The History of Homerton Baptist Church
Often people believe that Homerton Baptist Church is as old as the building we worship in. They look at the building and conclude we've been established for about 35 years. It is a surprise to many when they hear Homerton Baptist was in fact one of the first churches to be established in Homerton. It predates the Parish church and the many churches of other denominations that are in Homerton today.
Local History Pre-1817
Below are the main historical references to potential routes from which our church was ultimately established.
- Historical references show that 1641 a group of Baptists baptized in the River Lee, which referred to it as "they scandalized the respectable".
- In 1636 a Presbyterian church was established in Mare Street.
- In 1723 an Anglican dissedent, Stephen Ram, established a church in Homerton which then was a small village. This was referred to as Ram's Chapel. By the late 1700's this was a collection of seven houses within which Ram's Chapel met. Ram's Chapel was originally established by the Anglican dissedent Stephen Ram. It is commonly believed that the Ram's Chapel gave rise to the establishment of the nonconformist churches in Hackney. Ram's Chapel was key in the estbalishment of four of the local schools, and Homerton College which is now part of Cambridge University.
- In 1798 a Baptist Church was formed in Shore Place which became known as Mare Street Baptist Church (which following bombing during World War II was relocated and renamed as Frampton Park Baptist Church).
It is not currently known which of the local reformed baptist and nonconformist history ultimately led to the establishment of our church. Due to the great persecution during the 16th & 17th Century formal records were not kept. Church records make note of prior generations baptising in the River Lee and meeting in houses reported to have been used by the Ram's Chapel. It is highly likely that all of the local records and churches led to our church being established.
Records show that in 1817 a group of like minded believers met for worship in two homes: one in Marsh Hill, owned by Thomas Frankland and one in Homerton Terrace, owned by David Ramsey. A Mr Thomas Eason was called to preach to those gathered in the homes and they made a declaration of their faith which was read at a special meeting on 18th December 1817. The daughter of David Ramsey, Mrs Deborah Baylis (marriage name) lived in the house at 8 Homerton Terrace until she died in 1869. Mrs Baylis came to know the Lord in 1821 and became a member of the Church.
Mrs Baylis was clearly involved in the origins of the church as the Earthen Vessel of September 1869 records:
It affords us pleasure to know that her [Mrs Baylis] father had a desire for the worship of God, and opened his house for the preaching of the everlasting gospel, and from that small beginning, God has blessed His own eternal truth, and Homerton-row Chapel was erected instead of that. Our departed sister, with others, laid a brick on a day appointed.
In 1819 the church moved to the school-room, in Bridge Street (now Ponsford Street) owned by Robert Fletcher, a church member. They registered the hall as a place of worship on the 11th August 1819. Mr ThomasFrankland, William Goodings, John Jackson and Benjamin Brett signed the request for registration. On 7th Nov 1820 the church was formed and formally registered. Mr Thomas Eason was ordained on 16th Nov 1820, called by Spencer Place Chapel, Goswell Road, and Mr Upton preached on Zecharia 13 v10. The congregation had begun to grow and there was a great need for a larger building. Plans for the new church were shared at the ordination and the new building was to accomodate 300 and was expected to cost £700.
The building in Homerton Row Baptist Chapel was built in 1822. It was registered on the 12th August 1822 as a place of worship. The deeds were signed by Thomas Eason, John Jackson, Joseph Rosoma and Benjamin Brett. The official opening was on the 11th September 1822. The cost of the original building was £821. A gallery was required in 1842 because of the increase in numbers, costing £230. In 1851 there was seating for 350, with a morning attendance of 225 with 58 for the Sunday School, and 195 in the evening service. In 1893 the purchase of the building was considered, as the lease was soon to run out. The church made it a matter of prayer and said if they could raise £100 by the first meeting to be held concerning the buying of the freehold then they should take it as God's will to purchase the building. When the meeting was held £101 had been raised. The deeds were signed on 31st January 1894 by ten of the members, including Simeon Belcher, the pastor, and Ernest Booth (first Strict Baptist Mission missionary, located in India). The owner put the freehold up for sale at a cost of £500. This was accepted. There was an extra payment of £200 and the church raised the total amount. By November 1901 the church building was fully paid for and a thanksgiving service was held to thank God for his amazing provision. In 1903 a new Sunday School was built costing £700.
In 1961 the London County Council requested that the site be bought for the establishment of a secondary school. Homerton House School which neighboured the site was expanded into Upton House Comprehensive School, which over recent years has become City Academy Hackney. At the same time the Berger estate was being demolished and completely rebuilt. Part of the estate held a building that had been the Methodist Church Mission, itself originally established in 1817. The council claimed the site in Barnabas Road for the new church building. The church moved to Barnabas Road in 1962 and the church was named Barnabas Road Baptist Church. A thanksgiving service was held on November 17th 1962. R Cooke chaired the afternoon meeting and the speakers were Mr Wood and Mr Plail. The evening service was chaired by Mr Day. The speakers were Mr L Hill of the MASBC, Mr Cross of the SBM and Mr Barrett of the SBOM. In 1997 the members of the church felt that due to the long history of the church the name Homerton Baptist was more appropriate.
Jack and Jill Parkins attended the church between 1962 and 2006. Jack shared some of his memories from his time in the church:
My first association with Homerton Row Strict and Particular Baptist Church (as it was then called and situated in Homerton Row Baptist Chapel where Upton House School now is) was about 1942 when I returned to London after being evacuated for two years in Cornwall.
Mr Horace Crispin with his wife Elizabeth more or less ran the church as there was not a permanent pastor. The Sunday School and other activities took place in the School Hall, which had been hit by a bomb. The primary class was held up in the gallery of the church by Mrs Crispin. The Sunday School was taken by Mr Pardoe (superintendent) who worked as proof reader for printers in Morning Lane. There were about 10-15 children in each class and 20-30 in primary.
Mr Crispin lived in Rutland Road. During the cold weather he would light the 'Turtle' fires in Sunday School and Church on Saturday coming back 2 or 3 times to stoke them with coke to warm the premises. Mr Gray was a deacon and mostly went out preaching.
After Sunday School the Crispin family would have tea in the school hall and stay for the evening service. We had various speakers who came, arranged by Mr Crispin. Mr and Mrs Crispin also ran Women's meetings. Anniversaries would entail weeks of practice of songs and poems by Sunday School children to perform after a lavish combined church and Sunday School tea on a Saturday which also included a prize giving. I still have all my prizes! When a number of Sunday School children reached their teens FOY junior and senior were run. Also a 'guild of work' where things were made to sell to the congregation and their friends.
It is reported that the doctor who developed the nerve/muscle transplant operation to help Leprosy sufferers attended Homerton. The Lady who did the original art work for flannel graphs attended Homerton and lived in a Mews house in Furrow Lane.
Sunday School outings involved a double-decker bus journey to the sea side or the country. We would take our own lunch and tea was provided. On the way home there would be a stop off to buy some flowers for 'mum' with carefully saved pocket money.
To fill the baptismal pool was a great effort, filling buckets from the tap and heating as much water as possible on gas rings and on top of the coke stoves. During the last few years at Homerton Row Baptist Chapel they obtained an immersion heater.
The church moved to the new premises at Barnabas Road and Mr and Mrs Barrett settled there. The Sunday School expanded having approximately seven teachers and Boys and Girls Brigade were run.
When Mr and Mrs Barrett died it fell on the deacons to continue the services. Dr Coffey made great input although very ill. We were then able after a while to employ Steven Richards as pastor.