Ramsden Bellhouse Baptist Church

The human impetus for starting the church in 1926 came from two people: Charles Gosling, of 'Deodar', Church Road, who had been running a flourishing Sunday School started in an old railway carriage in 1921; and Rev W White, chairman of the Extension Committee of the Essex Baptist Association and resident of Leigh-on-Sea.    They were brought together by the Rev Frank James of Peckham.

After Gospel services started, the church was formally constituted in June 1926 with about 40 members, and met in the village Social Hall (a thatched barn).    Soon however, the firm of Homesteads Ltd, which was doing the building in the village, gave a piece of land at the corner of Orchard Avenue as a site.    By scrimping and saving, and by borrowing from the Baptist Building Fund, the members had the church building erected by Mr Foreman of Ramsden Heath.    The foundation stones were laid on 30 April 1927, the chief guest being Mr H. W Looker MP, and the opening ceremony took place on 16 July 1927.

Prominent among the first members were Mr & Mrs Gosling, Mr & Mrs Christmas, Mr & Mrs Gilliam and Mr & Mrs Snutch. Afterwards the numbers of members started to decline, but in spite of this the BBF loan was paid off a year early, and the heating and lighting systems up-graded (to gas!).   The Sunday School continued, with Mr Astell of `Beulah; Church Road, taking over from Mr Gosling as Superintendent in 1935.   There was a strong Girls' Life Brigade contingent in the 1930s: Miss Snutch became the lieutenant in 1935, succeeding Miss Disbrow and Mrs Christmas.   Others who joined the church around that time were the Bedinghams, and the Gimsons (of `Helena', Church Road).   From the church's beginning Rev White acted as the moderator, but he was very involved in establishing other churches, and so began the long list of lay­preachers.   Amongst the earliest were Mr H. E. Wood of Hutton Manor, John Herald of Shenfield and H. C. Iles of Southend.   The church's treasurer from 1926 to 1940 was Mr Gosling, and the first secretary Mr T H. Harvey, of `Cray's View', Homestead Road, although he was soon followed by Mr C. P. Currell who served from 1928 to 1941.   Mr T H. Ingle­Scott of Billericay became part-time Minister in 1936, having been the Sunday School Superintendent for two years.

The Second World War naturally affected the church: Mr Currell moved to be nearer his work at Murex, and Mr Ingle-Scott was called up by the Admiralty.    At the same time, the Lord brought important people to the church: Mr & Mrs C. R. Dormer who were bombed out of West Ham came to live at `Gulistan; Church Road, and Mr A. E. White and his family moved into `The Nest' in Glebe Road.   Mrs Dormer was the Sunday School Superintendent from 1941 to 1954.

Mr White became the church's leader, and by the time he retired in 1936, he had been secretary, treasurer and Sunday School Superintendent.    In the 1940s and '50s, numbers attending the church seem to have been very low.   Few formal church meetings were held, money was scarce and the premises became rather delapidated, but the church kept going.

In 1963, Mr A. E. Bennett of Brentwood came and took over Mr White's roles, and by 1967 he was the part-time pastor.   The church was re-formed in 1965 with 7 members, and improvements to the premises were begun: electricity was installed in 1965, but it took another seven years to get mains drainage.    Pastor Bennett was full of zeal for the Lord and would visit local residents with the magazines which he himself printed, as he was a master-printer by trade.    There were young people's 'squashes" film shows, a junior Christian Endeavour, and women's meetings. Pastor Bennett acquired a secondhand Wernick hut, and in 1969 this was opened by Mrs Grace Overing, a Life-Elder of the church, as the Emmanuel Hall and it is still in constant use.

During the second half of his pastorate, Mr Bennett encouraged the Wickford Friendship Club for the Disabled to attend the church, and services were very well attended.    However, as his retirement approached he explored various ways in which the work of the church could be continued, there being no obvious successor.    The youth work was active, but by then attendances at services were declining and the congregation ageing.

At the end of 1975, Pastor Bennett retired and Rev Anthony Noles, the pastor of Billericay Baptist Church, agreed to act as Moderator.    With the support of a retired minister, Rev A. J. Roberts, and members of the Perry Street fellowship, the church survived the next few difficult years.    There was also great blessing from a succession of young pastors training for the ministry at Spurgeon's College: John Russell, Paul Jackson, Jim McVicar, Richard Palmer and Philip Wright. A retired couple, Joan and Walter Perry, became the first full-time (lay) pastors in the mid-1980s.

A full-scale Mission was carried out in 1991 under Philip Wright's pastorate, and when Philip came to the end of his training the fellowship was led to call the Rev John Hopper to the pastorate (1993-).   Under his leadership and God's direction, the church aims to continue as it has done from the beginning: to proclaim the Gospel to those round about, and to give a warm Christian welcome to all who step inside the doors.

Derek Greasley

This article was first published in "Thoughts on Ramsden - A Brief History of Village Life" Compiled and Edited by Isabel Johnson.