Providence Chapel

History of the Baptist Church Worshipping at Providence Chapel, Penknap

This history was copied from loose papers held in Westbury Library, as I am assured they are out of copyright I have copied the below transcript in full. It relates to the Chapel at Penknap, the point at which Westbury Leigh becomes Dilton Marsh. The Sunday School Records and history are already on this site, and a great many of the children of Dilton Marsh (including several of my own ancestors) attended this school.

The Baptist Church, worshipping in Penknap Chapel, was formed by a number of members leaving the Baptist meeting at Westbury Leigh, which had in 1662 separated from Southwick. Mr. Marshman, the Pastor of Westbury Leigh, through age and infirmity, desired help. The Rev. George Phillips, of Birmingham was chosen as co-pastor, and he commenced his ministry on August 10th, 1806. On the 24th August Mr. Marshman died at the age of 71 years. After Mr. Marshman's death Mr. Phillips claimed the sole pastorate of the church, and unhappy differences arose, which unfortunately led to the withdrawal of Mr. Phillips and his friends and suppoerters from the church, and to the formation of the Penknap Church. Noone will profit here from a recital here of the altercations and divisions of feeling that took place at Westbury Leigh 83 years ago. One circumstance only I relate. Mr. Phillips on assuming the sole pastorate at Leigh was accused of having formerly being a Wesleyan Minister. When asked whether it was so at a church meeting, he would not reply, which led to a party feeling between the Pastor and some of the Church.

After four years of unpleasantness, Mr. Phillips and his supporters withdrew. On the Lord's Day following, being the 12th of April 1810, as Mr. Phillips has himself recorded in the Penknap Church Book, he preached at Upton, in the open air, to a large concourse of people. The subject was, "Lydia's Heart Opened". At the close of the service a number of his friends invited him to preach at Isaac Hillman's Court, or farmyard at Dilton's Marsh, on the next Sabbath to which he agreed; and at that place he continued to preach twice every Lord's Day, in the open air, the dwelling house and barn not being large enough to hold the congregation. This was continued from the 20th of April to the 14th of October (nearly six months), during which time Mr. Phillips adds, "We were not once hindered by rain, so God was kind to us in that respect."

During this time many other respectable farmers and other friends had decided to build a chapel. A piece of land was first bargained for at the top of "Mason's" as the place is called, on which a very ancient barn stood, and near which it is reported stood also once a small house for public worship, in which a Baptist Congregation assembled long before the Baptist Church was established at Leigh in 1662. Some opposition was raised about this land, and it was given up. Mr. Stephen Applegate then offered the piece of land on which the Chapel stands. The name of the field was "Penknap". There is a small tablet under the gallery in the chapel erected to his memory, on which is the following inscription:-

"To the memory of STEPHEN APPLEGATE, of this parish, yeoman, who died 25th January, 1823, aged 72, and whose remains are interred in the yard of this chapel. This tablet is erected by Thos. Hele Phipps Esq. of Leighton House, as a mark of his esteem for an honest and industrious neighbour."

The foundation stone of the new house was laid on the 18th June 1810. This stone was the gift of a Mr. Tucker, of Westbury. After laying it, Mr. Phillips preached from Ezra iii. 10 and 11. So much did the friends think that it was the will of Providence, that they named it "Providence Chapel". At the end of 17 weeks from the laying of the foundation stone the walls were erected and the roof put on; and on the 14th of October the congregation for the first time assembled in the new chapel.

Mr. Phillips had not yet left the minister's house at Leigh, and while the chapel was being erected, on the 10th day of August, 1810, the members who had left with him met at his house, and, approving of each other, formed themselves into a church of Christ, choosing Mr. Phillips as their pastor. Articles of faith were drawn up and agreed by all, and signed by Mr. Phillips as their pastor. The names of 13 brethren and 17 sisters were entered in the new church book as follows:-
Felix Hall, Robert Milgrove Sen., Jeremiah Hewitt, Thomas Jeffers, Abraham Dew, Thomas Bailey, John Hopkins, Nicholas Hopkins, Thomas Curtis, Robert Milgrove jun., James Hopkins, William Richardson.
Ann Oxley, Hannah Palmore, Rebecca Langley, Sarah Hall, Sarah Tucker, Sarah Mills, Sarah Harris, Sarah Deacon, Hannah Bailey, Hannah Gunstone, Mary Hague, Lucy Hopkins, Mary Edwards, Leah Richardson, Jane Hopkins, Rachael Hall, Susan Eyers.

To the honour of both parties they agreed to sink all unhappy differences, and endeavour, on both sides, to bury all in forgetfulness. The Leigh Church agreed to present to Mr. Phillips, as soon as he resigned, the sum of 90, and, as a renumeration for any loss he might sustain by removing his family, the church agreed to make Mrs. Phillips a present of 60. Mr. Phillips received also a letter of dismission (as did each of the brethren and sisters before named) recommending him to any other church. This was signed by:-
Samuel Barnes, James Edwards, Richard Holloway, Stephen Smith, Richard Duning, William Wilkins - Deacons of Westbury Leigh meeting.

After thus forming the church they proceeded to elect five deacons, viz., Felix Hall, Samuel Deacon, Jeremiah Hewitt, Nicholas Hopkins, and Thomas Curtis. On October 14th the chapel was erected, but not finished, having no windows. There was a short early prayer meeting within its walls, after which they repaired to the water, and Mr. Phillips baptised 12 persons, and at half past ten o' clock in the morning the chapel was crowded for the first time, when Mr. Phillips preached from Hagai ii. 9. He preached again in the afternoon from Mark viii. 38. After the sermon the 12 newly baptised were received into full communion; and partook of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper for the first time. On Whit-Tuesday 1812, nearly two years after the house was finished and regularly opened, Mr. Murch of Frome (afterwards Dr. Murch of Stepney Baptist College), preached from Psalm cxxii. 7; and Mr. Saunders of Frome preached a second morning sermon from Ephesians iii. 1. Mr. Giles, of Leamington, preached in the afternoon. In the evening Mr. Saffery of Salisbury, preached from Ephesians ii. 10. Other ministers took part in the services, icluding Messrs. Williams of Fairford, Norris of Southwick, Flowers of Frome, and the pastor.

The property was conveyed by a trust deed to a congregation of protestant dissenters from the Church of England, called Particular Baptists, holding the doctrines of Personal Election, Original Sin, Effectual Calling, Justification by faith, and Final Perserverance of the Saints. Thirteen trustees were named viz., Messrs. Stephen Applegate, Nicholas Hopkins, William Ball, Isaac Hillman, Thomas Applegate, Abraham Dew, Joel Hague, John Harris (of Clay Close), John Harris (of Hisomley), Thomas Curtis, Samuel Tucker, John Hopkins, and Robert Mulgrave.

Mr. Phillips' ministry was owned and blessed by God for 23 years, during which time 232 persons were baptised and added to the church. In his latter years, Mr. Keen, of Cookstile, Westbury, and Mr. Parsons of Whitbourne, administered the Ordinance of Baptism for him, owing to his age and illness. Baptism was administered, during these years in the waters by Boyer's Factory, where the Westbury Leigh Church also baptised. Since Mr. Phillips' death they have baptised in the waters at Stormore. At many of these services souls were converted to God. Some who came to scoff, returned to pray. Mr Phillips entered into rest March 12th 1833, aged 82 years, and a tablet to his memory was erected by his friends near the pulpit. The inscription is as follows:-

This tablet is erected by an affectionate people to the memory of their much esteemed, long tried, and faithful pastor, the Rev. GEORGE PHILLIPS, whose ardent zeal originated this place of worship, for the glory of Jehovah; twenty-three years pastor of the church formed under his ministry, amongst whom he lived in peace and fellowship of the Gospel, highly esteemed for his work's sake, and called to his rest in the mansion of bliss, after labouring nearly half a century in the ministry, 11th March, 1833, aged 82. "He being dead yet speaketh."

He left the Church with 175 members in fellowship. The chapel property which cost about 1,200 was all clear of debt. Mr. Phillips was the son of a Devonshire farmer and was converted under a sermon by Dr. Charles Wesley, from Isaiah xxxv. 8, and was baptised by Dr. Rippon.

In 1827 it was discovered that the roof of the Chapel was defective; this was at once renewed and repaired at a cost of 80, which was collected among the congregation and soon paid off. Mrs. Phillips died in January 1835, aged 70 years.

In 1816, Mr. Nicholas Hopkins, having preached 3 times before the church with acceptance, was set apart for the work of the ministry by the imposition of hands. There is an interesting entry for October 6th, 1817 showing that Mr. Phillips baptised at Penknap two women and a man from Chitterne, Wilts, who, with others, afterwards formed themselves into a Baptist church at Chitterne. Mr. Phillips adds, "May the Lord bless the infant cause at Chitterne." Mr. Phillips preached from Galatians iii. 27. Mr. Thomas Good was publicly designated to the work of the ministry as a village preacher in March 1821. The charge was gicen from 2 Timothy ii. 15, it being Shrove Tuesday.

On May, 1821, the church gave dismission to Mr. Abraham James to the church of the same Faith and Order at Limpley Stoke, in order that he might become their pastor.

The pulpit was supplied by various ministers for a few months only, one of whom was te Revd. Shem Evans, the co-pastor with Mr. Porter at Somerset Street Chapel, Bath, formerly of Milford Haven, Wales, who received a unanimous call to the pastorate, which he accepted in December 1833. Under his able ministry the church continued to grow and baptisms were frequent.

The Sabbath School commenced when the chapel was being built in 1810. Until the chapel was comfortably fitted up with pews and galleries, the school was conducted every Sabbath in some shops that were unoccupied near Pippin's Bridge, belonging to Mrs. Ballard, who was a great friend of the undertaking. It appears that this was the first Sunday School this side of Westbury. Within a few Sabbaths, however, another Sunday School was established at Leigh Chapel. When the chapel was completed the school was moved thither, and here it was conducted twice every Lord's Day for 25 years. The first person who acted as Superintendant was Mr. Stephen Adlam. He was annually paid for his services. After him Messrs. T. Curtis, Samuel Tucker, John Harris, and William Ball superintended on alternate Saturdays, and next Mr. Elias Millard. During Mr. Evans' pastorate, having long felt the need of a schoolroom, the church procured a piece of land, 38 perches, at the back of the chapel from the adjoining field, on which to build and also to enlarge the burying ground. The leading friends, believing the congregation, which quite filled the chapel, needing more room, resolved to extend the chapel backward 12 and a half feet, which made the building, as at present 54 feet by 32 feet within its walls, with galleries all round, one of which behind the pulpit has since been removed, and the pulpit placed against the wall. They also erected a commodious schoolroom, 32 feet by 25 feet in the clear, with internal communication with the chapel. The total expenses incurred in these improvements was 494. Of this they raised among themselves 310 10s. ; the remainder was collected outside the Church.

The ministers dwelling house having been advertised for sale in 1838, it was purchased by the trustees for 350 and 20 extras, and became church property, and has since been occupied by successive pastors. There is a tablet in the chapel to the memory of Mr. Thomas Curtis, as follows,
In memory of Mr. Thomas Curtis, of Marsh, for 40 years a pious member, a faithful deacon, and a reader of the hymns in this place. He died October 8th 1850, aged 76. This tablet is erected by his affectionate fellow worshippers.

In 1853 the chapel was again renovated. The pews under the galleries were altered, and two new classrooms added, with a small vestry separated from the schoolroom by folding doors. Special services were held, after this had been carried out, to raise money to defray the expenses. The Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel preached two sermons on December 15th and 16th. A public meeting was held on the 16th in the afternoon, when Robert Leonard Esq. of Bristol presided. Addresses were given by Mr. Middlemitch of Frome, and Mr. W. Barnes of Trowbridge. In the evening Mr. Winter of Bristol preached. The collections amounted to over 30.

Mr. Shem Evans resigned the pastorate on the 31st December 1854, after 21 years of successful ministry. At the church meeting, when Mr. Evans announced his resignation, the whole of the members present were deeply moved; they afterwards tried in vain to prevail upon him to remain with them. He preached his farewell sermon to a crowded house, and became the pastor of the church at Arnsby, Leicestershire.

Mr. Joseph Hurlstone, of Corton, near Warminster, was unanimously chosen to the Pastorate, and commenced his labours on August 26th, 1855, preaching from Acts x. 29. Mr. Hurlstone was publicly recognised on October 23rd, Mr. Winter (of Bristol), Mr. Sprigg (of Westbury Leigh), Mr. Harris (of Westbury), Mr. S. Manning (of Frome - afterwards Dr. Manning), Mr. Anderson (of Bratton) and others taking part in the services. 18 were collected towards the chapel debt. The remainder of the cost of altering the schoolrooms and adding classrooms, amounting to 302 9s. 5d., was paid off in 1857. The hymn book used was Watts and Rippon's Selection. This was changed from Psalms and Hymns in October 1858. Mr. Thomas Good who had been a member of the church for 44 years, and an acceptable preacher of the Gospel for over 30 years, died January 8th, 1860. In 1859 some of the members were dissatisfied with Mr. Hurlstone's preaching, and asserted that he was preaching Arminianism. Mr. George Grist opened his house for preaching Sunday afternoons and evenings and refused to come to the table at Penknap, he and his wife ceasing for a time to be members of the Church. Afterwards a house was obtained in Slob Lane, the upper part of which was fitted up for worship and it was named, "Gideon Chapel". I have seen of a Sunday evening, the room quite full of hearers. Mr. Henry Collier, Mr. Grist and others conducted the services, but in a little time it gradually came to decay, and was given up, and Mr. Grist and his wife were once again received into fellowship at Penknap.

Jubilee services of the formation of the church were held on August 29th 1860 and were well attended. Sermons were preached by Mr. Vince, of Birmingham, from Psalm lxxvii. 10, and James i. 21. It was stated that during the 50 years 589 members had joined the Church. Collections were made towards the late alterations, and realised the sum of 83 17s. 5 and a half d. Mr. Hurlstone resigned his office February 4th, 1864 after 8 and a half years of faithful work, the church and congregation presenting him with a silver inkstand and a gold pencil case. He afterwards became pastor of the church at Corsham. Under Mr. Hurlstone's ministry the congregations were large, and the Word was owned. Many were brought to Christ, and the Church built up. He baptised 71 persons and was greatly beloved by his flock, and his departure was universally deplored. He died in November, 1884 aged 63 years.

In November 1859, the Great Western Railway Company offered the eacons two pieces of land for sale, adjoining the graveyard. This was purchased for 40 and added to the burial ground, where so many of the past worshippers lie buried.

The church was now supplied by various ministers from February to June 26th, 1864 when Mr. William Jeffrey, of Great Torrington, Devon, commenced his pastoral labours by preaching from Romans xv. 29. He continued with them nearly 12 years, and both church and sunday school were in a flourishing condition. Baptisms of from 10 to 18 persona at a time were frequent. Mrs. Jeffrey was an excellent pastor's wife. She held bible classes of young men and women in her house, and not a few of those who joined the church by baptism attributed the good they had received to her instrumentality. Mr. Jeffrey who was not a strong man, resigned the pastorate and preached his last sermon February 6th, 1876 from II Corinthians xiii. 11. He became the pastor at the church at Bexley Heath, London, but his life was not long spared to minister there. He was called to rest 24th March, 1877 after a very painful illness. Mr Jeffrey was formerly the editor of "The Pot of Manna", he also published, "The life of Anne Elling, the Wiltshire Centenarian."

Mr. Thomas Clarkson Finch came next, and commenced his labours in March 1877. These few years were trying, as the cloth factories had been closed in the district, and many had to leave the neighbourhood. This thinned the congregation. Nothing of great importance occurred during Mr. Finch's pastorate. He resigned his charge in June 1884. He had a very painful affliction, which terminated in his death January 22nd, 1885. We lay him to rest in the same vault where lie the remains of Mr. Phillips, the first pastor of the church and his devoted wife, on the left hand close to the entrance of the chapel. Many gathered round his grave; I was present; he was highly esteemed. The solemn service was conducted by Mr. Hazzard of Leigh, and Mr. I. Birt of Devizes. It is a noteworthy fact that every former pastor of this Church, since it's formation, has passed away to his endless rest; Phillips, Evans, Hurlstone, Jeffery, Finch; with the last three I have been more or less acquainted. After Mr. Finch's death the services were conducted by supplies for about 3 years, the church having resolved not to invite another minister until the debt on the Schoolroom had been cleared off and sufficient money raised to place the minister's house in a good state of repair. Having attained their object they unanimously invited the Rev. A.E. Johnson of Swansea to become their pastor, which invitation he accepted, and commenced his labours on the first Lord's Day in August, 1887, preaching his first sermon from I Corinthians ii. 2. Mr. Johnson is still pastor of a church that has prospered from it's formation. The chapel is a plain, comfortable building, with seating accomodation for 500 persons. The gallery is on 3 sides. Anne Elling, the Wiltshire centenarian, was a member of this church.

This church is in the Wilts. and East Somerset Association. There is a good sick benefit clubb associated with the Sunday School, with a capital of about 30, also a Band of ope, consisting of about 180 members. The young people have the privilege also of a good lending library.

Number of Deacons = 5
Mr. Thomas Parsons, Mr. J. Read, Mr. T. Tucker, Mr. Chas Deacon, Mr. John Loxley

Superintendant - Mr. Albert Ingram

Number of members, 142; teachers in Sunday School, 16; Scolars, 180

Lord! 'tis a pleasant thing to stand,
In gardens planted by Thine hand,
Let me within Thy courts be seen,
Like a young cedar, fresh and green.

There grow Thy Saints in faith and love,
Blest with Thine influence from above,
Not Lebanon, with all it's trees,
Yields such a comely sight as these.

The plants of grace shall ever live,
Nature decays, but grace must thrive,
Time, that doth all things else repair,
Still maks them flourish strong and fair. - Watts

Mr. Phillips - 1810-1833
Mr. Shem Evans - 1833-1854
Mr. Joseph Hurlstone - 1855-1864
Mr. W. Jeffery - 1864-1876
Mr. T.C. Finch - 1877-1884
Mr. A.E. Johnson 1887-


The Villages of Dilton and Dilton Marsh