that he was a member for thirty-seven years, a Deacon of the church for twenty-seven years, Superintendent of the Sunday School for over twenty years, and this remembrance is said of him – “From his first connection with the church he was earnest and faithfully devoted to His Master’s cause.”
Elijah Kirk – Described as a “Tailor and Woollen Draper” in Kelly’s Derbyshire Directory of 1891, he was admitted into membership by baptism on the 10th of October 1858. He was very actively involved in many administrative matters, being Secretary for a number of years, and playing a key role in the move from Roes Lane, and the building of the new church. He, along with his wife, also a member, moved to Leicester in 1892.
Like it says in the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 11 – “Time would fail me to tell of …….” the many others, men and women, and young people, no doubt, who gave above and beyond of their time, resources, and talent to serve God in this part of Derbyshire in those early years.
And then the move
As early as 12th June 1871 it appears that the members were thinking along the lines of moving from Roes Lane, a Minute of that date tells us that they – “Agreed that we have a bazaar to get the whole debt of the old chapel with a view to building a new one, and Brothers Petts, Cowlishaw, Hardstone, Kirk, Sulley, F. Cowlishaw and W. Hughes be a Committee with powers to add to their numbers.”
It wasn’t however until 1875 that they were able to record the purchase of the present site, which they did as follows, in a Minute of the specially appointed Committee, dated October 26th of that year – “As our present Chapel is in a dilapidated state and is situate remote from the Town, and surrounded with all sorts of filth and dirt, it has been felt desirable to remove to a more general and cordial place. Several attempts have been made but have failed until October 26th when one of the most eligible sites in centre of Town, and all one end of the Market Place, containing a large old Mansion & 4 cottages & out-buildings was offered for competition. – We are pleased to record that we were successful in the purchase at a cost of £660.”
This optimistic and apparently positive Minute would perhaps suggest that the purchase was all ‘cut and dried’, but as we in our day know only too well, once solicitors become involved things take on a new complexion.
Was everyone happy, well the Baptists were, but what of others in the village, or the Town, as it is referred to? Geoffrey Dawes, in his Tale of Crich relates the response in this way – “The Baptists opened their first chapel in 1839 on Roes Lane, by 1875, it was in a dilapidated state and they made a bid for the present site on the Market Place. This was then occupied by the 14th century Manor House of Sir Roger Beler, and some cottages which had been owned by Ralph Wheeldon-Smith – a descendent of the Ralph Smith of the 1660 deal with the Shrewsbury’s executors. His son, Ralph W. Smith, the butcher, got into some financial difficulties in the mid-1870’s and had to part with some of his property, but never intended to sell his own house, then called Wheeldon House. Smith claimed that the Baptists wanted the site, the auctioneer for the cottages was a Baptist, and Smith lost his house before he knew what was happening. To the end of his life he insisted that he had been the victim of sharp practice. There was much bad feeling in the village about the incident, and it was still talked about, by older people of the 1950’s. Watkins claims that people supporting Ralph Wheeldon-Smith were so incensed at what they regarded as a swindle that, as one of the told him with great bitterness, many thought that – “All the Baptists ought to dangle like tassels at the end of ropes!!”
Indeed, the church’s report to the Association in 1876 reflects the apparently ongoing controversy: “We have not yet got our new chapel property signed over to us: our solicitors have entered the case in chancery. We hope however, it will ere long come out on the right side. The property and site is a very desirable one for a chapel, as it is in the centre of the village and Market Place. The cost of the purchase is £660 in the first instance, but we fear more will be added by law, which causes us much anxiety as we are poor.”
In 1970 when repairs were being carried out to the floor of the Baptist Chapel Sunday School, Geoffrey Dawes goes on to say – “The well of the Manor House was discovered: it was 18ft deep to water level, and had 13ft of water.”
A painting of the Manor House, depicted from what I imagine would have been what we now know as ‘The Jubilee’, showing its formal gardens, surrounding cottages, a view across the Market Place, up Bowns Hill, with the line of Cromford Road being able to be clearly identified, presently hangs in Chiddingstone Castle, in Kent. It hung I believe, in the old house before it was purchased from the sale of the effects of the Manor House and taken down to Kent. On this painting, a sketch of which is in Geoffrey Dawes book, the Mansion House (the one across from the present Post Office), the former home of a Mr. Saxton, and if I am right, at some stage a Mr. Flint, can be clearly seen, as also can the Mount at the top of Bown’s Hill. Joan Wragg always used to maintain that the painting was done in the early seventeen hundreds, although more recently I was told that the painting was done in the 1730’s.
Just as a brief aside, Dr. Patrick Strange of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, once told me that his examination of the two apparent doorways built directly on the top of one another, that are in the end wall of the cottages, now occupied as the Baptist Manse were, in his opinion distinctly Tudor in appearance, but could be older.
Referring again to Joan Wragg, she always stated quite definitely that the ruins of the old Summer House, or as some would have it the old Viewing Tower, belonging to the old Manor still exist. They, she said, are covered by years of shrubbery and when looking from the Baptist Chapel Sunday School yard are on the ground above and behind old Rising Sun Public House and the Bakery. As a matter of some small interest we are told that in 1878 they took the slates off the old Summer House and put them on the eaves of the cottages. At some point the cottages, now the Manse, had been thatched, as remnants of old thatching pegs have been found there.
The New Chapel
It would perhaps be too time-consuming and not too compelling to go into the minutiae of how the new church was built, but suffice it to say that the width of the chapel was determined to be the same as the old house, 38 feet.
The plan (or as the Minute Book records) the Plan and Elevation submitted by Isaac Petts was approved.
One would imagine that some of the stone from the old house would have been incorporated into the building, but we can also say that approval was also given to Brother Fantom to “cut stone out of quarry for building new Chapel.” This would likely have been the nearby Parish Quarry. Although, I believe that stone was at some stage taken from Duke’s Quarry at Whatstandwell for wall copings.
An estimate from Isaac Petts for building the new chapel, of £349-17-00, exclusive of materials and foundations was approved. The cost though was considerably more than this estimate, as we find that they borrowed money to pay for some of what was involved. They had numerous Tea Meetings, people made donations, but by 1881 the debt outstanding on the new place was still over £1500.
The windows were obtained from a firm in Derby. The old pipe organ also came from a church in Derby (they still had to pay for someone to have lessons to know how to play it). The pulpit, placed centrally, was designed and built specifically for the church.
The memorial stones that can be seen on the front of the church were laid in 1877, and each person invited to take part in this ceremony was given a silver trowel and a wooden mallet to mark the occasion. As the present Secretary I feel honoured to currently hold the mallet given to Mr. Samuel Bennett on that memorable day, July 11th, 1877. A record exists which lets us know that Wingfield Brass Band was present on this august occasion, and for their services received the sum of £2. Once the legal issues had been resolved work must have proceeded quickly as the 1877 Association report tells us that “the walls were up to the first floor windows.”
A record remains that tells us that the Baptists of 1878 received the princely sum of £50 following the sale of the old Meeting House they had left down Roes Lane. We are led to believe that the last service in the old place took place in 1878, as the new chapel as opened in July of the same year (one report does say August). The friends at the now closed Mount Tabor Methodist Chapel allowed us the use of their schoolroom for the tea.
An interesting report to the Association in 1879 observes “The past year has witnessed the opening of our new, commodious and beautiful chapel, situate in the centre of the Market Place, It has cost about £2,400 towards which £900 has been realised. The opening services were held last August. The interior of the chapel is very compact and is pronounced the nicest country chapel in the county. It contains a good organ. The congregation is much improved since we left the old chapel. There is a new clock put in the front elevation, which cost £50 … the funds for the clock were subscribed by the public.”
The most well-known General Baptist of the late 19th century, Rev. John Clifford, preached twice at Crich, once in August 1879, and again in July 1881.
The Memories of Clifford Gration
We have travelled a fair distance with our early Crich Baptists, but as we leave them, having been with them as they moved into their ‘new place’, I want to leap ahead nearly fourty years into the early and middle years of the 20th Century, introducing a few memories of my saintly father-in-law, Clifford Gration He, having been born in Heage, was brought up in Crich, and lived here for most of his life. Apart that is from a couple of years in Bonsall following his marriage to Evelyn Allsop, a member of Bonsall Baptist Church. He was away for 5 years being billeted in Manchester, Carlisle and a number of other places during the Second World War years. He, Evelyn and the two girls returned to Crich in 1949.
He was I think in his 91st year when he died in 2001, but one fortunate day I asked him to put down some thoughts on the Baptists in Crich, and it is with some of these that we finish.
Clifford G : 1916 “My own recollections of the above place of worship go back to 1916 when I was 6 years of age. I was taken to church by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ashton, accompanied by their daughter Lilly. My early memories of Mr. Ashton are vivid indeed. As a preacher, he was the essence of sincerity, had a fiery delivery, and mostly launched out on a message without notes, relying entirely on the Bible! It was noted by some that the evangelical content of his messages was reminiscent of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Mr. Ashton could memorize large portions of Scripture. As a young person, I listened spell-bound. In those days reverence for the Word of God, and for the House of God, was paramount! It was in this setting that early impressions of the presence and power of God began to dawn.”
(Clifford recounts how the Ashton’s kept a small business with groceries, provisions, and as he puts it, a large paraffin tank – they had come to Crich from Riddings, in 1900.)
Clifford G : Whitsuntide Walk “The Whitsuntide procession was a memorable occasion. At least three brass bands were in attendance. A sizeable field was usually loaned for celebrations afterwards. It was not easy to see the front ranks of the marchers if you happened to be at ‘the tail-end’ of them! It was worth anyone’s while to stand at a point where they could see the length of the line of scholars and teachers (plus bands) , stretching from Crich Common, all the way to the top of Fritchley Lane End.
Each Sunday School paraded a banner with the name of the particular church inscribed on it. Most of the banners were massive, and I have known our own banner, in a strong wind, almost make me, and my other carrier, airborne! Two girls, each holding a strong ribbon, attached to the bottom corners of the banner, kept it from flying ‘sky-high’. Suitable hymns were rendered at various points ……. “Good old days!”
Clifford G : Sunday School Anniversary “The Sunday School Anniversary was ‘a day to be remembered’ in the service of the church. Three-quarters of the width of the church was occupied with a massive platform, erected by the male members of our place of worship, but even so, there were very few empty places left on it! In those early days, the Sunday Schol was crammed with young people. There were no special aids to worship except, occasionally, a violin and of course, the ever faithful ‘wooden brother’, the pipe organ.
At this time gas lighting was prominent and this kept the caretaker busy, to say nothing about the two big coke-fired stoves, one in a corner near the piano, and one to heat the pipes underneath the floor – it was not uncommon for this one to smoke, and as one male member put it, “to rise up as incense”.
Coming back to the organ for a moment, there was then no motor in it – it had to be pumped by a long handle, and a young man was appointed for this – for the noble sum of 2s/6d a year. Years later, I got the job for 5/- per annum. The best part of this office was, that the organist and blower never ‘fell out.’ The reason – well if the blower had a grudge, he had only to stop blowing!”
(NOTE to Cliffords comments – the old organ was eventually sold in the mid 1980’s for £250, and was taken away to be refurbished before, as we understand it, going on to further service at a church in Germany).
Clifford G : Visiting Preacher “Quite a number of preachers came for the day, and various church members entertained them between morning and evening services. A certain Derby preacher was one who stayed through Sunday. His dialect was the broadest of broad Derbyshire. He told us a story, which in our day, would be very amusing. In fairness, I must not record his name. He recounted the tale of a young Sunday School lad, who, having been told about Daniel in the Lion’s den, when asked how the Lord closed the Lion’s mouths, he replied….”Hay genem aw lockjaw!”(local vernacular for “he gave them all lockjaw.”)
Clifford G : The Penfold Mission “Around 1924 (or 1926) one of the greatest highlights of my life took place! It was the occasion of the visit of a ‘Tent Evangelist’, by the name of Frank Penfold. He erected a massive tent in the Dutchman Croft (a large piece of ground behind the pub of that name). This billowing structure of canvas held something in the region of 600 people. It was a time of revival in the local churches – a good number of people came forward to receive Christ.
There were no counselling training sessions leading up to the campaign, such as we are familiar with nowadays. Preachers and Christian workers from the surrounding areas helped to point inquirers to Christ. I state, with utmost reverence that, under the empowering of the Holy Spirit, people were brought under deep conviction through Mr. Penfold’s powerful preaching. His singing was almost inspirational, he had a powerful tenor voice, and on a quiet evening he could be heard on the Crich Market Place (not much traffic then, over 80 years ago).
There were scores of people coming in who never darkened the doors of a place of worship; one in particular! I have known of this man by accounts given by his friends. He was known to get through 20 pints of beer between 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock of an evening. I think that this fellow came through curiosity because, although one of Mr. Penfold’s helpers talked earnestly with him, I never knew him to come through for the Lord. There are, even yet, a number of people around who made a sincere commitment to Christ, and there is a Brother known to me, now in his 80’s, who is still witnessing faithfully for the Lord. One or two meetings were held in the Baptist Church, and inquirers also came forward there.”
Clifford himself had been baptised on the 21st of April 1935, along with his friends Ivan Baldwin and Douglas Stevenson.
There we must leave our consideration of Crich Baptist Church history, although there is much more that could have been said. Reference could have been made to times of great blessing, as well as comments on significant low points – even controversies. But in our present day, the church is still comparatively small – that being said we are greatly encouraged. We have a faithful pastor, Chris Hand, and if we may say it, a growing congregation – the Lord has enabled us to play our part in seeking to evangelise the local area, through door-to-door outreach, open-air preaching, ministry to local schools, and work amongst young people and the elderly, as well as using the Internet to publish audio and video versions of sermons preached in our church. Thus we are able, by the grace of God to have a local and worldwide ministry, something which those early Baptists would perhaps have desired, but not thought possible for a small local church. However, in the providence and mercy of Almighty God, we trust that as we are so enabled, we may continue to be as faithful and zealous in our day, as some of our forebears so evidently were in theirs.