History of the Old Baptist Chapel
The Turn of the Tide
The arrival of a young electrical engineer was to herald a change at the Old Baptist Chapel. In the early 1930s Hubert Graham Alsop from Chippenham was appointed manager of the local electricity supply company. In the Spring of 1933 he married Margaret Salway also from Chippenham and they set up their home in Bradford. Before this they had both been worshipping at the Old Baptist Chapel Chippenham, with which church Mrs Alsop's family had been associated for generations.
At the Bradford chapel the situation seemed so hopeless that for some time they went back to Chippenham each week for one of the Sunday services, worshipping in Bradford in the other part of the day. Gradually they became uneasy, sharing a growing conviction that they should support the work in their own town. The need in Bradford became even more acute during 1935 as Mr Hart's health was seriously deteriorating before his death in 1936 and Mr Alsop found himself accepting more and more responsibility for the work.
By the summer of 1937 Mr and Mrs Alsop were convinced that they should be baptized and join the Bradford church. But it was not at all certain that there was a church to join. They consulted their former pastor Mr H. E. Carr of Chippenham who urged them to join the Chippenham church as there appeared to be no member left at Bradford and although there were members of other churches regularly worshipping at the chapel none of these were disposed to join the church at this time.
Mr and Mrs Alsop were accepted as prospective members by the Chippenham church although they had misgivings about this as they felt their energies must be thrown into the work at Bradford. They were baptized at Bradford on Avon on 4th October 1937 but before they could be received into membership at Chippenham it was discovered that there was a surviving member of the Bradford church, Mrs Mary Huntley who lived in Southwick and attended Providence Chapel in that village. It was felt that her reinvolvement was sufficient and Mr and Mrs Alsop were received into membership at Bradford on Avon.
The early years were hard but Mr and Mrs Alsop devoted themselves to the work. Their family grew until there were seven children all of whom are at present in membership at Bradford on Avon. Mr and Mrs Alsop immediately began to collect funds for the restoration of the building.
In less than two years after their baptism the Second World War broke out. Restrictions on travel made it more difficult to obtain preachers. It was October 1943 before there was another addition to the membership when an elderly lady Miss Elizabeth Byfield was baptized.
In these early days the little group was anxious for a pastor and in 1946 a call was issued to Mr Harry Salkeld a supply preacher from Bristol. Mr Salkeld began a part-time pastorate in January 1947. He was able to move to Bradford and to obtain employment in Bath. Further additions to the church taok place in 1947 and Mr Alsop and Mr Rose were appointed deacons. Mr Rose, who had previously been a member of Tamworth Road Baptist Church Croydon, had come with his family to live in the town.
In January 1947 the Sunday School which had closed in 1912 was reopened with eight scholars, all children from the congregation. In February they were joined by an elderly lady, Miss Kate Bricker, who had been a member of the Sunday School when it closed in 1912 and appears to have joined it as early as 1900 and possibly before. She was still in regular attendance in 1953. The Sunday School was perhaps unwittingly forming a tradition of an adult Bible class which has continued to the present.
The years of Mr. Salkeld's pastorate proved to be a time of steady recovery. Nineteen persons joined the church in the years from 1947 to 1967. Particularly encouraging was a baptismal service in November 1962 when seven young people were added. The church minutes reveal a concern for the needs of the town. There were special prayer meetings for revival and literature was regularly distributed in the town.
In addition the main chapel buildings were once again renovated in the 1950s. This was a project towards which Mr. Alsop had been working for twenty years. Although necessary repairs had been carried out through the years this was a major task of restoration and redecoration. As a part of this work one set of dilapidated gallery stairs was removed and the space utilised to form a small cloak room. Special thanksgiving services were held in October 1958 on the completion of this work, the preacher being Mr. H. Dawson of Bethersden, Kent.
In 1967 Mr. Salkeld reached his sixty ninth birthday and was suffering from some heart strain. He therefore announced that he would retire from the pastorate at the end of that year. He moved to Chippenham and is still living in retirement in that area.