Baptist Church - Houghton Regis

This article is reblogged from Houghton Regis Baptists Church by Keith Wallis

Some photos of the 1974 stone laying ceremony for the building opened at Hammersmith Gardens in 1975. 

Top left - Gathering together for the stone laying on the wastes of what was to become Parkside.

Bottom left - The early birds don't get the best seats - 'cos there aren't any but they may get some shelter under the tarpaulin 'roof'.

Top right - Rev Ed. Burroughs lays the stone.

Bottom right - 1974 youth group - doing 'God is building a house'.

Middle and below - The former Baptist Church in High Street, Houghton Regis.

Open publication - Free publishing
This is a document produced in 1925, by the then pastor,for the jubilee of the church when it was in the High Street.

Church history for HRBC is somewhat sketchy due to the number of changes that have taken place during its lifetime and the associated loss of some records.  What follows is a compilation of information from existing church records and the historical delvings of Pat Lovering and Paul E Brown - both more adept at such things than I*.        
- Keith Wallis

*Pat Lovering’s books on Houghton ‘Old Houghton’ and ‘Royal Houghton’ are full of interest for the local historian.
Paul E Brown (then of Dunstable Baptist Church) has a fuller discourse on the early Baptist history of the area on the Dunstable Baptist Church website: Dunstable Baptist Church history

Houghton Regis : Kensworth: Luton : Thorn : Houghton Regis  

a potted history

Early Nonconformists to present day Baptists

The early part of the 17th Century were days of bewildering political and religious changes.  Nationally, and locally, the nonconformist movement gained strength.  Most of the Nonconformists would regularly meet for worship in the open air (often on the Downs), during this period.
In 1643, Oliver Cromwell was in control of the area.  He appointed Edward Harrison, one of the regular preachers at the open air meetings, as "lecturer" at St Mary's, Kensworth.  Kensworth became the central point for local Nonconformist worship.  Houghton folk, Baptists among them, would regularly make the long journey there to hear Nonconformist preachers.  Edward Harrison became a very well known leader of the Nonconformist movement.  Among the preachers who were known to speak at Kensworth was a certain  John Bunyan.

The Restoration of Charles II, in 1661, resulted in only ordained priests being able to officiate at churches.  The Book of Common Prayer had to be used and the non conforming ministers were replaced.  No more were Non conforming parishes or lay lecturers tolerated, and attendance at the parish church was once again compulsory.

The  "Kensworth"  Baptists,  including those from Houghton Regis, continued to meet in the open air, or secretly in private houses. They were led, often in considerable danger, by Thomas Hayward until his death in 1688.  He was not an ordained priest but "simply a man called to lead people who wished to worship in their  own way, without using the Book of Common Prayer".
In 1676, the vicar of Houghton, listed 73 Nonconformists out of a congregation of 223.  The official list of baptised members of the Kensworth Baptists in 1675 had included 15 Houghton names - the attending numbers would have been a great deal more

Increasingly the Baptists met within their own localities.  In 1694 William Brittan, of Houghton, was appointed as Elder.  William Brittan played a large part in the development of  the Baptist movement in this area. He led meetings in members' homes in both Dunstable and Houghton.  This laid the foundation of the first Baptist church in Dunstable.  However, brother Marsom of Luton decided to donate a piece of ground in Park Street, Luton, built a chapel on it, and appointed a pastor of his own choice.  A small group of Houghton & Dunstable Baptists joined him and they attended meetings in Luton for many years.  Along with other representative communities within the Park Street church, their numbers continued to grow and eventually it was decided that the various groups should have a meeting places closer to home.  Among the Houghton group in attendance at this time was Thomas Bunker of Thorn.  The new "Houghton" site was decided to be in Thorn, near the village green, on land owned by Thomas Bunker.  A meeting house was erected on this site in 1738 and used for worship for half a century.  Along with churches at Markyate, Bendish, and Breachwood Green, the Thorn church was administered by a group of "associate pastors" collectively under the wing of Park Street.

In 1751, the Thorn Church became autonomous from Park Street. Its first minister being Thomas Bunker (thought to be the son of the Thomas Bunker who originally provided the land), who had been one of the associate pastors of the Park Street group of churches. After the death of Thomas Bunker in 1669, the church had an interregnum of six years.  During this period there was some kind of association with the church at Lake Street, Leighton Buzzard. Probably a forerunner to the present practice of utilising the services of a moderator during interregnum periods. In 1775 William Buttfield took on the oversight of the fellowship at Thorn.  His ministry was curtailed by small-pox in 1778.

Mr Robert Fawkner, during his time as pastor (1787 - 1797), began holding additional services in his own home in Houghton Regis.  This was the beginning of the Houghton Regis fellowship as an entity in its own right.  Thorn and  Houghton Regis remained a joint cause until the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Two cottages were purchased in Houghton Regis, during this period, and converted for use as a chapel. As communities, Thorn was diminishing  and Houghton Regis was growing.

The early 1800's were again a time of great upheaval.  The members of Houghton and Thorn demolished the original Thorn church and transported the bricks to Houghton Regis enlarging and rebuilding it to accommodate the growing congregation. The site was on Houghton High Street.  People from Dunstable became less willing to travel to Houghton Regis, and the Houghton Regis building was insufficient for use by the numbers in the combined congregation. This resulted in the formation of a daughter fellowship at West Street in Dunstable.  West Street became independent of Houghton Regis in 1836 subsequent to some internal turmoil.  The Rev Daniel Gould left the Houghton Regis fellowship to be the pastor of this newly independent fellowship in Dunstable.
In 1864 funds were raised to build an imposing new building on the High Street, in front of the 1803 building.  This building lasted long enough to celebrate its centenary in 1964, and continued to be used until the 1970's. The original building, at the rear, was made into Sunday school rooms.  The "Sunday School" rooms were used extensively for village purposes.  During the first world war, these rooms were used as a hospital unit for the troops who were billeted in the village. The premises were also used as school rooms.  A children's clinic utilised the rooms for many years during the 1950's.

1864 Church

With the financial and numerical decline that followed the second world war, the church relied heavily on lay involvement in the pastoral role. Included amongst these lay pastors was Sister Marion Woodstock who held the position for two years.  In 1959 the membership roll was at 34, the lowest in the church's history, and it was agreed to share the pastorate with Toddington Baptist, another village church with similar problems.  The Revs, T.S. Bunker,  G.D. Powell and K.S. Price took on this role in succession.

Council pressure on the Houghton Regis fellowship to vacate their building to make way for "modernising" the High Street, resulted in the building falling into disrepair.  Some years of haggling with the council eventually resulted in the provision of the current building on Parkside Estate.  Although the plan for the new building, moving from the High Street to Parkside, was first submitted in 1971, during the ministry of Rev. Graham Powell, the pastorate changed hands well before building commenced.  In 1974 Rev. K.S. Price began his ministry in Houghton Regis without a church building. Between the actual demise of the 1864 building, and the completion of the new building in 1975, the fellowship became quite nomadic.  Various premises were utilised - Houghton Lower School,  the Methodist Chapel (now a vehicle repair garage),  and, ironically, the Council Chambers themselves (at that time located in "Terrapin" buildings) on the Sundon Road.  The location of the present building (alongside St Vincent's Roman Catholic Church) was originally intended to be a community area, with shops and other community amenities.  Council funds, and the demise of the building company who were erecting the estate, eventually failed to produce the proposed group of community associated buildings.  For some years the rest of the site remained undeveloped.  Houses and flats have since been erected - no shops ever materialised.  For a while the (now non-existent) Parkside Parish Church shared the building with us.

1975 Building before the roof was attended to !

In 1981 the joint pastorate, with Toddington, was dissolved.  Houghton Regis was no longer a village, it had become a number of large estates, and could not be run in partnership with the more rural Toddington fellowship.

The church went through an encouraging period of growth during the ministry of Rev. Ian Linane and immediately after his term as pastor.  During this period the accustomed "one-man-ministry", backed up by lay people, was laid aside in favour of a team ministry, with pastor, elders, and deacons having collective oversight of church and fellowship. This team ministry continues to the present time.
Mrs Maurita Hornett was invited by the church to become part-time senior elder at beginning of 1994 and remained until the early part of 1999. 1998 saw the beginning of Houghton Regis Baptist Community Link project incorporating most of the outreach and community service life of the fellowship.  We also extended our paid staff by appointing two (part time) community development officers.  In  June 1998  we added a part time Youth Worker to our paid staff.  The “staffing” of the Community Link project remained stable until 2003 but has since seen some changes due to the domestic situations of those involved.

We consolidated our commitment to youth work by jointly employing (with Stanton Road Baptist) a full time youth worker – Patrick Coad to work both inside the fellowships and in various school projects. The schools work expanded with Patrick being invited to assist in a number of school initiatives. This arrangement continued until May 2007, when Patrick moved on.  The joint initiatives with Stanton Road continue as pooled resources on a number of fronts have proved useful to both fellowships.

Movement on the building front, which has seen constant change over the years in location and expansion of various kinds, continued in a new build on the present Houghton Regis site. A pair of semi-detached houses were constructed to facilitate future ministry.  To round off history we call these two houses 1 & 2 Thorn Cottages.

Whilst this is only a history of geography and buildings because of constraints of time and of written evidence, the history of the people would have been far more worthy of note.  The struggles and victories of faith would probably fill volumes rather than pages.

Click on this link for a newsreel dated 1953 which briefly shows the High Street Church building at the start of the section on the barrel rolling.  The Church was next door to the Five Bells pub which was the race start. An ancient newsreel

Ministers Roll 

BAPTIST MINISTERS Serving  the Houghton Regis community

1751 - 1769        Mr. Thomas Bunker                                   (Thorn  site)
1775 - 1778        Mr. William Buttfield                                   (Thorn  site)
1781 - 1787        Mr. David  Evans                                        (Thorn  site)  

1787 - 1794        Mr. Robert Fawkner               (Thorn Church & Houghton homes)
1794 -                  Mr. Richard Davis                  (Thorn Church & Houghton homes)
1798 -                  Mr. Thomas Claypole             (Thorn Church & Houghton homes)

1803 -                  Rev. T. W. Morris  (Thorn Church + Houghton & Dunstable homes)

1810 - 1825        Rev. William Anderson (Houghton 'Chapel' & Dunstable West St.)
1826 - 1836        Rev. Daniel Gould         (Houghton 'Chapel' & Dunstable West St.)

1836 - 1843        Rev. Alex Smith                                        (Houghton 'Chapel')
1843 - 1845        Rev. G. Hull
1846 - 1848        Rev. Mark. W. Flanders
1849 - 1854        Rev. J. W. Lance
1854 - 1860        Rev. John Lewis

1861 - 1868        Rev. G. H. Davies               (Houghton Baptist Church, High St)
1870 - 1885        Rev. A. Walker
1886 - 1900        Rev. J. T. Frost
1901 - 1911        Rev. John Isles
1912 - 1915        Rev. Robert. Raikes Davies
1916 - 1918        Rev. J. H. Timewell
1918 - 1921        Rev. Robert. Martin
1922 - 1924        Rev. E. V. Whittle
1924 - 1930        Rev. Charles E. Duffy
1932 - 1937        Rev. E. J. Willis
1938 - 1941        Rev. D. S. Jamieson
1944 - 1946        Rev. A. D. Ferguson
1947 - 1948        Sister Marion Woodstock
1952 - 1955        Rev. D. G. Lintern  (Lay Pastor)
1956                    Mr. Peter Wilson    (Student Pastor)
1957 - 1959        Mr W. G. Tolley     (Lay Pastor)

1961 - 1962        Rev. Thomas S. Bunker  (Houghton & Toddington joint pastorate)
1963 - 1972        Rev. Graham D. Powell   (Houghton & Toddington joint pastorate)
1975 - 1982        Rev. Kenneth S. Price (Houghton Parkside site, & Toddington j.p.)

1983 - 1991        Rev. Ian M. Linane         (Houghton {Parkside} Baptist Church)
1991- 2009         Lay team –
variously: Keith Wallis, Eric Gurney, David Page, Kevin  Price,  Keith Lawrence, Jonathan Kyte, Jane Bentley.
(1994 – 2000)   Mrs. Maurita Hornett (Senior Elder) and lay team.
2009 -      Rev  David Skinner and team: Keith Wallis, Eric Gurney, Jane Bentley.