Old Baptist Chapel

History of the Old Baptist Chapel

William Hawkins 1841-1860

When Joseph Seymour died in 1841 there were 161 members of the church and the direction of affairs rested with the three deacons, John Davis, Joseph Beaven and William Waite. Davis and Beaven had been baptized at Bradford in 1787 and 1819 respectively.

Somewhat surprisingly Waite had only joined the church in July 1840 when he was transferred from Roade. The record of his election to the diaconate is no longer available but in December 1843 William Hawkins drew attention to the fact that the record of Waite's election 'had been altered to the discredit of Wm.. Waite.

At that meeting 'it was unanimously declared and resolved that Brother Waite was then fairly and honourably chosen and that he now has the confidence of both the pastor and the members.' He was certainly to be a prominent supporter of William Hawkins.

After two unsuccessful attempts to settle on a new minister the church decided to invite Hawkins on probation on the recommendation of John Foreman the pastor of the church at Hill Street London. Foreman was a leading minister in the emerging strict Baptist group. He was a vigorous opponent of the free offer of the gospel and a doughty preacher, who not only built up a large church in London but frequently travelled the country sometimes preaching as many as ten sermons a week. Foreman's nominee had earlier been a member of John Stevens's church in London and was son in law of another leading Hyper Calvinist, John Andrews Jones of Shoreditch.

Hawkins began to supply the pulpit from the end of September 1841 and it quickly became apparent that the church was deeply divided and although in October his invitation was extended for six months less than one third of the members voted for this, although few were prepared to vote against.

When William Hawkins's recognition took place on 26th October 1842, he wrote, 'the neighbouring ministers were deterred from attending by anonimous and other letters'. He complained that he and the church had been objects of a campaign of vilification in the town although the Church Book noted that John Foreman preached at the Recognition 'to the high and solemn delight of the hundreds that were present from the churches around.'

In the difficult months that followed deacons Davis and Beaven left the church although Davis was to return after a few years. Several members were said to be associating with 'the Independent Meeting called Zion Chapel'.

In 1815 there had been a split in the Independent Church, now the United Church. The secessionists went first to the Grove Meeting House and then built Zion Chapel on Conigre Hill in 1823. The Zion Church Book records, 'a few of the members of the Old Baptist Church being dissatisfied with the doctrinal vies [sic] advanced by their Minister seceeded therefrom in December 1842'. They united with the Independents to form an open membership Particular Baptist church. Those who left the old church included Jane Seymour widow of the previous pastor as well as a number of older members. The church lost 39 members in 1842 and 1843 although it gained 38 new members in the same period so that it was holding its own but under William Hawkins its composition and its character were changing.

In 1843 William Hawkins submitted a church covenant to the members and this was unanimously accepted. It was strongly Calvinistic but not explicitly Hyper-Calvinist. It also required the practice of strict communion.

In the same year it was resolved 'that the Sunday School teachers be requested to take care that no sentiment or doctrine be delivered to the children of the School that is not avowed by this Church'. In 1850 the Gospel Herald magazine reported that Hawkins had baptized 99 persons since his arrival in Bradford and received a further 17 by dismission.

The chapel was said to be well attended and there were good Sunday schools. In fact there was steady increase until about 1852. After this there seems to have been much slower advance and in the winter of 1855 to 1856 Hawkins was ill, possibly suffering from depression. Eventually in 1860 he resigned and returned to his former charge at Shrewsbury.

On 19th June the church recorded, 'our dear brother Hawkins has laboured among us nearly 19 years during that time many souls have been added to the Church of Christ here, the Lord owning and blessing the work'. The year 1859 had been a year of outstanding blessing in Wales and Ulster and in certain places in England as well. In Bradford only four persons were added to the church in that year and these were balanced by the loss of three by death and one by transfer. The increase had been in the earlier years of Hawkins's pastorate.


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