Just over three hundred years ago a group of people would have been seen making their way down to a fork of the Colne Brook, just off Mill Street, where thirteen of them were to be baptised. The date was14th April 1708, and later that same day the nine men and four women were formed into a Particular Baptist Church practising Strict Communion, which continues to this day. Some notable Baptist ministers came from London to form the church including Benjamin Stinton of Horsleydown, the son-in- law of Benjamin Keach of Winslow; Joseph Stennett of Pinners Hall, the grandfather of Samuel Stennett, the hymnwriter; John Piggott of Little Wild Street and Nathaniel Hodges of Loriners Hall, who was later knighted by George I.
At first the church had several meeting places, including William Wild’s house at Sipson, which was registered on 18th April 1708, but they soon settled in a large room over John Slowcombe’s Draper’s shop in Bridge Street near the Market Square which is close to “Ye Old George Inn”. In 1754 a move was made to the Swan Inn Orchard where a chapel was built on land given by Thomas Rayner, a local farmer. This chapel served the church until the present chapel was built on the same site in 1871 and opened on 18th April 1872.
The nineteenth century was a time of great prosperity in the church and preachers were sent out into the surrounding places with the gospel. Causes were started at Datchet,1805; Wraysbury,1830; Stanwell Moor,1848; Longford,1859 and Windsor,1864, as well as help being given to other places.
First Meeting House – erected 1754 Front of present Chapel in the early 1900’s
Several people were buried in the old chapel, including three sons and a daughter-in-law of Thomas Rayner who gave the land for the chapel. The memorial stone now marks their resting place by the East wall. One of our pastors, Samuel Rowles, 1802-1820, a man greatly loved, is buried in the aisle between the two West windows. (This would have been just in front of the three-decker pulpit in the old chapel.) Also buried in the chapel were Alexander Holderness and his wife Martha, formerly Martha Gill.
Our Sunday School started in late 1818. The chapel has always taken an interest in the young, and for many years there were over 100 children in the school. As early as 1742, Richard Sparkes, who was the first to be baptised in 1708, left money for New Year Sermons for young people. Later, when the school started these were held on Christmas Day with two sermons, a Christmas tea and prizes, which were often clothing and footwear, as well as Bibles and hymnbooks.
Mention is often made of some of the famous names connected with Colnbrook. The best known of these is Alexander Cruden, who compiled the Bible Concordance which bears his name. His sister, Isobella, married William Wild of Middle Green, Langley who attended here, and Cruden would have worshipped at Colnbrook when visiting his sister. Cruden was a brilliant man but given at times to melancholy, and it was after he had spent 11 days in Chelsea Asylum in 1753, and his friends had obtained his release, that he came to Middle Green.
Another famous name connected with a local family is that of John Wycliffe, who first translated the Bible into English over 600 years ago. His descendents, the Weekly family, lived around here for many years, and Richard Weekly of Weekly House, Longford, who is buried in our graveyard, built the chapel in Longford. His great-grandfather, also Richard, was the second person baptised in the river in 1708. It is understood, but not verified, that there is a chart showing the line of descent from Wycliffe to the Weekly’s, giving the changes in spelling, but this has not located as yet. We have just had the privilege of making acquaintance with a current descendant of Richard Weekly who was among the thirteen original people baptized in 1708. She is the wife of the Vicar of Bedfont Church and it has been a mutually exciting contact.
Dr. John Gill is also thought to have had distant relations here. His nephew from St. Albans often preached here and several families with the name attended the chapel. But the vital link has yet to be found.
Chapel Interior “God’s Acre” – graveyard at rear of Chapel
The Church has had 14 pastors, four of which are buried in the graveyard. Two have stones – John Lloyd, 1785-1801 (he died following a stroke whilst in prayer in the pulpit), and William Coleman. 1824-1845, whose ministry was richly blessed.
The large monument marks the Rayner family vault. fifty one members of the family are buried in the graveyard and chapel. One was Mary, who died aged only two, of smallpox. She was buried on 1st July 1758 at 9 o’clock at night. It seems people thought disease was less likely to spread if the victim was buried at night. John Howse, an outstanding man in the life of the chapel is also buried in the graveyard. He was a baker in Colnbrook and it was often nearly midnight on a Saturday before he finished work and could get his Bible out to prepare for the Lord’s day. He was Sunday School Superintendent for over 50 years and deacon for 45 years. His picture is in the schoolroom.
There are two stones, laid each side of the front door, one listing the Trustees in 1871 and the other being the foundation stone laid by John Rayner when only 21.
(The above and many more interesting items may be found in the book by our late Deacon David Kerridge “He Leadeth Me Beside the Still Waters” – the story of Particular Baptists in Colnbrook from 1645. Copies are still available on request)
Thanksgiving Services to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the Church were held on Saturday 19th April 2008, at which approximately one hundred friends gathered to encourage us and give thanks. The sermons preached on that occasion may be listened to or downloaded from our Sermons page.
Congregation at our 300th Anniversary afternoon service
We look to the Lord to maintain and revive us as a church and people and to strengthen the things that remain.
Current front elevation Interior looking from pulpit