Hill Baptist Church has a long and interesting history and is
directly descended from one of the oldest Baptist Churches in
England. Although the date of its foundation is not known, it must
have been between 1654 and 1660, when it was meeting in leased
premises in Glasshouse Yard, Goswell Street, just by the
Charterhouse buildings. However, after the Restoration of Charles II
in 1660, nonconformist dissenters (Baptists among them) came under
increasing repression and persecution. Following the visit of a spy,
reporting on 400 - 500 people meeting in Glasshouse Yard in 1670,
there is a note in the old church minutes that by 1682 there were
only fifty in regular attendance. Also the young, successful
minister, Francis Smith – also known as the chief Baptist printer
in the country – was imprisoned about this time. The church
however has proved to be a survivor!
remained at Glasshouse Yard for almost a hundred years, but with
some difficult doctrinal issues causing problems and divisions in
the denomination, the numbers continued to shrink. After moving to
one or two different premises, the small congregation joined with
three others and were able to move, in 1779, into their own small
church with a graveyard and baptistry, newly built in Worship
Street, Finsbury. This had been donated in the will of a benefactor,
with a mortgage of three hundred pounds – on condition that they
each kept their separate identity and shared all costs. This they
somehow managed to achieve and eventually paid off the mortgage. By
1802 Glasshouse were down to twenty five members, but then the other
churches either moved away or closed, so the Glasshouse Yard church
had final possession of the premises. In 1879 it had to be sold for
street widening and railway development and they used the money to
erect another new property in Bethnal Green in 1881 that seated five
Then early in the new century John Bradford (Secretary of the L.B.A.) became joint pastor. This was not for long however, as many Jews were moving into the area and the future of the church was uncertain, there being only about twenty attending. So the building was leased (and finally sold) to the Jews as a synagogue and John Bradford set about looking for new premises. The result of his search was the decision to build in Winchmore Hill. The foundation stone was laid in 1907 and the church opened in 1908, when the opening address was given by Dr John Clifford, a renowned preacher. John Bradford became the honorary pastor. The church, which was known as Winchmore Hill Baptist, was proud of its long history, so later had ‘Glasshouse Memorial Church’ added to its name, which it kept until relatively recently.
nucleus of the new church was made up of eighteen members from
Bethnal Green plus a small group of Baptists who had been
worshipping locally in a private house. However the work grew apace
and by 1912 the membership had risen to a hundred and sixty seven.
There were also a hundred and twelve children in the Primary
department of the Sunday School who were spilling out of the space
available. There was a great proliferation of organisations, not all
of which lasted very long, but worth a mention. These included Young
Men’s and Women’s Bible classes, a Band of Hope and a Literary
Society in 1910, and a Brotherhood with a hundred members and a
Women’s Own with over a hundred members in 1911. At some time
there were also a Tennis Club, a Cycling Club, and a League of
Ropeholders (a children’s organisation). In 1922 the Baptist
Women’s League was formed, which continued for a great many years,
finally amalgamating with the Women’s Own about 1978.
Although the First World War soon shed a shadow on the scene, the church members worked hard to purchase and furnish houses for the use of Belgian refugees. By the end of the war, membership had risen to two hundred and ten. There were various changes of minister during these years, but in 1924 a very well loved man came to the pastorate. His name was Revd Charles Vick, an experienced leader who led the church into a period of stability, and although he had to resign in 1929 through illness, he had achieved much during this time, an important part of which was to erect a hall at the back of the premises to house the burgeoning youth work and Sunday School. He named it Carey Hall, and it has continued to provide a service the church just could not do without.
The church has always put young people at the heart of its work. In 1921 a Girl Guide company was started, followed by a Brownie pack in 1925. These continued with great success for fifty years. A Boy’s Club was also begun in 1923, but when in 1924 the Boy’s Brigade became another new venture for the church, followed by a Junior Section the following year, the Boy’s club was disbanded and the boys were assimilated into the Brigades. The Boy’s Brigade is still a very important part of the fellowship today. In 1933 the Guild of Young People began, and was the ultimate meeting place for young people over the age of sixteen. It was known as the ‘GYPs’, and it continued for many years until, with other organisations springing up, and its membership depleting, it finally closed in 1957.
In 1934 the Revd Clifford Wood accepted the call to Winchmore Hill and in his first year a Men’s Contact Club was inaugurated and then in 1936 a church magazine was started, which continues to the present day. However another World War commenced only a few years later, which presented difficulties for everyone. Many were called up or evacuated and on two occasions the building was damaged by blast. The Minister (who had been a chaplain during the previous war) accepted a chaplaincy to troops stationed in the London district, but that did not prevent him from maintaining a normal pastoral oversight to the church. German prisoners of war came to the morning services for a while – following a special Christmas Service for them in 1946 – which were translated into German by one of the church members, speaking from the platform as the service progressed. In 1947 the present Communion table and central chair were presented to the Church by the Boy’s Brigade, in memory of the old boys of the Company who laid down their lives in the war. The Revd Clifford Wood retired in 1950, leaving behind him much gratitude and affection in the church and also in the surrounding area. Later he was commemorated by a room at the church being named after him.
1946 the church was able to develop its long standing missionary
interest in a practical way, when it sent out its first missionary,
Sylvia Varley, who went to do medical work with the BMS in Congo.
She was the first of many missionaries over the years. Some have
gone for short time service and others for a life-time, serving with
a variety of missionary organisations. The church has never, since
then, been without several members serving abroad. At present six of
our fellowship are working overseas, four in the Far East and two in
South Africa. It should also be mentioned that over the years many
people from the church have been engaged in various ministries in
this country also.
From the 1950s on there were many new initiatives. In 1950 a Cub Pack started, followed three years later by a Scout Troop which was popular and well supported until 1974, when remaining members joined the Group at the URC church. Following the Billy Graham crusade at Haringey in 1955, the church held its own evangelistic campaign called ‘This is the Way’ which bore real fruit amongst members. Then in 1957, Jubilee celebrations were held which included a church presentation on the stage of Highfield School Hall. A Young People’s Fellowship (YPF) began in 1958 and continued very successfully until around 1972.
In 1962, as the Baptist Women’s League celebrated its fortieth anniversary, a Young Wives’ Club was started, which after a few name changes became the Ladies Contact Club in 1977. Evangelism has continued to be an important part of church life, with a mission in 1964, and another in 1967 marking the church’s Diamond Jubilee. These were followed over the years by various different evangelistic initiatives. 1967 also saw the rebuilding of a larger Carey Hall, using extra land that had been purchased behind the church.
The 1970s saw more new activities. In 1972 the Guides and Brownies closed officially after fifty years and in the autumn of that year were replaced by the Girl’s Brigade, which began with twenty-nine members and has gone from strength to strength up to the present day. Some of the young people formed a Gospel group called ‘Cum Deo’, who used to go out to various places to perform, and a Covenanter group was started after the close of the YPF, which was very popular for a number of years. Around 1977 the Men’s Contact Club closed after forty very valuable years, but at the same time house groups were formed, meeting fortnightly in the homes of members. These still provide opportunity for valuable Bible study, prayer and fellowship amongst old and young. They are called ‘Fellowship Groups’ to which anyone can belong. Alpha courses have also been held for a time, which have encouraged new people into the fellowship. At the end of the decade, in 1980 the church marked its 300 years by a trip to London to the site in Glasshouse Yard where it had originated, as well as other places from its past.
As the years have passed, the church has, of course, made use of all the modern electronic ‘aids to ministry’. There has also been a fair amount of repair, alteration and re-decoration of the premises, to keep it in line with modern needs. However one of the most important, more recent developments, has been the employment of a Youth Worker, at a time when the numbers of young people were dropping. This has proved to be one of the most important decisions the church has come to, for in the five years since the appointment was made there has been a vast increase in the numbers and enthusiasm of the young people, with older ones coming to the point where they too begin to take responsibility.
Over all these years there has been a succession of excellent pastors, bringing their individual strengths and gifts to the church, who have all been held in very high esteem. Numbers have, in line with most churches these days, fallen since the heady days when we had a membership of over two hundred. However, although around seventy now, we are constantly welcoming new people to the services. We recently celebrated our Centenary in this place, with a variety of very successful events, attended by many of our past members. Which brings us to the present day, to a church that is still witnessing to the power of the gospel, with new members coming in and being baptised. It is great to see that the perseverance of our forefathers through such difficult times is still bearing fruit after 350 years.