A Brief History of Baptists in Twerton - The 19th Century
Twerton Baptist Church first met in 1808 under the oversight of Somerset Street Baptist Church in Bath. It was not until 1828 that it was granted the right to exist as a church in its own right and call a minister.
The history is one of mainly working class families who felt the need for fellowship, establishing a meeting place that has over the years influenced many by the preaching of the Gospel. Their concern was especially for young people and the church was early in the establishment of education for poor children. The nearby river provided a place to baptise in the early days though later an interior Baptistry was incorporated and this has been in regular use over the years. The original Trust Deeds of the church specifically demand Confession of Faith and Baptism by total immersion as the entry to the membership of the church. This rule was relaxed in 1938 and for a period non-baptised people were admitted to membership and held office in the church.
It is hard to believe that as the Baptist church here became established in its own right Nonconformity was only just being accepted. For the first time non-conformists could hold commissions in the army and navy or work for the Civil Service. There was no recognition of Free Church marriages; all had to be done in the Parish church. Some 30 people were travelling into Bath for a communion service but were not allowed to be a church in their own right. For twenty years prior to this folk were meeting and working with young people, for it was in the early days that a Baptist day school was established. The determination of the folk won through and so the Twerton Baptist Church came into its being as a church of it’s own right.
Building commenced in 1808. A school had established around 1816 and in 1857 schoolrooms were built and the people of Twerton were to provide education at considerable personal sacrifice for the children in the area. This was long before state education was available, and the school remained, we assume until the 1870 act, when Board schools were introduced. Baptists in Twerton were not slow to seek education of their children. Twerton was a mill area; the now demolished mills provided employment for many in the area from a very young age. These folk worked long hours in factory conditions with scant regard to health and safety. Each day was a day of toil and the Sabbath a day to be treasured. Cottage homes provided basic shelter but were often overcrowded and had primitive shared toilet and water facilities. The hard life that folk endured was tempered by the love and support that they found in the local Baptist Church.
In 1891, the vision of the young people at Twerton resulted in the call of Benjamin Oriel, a young Welsh man full of buoyancy, hope and courage. The principle was that a small church meant large opportunity. The church had obtained the pastor on the understanding that it was pledged to a forward-looking policy. He inspired the young people and he gathered them and worked alongside them. The Bible class grew, as did the membership of the church and Sunday school. The small band of visionaries stood by their young minister. Debts were cleared; the old school room renovated and a vision for a church on a new church became the focus of attention. Benjamin had come to Twerton with the distinct purpose of some day building a more commodious church in a more strategic and commanding location. The folk had already bought a plot of land on the Lower Bristol Road but then, the offer of the Triangle site came up. It was in the new and developing district of Oldfield Park and ideal.
The Mill Lane fellowship was zealous in the founding of the new settlement at Oldfield Park, but never accepted it as a replacement Twerton Church. For them to this day the church at the heart of Twerton was that to which they gave their allegiance. While many expected the church would move en-mass, a number who lived near the old church urged that the old building be retained. “West Twerton still needs us” was their claim.
Benjamin left a legacy which remained in the very fabric of the Mill lane Church after he transferred his ministry to the new Oldfield Park church, where he served for a further four years before being called to a church in Birmingham. Before he left however, he had the joy on one Sunday of baptising twenty-nine people into membership. His was a wonderful, dynamic and spirit led ministry. The church was well blessed by his service to it.
The convenience of those in Twerton was honoured and though the church closed for about five weeks some 75 members returned to continue membership in the old buildings under the oversight of Henry Mallard, a deacon from Hay Hill. They maintained the witness and so the Baptist work in Twerton continued while the new work was established in Oldfield Park. Of the 75 or so folk who decided to remain in Twerton, the faithful names of that era are recorded as Batten, Bence, Harding, Tucker, Francis, Morgan, Pollard, Willcox and Perkins.
© Twerton Fellowship 2011
Registered charity number 1116341