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North End Baptist Chapel, Towcester

Transcript of Church Book

The churches at Duncote and Towcester were started by Joseph Chettle, who was baptised in 1801 at Wisbech by Samuel Fisher, in association with Samuel Howes and Matthew Adams who were baptised in London in 1815, by "Mr T. Curtis, pastor of the Church of Christ elected together in London." Two months later The Rev Mr Thomas Curtis set apart Joseph Chettle as pastor, to plant a church in Duncote. The first baptism in Duncote took place the following April. The last recorded baptism by Joseph Chettle was in 1839, his 17th in 23 years, later baptisms being performed for many years by the Deacon (from 1850, Pastor), Samuel Sheppard.

 

The chapel at Towcester was opened on October 3rd 1853. There is no evidence previous to this that Towcester people were part of the Duncote church, and nothing in the Church records to suggest why the move to Towcester took place. Previous to the move, all those baptised were "received into fellowship with the Church of Christ at Duncote", afterwards all were received into the Church at Towcester. There is no evidence of any interaction with any other churches in the locality. The early minutes of Towcester Baptist Church do contain one mention of the North End chapel - when Towcester Baptist Church re-formed in 1871, the North End chapel wrote to "renew contacts severed with the old church, as the basis for fellowship was now seen to be biblically established."


(Very) occasionally, people from the Baptist Church were accepted as members, particularly after a few nasty scandals had rocked the Baptist Church in the 1860's, but they are not always mentioned as such. Two of the most prominent returned to the Baptist Church 20 years later, with their family, when Towcester Baptist Church is referred to as "the Baptist Church" as though it was a separate denomination. It is not until the 1890's, shortly before the closure of the church, that the Baptist church is known as the South End church, and even then there is no desire to unite the two churches on the part of the North End.

 

Very little can be seen of the corporate life of the church until the 1880's, as there are no records of any church meetings. The Church book records baptisms, also the reception of people previously baptised by the laying on of hands (last mentioned in 1868). Expulsions are also recorded, and rebukes of a serious nature. While want of faith may not have been seen as a sin by John Johnson (founder of the denomination), plenty of other things obviously were. Several people were put out of the church for "conduct unbecoming to the gospel", which phrase is left unexplained, but possibly included drunkenness. One lady was excluded for "forming an association with a young man of the world." Two people were admonished for being in debt, one of them had had to appear in the County Court. One person (from Northampton) was put out of the church for attending a Unitarian place of worship, in 1848. Nearly all were later re-admitted after confession and repentance. During the 64 years up to 1880, when Alfred Pickles became Pastor, roughly 80 people appear to have been associated with the church at one time or another.

 

In 1886, there were 37 members, Alfred Pickles having baptised 20 in the 6 years since he became pastor. He and his wife Margaret had been transferred from Rochdale in Lancashire in 1880, after having apparently had a trial period as pastor of about 3 months. After he had managed to obtain the Church Book in 1886, from Samuel Cooper Tite, who returned it on his return to the Baptist church, he started to record Church meetings and one or two other events. (Mr Tite had apparently recorded nothing in it.) There is a record of a visit from another person to communion. "At the Lord's Table October 2nd 1887 Mr Davidson a Member of the Church of Christ at Banbury requested and was allowed to commune. At the request of the Church he also preached in the evening from 1 Cor 15c 1 - 4 vs". This is obviously an Event, and reveals the small congregation's isolation. The church's income was about 20 per year, which appeared to cover their expenses. A gift of 100 was on its way in five instalments, from the sale of a Chapel in Comus Street, Liverpool.

 

Alfred Pickles appears to have left in 1891, and in the 1891 Census is in The Drapery in Northampton, working as a Hatter and Hosier. The church may have been too small to warrant a pastor at that point, as thirteen members passed the following resolution at a Church Meeting towards the end of 1891 :- "That in harmony with the suggestion of the Trustees, we request Mr Fidler to preside at our Church Meetings, and to advise and assist so that the Services at North End & Duncote Chapels may be maintained in as orderly and efficient manner as possible. Signed by Alfred Pickles. Pastor" William Fidler accepted the invitation.

 

By July 1893, there is obvious concern about the viability of the church. Many of the church members had been elderly, and had died. The Sunday School had just 11 pupils. A church meeting was held, with 8 people present, which decided to try to carry on for another few months "There appeared no disposition to unite with the South End Church. Still the prospects of continuing as at present were doubtful. Mr Garlick was specially anxious that they should try to revive the work by prayer & united effort." The work, however, was not revived, however much effort was put into it. Early in 1894, after the services had been held in the vestry all winter to save money, the church was officially closed on March 25th. There were 16 members listed, 4 of which were discovered to have died. The contents were distributed between the Duncote chapel, which remained open, and Towcester Baptist Church. It is remarkable that, in the few Church meetings which are recorded, there is little evidence of the dissention that so often rocked Towcester Baptist Church. On the contrary, a spirit of unity appears to prevail.

 

The Duncote chapel limped on until 1942, Towcester Baptist Church apparently retaining close connections. In 1924 there appears to be a preaching arrangement whereby the Towcester pastor preached one afternoon a month and one evening a quarter, and Duncote made some small contribution to church funds. The Duncote church crockery was donated to Towcester Baptist Church in 1942, with the wish that if the Duncote chapel should ever re-open, Towcester Baptist Church should return it.

 

In 1951 the then Pastor, Mr May, reported on a visit to Duncote Chapel - to discover the whereabouts of the church! The suggestion was to use the chapel as a bulb store by the owner of Duncote Hall, said to be the most practical way of keeping it in repair. Mention was made of a graveyard, where relatives of people still living were buried. The matter was left in the hands of the Northamptonshire Baptist Association. The graveyard still survives, now in a garden in Duncote.

 

 

 

 

JOHNSONIAN BAPTISTS

 

John Johnson (1706 - 91) was a Baptist Minister of High Calvinist views, who taught that faith is not a duty which God requires of man, but a grace which it is impossible to convert into a duty. Want of faith, therefore, is no sin.

 

Born in Cheshire, he was baptised at the Lostock General Baptist Church in 1721 and was called out to preach in 1726. After studying the doctrines of Calvinism, he joined the Warrington Particular Baptist Church and in 1741 became a pastor in Liverpool, combining this with business activities.

 

In 1744 because of his peculiar views, he and others seceded from the church and a new meeting house was built in Stanley Street. The following year he took up arms against the rebellion of the Young Pretender.

 

In the subsequent years, he proved an acceptable preacher and propagator of his views in Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumberland and beyond. A visit to Dublin in 1754 led to a Johnsonian church in that city.

 

Associated with him in later life were Samuel Fisher (1742 - 1803) of Norwich, and Richard Wright (1764 - 1836), later a Unitarian.

 

Johnsonian churches existed in Blackburn, Norwich, Chesterfield, Halifax, Bromley, etc and in Towcester and Duncote. Preachers associated with the latter are said to have been Knight, Pickle and Samuel Shepherd.

 

Dr Underwood in his History of the English Baptists, p135, says that no Johnsonian congregations were reported in the 1851 Census.

 

John Johnson was repudiated by the local association for 'bizarre ideas'. He asked whether the Incarnation would have been necessary if man had not sinned. He denied the doctrine of the Trinity, and was highly insular and exclusive. Johnsonians were not even allowed to associate with other Baptists