The History of Widcombe Baptist Church Bath from 1820 to the present day. Further information available in Widcombe Baptist Church – The First 150 Years by Grace M Parker in 1975, and A History of Widcombe Baptist Church in 2005.
Although now known as Widcombe Baptist Church, it was built circa 1820 by the Independents as the Congregationalists were then styled. Around this period a number of houses had been built in nearby Dolemeads and the population of Widcombe had increased significantly.
Chapel and the remains of Ebenezer Terrace
The whole area was flooded in 1821. From Rowland Mainwaring’s account “public attention was particularly called to the unfortunate inhabitants of those miserable abodes recently built on that low, swampy spot of ground, called the Dolemeads, and its immediate vicinity. The erection of those cottages, continuing from year to year, became a nuisance to the neighbourhood; and, at length, a perfect colony of vice and dissipation.”
Severe flooding in the area occurred yet again in 1823 and the chapel was closed for two years reopening in October 1825. In 1832 the then minister, Rev Samuel King, emigrated to America. It is unclear whether the church remained open after this.
In the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Thu 13 Nov 1834 was an advertisement for the reopening of the church for divine service “by the Wesleyan Methodists” on Friday 28th and Sunday 30th. A subsequent advertisement on 27 Nov gave the names of the preachers. This included Rev Mr Jay, who was the independent minister at Argyle Chapel.
The building was used by the Church of England for services from 1838 to 1847 when St Matthew’s church on Widcombe Hill was opened.
Baptist 1849-Present Day
In 1849 the building was leased by a group of fifty Baptists who had spilt from the Baptist Providence Chapel on the Lower Bristol Road. In 1868 the Baptists bought the freehold from the Congregationalists for £300.
The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Thu 21 May 1857 reported that “Mr Spurgeon, Baptist Minister, whose name has recently been so much before the public, preached two sermons, yesterday, at the Ebenezer Chapel, Widcombe.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was known as the “Prince of Preachers” and was pastor of a Baptist chapel in London and later the Metropolitan Chapel, Southwark which could accommodate over 5,000 people.
For the Widcombe Baptists, baptisms occurred by total immersion in the River Avon. From the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Thu 11 Sep 1873 “A baptistry has been added to Ebenezer Chapel, Widcombe, and on Sunday it was used for the first time, when six persons were immersed.”
The Sunday School Building
In 1910 the Canal Tavern public house adjacent to the church was bought and rooms for the Sunday school built in its place. The foundation stone has an inscription that it was laid by Sir G W McAlpine in September 1910 and also an inscription “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree and it shall be to the Lord for a name.” The ‘thorn’ being referred to is the public house which was anathema to the congregation whose views were influenced by the temperance movement. The new building opened on 27 Apr 1911.
Ebenezer Hall was formally opened on 7 Dec 1912 but had been completed before then as it had served for a meeting earlier that year.
View of the roof
In 1980 the orientations of the fittings inside the church were altered: the pulpit was moved from the southern to the northern side and a new entrance and hallway were built meaning that the congregation no longer had to enter from the narrow path on the canal-side. This was completed in early 1981.
Through the decades Widcombe Baptist Church has stood for the proclamation of the gospel message which has quite literally been ‘shouted from its rooftop’ much to the consternation of many local inhabitants of Widcombe. Nevertheless God’s word stands firm (Psalm 119:89) and the present congregation is committed to proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ from our pulpit and by our lives as well as from the roof of the building.