Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Honouring My Heritage

Last week we visited another National Trust Property - Loughwood Meeting House, just outside Axminster. This is one of the oldest Baptist Chapels in the UK, and I wanted to see where my forebears worshiped - the building dates back to 1653, but people met there in the woods from 1650 onward. When Charles II became King, and the monarchy was restored, he sought to make the Church Of England supreme, and ended tolerance for dissenters - the nonconformists like Baptists and Presbyterians.
Loughwood was on the county border between Dorset and Devon - and when the people met for their services, watchmen stood outside - if troops were heard approaching from one county, then the preacher would flee into the other, for safety! 
Because people travelled quite a way, to be able to worship as they thought appropriate, the chapel had a stable outside for their horses, and two 'receiving rooms' at the back, where they could rest after their journey, and have food etc. The chapel is set in the side of the hill, and for many years was in the middle of dense woodland, so it was not visible to casual travellers.
Here is Bob walking up to the Chapel,and standing in the stables, below is the main door at the side, and the graveyard looking across the valley. What a glorious view!

Inside the chapel, there were box pews, and a raised pulpit. Upstairs, a gallery, where the musicians played for worship - wind and stringed instruments. They even cut a hole in the music stand to accommodate a bass violin!
Here's a view of one receiving room, a shot looking to the front of the church and the pulpit, and another taken from the pulpit, showing the gallery at the back
There was nobody else around, so Bob went into the pulpit and stood in his best Charles Spurgeon Preaching Stance.
I enjoyed looking at the various items showing the history of the church - a plaque on the front of the pulpit, a memorial on the wall to an early pastor. Isaac Haan is one of a tiny minority of Baptist Ministers who actually got buried inside his chapel [after his death, obviously!]
It was also good to look at the old hymnbooks on the pedal organ at the back [a Victorian arrival] I am just old enough to remember using the "1933 Baptist Church Hymnal Revised" at morning services in my childhood.

Many of the first worshippers came from nearby Kilmington - and I am thrilled that Kilmington Baptist Church @ The Beacon is still a lively and welcoming church. Twice a year, they meet in the Old Chapel to acknowledge their history. Many Huguenots found a spiritual home at Loughwood, escaping the persecution in their own country. Nicknamed 'The French' lots of them adopted "French" as their surname, and we found their graves outside. On our drive across Dorset, we had seem sheep and their baby lambs, so this little leaflet was rather apt.
It is too easy sometimes, to take our freedom for granted. Men and women risked imprisonment, execution, transportation just because they wanted to worship God in the way they felt was right and biblical.
Believers' Baptism - by total immersion - was not tolerated, preachers were forbidden to come within 5 miles of a town, the use of the Anglican Prayer Book was compulsory - and only people living within the same household were allowed to gather for an unauthorized meeting for worship. The Clarendon Code instituted in the time of Charles II endeavoured to stamp out all this Nonconformity.
We lifted a panel in the floor and slid another board back, so we could look down into the baptistery.
How brave these men and women were - and they kept the flame of faith burning bright, at tremendous cost to themselves. I must remind myself of that, the next time I feel that I can't be bothered to get ready for church.


  1. What a fascinating place to visit. It reminds me of a little thatched Quaker chapel here that is tucked away down a lane.

  2. You raise such an important point at the end. We are so, so fortunate.

    It was extremely interesting to hear the history of this sacred place.x


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