Old Ilkeston Logo

The Baptist chapel

We shall pause at this point to consider the Baptist Chapel, wedged between Robey’s Yard and Trueman’s Court.

1766-1820: Beginnings.

Opposite the South Street Chapel was the Baptist Chapel. This was a very old place of worship.

There is evidence that about the mid-eighteenth century there existed a small Baptist community in the Ilkeston area.

In May 1766 members of a General Baptist group, led by minister Nathaniel Pickering, came from Castle Donington, to preach at a dwelling house in Sawley but were prevented in their aim by the curate of the parish and a group of ‘drunken local rowdies’. The same Baptist group then turned its attention to Dale Moor where the members achieved more success, such that a small meeting place was erected at Little Hallam in 1766.

The successful work of this Baptist group led to two young churches being established firstly at South Street in Ilkeston (1784) — when the ‘chapel’ at Little Hallam was thus taken down —  and later at Smalley (1790).
The Ilkeston chapel was built on land sold to the chapel trustees by Joseph Simpson.
Edgar Waterhouse writes that the founders of the Chapel were Christopher Harrison and Thomas Woolley of Smalley, William Greasley of Stanton, John Stenson and Joseph Parkinson of Sawley, Vincent Wizar (or Wisser or Wizard or Whysall?), John Orchards and Joseph Harrison of Ilkeston, and John Bakewell and Thomas Dunnicliffe of Castle Donington.

At that time both Ilkeston and Smalley were branches of the church at Castle Donington and so, on special occasions members would walk to their ‘mother’ chapel in the morning and walk home again in the evening. Within a year however that situation was changed. The minute books of Ilkeston Baptist Church suggest that a year after its founding the Ilkeston church was now separated from Castle Donington.

“The Church at Ilkeston first established distinct from Castle Donington, May 22nd 1785”

Fifty three members attended this first Ilkeston church — 27 men and 26 women — coming from Cotmanhay, Shipley, Cossall, Sandiacre and Greasley, and because of the distance which some of them were travelling they met only in the afternoon.  Mornings and evenings were reserved for outreach preaching, work that was shared with the Smalley group of Baptists, and was continued until 1822.

From 1785 the Ilkeston pastor was John Waters Goddard who left the town in 1794 to reside at Kegworth and then Rothley where he died in 1812.
In the first five years of the church 72 adults were baptised, usually in the River Erewash at ‘Gallas Inne’, where large, inquisitive and sometimes boisterous audiences would gather.

The Baptists were vigorous and hardworking evangelists, accepting that they would have to travel many miles to spread their ministry, regularly going to places like Eastwood, Chilwell, Horsley, Coxbench and Heanor.
At such places they would build up contacts — hold meetings, visit homes, set up schools — and eventually and hopefully establish a chapel, an outpost to their mother church which might one day stand alone as an independent Baptist chapel. In this way the Ilkeston Baptists became linked to Smalley (1785), Derby (1790), Stanton (1791), Cotmanhay (1796), Mapperley (1798), Beeston (1802), Heanor (1812), as well as Stanley Common, Horsley, Awsworth, Newthorpe, Eastwood and Little Hallam.

A year or so after pastor John’s departure William Felkin arrived, holding office until October 1799 before departing for Kegworth where he died in 1824.

Succeeding William Felkin as pastor in 1800 was William Pickering, a ‘zealous preacher’ from Ashford/Bradwell in north Derbyshire, sometimes styled ‘The Apostle of the Peak’. He ended his time in Ilkeston in 1815 at which time his salary appears to have been £52 p.a.
Strongly influenced by the Sunday School movement of Robert Raikes, it was William  who had established the South Street Sunday school in 1807. This annex was added to the South Street building, nothing more than a lean-to on the south side of the Chapel, in Robey’s Yard, seating 80 scholars (now the site of the Health Centre).
This was on land also previously owned by Joseph Simpson but later sold to wheelwright Ralph Shaw junior.
The trustees of the Chapel at this time were knitter Joseph Harrison, tailor William West, miners John Trueman and William Wrigley, all of Ilkeston, John Orchard of Little Hallam, knitter Christopher Harrison, brickmaker Thomas Woolley, and Samuel Cresswell all of Smalley, miner Stephen Barton of Greasley.

1820-1851: Growth.

Membership flourished such that by April 1822 the Ilkeston and Smalley churches felt sufficiently established to survive as independent communities and so agreed to a separation … property and debts were divided fairly and amicably between the them.
Before the establishment of the two independent churches, combined membership was nearly 150; in the year following the split the membership of the Ilkeston church alone was 123. After some internal problems and a fall in membership in the early 1830’s the church again recovered in the 1840’s, under two very successful ministers….

…… James Peggs (August 1841-1846) .. he had been a missionary at Orissa in India but apparently the misery and deprivation he had to witness there forced him to return to England. Not the most gifted pulpit orator he was a very amusing platform speaker and a self-denying devoted Christian.

……. Caleb Springthorpe (August 1847-1853) … arriving in Ilkeston from the Baptist College in Leicester, greatly appreciated by the congregation whilst serving in the town, and sorely missed at his departure for West Yorkshire.

These Ilkeston Baptists were Arminian in theology — basing their beliefs on the doctrine of the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius of ‘free will’ and universal salvation. Thus they were General Baptists holding that the death of Christ meant redemption for everyone.
(In contrast, Particular or Calvinist Baptists were influenced by the theology of John Calvin, and believed in ‘limited atonement’, that Christ had died to save only particular persons who were predestined to be saved, those whom God had chosen.)

The effectiveness of the Baptist publicity can be gauged from the Minute books of the Church…
“Lord’s Day, May 1, 1841.  Seven friends were baptised in the Erewash.  About 1500 spectators…who behaved very orderly”
“Lord’s Day, September 19, 1841.  Several were baptised in the Erewash.  Mr. Pegge preached in the chapel and addressed the audience by the waterside. Probably 1200 persons were present”.
Membership was growing….113 in 1842, 141 in 1845, up to 181 by 1851.

Another result of the growth was that in 1842 the Ilkeston Baptist church building was extended, and a gallery added.
New members had to travel to the Erewash Canal at Gallows Inn to be baptised but this ceased in 1848 when the comfort of a baptistry at the South Street chapel was introduced.

In the 1851 Religious Census the South Street chapel is listed as having accommodation for 300 persons (104 free and 196 other).
Sunday morning attendance was 91, with a Sunday School of 107, an afternoon School of 122 and an evening congregation of 204.
Baptist minister Caleb Springthorpe of Lawn Cottage supplied these figures. He left Ilkeston to take up a post at Heptonstall Slack General Baptist Chapel, West Yorkshire, in August 1853.
‘Free’ sittings were those which were not permanently rented to particular individuals – anyone could have access to them. ‘Other’ sittings were those which were let or had become private property.

The 1850’s: T R Stevenson and a new chapel.

Succeeding Caleb Springthorpe as minister in 1854 was Thomas Roberts Stevenson, “a young man fresh from college, sanguine, earnest, genuine, and a very interesting preacher … with genial humour, sparkling wit, amiable temper, … downright honesty, .. fearless advocacy of the claims of the poor, and .. thorough sympathy with the working classes”. (IA 1881 An Old Resident’s letter*)
Also a man of great energy and innovation he introduced evening observation of the Lord’s Supper, standing up for singing and prayers, the practice of new tunes by choir and congregation, the singing of hymns in their entirety – and a new harmonium, in 1855!!
He was in office in 1857 when the continued growing numbers at the chapel finally necessitated a new building.  By that year it was clear that the accommodation provided by the South Street Meeting House was inadequate to fulfil the needs of Ilkeston’s Baptist community

(*N.B. Ilkeston had no shortage of ‘Old Residents’ eager to share their views with the wider public. The Advertiser’s Old Resident should not be confused with the one writing to the Pioneer and cited elsewhere … see Sources.  Don’t you just love pseudonyms!!).

When the new chapel was built in Queen Street, the congregation removed to it, and the old chapel was used for the Sunday School. 

The corner stone of the new Baptist Chapel in Queen Street was laid at half-past three on a beautifully fine Monday afternoon, November 23rd 1857, a ceremony performed by Alderman Robert Pegg of Derby and witnessed by representatives from nearly all of Ilkeston’s dissenting churches as well as from the Established Church. Under the stone was placed a document recording the event, the names of the builder and designer of the church, some of its officers including deacons James Orchard, James Hithersay, George Small West and William Meakin, and the size of its membership (180).
An hour later about 200 guests were tucking into a public tea in the South Street chapel to celebrate the occasion.
A public meeting at the same place followed in the early evening, led by the Rev. Thomas Roberts Stevenson.
“Most certainly the whole proceedings connected with the laying of the corner-stone passed off with great éclat”.

Jedediah Wigley had been awarded the contract to build the new chapel, which was completed in 1858 at a cost £1400, and seated 400.
The opening ceremony took place on Tuesday, June 22nd 1858. William Henry Booker of Nottingham, the architect of the building would not have been pleased with some descriptions of his creation.

The Pioneer records – 23 years after the chapel’s opening — that “of the many places of worship which have sprung up in our town, this is certainly the least attractive; some people think it positively ugly and repellent, and we have heard it likened to an engine shed. Perhaps the greatest defect of the building (it has many) is its bad acoustics; for a disagreeable echo makes it an almost painful task to listen to even the most accomplished speakers”.

The first baptisms in the new church — on September 20th 1858 — were those of Frederick Cook, grocer of Awsworth Road, his wife Mary (nee Hartshorn), and William Wright Turner, grocer’s assistant of Regent Street.
Frederick was elected a deacon in 1862 and William became Church Secretary in 1863.

After the opening of the new church the old South Street building was kept as a children’s Sunday School, as Adeline suggests, and a period of continued growth led to the school’s expansion in 1866.

The Rev. Thomas Stevenson was a Pastor at the new chapel in Queen Street.
He was a real live wire, but the people were too apathetic, and soon the Rev. Thomas removed to a sphere where his energies were more appreciated.

The building of the new chapel left the Baptist community with a large debt to service and thus a period of severe and prolonged pay restraint was introduced. Consequently when the Rev. Stevenson requested a salary increase in early 1859 it was promptly rejected. This may had led to his subsequent clash — in May 1859 — with certain influential members of the Baptist Church and then his expulsion, an action which divided opinion within the community.
A meeting at the Old Baptist Chapel was organised at which his supporters showed boisterous support for him. Several guest speakers gave testimony to his character and qualities.
For example the Rev. James Stevenson – no relation!! from Nottingham described Thomas as  “an independent thinker…. he borrowed not his opinions, nor his faith, from others….he waited not for what great men had to say, but having made up his mind, he stated his opinions roundly and boldly, in hard round English words that hit”.
To avoid a split in the church Thomas was determined to leave the town. A gift of a purse containing 15 guineas, ‘subscribed by scores of the working classes’ was presented to the pastor before his departure.
Thomas left to go to a church in Burnley; he later moved on to Luton, Colombo (for seven years), and back to St. Mary’s Gate Baptist Chapel, Derby.

1860-1881: Comings and Goings … and Divisions.

The Rev. William Anderson, a Scotsman, was Pastor for some time.
His sister, Miss Anderson, became the senior Mr. James Hithersay’s second wife.

A short period of upheaval at the church was followed by the appointment of  William Milroy Anderson of Hawick to the pastorate in August 1862, commencing his duties on the first Sunday in September. His sister was Helen.

The Hawick Advertiser reported that Mr. Anderson had been a pastor at the Baptist Church there for nearly ten years “and his constant and untiring exertions for good have for him the high esteem not only of those belonging to his congregation, but of all classes of the community ….quiet and unassuming in his deportment, he was at all times ready to aid and to forward any movement in which the welfare of his fellow townsmen was concerned…..we regret the loss to our own community of so valuable a member ….just before his leaving Hawick he was presented with a purse containing ten sovereigns”.

“With no brilliant preaching power .. he was nevertheless a thorough Christian gentleman, a most hardworking and indefatigable pastor, visiting the homes of the people with a loving sympathy..” (an Old Resident’s letter IA 1881)

However two years later, William’s resignation from the church and departure from Ilkeston in July 1864 was also occasioned by an inability to increase his salary.

But some time after, differences occurred among the congregation, resulting in many returning to the old chapel, where services were resumed.

After a brief ‘inter-regnum’ Pastor John Stevenson of Derby (1866-1872) then came to Ilkeston, having served at Borough Road Church, London, and St. Mary’s Gate Church in Derby … and “a more loving spirit, a more amiable temper, a more genial friend and companion, a more self-sacrificing, Christ-like man never laboured in the midst of the people” (Old Resident IA 1881)
Having begun to restore the church’s finances mainly ‘through self-denying liberality’ Pastor John was faced once more with divisions within the church and ‘sought another field for usefulness’.

In his place — after another brief pastor-less period — stepped John Wild of Hucknall (1873-1877) “a man of stern integrity, and much devotedness … a pulpit orator, a thorough, powerful preacher… but too tame” to reconcile the forces of division. (Old Resident again.)

There followed students from the Baptist College, Chilwell (1877-1879), serving at Ilkeston before the arrival in December 1879 of Arthur Charles Perriam (1879-1884), “a man of refinement and ability” but whose countenance “indicated habitual melancholy. He was a man of lovable disposition and a good preacher, but his nature was too highly-strung and sensitive to stand the wear and tear associated with the pastorate of a poor and unbeneficed church”. (RBH)

Arthur Charles arrived with his wife Marianne Roslina (nee Scammell), daughter of London bootmaker Richard and Elizabeth, and whom he had married in 1868.  However a year after their arrival — on November 13th 1880 — Marianne died at their Stanton Road home, aged 34.

For a while the Baptist Chapel flourished.

In April 1881, at the anniversary of its Sunday School, a large new area between the Stage and the auditorium was filled with 120 scholars singing with “precision and good taste, a choice selection of hymns”.
The chapel was filled to capacity such that many members of the public were left outside.

Stalwart of the Chapel, James Hithersay, offered a gift of £50 to help erect a much-needed gallery – an offer gratefully accepted – and there followed much effort to add to that sum, to reach a total of £400, about enough to convert it into a “neat and commodious place of worship”.

1881-1884: Split.

The personality and style of management of the new pastor were not to everyone’s liking.
Strains between Arthur Charles and the Church deacons soon appeared, and in September 1881 53 members of the congregation (including two deacons – one who had served for 30 years, the other for 20 years) seceded from the church and were granted permission by the Trustees to meet at the old South Street Chapel.
“The secessionists are for the most part the influential members of the place”.
“A number of the teachers and scholars in the Sunday-school threw in their lot with the secessionists, and as the chapel school is conducted (in the old schoolroom), the spectacle has been presented of a divided school, inasmuch as a number stop for worship in the schoolroom, whilst the others, (with the pastor) walk in procession to the Baptist Chapel”. (IP)

A week after this report it was arranged that the Sunday School would meet at the Queen Street Chapel.

An appointed Board of Arbitration saw this split as a brief temporary arrangement  — one that was to last for nearly 40 years!

At the end of October 1881 the Board gave its judgment;
“The arbitrators … expressed their pleasure at the fact that no charges had been preferred against the minister of unsoundness in doctrine or general unacceptableness in preaching or pastoral labour. The grievances alleged related chiefly to the differences of opinion on church management or hasty reflections on individuals. They gave it as their opinion that a proper amount of Christian patience and charity at an early stage of the unhappy difference would have prevented the secession which appeared to be impending. Believing that no impardonable offence had been committed on either side they exhorted the two parties to mutual acknowledgment and forgiveness. When however it appeared that an immediate reconciliation was impossible they recommended that for a season the two parties should work and worship separately.
“It was advised that for the future Mr. Perriam and his friends should hold their Sunday services and conduct their Sunday school in Queen-street, and that the seceders should worship and conduct their school in the old chapel, in South-street. It was advised that the church in Queen-street should amicably dismiss the members meeting in South-street in order to (facilitate) the formation of  a new General Baptist Church.
“(The arbitrators) considered Mr. Perriam still worthy of the affection and confidence both of his own friends and of the General Baptists denomination”.
The great majority of the church congregation agreed to accept these recommendations and Mr. Perriam now thought the dispute effectively settled!!

From 1882 Ilkeston had two Baptist chapels when the South Street premises were sold to the seceders for £200. With this money, swelled by public contributions, the Queen Street Church added a new gallery and new schoolrooms at the west end of its building, while its seating was increased to 500 although its membership numbers had plunged since the secession. The building work was entrusted to Frederick Shaw of the Manor House at an estimated cost of £1000.

In 1883 Arthur Charles married his second wife Jane Ann Weatherhogg, daughter of Granby Street pawnbroker Thomas and Phoebe (nee Foster).

The Perriam couple left Queen Street in August 1884 when Arthur Charles took up a pastorate at Dewsbury, Yorkshire.
When he had arrived at Ilkeston the debt of the Baptist Chapel was £200 which the alterations he had undertaken raised to over £1400.
At his departure that debt had been reduced by more than £800.

In May 1883 the Advertiser recorded the marriage of Elias Barnes and Sarah Briggs of the Potteries at the old Baptist Chapel in South Street — in fact the bride was Annie Briggs.
The newspaper included the detail that the chapel was 100 years old and that this was the first marriage there for 99 years.

In April 1884 services were held at the Old Baptist Chapel in South Street to celebrate its centenary of public worship. The collections taken were to help fund a new roof and ‘other needful repairs’.

1884: Young Aked arrives.

The Rev. Chas. Aked, afterwards Dr. Aked, was a Pastor at Queen Street Chapel.
He ultimately went to America, where he became very popular.
He married Mr. Jas. Hithersay’s granddaughter.  

In July 1884 Charles Frederick Aked, ‘a lanky, hollow-cheeked, impetuous youth’, arrived at the Queen Street Chapel from the Nottingham Baptist College, to hold a student pastorate at Ilkeston for a year.
He was born in Nottingham in 1864, the son of Charles Aked, hosier and later a licensed victualler trading at the Poplar Tree Inn, and Ann (nee Minion). He had trained as an auctioneer and for a few years in the early 1880’s had traded as such in London Road, Derby.

In his time at Ilkeston Charles Frederick was wooing Annie Hithersay, daughter of (the late) Nottingham Road grocer James and  Mary (nee Whitehead).
On one occasion, when scheduled to preach at Kimberley, Charles chose instead to spend the Sunday evening with Annie and secured the services of a young Arthur Copley to act as his substitute preacher. It would seem that Charles impressed Annie — the couple wed in 1886.

Cyril Hargreaves describes Charles as “a fiery and enthusiastic speaker with unashamedly Radical views, who lived to become one of the greatest preachers of his day’” while Charles’s brother-in law, Richard Benjamin Hithersay, saw him as “bold and aggressive, and not at all calculated to be disturbed by chapel squabbles or adverse criticism from any quarter. — His vigorous personality and obvious intellectual power attracted the Queen Street congregation. It was not long before he made his mark in the town as a preacher of exceptional force”. However “he was by no means a modest flower, content either ‘to blush unseen or waste his sweetness on the desert air’ of Ilkeston at one hundred pounds per annum

Thus after his marriage he continued his progress, onwards and upwards.

Via a pastorate at Syston, Leicestershire (1886-1888) and then at St. Helens, Lancashire (1888-1890), Charles Frederick arrived at Pembroke Chapel, Liverpool in September 1890 when his first morning sermon was on ‘The Good Old Days’. His evening sermon was entitled ‘The Parliament of Labour: its Power and Promise’ to which ‘trades unionist were cordially invited’.
He had opinions on many issues of the day and was not unafraid to voice them; he spoke in favour of Oscar Wilde, against the Second Boer War, in favour of the complete secularisation of state and rate-aided schools, and against intoxicating liquor, ‘Britain’s worst curse’.
The Temple College, Pennsylvania conferred a degree — D.D. — upon him, an act which provoked some criticism among contemporaries and led Charles in May 1906 to publicly deny the ‘honour’, a degree which ‘he ought never to have accepted’.
The Derby Daily Telegraph commented upon Charles’s action: ‘The interesting cleric whom we are accustomed to know as ‘The Rev. Charles F. Aked, D.D.’ is now to be known as ‘Mr. Aked’. He voluntarily submits to a process of decapitation and curtailment. He wishes his friends to drop the ‘D.D.’ and the prefix ‘Rev.’ as well. Evidently the ungenerous discussion of .. the degree has annoyed him and he says ‘the time has come for him to repudiate the degree, …. it was conferred upon him in recognition of efficient public work as a Minister of the Gospel by … the biggest Baptist institution on the face of the earth’.

Subsequently Charles accepted the invitation to be pastor of ‘the Millionaires’ Church’ of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church (known as the Rockefeller Church, heavily endowed by John D. Rockefeller, ‘the richest man in the world’.) in New York in 1906, with a home on that avenue and ‘a fabulous number of dollars per annum’.
His salary was a reported £2000 per annum.

By 1912 Charles had moved on to the First Congregational Church in San Francisco and in 1913 became a full-fledged American citizen. He later moved on to Kansa City and finally to All Souls’ Church, Los Angeles.

In August 1923 Charles returned  from the United States to visit Ilkeston with his wife Ann and to receive a civic welcome in the town.  The Pioneer revealed that he was the author of numerous religious works and hymns and that “in America competent critics have rated him as the greatest living pulpit orator”. Also by that time he had received the degree of Doctor of Laws (1913) from the University of Nevada, held a triple doctorate of Divinity, and had been minister of the First Congregational Churches in Kansas City and San Francisco.
On the return journey, on board the Empress of France, Charles  preached before the Prince of Wales — who was travelling incognito as ‘Lord Renfrew’. The Manchester Guardian was sure that ‘Baron Renfrew’ would have heard a good sermon ‘for Dr. Aked would have to try very hard to preach a bad one’.

In 1933 Richard Benjamin Hithersay recounted his most recent meeting with brother-in-law Charles.
“Two or three years ago I lunched with the ‘Rev. Dr.’ and Mrs. Aked at a London hotel, and I left the hotel with the strong impression of the truth of the age-old saying ‘Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas est’. (Vanity, vanity, everything is vanity.) Years of indifferent health, accompanied by a gradual failure of sight which the most famous oculists in America seemed powerless to arrest, and which was naturally a source of acute and constant anxiety, had combined to effect a striking metamorphosis in the one-time buoyant, brilliant and ambitious young preacher”.

Charles Frederick died in Los Angeles in August 1941, aged 76 and was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. (www.findagrave.com)
Annie Aked (nee Hithersay) had died in June 1934 and was interred at the same place.

After some years it was decided to close the old chapel, and for many years it was deserted.
But about 1900 or thereabouts, the old chapel was put in order, and services were resumed. I went into the chapel in 1914 and was very pleased to see how nicely it had been restored to its former state, and was shown the different seats where people sat who had returned to their first love.

Membership at the Queen Street chapel continued to fall or remain small but this was reversed by the arrival, in 1898, of Arthur Copley, whose work once again began to fill the church and eventually, in 1920, led to the unification, once more, of the Ilkeston Baptists.

 

The neighbour of the old Baptist Chapel was the Prince of Wales … but not the one to whom Charles Aked preached in 1923.