The Waltham Abbey Baptist Church History
The church began in 1729 when twenty-four people met together as the Paradise Row Baptist Chapel. There had been non conformists before that in Waltham Abbey, but they met in the royal palace of Theobolds. In 1650 the palace was controlled by Parliamentary Trustees and administered by a Baptist Colonel William Packer, one of Cromwell’s most trusted officers. Large congregations of non conformists met there, but their life became much harder when the Act of Uniformity in 1662 demanded they accept the Anglican Prayer Book
In 1665 the Five Mile Act made it illegal to hold meetings within 5 miles of town and at times the Theobald’s congregation were forced to meet in Epping Forest. During William and Mary’s reign, the Toleration Act was passed in 1689 and things became easier. In 1727 it became possible to build non conformist chapels. The first written record of our church says “The providence of God having opened a way for ye preaching of ye gospel amongst us, and a place being built for his worship and service, the same was opened on May 4 th 1729.
The first chapel
Though the first members were agricultural workers and tradesmen, they managed to raise enough money to build a chapel capable of seating 3-400 people! The cost was about £400 half of which was borrowed from a Mrs Elizabeth Shakerley which took 11 years to repay. Records of the early years reveal constant appeals and collections to support the minister, the hire of a horse, beer for workmen and frequent gifts of a shilling a week to the poorer members. In March 1734 the balanced books show the church had only five shillings left over! The original church had no baptistery – candidates were baptised in the stream next to the present Town Hall.
During this time words written on vellum record “our minister hath had a very unquiet and uncomfortable situation as to his dwelling place, there being none belonging to the church.” Land adjacent to the church was donated and a manse built which stood until 1961 when it and six cottages belonging to the church were demolished to make way for flats.