Bitton Families

Keynsham Baptists

The Keynsham Baptists

by Lee Paltridge

It is difficult to be sure of a date when the Baptists first commenced preaching and holding services at Keynsham, as the sources are inconsistent, but the Baptist presence in Keynsham, and a similar 'preaching station' at Hanham in Gloucestershire, probably had their origins in the need for non conformists to hold their meetings in secret because of 'severe persecution of the Bristol Baptists, who in desperation, resorted to the nearby woods for worship'.

The Tercentenary Souvenir of the Old King Street Church gives these dates: 'At Hanham the first meeting was in the woods in 1658. Keynsham was an open-air retreat in 1680'.

From the 1640s until at least the early 19th century, there were two Baptist Churches in central Bristol; one in Broadmead and the other in the Pithay, a small street of shops and shop houses, where the Baptists met above a soap house. Both these churches were closely associated with the congregation in Keynsham.

'On several occasions, the members of Mr Gifford's church and of Broadmead met near the same spot, and if one party were taken by surprise, they would, by the intervention of every possible obstacle, facilitate the escape of their brethren. Most of their meetings were held on the banks of the Avon, that by just crossing the river they might enter an adjoining county, beyond the jurisdiction of their immediate pursuers'.

Despite the diversionary efforts of his followers, Andrew GIFFORD, Pastor of the Church in the Pithay from 1677-1705, 'occasionally fell into the hands of the enemy, and was treated with great severity. Four times he suffered imprisonment in Charles' reign three times in Newgate (Bristol), and once in Gloucester Castle'. [Merritt]

After the Act of Toleration was passed in 1689, following the accession of William and Mary to the throne, the Church in the Pithay continued to provide preaching and pastoral care to its members in the area for more than a century.

'From time immemorial, the congregation in the Pithay were accustomed to have two pastors. This, if not commenced, was continued for many years, from necessity there being two branches of the church at a distance to be supplied every Lords day, one at Keynsham the other at Hanham'.

The Chapels: 1784, 1803, 1835

The site for a meeting house in Hanham was purchased in 1690, right after the Act of Toleration, and the building eventually erected in 1714. The Keynsham Baptist congregation lacked any form of premises until in 1784 they acquired a building in Danes Lane, now Charlton Road. This became known as the Barn Chapel, and the local trustees were Daniel BOYLE and Thomas DERRICK.

The Barn Chapel cannot have been very satisfactory as a meeting place, as in 1802 it was sold (to Daniel MILWARD). The funds were used, with extra donations, to buy a site in the Keynsham High Street for £70 (from Charles FORD a mason of Keynsham and Thomas FORD, a yeoman of Bath). A new church was built and opened in 1803 with the local trustees named as James WISE the Elder, Brass Worker; Thomas DERRICK, Brass Worker; James WISE, Blacksmith; and Daniel BOYLE, Accountant; all of Keynsham. (There were also 14 Bristol trustees including the Pastors of the Pithay and Broadmead congregations). The new building, called Ebenezer Chapel, was registered for public worship by the Bishop of Bath and Wells according to a petition dated 27th June 1803.

But by 1834, the church was declared by Brother George DERRICK, a carpenter and joiner in Keynsham, to be in such a poor condition that it was feared it would not survive another winter and was a danger to the congregation. As it was being pulled down in October 1834, the pastor Thomas AYRES made the comment that 'Our preservation seems to be little short of a miracle'. The foundation stone for a new building on the same site was laid the following week and the new church opened in April 1835. This lovely Georgian building is still the Keynsham Baptist Church, with the name stone bearing the name Ebenezer and the date 1834 over the door.

The Keynsham Baptist Church, 2003.
Courtesy of Lee Paltridge

A proposal in the 1960s to sell the valuable site and build a new church fell through when it was discovered that the front garden area is actually the dissenters' graveyard, which would require a private Act of Parliament to remove, and the prospective developers lost interest. The original interior was then gutted and completely modernised

Original interior of the Keynsham Baptist Church
Courtesy of Mr Russell Leitch

A New Beginning: 1807

The Church in the Pithay had provided preachers who travelled out over the appalling roads to preach on Sundays 'from time immemorial' but with the appointment of a new pastor at the Pithay in 1807 who declined to take on this burden, the long-standing arrangement came to an end, and it was arranged for the 73 Keynsham and Hanham members to be transferred from the Pithay books to the new Keynsham Church, which then appointed its own minister. (The population of Keynsham in 1801 was 1591).

The following is on the opening page of the Church Book of the newly constituted Keynsham Baptist Church, and the list of names from the handwritten Membership Book of the Old King Street Baptists.

June 22 1807 A public Meeting was held at Keynsham this Day, in the presence of Rev. Dr. Ryland, Rev. Tho. Roberts of Brixham, and most of the members of both the Country Churches & many from the Pithay, when the following Letter was read, approved of, and Signed on behalf of the whole.

"The Church of Christ assembling in the Pithay, Bristol:
To their Dear Brethren & Sisters, living in, or near, Hanham and Keynsham, wishes Grace and Peace to be multiplied. ---- Beloved Friends As after mature consideration, it seems to us and to you, likely to promote the Divine Glory and the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ, for you, who have hitherto stood connected to us in Church fellowship, to form yourselves into a distinct Church, who may have a Pastor of your own, to break the Bread of Life unto you, and to reside among you, We hereby our ready Covenant to that Measure, and our earnest and affectionate desire that the Divine Blessing may attend this friendly separation.

We therefore, by this Letter, dismiss our Dear Brethren:

William BOWLES, Joseph BRITTON, John BRITTON, John CANTLE, James CANTLE, John CLARKE, Thomas DERRICK, John DERRICK, Roger EDWARDS, William FORD, Job FUDGE, John GARRATT, Joseph HALL, James HARRIS, James HEADINGTON, Harry HEADINGTON, Jonas ISLES, George JAMES, Jacob JAMES, Dan. KING, James MARTIN, John MORRISH, William MORRISH, Abraham PARSONS, John PARSONS, Jos. ROGERS, George SHORT, Daniel SHORT, Samuel STREAGOR, John SWEET, Joshua TAVENDER, John THOMAS, Rich. THOMAS, Samuel WHITE, Nathaniel WISE, William WISE, James WISE Sen. James WISE Jun. Benjamin WOOLLEY,

and Sisters:

Eliza BAUN, Sarah BRAIN, Ann BRITTON, Ann BUCK, Ann CANTLE Jun. Ann CANTLE Sen. Jane COLLLIER, Hannah COOL, Esther CRAMORE, Hannah DERRICK, Ursula DERRICK, Ann DORY, Jannet EDWARDS, Diana FLOOK, Eliza FUDGE, Mary HARRIS, Hannah HARVEY, Eliza HOLLIS, Sarah JAMES Jun. Sarah JAMES, Mary KING, Ann LEONARD, Sarah LEONARD, Fanny OLDS, Sarah PHILLIPS, Amy SHELLARD, Betty STEAGOR Hannah STONE, Betty THOMAS, Ann THOMAS, Mary WHITE, Rachel WISE, Sarah WISE, Maria WISE.

and upon their entry into Covenant with each other and as a distinct Church of Christ, formed according to the best of their judgement after the Scriptural Pattern of the first Churches of our Lord Jesus, We shall no longer consider them as belonging to our immediate Society: but We trust we shall not only respect them and such as shall hereafter join them as a Sister Church of the same Faith and Order, but shall also feel a peculiar interest in their Prosperity, as those that were once most intimately connected with us, and who were a Comfort and Aid to us in our Difficulties and Trials. May our Lord Jesus abundantly bless you, and make His Holy Spirit by your Guide continually, and may God send you a Pastor after His own Heart, and increase you with men like a Flock, is the earnest Prayer of: Dear Brethren and Sisters:
your cordial Friends.

Signed on behalf of the whole Church, at our Church Meeting
June 22nd 1807
Charles BERRY, Charles SAWYER, Joseph WHITTUCK, John EDWARDS Deacons "

After the service the two united Churches chose three Deacons for each Church viz. for Keynsham: James WISE Sen., James WISE Jun. and Roger EDWARDS; and for Hanham: Joseph BRITTON, James BRITTON and John GARRETT.

Thomas DERRICK, who had been the Trustee of the Barn Chapel and the 1802 building, transferred his membership to Keynsham later in 1807, and was made a Deacon in 1812. (The Thomas DERRICK in the list of 73 was probably his son, as the son's wife Ursula DERRICK [nee WISE] is included.) They then proceeded unanimously to call the Revd. Wm. HUTCHINS to pay them a visit for four or six weeks. The whole business was conducted with propriety, and the Day was spent agreeably and profitably. Many friends attended from Bristol and Hanham so that the Meeting House was full.

Note that the original handwritten list of 73 members was in the order in which they signed the Church Covenant 'to be read and assented to at the admission of members', but has been rearranged here in alphabetical order for easy reference.

Keynsham High Street in an old postcard.
The ornate globes on the right mark the entrance to the Keynsham Baptist Church


The registers of the Keynsham Baptist Church have been microfilmed and are available through LDS Family History Centres Births, (not in chronological order) 1787-1823, 1787-1837 Burials, 1803-1841, 1803-1875 Certificates of death (not in chronological order), 1830-1850 Church roll, 1807-1917 Register of members, 1807-1957 Conveyance of lease, 1802 Sabbath School records, 1856-1914: FHL BRITISH Film 1472055 Items 1-7

Baptisms, (another filming) 1787-1823, 1787-1837 Burials, (another filming) 1803-1841, 1803-1875: FHL BRITISH Film 1597219 Items 5-6

Births commence in 1787 and are mostly very legible as they were entered on printed forms in the books. Although the Baptists practise baptism of believers, ie not infant baptism, they still 'registered' the births of their members' children.

The Keynsham Baptist Burial Register commenced in 1803 when the chapel in the High Street first opened and ceased in 1875. There are 359 names. There are gaps in the records but Russell Leitch estimates ' that the total number buried in the chapel graveyard could be around 400: a sobering thought for those who walk up what is now the church path to come to worship each Sunday. One solitary tombstone remains, but the inscription has long since worn away'.

Burials ceased there in 1875 in accordance with a government edict 'for the protection of the public health' except for those who had been members of the congregation. John FRANKHAM in 1896, who had been a Deacon of the church was one of the last buried there.

There were 73 founding members in 1807, and the numbers through most of the 19th and 20th centuries (up to Leitch's History in 1985) remained about 100, only baptised adults being counted. Leitch has also listed all the Baptist members who appear on the 1851 Keynsham census which included seven of the founder members still living. There were about 140 children attending the Sunday School at the same period.

The Keynsham and Hanham Baptists continued as one united church, sharing the ministry of the same pastor, until 1850, when by mutual consent, they became separate.

The Ministers

Rev. John HUTCHINGS 1807-1813
Rev. Thomas AYRES 1814-1852
Rev Joseph JOPLIN 1854-1856
Rev. William C. PRATT 1857-1873
Rev. William OWEN 1874-1877
Rev. Charles A. FELLOWES 1878-1884
Rev. Walter MANN 1884-1932
Rev. Ernest W. LABRUM 1933-1947
Rev. Alexander McPHEE 1947-1959
Rev. Courtenay RUNDELL 1960-1970
Rev. Michael L BRAY 1971-1978.

The information on this page has been compiled from:

A Complete History of Old King Street Baptist Church, Bristol, Formerly worshipping in the Pithay, originally at the Fryers. 1640 to 1933, by John Silas Merritt 1934

The History of Keynsham Baptist Church, by Russell Leitch 1985

The Membership Book of the Old King Street Baptist Church

The Tercentenary Souvenir 1650-1850 Old King Street Baptist Church

Help from many kind souls, including Mr Russell Leitch of Keynsham and Mr John Parsons of the Cairns Road Baptist Church (keepers of the Old King Street books)

The parish registers

There are also some quotes which I have copied over the years without recording the sources.


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