Monday, November 21, 2011

Baptist Tabernacle

If your family worshipped at either the Baptist Tabernacle or the Cambria Place Chapel you stand a good chance of finding them in one of the church's Year Books. Those for 1895-1938 are held at Swindon Central Library and contain a fascinating amount of information.

With just 24 members, the Swindon Baptist community had their beginnings in Prospect Place under the ministry of Rev. Richard Breeze, but by 1849 the congregation had moved into a new chapel in Fleet Street. In little over 35 years this also proved too small for the growing Baptist following and Swindon architect W H Read was commissioned to design a new chapel.

Built to classical proportions, the Tabernacle certainly made a statement and soon became a focal point of Regent Circus, originally destined to be named Trafalgar Square. More than 1,000 people attended a tea party at the official opening and twenty years later membership stood at 780.

Each Year Book contains a list of church members, among them those who had died in the previous year. The 1925 edition included the names of the Elders, Deacons, Trustees, Lady Visitors and non resident members.

In 1895 Sunday services were at 10.45 am and 6 pm with a short prayer meeting following the evening service. Week day services included an evening prayer meeting every Monday and Saturday and a sermon preached by the Pastor on Wednesday evening. On Friday the Pastor was 'at home from 7 pm - 9pm to see enquirers.'

Members of the congregation paid for their seats. The cost of a seat in the main body of the building was 3s for three months, with those under the gallery costing 2s 6d. Front row gallery seats raised between 2s and 2s 6d a quarter with the second row raising 1s 6d and the third 1s. These charges along with collections and fund raising events such as 'Our 20th Century Fund' launched in 1899, saw the £6,000 building debt cleared within 20 years of the Tabernacle opening.

Published in the church magazine dated 1927 is a list of fifteen men from the congregation who died serving in the First World War. Among them were brothers Archie and Alfred Richman, sons of David and Sarah Richman, grocers at 7 Devizes Road.

A yearbook had been published since the earliest history of the Baptist church in Swindon. However, when church secretary F.E. Lovesey prepared to write a church history to celebrate its Jubilee in 1936, the earliest he was able to find was that of 1895.

The Tabernacle was demolished in 1978 and today the Pilgrim Centre, built in 1990, stands on the site it once occupied. The magnificent stone facade of the building returned to Swindon in 2008 with plans for its reconstruction in Swindon's regenerated town centre. Unfortunately this has yet to take place.

1971 view of the Baptist Tabernacle courtesy of Swindon Advertiser; internal views taken in 1905 and 1910 by William Hooper courtesy of Paul Williams. Visit


Demolition taking place in 1978

During the 1978 demotion - published courtesy of Mr J Ensten

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