The history of every congregation is a testimony to God’s faithfulness. He has promised to build His church in spite of countless setbacks and opposition, and continues to do so.
Here at Buckingham, a brief survey of the last one hundred and seventy years proves that we are no exception to this rule.
Formation of the Church
Our story begins in 1840 when a few members of the Baptist denomination decided it was necessary to form a non conformist place of worship in Clifton. This was due to the perceived lack of evangelical teaching in the parish at the time, and also the view that the Anglican church in Clifton offered little welcome to the poor.
The earliest documents indicate that several friends of the Baptist denomination, after an initial meeting to discuss how they might form a church which should “exhibit the doctrines and practices of the New Testament unfettered by State Alliance or the traditions of men”, received architectural plans from Richard Shackleton Pope. He was a sometime colleague of the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and agreed to waive his fees on condition that the money be dedicated instead to the ornamental part of his design!
This was perhaps more necessary than we might think, as the owner of the land on which the church was built made two stipulations before agreeing to a ground rent. One of these forbade the regular meeting of a Sunday School once the church was opened. The other insisted that the church building be styled in a way that was “suitable to the dignity of the neighbourhood”! This would appear to have been achieved, as architectural historian Clare Crick described the completed building as “an excellent stylistic essay in the continental high gothic manner”.
The estimated cost of the building was £3,500. This, initially, was considered prohibitive, but gifts amounting to £1,500 were sufficiently encouraging for work to begin in 1842. The building was opened on 2 June 1847, with the first sermon being preached by a Rev JH Hinton of London on a phrase from a verse in Psalm 84: “The Lord God is a sun”
The first congregation had an initial membership of 12. The following years saw fluctuations from 53 in 1851, 122 in 1858, 301 in 1875, 199 in 1886, 242 in 1920 and 127 in 1947.
Due to a general sense that the church had overreached itself when constructing its building, it experienced considerable difficulty in its search for its first pastor. Uncertainty about its future caused a number of preachers to decline invitations to take up the ministry. Finally, the church issued a unanimous call to Richard Morris of Manchester, who accepted and began his ministry on 29 July 1849.
The first baptismal service took place on 27 November 1850. Five women, including the daughter of church founder George Ashmead, were baptised. This woman, Miss Eliza Ashmead, remained in membership at Buckingham for the next sixty five years.
As the years passed, the congregation eventually found a way of beginning a Sunday School, and established a church plant in Hotwells in 1864, eventually completing the construction of a building (“Buckingham Hall”) for the new congregation in 1881.
Buckingham’s first overseas missionary was Miss Florence Leonard. The daughter of the church treasurer, and described as one of the most active members of the church, a special service was held in September 1888 to mark her departure to serve the Lord in Ludhiana, India. Sadly, she only served for a single year before dying in India on 6 November 1889.
The War Years
The building sustained slight damage during the second world war, during which period the church hall was used as a rest centre for the homeless. The congregation at this time enjoyed the fellowship of several members of the US armed forces, some of whom took part regularly in worship services and other church activities.
And Since then…
Buckingham has had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the Baptist Union throughout its history. As a result of the Baptist Union’s lack of clarity in its teachings on the deity of Christ, Buckingham members approved a resolution to withdraw from the Union on 7 April 1972. We remain an independent Baptist church.
The exterior of the building was subject to considerable work and repair during the late 1990’s / early 2000’s. The stonework was cleaned and areas of weakness made safe in a process that involved three separate stages. As a fellowship we were profoundly grateful to God for the way in which funds were provided for these essential repairs, and as a church very much seek to please Him in our ongoing life and witness.
A much fuller account of Buckingham’s history was prepared as part of 150th anniversary celebrations, and is available upon request.