History of Westbury Leigh and Stormore Baptist Church

 

WESTBURY LEIGH BAPTIST CHURCH

The church can trace its history back for over 300 years, to 1662, when the church was established as an off-shoot from the Baptist Church at Southwick which had been formed some 7 years earlier.

Those were times when 'dissenters' were fiercely persecuted1, so at first the Church had no building, services were held in a dell called 'Golden Grove' (perhaps originally 'Godly Grove')2, or in an old house at Clay Close in Dilton Marsh3.

The first Pastor, Roger Cator, was fined on several occasions for preaching to unlawful gatherings. The persecution continued until the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689.

When the old house at Clay Close fell into disrepair, the Church began meeting in an old barn which stood on part of the site at Westbury Leigh where the old church building now stands, and in 1714 this barn was converted into a chapel, fitted with seats and a gallery.

This old meeting house continued in use until 1796, when the congregation had grown so much that a larger building was needed. Additional land was bought, and the Westbury Leigh Church was built and opened for worship on 19th April 17974. A certificate of registration as a place of public worship dated 29th April 1797 is among the church's records now deposited with the Wiltshire County Records Office. The schoolroom was added in 1819. In 1865 an indoor baptismal pool was installed.

The baptism of Christian believers by immersion as a witness to their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, has of course always been an important part of Baptist church life. Before the 'baptistry' was installed, baptisms used to take place in the open air, in the stream at Black Dog Woods, near to the chapel at Stormore. After prayer in the chapel, the new believers with their friends would walk in procession down to the stream to be baptised. Describing these services an eye-witness wrote, "they were attended by a vast concourse of people, the whole circle about the open baptistry being generally enclosed by conveyances from many miles around, bringing spectators. They were solemn and blessed meetings."

In 2003 the Fellowship at Westbury Leigh Church decided to worship in the local school followed by a move to the Westbury Leigh Community Centre. In 2014 the Westbury Leigh Church building was sold and in 2015 the church moved in its entirety to Stormore Chapel.

STORMORE CHAPEL

In 1826 worship service began in a house at Stormore to cater for the needs of people living in the Stormore area, especially "the very young, and the aged and infirm" who found it difficult to walk to Westbury Leigh for services .

In 1828 the meetings moved to a loft over a carpenter's shop belonging to a local lay preacher and carpenter, Mr. Samuel Scott. In 1839 a little chapel was built, which became known as "Scott's Meeting". This old building was replaced by the present Stormore Chapel in 1884. It is now the home of the combined fellowship with services each Sunday for which its intimate atmosphere  make it a welcoming venue.

Notes

  1. Under the Act of Uniformity, 1662, the Conventicle Act, 1664, and the Five Mile Act, 1665, it was illegal to meet for worship otherwise than in accordance with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, or for a dissenter to preach within 5 miles of any town which had a member of Parliament - and Westbury then had two M.P.s! At the 'Bloody Assize' of 1685, the infamous Judge Jeffreys condemned more than 100 non-conformists to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
  2. The 'dell', in what is now Dilton Court Farm, now overgrown with trees and wild garlic, was probably an old quarry.
  3. This building, described as 'an old clothing-house belonging to the Phipps family of Westbury Leigh' had fallen into decay by 1714 when the Church moved to its present site. A modern housing estate now occupies the Clay Close site.