Keach's Meeting House and the Winslow Baptists

The Gyles family of Winslow were probably Baptists from the early 17th century, as none of them were baptised in the parish church. There was an organised Baptist group by 1654, when John Hartnoll was sent as messenger to the General Assembly of General Baptists. By 1660 the tailor Benjamin Keach was a member. Keach left for London in 1668.

Arthur Clear: A Thousand Years of Winslow Life (1888), pp.17-18 on Benjamin Keach

In 1660, Benjamin Keach was chosen pastor of this little Baptist Church. He was a native of Stoke Hammond, and had recently married Jane Grove, a resident of Winslow [daughter of Erasmus Grove of Tingewick, d.1684]. He was a powerful preacher, and in after years proved himself a voluminous writer, and a poet of no mean order, but it is chiefly for the courageous fidelity in which he bore witness for Christ and His cause, without fear of man, that his name should be kept in remembrance. Keach had only been settled a short time at Winslow before he was called upon to endure persecution and suffering. For the Authorities soon determined to suppress these meetings of the Dissenters, and they speedily paid Winslow a visit. Keach was preaching at the time and the troopers seized him with great violence, and swore they would kill him, and after treating him with great indignity, they tied him behind one of the troopers, across his horse, and so conveyed him to prison, where he suffered great hardships. It is not our purpose to narrate all the persecutions he was called upon to undergo and his imprisonment and sufferings in the pillory, both at Aylesbury & Winslow where his books were burnt in the Market-place by the common hangman. He continued his ministry at Winslow, until 1668, but being constantly harrassed by the civil powers, he removed to London, where he was chosen pastor of a small congregation in Tooley St., Southwark, with whom he remained till his death, in 1704. This church among whom Keach so long and successfully laboured, is now (after sundry migrations upon account of London improvements) located at Newington, in the Metropolitian Tabernacle, under the Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon.

Account of Benjamin Keach from The Sword and Trowel (1866), printed in Buckingham Advertiser, 20 Feb 1892

Among the pleasing instances of spots in which new churches have been founded, is Winslow, in Bucks.  There is a peculiar link between our own church in London and the quiet town of Winslow, and it is cheering to see it practically recognised. Benjamin Keach, the author of the famous works upon the “Metaphors” and the “Parables,” was for 36 years a most successful pastor of the church now meeting in the Tabernacle, and before his coming to London, in 1668, he preached Christ crucified at Winslow, in a little old chapel which is still standing, and is a genuine specimen of the odd out-of-the-way sanctuaries in which the people of God in persecuting times were wont quietly to assemble.  The meeting-house is a real curiosity and well worthy of a visit from the passing traveller.  The interior has undergone some alterations since Keach’s time, but the exterior is doubtless the same.

It was while residing in Winslow that Keach was made to stand in the pillory at Aylesbury for writing a Child’s Primer, in which he taught the baptism of believers and the Second Advent of the Lord.  While exposed in the market place his wife, like a true woman, stood by his side, and he began to address the people:  “Good people, I am not ashamed to stand here this day, with this paper on my head.  My Lord Jesus was not ashamed to suffer on the cross for me, and it is for His cause that I am made a gazing-stock.  Take notice, it is not for any wickedness that I stand here, but for writing and publishing His truths, which the Spirit of the Lord hath revealed in the Holy Scriptures.”  A clergyman who stood by could not forbear interrupting him, and said “It is for writing and publishing errors, and you may now see what your errors have brought you to.”  Mr. Keach replied “Sir, can you prove them errors”? but before the clergyman could return an answer he was attacked by some of the people, who told him of his being pulled drunk out of a ditch.  Another upbraided him with having been found drunk under a haycock.  Upon this the people, turning their attention from the sufferer in the pillory, laughed at the drunken Priest, insomuch that he hastened away with the utmost disgrace and shame.

Account of the trial of Benjamin Keach in 1664, published in 1775 and printed in the Buckingham Advertiser in 1877 (PDF file)

Some of Keach's writings are available via Google Books. There are links and more biographical information on the Baptist History Homepage. The following tongue-in-cheek description was written by the bookseller John Dunton (Life and Errors of John Dunton (1705), 236-37):

Mr. Keach - mounted upon some Apocalyptical Beast or other, with Babylon before him, and Zion behind him, and a Hundred Thousand Bulls and Bears and furious Beast of Prey, roaring, ramping, and bellowing at him, so hideously, that unless some kind Angel drop from the Clouds, and backs and hews very plentifully among 'em he must certinly be Torn as small as a Love-Letter - This War-like Author is much admir'd amongst the Anabaptists, and to do him right, his Thoughts are easy, just and pertinent - He's a popular Preacher, and (as appears by his awakening Sermons) understands the Humour and Necessity of his Audience - His Practical Books have met with a kind Reception, and I believe his War with the Devil, and Travels of True Godliness (of which I printed Ten Thousand) will sell to the end of Time.


National Archives, ASSI 16/9/2: records of the Bucks Assizes, Summer 1664.

This is the session at which Keach was tried, and there is a full record of his indictment. The list of people who were summoned for not attending their parish church for three months up to 1 May includes some from Winslow:

Similar lists for Lent 1665 (ASSI 16/10/1) include Francis Hartnoll of Newton Longville yeoman and Henry Tompkins of Great Horwood yeoman, but no-one from Winslow.


The next clear evidence of Baptists at Winslow is the Return of Conventicles (1669), a list compiled for the Church of England:

Winslow: 40 Anabaptists meeting at the houses of Eliot, a Carpenter, now Foster a Baker, John Holl(and) of Greenborough and at Northmarston.  Preacher: Hartnoll a Thatcher of Northmarston.

Swanbourne: not above 20 meane people meeting at the house of George Deverell, yeoman. Preachers: William Giles, a Shopkeeper, and one Hartnoll, a Thatcher

Arnold Baines (Baptist Quarterly 17 (1957), p.42) identified "Eliot" as Nathaniel Elliot, carpenter of Aylesbury, who was one of 12 Aylesbury Nonconformists sentenced to death in 1663 but eventually pardoned. However, the name Elliott was very common at Winslow, and Thomas Elliott, carpenter, is mentioned in the 1672 court rolls.

John Hartnoll of North Marston (d.1673) attended a meeting of General Baptist churches in London in 1654 (Dix 1985, p.21). The Orthodox Creed of General Baptists was signed on 30 Jan 1679 by 54 men from Bucks, Herts, Beds and Oxon. The names include some who definitely belonged to the Winslow church:

and some who may have done:

Baines' notes on the above:

p.84: JOHN HENDLY was probably John Henley, gentleman, of Shipton in Winslow, whose house was certified as a public meeting-house at the Epiphany 1692/3 Sessions. In 1668 he mortgaged his copyhold property to an Oxford barber, and in 1698 exchanged land with William Lowndes; the court roll gives the name of his wife, Katherine. Henley was a county treasurer for the maimed soldiers in 1704-5, and one of the seven jurymen of Winslow in 1711, with Daniel and William Giles.

One John Henley served as churchwarden in 1664 and another in 1706; presumably the Baptist was different from both of these. Men described as John Henley senior and junior appear in the 1694 court rolls.

LEONARD WILKINS, grazier, of Lee in Quainton, registered his house for worship as soon as the Toleration Act became law, in order to accommodate a branch of the church at Winslow. He represented that church at the General Association in 1700, was elected its elder in 1701, took the oaths and signed the Association in defence of King William III, abjured the Pretender on Anne's accession and again represented his church at the General Association in 1702-04. His name occurs thrice in the church book of Ford: as a signatory of the Bierton agreement and of the Lipton conclusions and as preaching at Kingston Blount in Oxon in 1714. In 1721 the Buckinghamshire Association sent him and Jonathan Widmer, elder of Berkhamsted and later Messenger, to ask Stony Stratford to release its elder, John Brittain (1660-1733) to serve as Messenger in Bucks, in succession to Clement Hunt. A list written between 1760 and 1775 at the end of the Bucks. Association book gives George Wilkins as elder of Winslow in 1722, but this is probably an error, as Leonard Wilkins attended as elder in 1722-26; the transcriber may have read Leo. as Geo.

Leonard Wilkins made his will in 1723 making his daughter Amy Clark executrix (Centre for Bucks Studies, D/A/Wf/75/102). She was apparently the wife of Elias Clark and had a daughter Mary. It also mentions Leonard's daughter Sarah Clements, son-in-law John Clements, their daughter Amy and another child on the way. The witnesses were Thomas Goodson and Mary Norris. Probate was granted on 21 Feb 1727/8, by which time Amy was a widow.

p.176: ROBERT GOODSON, elder of the church of Winslow, has been attractively identified by Dr. Whitley with a naval officer who served under Blake against Van Tromp and is mentioned in a pamphlet of 1653. Baptist influence in the Navy was then strong. Goodson was preaching in 1669 to "the meaner sort" at Woodham near Waddesdon. He took the oaths and registered his house at Winslow for worship in 1689, signed the Bierton and Upton agreements and the declaration of 1700 against Calvinism, and represented his church at the General Assembly in 1692 and at the General 'Association from 1697 until 1701, when William Giles succeeded him. He took the abjuration required by 1 Anne c.22 in 1702, and is last mentioned in 1703.

WILLIAM NORMAN of Steeple Claydon, a grocer with a Lollard surname, was excommunicated in 1662 for absence from his parish church. There is a mysterious note against his name in the Visitation Book: "apparitor petit favorem / emiitte ex." Norman was presented at Quarter Sessions for absence from church in 1682 and again in January, 1687, when the persecution was almost at an end. He took the oaths in 1689, abjured the Pretender in 1702 and next year witnessed a sacrament certificate, an act which many Baptists would certainly have condemned. Norman is not mentioned in a list of Steeple Claydon ratepayers dated 1st November, 1710, but his name occurs in a curious minute in the church book of Cuddington or Ford, dated 10th October, 1711, but referring to previous events. "Whereas Bro Beguent had in time past told Br Cripes that Bro: Gyles & Bro Norman had each of them proffered him a years board, If he would Come to Winslow which was ffalse & when Bra Grips tould Bro: Beguent of it he denyed that ever he told him soe: and stood to it possitively many times & affter at another Church meetting did allow that he did tell Bro Crips soe, which thing we take to be a Great Lye if not many included in it." It was irregular for an elder to migrate to another church, but Begent was apparently not ordained.
See his will (proved 1701) - some of Baines' information above can't refer to him.


William Gyles was involved in a legal dispute with the Duke of Buckingham: Duke of Buckingham and trustees v William Gyles, 1677. It doesn't seem to have been anything to do with religion (it was about market stalls), but one of the witnesses was said to have been called to see Mary Gyles at the house of the vicar, Samuel Dix, in 1671. That suggests that Rev. Dix could be on good terms with Baptists, unlike some of his successors.


In the 1680s, Winslow Baptists were constantly summoned before the Archdeacon of St Albans because they had not "received the sacrament of the Lords supper" according to Anglican rites or had not attended the parish church. The following list compiled from the Archdeaconry Court records (Herts RO ASA7/35-36a) shows the years in which people were recorded as offenders. They were not specifically identified as Baptists (although Widow Whitemeale of Granborough was summoned in 1685 for "refusing to be baptised") but it can be assumed that they were. No punishments are recorded, only admonitions.

No similar records survive for 1687, and in 1688 the overthrow of James II led to greater tolerance for Nonconformists. The Bucks Quarter Sessions of Midsummer 1689 recorded dissenters who “scruple the baptizing of infants” (i.e. Anabaptists), and subscribed the declarations contained in the act of 1 William and Mary, c. 18, sec. 10, including:

Names of dissenters who took the oaths provided by the act of 1 William and Mary, c. 1, and subscribed the declarations contained in the acts of 30 Charles II, stat. 2, c. 1, sec. 3, and 1 William and Mary, c. 18, sec. 1. including:

At the same session, William Gyles' house at Winslow was registered as a meeting place for public worship; also Widow Holland's at Granborough.


William Gyles halfpennyWMG datestoneThe Baptist meeting house was built in 1695 on the land of William Gyles the elder, draper (d.1702). There is a datestone of 1695 (photo on left) with the initials WMG, meaning William and Mary Gyles (the same initials are on William's trade tokens - see photo on right). See Gyles Family page. William in his will left 13s a year for the Baptist poor. He already provided a meeting place (although the belief that the meeting house was built in 1625 comes from a faulty restoration of one datestone): in 1689 William Gyles registered his house for public worship at the Midsummer Bucks Quarter Sessions. Nonconformist meeting houses of this period tend to be discreetly sited to avoid the sort of persecution which marked the career of Benjamin Keach, after whom the chapel is now named, but it happened to be where the Gyles family lived anyway. In Michaelmas 1690 Robert Uding's house was also registered; this was in Sheep Street if he can be identified with Robert Eden, and could have been for use by a different denomination.

Read the report by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, published in Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses: Buckinghamshire (1986), 27-29: history; description; images.

In 1696, William Gyles and his son Daniel surrendered the meeting house to charitable uses (N. Saving, Glimpses of Past Days, p.13).

Keach's Chapel, with Mr Wichello
George Whichello outside the Meeting House, c.1913

The following people from the Winslow church attended the annual General Assembly or General Association of General Baptist churches in London, held in May or June each year (source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the General Baptist churches in England, vol.1 1654-1728, ed. W.T. Whitley, London, 1909)

William Gyles, grandson of William Gyles the elder, in his will of 1713 left 20s p.a. to the General Baptists of Winslow. He or his father was probably the "Bro. Gyls" who was to take the Baptist service at Ford on 3 Aug 1709 (Church Books of Ford, p.68).


Under the Burial in Woollen Act of 1678 the overseers had to make an annual return of burials in the parish for which an affidavit had been sworn or a fine paid for permission not to use wool. The Winslow records list some Baptist burials which were not in the parish register, and also show what Anglican attitudes to the Baptists were like.

1703
Buryd of the Rownd-heads
Mary Baldwyn - - - Aug 18

1704
By R(e)gest(er) of the Rownd-heads 1704
Benjam: Morly - - - Sep 18
Alice Gyles - - - Nov. 5
Mary Giles - - - Mar 4

Burials must have been carried out in the parish church later, much to the disgust of the Anglicans.

1713
William Gyles Antichristian Bishop - - - Ap. 21
William Gyles Antichristian Baptist - - - No. 2
Daniel Coley Anti(chris)t(ian) - - - Jan 6

In 1714 the burials in woollen list included (without comment) a number of burials which were not in the parish register, so were presumably Baptists buried at the meeting house.

1714
Sarah Coley - - - Mar. 30
Thomas Wainwright - - - May 20
Daniel Coley - - - June 14
Mary Wainewright - - - July 11
Martha Gyles - - - Aug 10
Thomas Deely - - - Aug 29


On 7 Dec 1713, the Winslow Baptists wrote to their counterparts in Berkhamsted asking them to "spare" Brother John Anderson "to serve us in the work of the Ministry". The letter was signed by Leonard Wilkins, Samuel Norman, Matthew Deely, Thomas Mountague and Thomas Goodson. The Berkhamsted Baptists replied that they wanted to be satisfied about financial provision made for Anderson, and about the repayment of loans "to set him in a way of business". It appears that he did not go to Winslow, perhaps because he died as the Berkhamsted church made provision for a Widow Anderson. Source: English Baptist Records I: The General Baptist Church of Berkhamsted, Chesham and Tring 1712-1781, p.6.

According to Clear (p.94) "there is a tradition that Thomas Forster was pastor of Keach's Chapel in the early part of the 18th century", and the Strict Baptist Historical Society records him as pastor until 1728. Thomas Foster (1685-1746) was an elder of the Chesham Baptists and proposed for ordination as messenger in 1718, but quarrelled with them for "differing and fighting" and then marrying "out of the way of the Lord". He appears to have married Sarah Gyles in 1719 and moved to Winslow (his native place), but the Winslow Baptists did not follow the normal procedure of asking Chesham to approve his moving to another church. Source: ibid. pp.1-53. It's possible that two different Thomas Fosters have been conflated here.


In 1722, Daniel Gyles reestablished the meeting house with new trustees; it appears that he still held the land on which the house was built. The full legal procedure is recorded in the October 1722 manor court. The main details are:

Daniel Gyles surrendered a piece of land in Winslowe, formerly parcel of a close belonging him called the Home Close, which was divided from the other part of the close by Daniel's father William Gyles deceased to build a house or structure called the Meeting House, with the structure lately erected there extending from the ground of Mr Samuel Norman 43½ feet to the south and from the garden late Joseph Harding's 25 feet to the east, and liberty of ingress at all times to the Meeting House or parcel of land in and through the backyards, yards and "Gatewayes" belonging to Daniel, leading from the said house to the street near the "Poole" called Pillers Ditch.

The land was granted to Daniel Gyles and Joseph Turner who then surrendered it to 9 trustees: Thomas Mountague of Grandborough Yeoman, Elias Clarke of Quainton gentleman, James Britain of Winslowe Yeoman, William Foster of Oveing gentleman, Mathew Deely of Winslowe Bricklayer, Thomas Wootton jr of Whitchurch Tayler, Robert Bell of Swanbourne Yeoman, Daniel Gyles jr of Winslowe Draper & Daniel Deely of Winslowe Bricklayer. On trust that they and the survivors of them and the heirs of such survivors should afterwards permit the house called the Meeting House and parcel of land and other liberties belonging to it to continue and be designated a place of public worship, so that such person and persons who are or will be distinguished or called by the names of Baptists, Dissenters from the way and communion of the Church of England and Presbytery, can be gathered together for God.


Minutes of meetings of the General Baptist Association for Bucks held at Aylesbury 1721-6 and 1734 (Baptist Quarterly 4.2, 84-87; 4.3, 173-184) show these representatives for Winslow:

George Whichello inside the meeting house
George Whichello inside the meeting house. There is a plaque commemorating William Yeulet on the wall.

In 1732, James Britten, by then a grazier of Granborough, left 20s a year each to the Baptist ministers of Winslow and Ford (see his will).


These names were transcribed by Clear, King's Village in Demesne, pp.89-90, from the memorial plaques and tombstones in the meeting house and graveyard


At the manor court in 1747 (q.v. for the full text, an English translation of the 1722 text, repeated in 1774) the surviving trustees, Mathew Deely of Winslow, bricklayer and Daniel Gyles of Abbotsfield, Berks, maltster, surrendered the meeting house and the ground on which it stood in order for it to be invested in new trustees:

the said Mathew Deely, Daniel Gyles of Abbotts feild, Samuel Gyles of Winslow aforesaid Linnen Draper, James Hall of Tingwick [sic] ... gentleman, John Hall of Tingwick ... son of the said James Hall, Edward Howlett of Long Crendon ... Gentleman, William Gyles of Tingewick aforesaid Gentleman and William Coates of Bow Brickhill ... Yeoman


On 24 April 1750 the Berkhamsted and Chesham Baptists wrote to Winslow recommending Brother Joseph Keen and his wife.


Jane Harding, nee Gyles (granddaughter of William Gyles) in her will of 1755 (proved 1761) left £2 p.a. "unto Mr James Hall the present Minister of the Protestant Dissenting Congregation called Baptists at Winslow aforesaid and to his Successors for the time being and his and their Assigns for the full Term of Ninety Nine years". The bequest was to lapse "if at any time during the said Term of Ninety Nine years there shall happen to be no Congregation or Meeting of Protestant Dissenters called Baptists at Winslow".


The following document is from the Winslow Court Books in which all transactions concerning copyhold property in the town were recorded. It is a 1774 surrender by the surviving trustees of the Baptist Meeting House and the admission of new trustees who will be responsible for the upkeep of the building and the continuation of Baptist worship in Winslow. James Hall joined the Particular Baptists ("turned Calvin") and there were no General Baptists left in Winslow (Dix, p.23). The addresses of the new trustees confirm this; they appear to be descendants of earlier Winslow Baptists.

30 Sept 1774, Centre for Bucks Studies D 82/1 p.175

Surrender:
James Hall of Winslow gentleman
John Hall of Winslow mason son of the said James Hall [pastor 1770-77 according to the Strict Baptist Historical Society]

Admission:
Samuel Norman of Henley upon Thames Esquire
William Britain of the City of London tallow chandler
John Shenstone of the City of London silk dyer
William Aldridge the younger of Red Lion Passage Holborn London working goldsmith
Francis Cox of Bletchendon Waddesdon dairyman
Samuel Shenstone of Stony Stratford tallow chandler
Richard Cox of Westbury House Shenley dairyman
William Cox of Tatenhoe dairyman

All that piece or parcel of Ground in Winslow aforesaid within the said Manor heretofore parcel of a close the Home Close late belonging to Daniel Gyles late of Winslow aforesaid linen draper deceased which said piece or parcel of ground was divided from the other part of the said Close by William Gyles deceased father of the said Daniel Gyles deceased to erect thereupon a House or Building called a Meeting house for such people who are or shall be called or distinguished by the name or Names of Baptists dissenting from the Way and Communion of the Church of England and presbytery for to meet in for to worship and serve God

And also the House and Building since erected thereupon called the Meeting House and the appurtenances thereunto belonging which said piece or parcel of ground extends from the Ground of the said James Hall (allowed from the Eaves Drops of his Barn) forty three feet and an half southward and from the Garden of the late Joseph Harding and now of Benjamin Ingram twenty five feet Eastward and also free Liberty of Ingress Egress and Regress Way and Passage at all times to and from the said building called the Meeting House and parcel of the Ground thereunto belonging in and through the Backside Yards and Gateways late belonging to the said Daniel Gyles deceased leading to and from the said meeting House into the street near to a pool there called Pillers Ditch.
East door
The east door was added with the gallery in 1827. Clear called it an "objectionable feature" and it was removed in the 1950s.

The meeting house came back into use in 1799 thanks to Thomas Wake, the Particular Baptist pastor of Leighton Buzzard, and the Bedfordshire Union of Christians. It was used by both Baptists and Independents (Congregationalists).

Bicester Herald, 23 Jan 1885
... For the next 150 years [after 1668] not much is known of its history, but it seems to have been for the most part a general meeting house, both Baptists and Independents worshipping within its walls.  About the year 1800 the services seem to have been held alternately, one denomination taking one Sunday and one the other.  [The Independents moved out in 1816.]

In 1807 eight people formed a Particular Baptist church in Winslow (Dix 1985, p.23). Officials mentioned by Dix are:

Clear (pp.90-91) copied these entries from the Chapel Books

The RCHM report also lists these memorials in the chapel:

The gallery was built in 1827 to accommodate a group who had seceded from the Independent (Congregational) Church, and was originally larger than its present size. See Religious Census, 1851: there were at least 30 regular members of the congregation. After a decline the church was reconstituted in 1862-3 with 13 members, but these finally died out in 1926. An attempt to re-establish it in 1936-7 failed, and the meeting house has only been used for occasional services since then.

Oxfordshire Telegraph, 10 Feb 1864
REVIVAL SERVICES AT THE BAPTIST CHAPEL, WINSLOW.
ON LORD’S DAY NEXT, Two Sermons will be Preached by MR   R. W  SIMMONS M.R.C.P., of WYCLIFFE HOUSE, BUCKINGHAM.  Subjects.   In the morning, “God’s Everlasting Covenant of Grace.”  Service at half-past ten.   In the evening, “Christ’s Gospel of Man’s Salvation.”  Service at six.
A Special Prayer Meeting will be held after the evening service.

This was preliminary to the opening of the Baptist Tabernacle later in the year. That left the original meeting house redundant and for a time it was used by the Wesleyan Methodists, which explains why it is marked as such on the 1880 OS map (although they had moved out by then).

Buckingham Advertiser, 14 Nov 1868,
  WESLEYAN EFFORTS.- On Tuesday, November 10th, the opening services in connection with the Wesleyan Methodists of the Buckingham Circuit were held in the Old Tabernacle, which they have taken in the above place.  In the afternoon the Rev. J. Shearman, Wesleyan Minister, Buckingham, preached an able and appropriate sermon from Zech. xiv., 8.  A public tea was provided at 5 o’clock, after which a public meeting was held, attended by a pleasing and crowded audience.  The chair was taken by W. Ward, Esq., of Aylesbury, who on rising said it afforded him great pleasure to be able to greet the friends of Winslow on circumstances so favourable.  It was, in his judgment, a step in the right direction, and he trusted Methodism would be made a blessing to the town.  The meeting was further addressed by the Rev. Mr. Walker (Baptist), Rev. J. Shearman, Messrs. Cooke, Slade, Carter, and White, who gave interesting and stirring addresses.  The proceeds, including tea, collections, &c., amounted to £13 7s.  The day was a most successful one, and the results far exceeded the anticipations of all.

Group of people outside porch

The copyhold was transferred to new trustees in 1866. According to a note in the margin, the Meeting House was enfranchised, i.e. converted to freehold, on 2 Feb 1904.

Manor court book, 29 Oct 1866 (Centre for Bucks Studies, D82/7, pp.48-49)

Also at this Court came Thomas Palmer Andrews of No 8 Ladies Lane Northampton, Estate Agent and William Anstee of Nash in the County of Bucks Cordwainer (survivors of William Matthews) Customary tenants of  this Manor in their own proper persons and did in consideration of ten shillings to them the said Thomas Palmer Andrews and William Anstee paid by Thomas Brum Saving of Winslow aforesaid Railway Policemen George Whichello of Winslow aforesaid Letter Carrier William Yeulett of Winslow aforesaid Coal Merchant William Varney of Winslow aforesaid Labourer the receipt whereof was thereby acknowledged in full and open Court Surrender by the Rod into the hands of the Lord of the said Manor by the hands and acceptance of his said Steward according to the customs thereof All that piece or parcel of ground in Winslow within the said Manor \some time since/ theretofore  parcel of a close called the Home Close formerly belonging to Daniel Gyles of Winslow aforesaid Linen Draper deceased which said piece or parcel of ground was divided from the other part of the said Close by William Gyles deceased Father of the said Daniel Gyles to erect thereupon a house or building called a Meeting House for such people as should be called or distinguished by the name or names of Baptists dissenting from the way and Communion of the Church of England and Presbytery for to meet in to worship and serve God And also the House or building there since erected thereupon called the Meeting House and the appurtenances thereunto belonging which said piece or parcel of ground excluded from the ground of James Hall allowed for the eaves drops of his Barn Forty three feet and an half Southward and from the Garden formerly of Joseph Harding and Afterwards of Benjamin Ingram twenty five feet Eastward and also free liberty of ingress egress and regress way and passage at all times to and from the said building called the Meeting House and parcel of the ground thereunto belonging in and through the backsides yards and gateways formerly belonging to the said Daniel Gyles deceased leading to and from the said Meeting House into the street near to a pool there called Pillows Ditch To the use of the said Thomas Brum Saving George Whichello William Yeulett and William Varney their heirs and assigns for ever Upon trust that they the said Thomas Brum Saving George Whichello William Yeulett and William Varney and the survivors and survivor of them and the heirs of the survivor of them should and would forever thereafter permit and suffer the said house or building called the Meeting house and ground thereunto belonging and the liberties privileges and appurtenances belonging to the same to be continued and set apart for a place of public worship to be made use of by such person or persons who were or should be distinguished or called by the name or names of Baptists dissenting from the way and Communion of the Church of England and Presbytery for to meet in to worship and serve God in and to and for no other use intent or purpose whatsoever And the said Thomas Brum Saving George Whichello William Yeulett and William Varney being present here in Court in their own proper persons desire of the Lord of this Manor to be admitted tenants to the premises aforesaid upon and for the several uses trusts intents and purposes hereinbefore declared of and concerning the same \To whom the Lord of this Manor by the hands of his said Steward grants seizin thereof by the Rod/ To have and to hold the premises aforesaid with the appurtenances unto the said Thomas Brum Saving George Whichello William Yeulett and William Varney their heirs and assigns for ever nevertheless to for and upon the several uses trusts intents and purposes hereinbefore declared of and concerning the same and according to the tenor of the said Surrender of the Lord by the rod at the will of the Lord according to the custom of this Manor by the yearly rent of Three pence Fealty Suit of Court Heriot and other services and customs therefore due and of right accustomed and they give to the Lord for a fine for such their estate so to be had in the premises One pound and they are therefore admitted tenants &c. and their fealty is respited until &c.


Buckingham Advertiser, 24 June 1876
  INTOLERANCE AT WINSLOW has this week been the subject of comment and indignation.  Mr. [William] Henry Lomath, shoemaker, a respected inhabitant of Winslow, died suddenly last Saturday, and an inquest on view of the body will be found reported in our columns.  We have been given to understand that the deceased’s friends lay buried in the churchyard, and it was constantly intended to have the deceased buried there also.  We hear that it has been intimated that the reading of the usual burial service would not be allowed, because the deceased man had not been baptised.  Acts of uncharitableness on the part of church officials are of too common an occurrence now-a-days, unfortunately, to cause much wonderment.  It is, however, surprising that the men who are professedly the friends of the Established church should act in so sure and effectual a way to shorten the days of its existence as an exclusive establishment.  The promotion of unity, and not dissention, should be the aim of everyone interested in the church’s welfare.  It appears that although the usual form of burial in the churchyard has been refused, the Baptist friends have raised no objection to placing Lomath’s body amongst their dead.- Bicester Herald.
[Mr Lomath's gravestone is still visible in the burial ground, to the left of the photo above.]

Buckingham Advertiser, 3 March 1877
  THE BURIALS QUESTION.- Once again our readers are to  be made aware of the fact that so long as Mr. Morgan’s Burials Bill continues to be thrown out by mechanical majorities, so long will Nonconformists (in some places) be treated as the Church of England considers all without her pale deserve.  A funeral took place in this town on Saturday last, under very painful circumstances.  The child in question, one month old, belonged to Mr. G. O. Tite, draper, etc., and was unbaptized.  Consequently, it was refused the usual Burial Service of the Church of England.  There being no other burial ground in the town, a relative of the deceased prayed over the grave, and the funeral cortege returned to the home of Mr. Tite, where another short service was held.  Need we add that Mr. Tite is a Dissenter, and therefore strongly in favour of Mr. O. Morgan’s Burial Bill?

Oxfordshire Telegraph, 12 June 1878
  WINSLOW OLD BAPTIST CHAPEL.- The 186th [?mistake for 183rd] anniversary of this venerable place of worship (a spot once hallowed by the occasional ministrations of the celebrated Benjamin Keach and in connection with which a portion of his sufferings issued) was held on Monday last, June 10th, when two sermons were preached by Mr. Wren, of Bedford; one at two o’clock and the other at half-past six.  In the interval a public tea took place, which was well attended, and admirably arranged by the deacons Messrs. Whichello and Spooner.  This church has maintained its purity of doctrine from the period of its erection until now without the slightest shade of variation; and is still a light visibly shining in a dark place.  The excellent Benjamin Keach was, I believe, a native of Stoke Hammond in this county, but resided at Winslow in the year 1661.  His trial (which was for Nonconformity, lay-preaching, and publishing a small Primer or Catechism for children) took place at Aylesbury, October 8 in that year, when after the rudest insults from the merciless Hyde, then Lord Chief Justice, he was condemned to two hours’ exposure in the pillory at Aylesbury, with his head and hands confined (a most painful position) on the Saturday following, and again for two hours in the market-place at Winslow on the Saturday after that. (The pillory stood opposite the shop now occupied by Mr. T. Bond, confectioner. [25 Market Square])  In the latter place his book was burned before him, amid the jeers and taunts of the rabble assembled.  He warned the people of their sins and spoke powerfully of the wrath to come.  He bore his great sufferings with the spirit and courage of a Christian, visibly showing his willingness, had it been so ordained, to shed his blood for the cause he espoused.  The plague of London following the next year, and the great fire the year after, were both looked upon as God’s judgements for sins committed, and so terrified the people, that the persecution then raging in Bucks and the adjacent counties was for a time stayed. – R.

Buckingham Advertiser, 26 Oct 1929
The Rev. W. J. Fox, of the Manse, Quainton, near Aylesbury, contributes the following interesting and instructive letter:-
  As the Autumnal meetings of the Bucks Baptist Association will be held at Winslow, I would like, with your kind permission to write a few words concerning Benjamin Keach and the Old Meeting House in which he preached.  [Biographical details about Keach omitted as they are also given in other accounts on this page] He continued his ministry at Winslow till about the year 1668, when he sold all his furniture and he and his wife went to London, but while they were in the coach they were beset with highwaymen who took from them all they possessed.  When he had been in London a short time he was ordained Pastor of a small congregation meeting in a private house in Tooley Street, Southwark.  A few years later, King Charles II granting an indulgence to Protestant Dissenters, they erected a Meeting-house in Goat’s Yard Passage, Horsley-down, where Keach laboured with great success and they frequently had to enlarge the building until the accommodation was able to seat nearly a thousand people.  Two years later his wife died, and two years after that he married a Mrs. Susanna Partridge, a widow of Rickmansworth.  She survived him for about 25 years, he dying July 18th, 1704 and was buried from his own meeting house in the burying ground at Southwark.  In the year 1751 the Church among whom Keach had so long and successfully laboured was removed from Horsley-down to Carter Lane, Tooley Street.  In 1830 this chapel was pulled down to make room for the approaches of New London Bridge.  The Church and congregation then went to New Park Street, where the late C. H. Spurgeon ministered, and the Church leaving New Park Street, are now housed in the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  I sometimes wonder how many members of the Metropolitan Tabernacle realise how much they owe to the little Baptist Meeting House at Winslow, which stands in the same place as when Benjamin Keach ministered in it, just off the Market Square and almost hidden away from public view.  I am hoping that all our delegates will make a point of visiting the little Chapel.
WINSLOW’S LITTLE CHAPEL.
  I have made arrangements for the Chapel to be open all through the afternoon and am therefore writing these notes to prepare the minds of our Association for that visit.  It is only a small building with a very small pulpit, and rather deep, but a stool has been placed inside the pulpit for the use of preachers resembling the Zachaeus type.  It also possess a very high seat.  Very few services are held through the year, the chief one being in the month of June when visitors come from many places.  Needless to say the “Gadsby’s” hymn book is the one used at the services.  The Chapel has a brick floor and the walls are adorned with two tablets, one in memory of George Whichello for many years a deacon and trustee, and in his will he left £100 for the support of the Chapel, and also £100 to the Churchwardens and Overseers of Winslow, the interest of which is to be spent annually in distributing coal to the poor of the Parish.  He died Dec. 26th, 1915, aged 94 years.  The other tablet is in memory of William Yeulet, a member of the Church who died Feb. 16th, 1873, aged 55 years.  Quite a number of people have been interred under the floor of the Chapel as the large stones above their last resting place declares.  There are two table pews one on each side of the pulpit.  There is also an old table and reading desk in front of the pulpit evidently for the use of the senior deacon in giving out the hymns, and reading the hymns as was their custom one line at a time.  The steps leading into the gallery are extremely narrow as is also the gallery with only one long seat going the length of the gallery, and in the centre of the front is something like a small reading desk or place for books.  There is no place for the Baptistery.  Evidently in those days the members were immersed according to the scriptural mode of immersion.  The Sunday School was first established on July 4th, 1824.  Then re-established Feb. 15th, 1835.  Again re-established, May 7th, 1871.
THE WRITING OF KEACH.
  There are two large books the writing of Keach, one entitled “A key to open Scripture Metaphors."  Evidently there are four volumes but the little Church is only in the possession of one volume.  I should be more than delighted if anyone who reads this history and who may have the other three volumes if they would send them on to me that I may hand them to the little Church at Winslow.  The other volume is “Exposition of the Parables,” this is also by Keach.  There is also the old Communion service which doubtless was the one used by Keach and the members of the Church 260 years ago.
  There is a very small graveyard with a few stones in it to mark the resting places of those who have been faithful members of this historic Church.  Gas fittings are inside the Chapel which to my mind are sadly out of place.  The whole place with the exception of the gas fittings takes one back a very long way.  Mr. Spurgeon played a great part in the Baptist Chapel at Winslow under whose auspices we shall meet, and I wonder if he did not fully realise that Winslow had played a great part in bringing the Metropolitan Tabernacle into being.
  On the outside of the Meeting House cut into a brick are the letters “W.M.G.” and the date “1695.”  These were evidently cut there many years after the commencement of the spiritual activities of the place.

Buckingham Advertiser, 16 Nov 1929
  A correspondent writes.  The Rev. W. Fox in his interesting notes on Winslow Old Baptist Chapel, which appeared in these columns a fortnight ago speaks somewhat doubtfully of the old porch.  This is really the more interesting part of the building from an antiquarian point of view, the remaining part having been reconstructed - 1821 to 1824.  Unfortunately when the present somewhat ugly entrance was made the porch was closed and used as a kind of coal cellar and the old lattice work at the sides boarded up, while William and Mary Giles’ stone over the porch was allowed to crumble into decay.  The Giles family are mentioned in Winslow Church Registers as far back as 1580 and several of their tokens can be seen in the County Museum of Aylesbury.

Bucks Herald, 22 June 1934 (written by A.J. Clear)

A NONCONFORMIST SHRINE

Our correspondent writes:- Behind “Bell Alley”, hidden away so successfully that many of the inhabitants of this small town have never seen it, lies a simple little building which should be a veritable shrine of Nonconformity.  This homely little structure, known as the Old Baptist Chapel, or Keach’s Meeting-house, is a plain oblong of brick, with a tiled roof, still retaining on its north side the original diamond paned leaded lights, and must be one of the oldest existing Nonconformist places of worship in the country.

The date of its erection is uncertain, but Shehan’s “History of Bucks” gives it as 1625.  The porch, added many years later, bears the date 1675.  The interior, in its stark simplicity, is one of the very few remaining to show what a Puritan place of worship was like in the 17th century.  Except for a gallery, reached by a break-neck stair, it remains practically in its original state.

The narrow, straight-backed forms, which certainly did not encourage any somnolent tendencies on the part of the congregation during the sermon, the box-pews where the elders sat, all have an unfamiliar look that takes one back to an age long past.

Enclosed on all sides there is a tiny graveyard attached to the building, where are buried generations of former worshippers.  The last recorded interment there took place in 1860.

Benjamin Keach, whose name is associated with this chapel, was celebrated as a preacher and writer in his day.  Himself a North Bucks man, he married a Winslow woman, and in 1660 became the Pastor of the little Baptist flock here.  He was distinguished, among other things, for his championship of the use of music in the services, in opposition to many of the stricter members of the persuasion, who would have barred this, with every other form of beauty.

On account of his writings in a book called “The Child’s Instructor” he was indicted and condemned to prison, and subsequently to stand in the pillory at Aylesbury and at Winslow.  He left Winslow for an appointment to a Baptist Chapel in London.

Years ago there was a regular, though small, congregation and Sunday after Sunday (or as they would have said themselves, Sabbath after Sabbath) old world figures, who had made no concession to the fashions of the day, might be seen wending their way to the “meeting” – dour old men with the air of Covenanters, gentle old ladies in poke bonnets and shawls.  There was George Wichells [Whichello], ex-postman, who kept the old meeting-house spotlessly clean in his spare time, and when he died left £100 for the distribution of coal to the poor, his sister, Mrs. Shakspeare, stately and upright in spite of her eighty year, the quaint figure of old George Varney, Ann Coulton, who looked as if she had come straight out of one of Cruikshank’s pictures, and the Gibbs brothers, members of a family which had been established at Winslow since the 16th century.   But they all died out and no regular services have been held in the building for many years.

But once a year it rouses from its dreams of the past and comes to life again.  Friends from other places come and cut the shrubs which line the alley leading to it, weed the paths, mow the little graveyard, and make all ready for the great occasion of the year.  Next Thursday the annual service takes place, and a miscellaneous crowd, faithful followers of an old cult, or other attracted by curiosity, meet in the afternoon and evening for worship and instruction, so that the old building will once more fulfil the purpose for which it was built.  Few will know anything about it, but it is a place of pilgrimage for those who have the Nonconformist spirit and who treasure the life of the past.

Back to Chapels

Copyright 19 September, 2021