Ryde Baptist Church (George Street Centre)
Prior to 1847 the few Baptists in Ryde worshipped with the Congregationalists, but they had a desire to have their own place of worship and in the summer of 1847 a room was hired in George Street where services were conducted by local preachers.
In November 1848 an upper room in a house in the Colonnade, Lind Street, Ryde, was licensed and opened for Divine Worship.
Ryde Baptist Church was officially formed in January 1849 and on that date Mary Pidder presented an ordinance service consisting of a chalice and salver with collecting plate to the Church. The minister, the Rev William Newell was not officially appointed until October of that year.
The Rev J H Saunders succeeded Rev Newell from December 1850 until April 1851. In January 1851 a new building in John Street, ultimately intended as a School Room opened as the temporary chapel.
After Rev Saunders, the Rev D R Watson took over from December 1851 until the end of 1854. He appears to have been a somewhat difficult man and not easy to get on with and after he left the Church was in a chaotic state. A series of resolutions were passed that were intended to restore harmony and certain members who had been expelled were asked to return.
During the year 1855, the Revs James Harrison and E W Davies held the pastorate, each serving for a few months only.
In November 1855, the Rev Samuel Cox of Southsea, Hampshire, accepted an invitation to become the Minister and Pastor of the Church. He served for three years, resigning in May 1858. During that period, he gathered many new members and the Sunday School commenced in February 1856 with Mr C Colenutt as its first superintendent. Rev Cox later became widely known and honoured as one of the country’s finest scholars. He wrote and edited many books and contributed to The Nonconformist, The Freeman, The Christian Spectator and The Quiver. His best known work Salvator Mundi was published in 1887. St Andrew’s University awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1882, the same degree was also offered to him by Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
In November 1859, the Rev J B Little was invited to the Church at John Street and he commenced his ministry there in January 1860. In the summer of 1861, it was resolved to build a chapel on ground in George Street. For some months, the chapel in John Street had proved too small to accommodate the congregation, and the evening service was held in the Victoria Rooms, Lind Street. This was inconvenient and an application was made and granted for the use of the Town Hall during the erection of the new chapel. In March 1862 Sir I Morton Peto, Bart, MP, laid the first stone of the new chapel that was completed and opened on 9 October of the same year.
Rev Little resigned in August 1864 and was succeeded by the Rev Thomas Astor Binns in October 1864. There must have been some dispute about the appointment of Rev Binns as in March 1865 there was a resolution declaring the “Dissolution of the Membership”. After continuing in a state of suspended animation for a year, the Church was reconstituted with forty nine members in March 1866, with Rev Binns still the minister.
Some of those formerly connected with the Church were dissatisfied; they highly disapproved of Rev Binns wearing a gown in the pulpit. This and other matters resulted in the formation of a second Baptist Church that was also publicly recognised in March 1866. This Church assembled for some time in a room in the High Street, later it moved to a building at the bottom of Park Road, Ryde, and continued to exist until 1912.
The George Street Church seems to have enjoyed some prosperity, by 1866 all the building debt was cleared, and the Sunday School was successful with over 150 scholars.
In April 1874, Rev Binns announced he intended to resign and move abroad. The congregation received the news with deep regret and he was asked to stay on until a suitable successor could be found.
In April 1875, the Rev J R Chamberlain of Bath accepted an invitation to become pastor of the Church. His ministry was not particularly eventful and he resigned in January 1880, entered the Congregational ministry and moved to Brading Congregational Church where he remained until his death.
The Rev Harry Collings served as minister for a very brief time and he was followed by the Rev William Steadman Davis from Trinity Church, Huntingdon, in June 1881. Rev Davis served the Church for six years, the Monthly Missionary Prayer Meeting was introduced during his time and there was a marked development in the musical side of Sunday services. A choir was formed and a fund was opened to purchase an organ, which was installed by January 1885. His resignation in December 1887 was met with sadness.
For the next twenty years from 1888 to 1907, the Church came under the ministry of the Rev Edward Bruce Pearson and under his guidance it thrived and the congregation grew. A marked feature of his ministry was the frequent Days or Weeks of Prayer, a Young Christians’ Band was formed and a Benevolent Society and there were all kinds of development in the organisation and activities of the Church. Rev Pearson was a greatly loved man of noble spirit and was described as ‘a great peace-maker’. He resigned from the ministry in September 1907 and he died in May 1920.
In July 1908, the Rev H H Turner commenced his ministry; he was an active aggressive evangelist who plunged into the work by organising a “Gospel Forward Movement” for social development. It included a Benevolent Fund, a Coal Club, a Cycling Club and the publication of the Monthly Messenger.
The Movement covered a broad area and the Church services were given an evangelistic note, the constitution of the Church was revised with a new set of rules and some alterations were made to the pulpit and the choir stalls. During this pastorate, a church magazine, The Baptist Record, commenced.
Rev Turner resigned in October 1913 to take up work in Newport and the following September the Rev J E Compton became the minister. This new minister took steps to modernise the Church and the services. The introduction of individual cups for the Communion Service was readily adopted but the introduction of a new Hymn book and the requirement to sing ‘Amen’ at the end of hymns was met with much resistance for a short time.
Rev Compton resigned in July 1918, which led to the coming of the Rev M Lister Gaunt in March 1919. During his ministry, electric lighting was installed in the chapel in 1919 and a Manse in Vernon Square was purchased in 1920. Membership of the Church rose to 186 in 1923. In 1925, the original tower, considered unsafe, was replaced with a shortened one.
Following Rev Gaunt’s resignation in 1930, the Rev Herbert G Drake entered the pastorate in August 1931 and served for five and half years. During this period, 77 members joined the Church.
In 1932 a well planned and beautifully executed scheme of internal decoration was carried out and during 1935 a new heating apparatus was installed at a cost of £56-10s-0d. Rev Drake left in March 1937 and Rev Gaunt stepped in again until the coming of the Rev P Franklin Chambers in June 1938.
Two important events mark the early days of Rev Chambers’ ministry – the purchase of Grantham House, Monkton Street, to become known as Christ Church Manse, and installation of the Hammond Electric Organ.
The dark years of World War Two forced limitations on the work of the church, but with the leadership and charm of Rev Chambers the fellowship was maintained and prospered. During 1940 Fortiphone Aids for the Deaf were installed in a number of pews, these were the gift of Mrs Thorne in memory of her husband.
In 1941, the house next to the Manse was blitzed causing severe damage but no one was injured.
Rev Chambers retired in February 1944 and in May of that year the Rev W M Tristram was invited to the pastorate. His ministry lasted only two years but he was considered a true friend of the people and was held in high esteem and affection in the town.
The Rev E J Willis took over the ministry in June 1947 until 1952 when he left Ryde and was replaced by the Rev Walter Fancutt.
During the late 1940s and the 1950s, the Church continued to grow and as well as Sunday services and the Sunday School there were many meetings such as Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade, Bible classes, etc. during the week. In addition, there were church outings, picnics, garden parties and the like.
In the early 1950s, decisions were made to sing the Lord’s Prayer and not to sing Amen at the end of hymns. The name plates were removed from the pews and a notice put up saying all pews were free. Previously some places in the chapel had been purchased to help raise funds for the Church.
The Hammond organ was in such a bad condition, caused by wood beetle infestation, the decision was taken to destroy it. Ten years later it was replaced, but by an organ in a similar condition.
In 1957, discussions on the renovation of the Church began. Also in 1957 Rev Fancutt left and was replaced by the Rev Hugh Wrigley in May 1958. By 1960, membership of the Church was 117 but church meetings were often only attended by 17 or so people. In the early 1960s, the Church supported the Billy Graham Relays and there was a Bible Study Group, however this was a time of decline for the Church.
In 1962, a row over Freemasonry broke out and the Treasurer and Secretary, both Freemasons, resigned and the Church was left without officers for a time. The matter was eventually resolved amicably, the minister left and by 1965 the Secretary and Treasurer had resumed their earlier roles.
Rev Wrigley was replaced by the Rev A J Symonds, until his death in July 1966 when the Rev I Jones took over. He supported more programmes of evangelism and there were growing activities with other churches. In 1969, a beat group called The Relayers proposed to start a coffee bar and the Church gave what encouragement it could. By 1969, woodworm was creeping into the Church through the organ sound box causing noticeable deterioration in the building and there were problems with vandalism.
Church membership remained at around 100 but by the early 1970s, the church was active but not growing. Rev Jones retired in 1974 to be succeeded by the Rev J Taylor and then by the Rev Gerald Clarke.
In 1987, approaches were made to the Church involving relocating the Church; this scheme eventually fell through. In June 1995, a fire, caused by an electrical fault, started near the entrance and the interior and roof were badly damaged.
The Church was soon able to meet in the room at the back but they lost members and a drop in income meant there was not enough money to support a pastor and morale was low. Redevelopment was again considered but there were setbacks. Somerfield approached the Church, offering to provide a new site in George Street where The Foyer project is now. This plan fell through when Somerfield were able to obtain the car parking they needed without purchasing the Church.
The Church survived many difficulties and the Rev Richard Steel postponed his retirement to be its part-time, transitional minister. A plan put forward for rebuilding the Church involved adding an extra floor and the concept of a community centre for the local people downstairs. The scheme was strongly supported by the Baptist Union and obtained a Regeneration Grant for the creation of the community centre. In January 2003, with Home Mission support, the Rev Jane Kingsnorth was appointed as full-time minister. Six months later the building work started.
In August 2004, the new George Street Centre, home of The Ryde Baptist Church, opened. In spite of the heat from the fire, the stained glass window behind the worship area remained intact and was put back in position.
The new centre continues to thrive under Rev Jane Kingsnorth and hosts a number of community events and clubs throughout the week as well as the church services and a café on the ground floor.
Ryde Social Heritage Group held an evening meeting for the launch of its new website, www.rshg.org.uk, in the George Street Centre in March 2006. RSHG continues to hold Quarterly Members’ Meetings at the centre.
Excerpt from RSHG’s book Ryde’s Heritage: Our Town, Your Histories published June 2008