The Baptist Church in Budleigh Salterton 1843-2018

Having written a history of Fairlynch in 2017 I naturally volunteered a year later to review a similar publication which tells the story of the Baptist Church in our town.

The subjects are alike in many ways: both museum and church are attractive 19th century local landmarks. Being listed buildings they both present expensive headaches of maintenance; as institutions serving the local community both have had their ups and downs over the years. Baptist minister Revd. Graham Wise’s account of the church and its people is an enjoyably readable paperback which is a valuable addition to Budleigh's local history studies.

A history of the church was first published in 1983. This latest version provides an update for the 175th anniversary which it celebrated in 2018.

The original Temple Methodist Church, with Ash Villa (left) which was demolished to make room for the car parking area 

There have been Baptist Christians in Budleigh since the early 19th century, when they worshipped with Methodists at the Temple chapel on the town’s Fore Street, built by retired wealthy  bookseller James Lackington in 1813. Not until 1844 did the Baptists have a building to call their own, the Ebenezer Chapel, located in the hamlet of Little Knowle to the west of Budleigh Salterton.

Honestly written and based largely on the Church’s Minute Books, Graham Wise’s history does not omit incidents in the life of the Little Knowle congregation which may surprise those who’ve always thought of Baptists as models of uprightness. 

In 1863, one of its members, a William Marker was excluded for a time for drunkenness; ten years later, with regard to Isabella Thomas of Woodbury, the Minute Book records: ‘we put you away from us as a wicked person and while doing so we pray God to open your eyes to see the heinousness of your guilt’; the lady had ‘committed the sin of Fornication with its vile concomitants’.

There have been other difficulties in the Church’s history. The congregation has never been vast and there have been fluctuations: on 9 August 1885 the Pastor announced his resignation on account of ‘low funds and depopulation’. 

The search for new ministers has sometimes been vexed; in 1951 the Ebenezer Chapel was given listed building status but by April the following year the Church was struggling. In July 1959 it was even suggested at a Church Meeting that the possibility of building new premises on the main street in Budleigh should be investigated.  

As recently as 2007 there were clear clashes of personality: ‘some Members obviously held very strong views regarding change’, notes the author. ‘The introduction of new songs eventually led to a complete breakdown in the relationship between Minister and Organist’.

Happily the Church has survived and the author ends on a high note. Sunday morning congregations are growing. Positive developments in recent times have included activities ranging from collections for Syrian refugees to the foundation of a Walking Group and the Church’s participation in the Health and Well-Being Hub, opened in 2017.

Speaking personally, one of the most pleasing aspects is that the Church continues to be based in one of Budleigh’s most charming buildings. But  as the Revd. Wise acknowledges, its design and furnishings are not very suitable and the Listed Building Status means that it is not easy to adapt to the Church’s present and future needs.

Image courtesy of Nikki and Darren Smith, showing the couple on their wedding day at the Baptist Church, April 2018  Photo by Sarah Jayne Photography 

Many local residents still have treasured memories of it, however. Burials are no longer  being carried out; 86 interments took place between 1848 and 1908. But the Ebenezer Chapel has proved to be a memorable location for weddings. ‘Such a pretty little place’ was a typical comment from a recent bride.

The book has a useful index of names, a bibliography and various appendices which include names of ministers from 1844 to the present day, as well as membership statistics.  

The Baptist Church in Budleigh Salterton 1843-2018 is available from the author at £9.00 including postage, and £7.00 on a person to person basis. The Revd. Graham Wise can be contacted at 11 Vernon Road, Exmouth,
EX8 4JP. Tel: 01395 223318.

The Baptist Church in Budleigh Salterton 1843-2018 by Graham Wise
102 pages; 25 illustrations  ISBN 987 0 86071 7560


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