At the beginning of the 19th century Street was a thriving village of 150 cottages and 800 residents (the population increased by 50% between 1801 and 1851).
It was at the crossroads of several stage coach routes, including the London to Exeter route which stopped at the Street Inn, approximately 300 yards from the Baptist Church. Many small businesses grew around this trade including 3 boot makers, a tannery, glove making and high quality tailoring.
However during the Napoleonic Wars corn prices tumbled and the economy of the area was devastated with new technology in the wool and textile industries available in the North of the country – the industrial revolution came late to Somerset.
Many workers were paid in cider and Street became renowned for its drunkenness.
It may be that this social and spiritual deprivation was the reason that a small company of Christians in 1814 were led to build the SBC church building and down through the years to the present day the church has continued to serve the community and the good news of Jesus Christ has been preached from these buildings.
James Clark, who with his brother Cyrus founded C & J Clark the renowned shoe manufacturers, wrote his childhood recollections in 1893 looking back to his earliest memories in 1815 when he was only three.
“My father and mother were away from home, and a dear old woman named Nellie Palmer, who lived in a mud cottage with its pointing end to the road, close by where the Baptist Chapel now stands, was keeping house for them.
One afternoon Nellie Palmer said she would take me for a walk to see how the new Baptist Chapel, then building, was getting on. We walked down Hindhayes Lane, which was not then stoned, and as we reached the point where Wilfred Road now joins it, the mud was so soft and deep we had to leave it and get over a stile into the field on the right, a path through which brought us into the Somerton Road.
There at the corner of the lane was an old saw pit where boards were cut out to press cheeses.
We found the Baptist Chapel just roofed in, and the carpenters were at work putting up the pews, the dwelling house at the end of the chapel was being made ready for the Minister, Thomas Burnett, who afterwards had a school there for farmers’ sons.
When I was about eight years old I was sent to this school for a week or two.
The chief supporters of the Baptist cause at that time were old farmer Gould and his sons John, Thomas and Joseph; and John Crees and his family, who lived in Silver Lane.“
(Mrs M. Gould and Mrs R. Crees are both descendants through marriage and Mrs Gould is a current member of the church, maintaining nearly 200 years of family connection with the church).
The following year in 1815 James Clark recalls seeing wagon trains of French prisoners of war passing through Street, following Napoleon’s defeat at the battle of Waterloo.
The church continued to grow over the years and during the First World War a wooden structure was erected next to the church to house the Sunday School and various weekday and weeknight activities. The building was dominated by a huge cast iron pot-bellied stove which gave out a tremendous amount of heat!
Street, like many villages during this time, became home to a large number of refugees from Belgium and some of these desperate people were cared for and came to hear of the love of God towards them in the church.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s the work of the church declined, with falling numbers and an inconsistent ministry. By the years before World War 2, the church often had only 2 or 3 gather together, with 6-8 making a good congregation. The church owes much to the faithfulness of a few families who kept it going in these times.
During the war years, the influx of troops into the area (with three different military camps around Street) led to a great increase in the attendance at the church and a growth in consistent ministry. There are records of many baptisms within the church of soldiers before they departed to the battle fields in Europe.
During the ministry of Rev W. Oram from 1948-57 the church grew rapidly, eventually increasing to a size that would fill the main church building each Sunday. There was a vibrant youth work and many people came to faith in Christ and were baptised.
At some point in the church’s history the minister’s house adjoining the church ceased to be used and there is no information as to where the ministers lived. However in 1948 when the Rev. W. Oram commenced his ministry the rooms once more became the Manse. After 9 years Rev. Oram concluded his ministry in Street and shortly afterwards the church purchased 38 Glaston Road, an end of terrace Victorian house virtually opposite the church, to be the home for future ministers. Our current Pastor and his family are living in this house to this day.
The period after the ministry of Rev. W. Oram was more difficult. A young Pastor struggled to cope with the demands of the fellowship, and the numbers in attendance decreased. However, in time, new leadership grew and the youth work again became large, with recollections of a bus being used to gather and transport children into the youth meetings in the old wooden hall each week – with well over 100 young people gathering either in the SBC or the Congregational Church on alternate weeks.
The original burial ground adjacent to the church had been laid to grass for some years, but in this time the headstones were removed and a tree planted in it’s centre.
During the 1960’s the old timber hall burnt down and the present brick-built hall, kitchen and toilets were constructed. Due to new regulations a car park had to be provided and permission was granted by the Home Office to use the ‘sacred land’ for this purpose.
In the 1980’s the faithful Bible ministry of Peter Lawes saw the church grow in numbers once again, although, sadly, difficulties in the church at the end of this time of ministry meant that numbers declined as other churches were established from the membership of Street Baptist.
The next 10 years were a time of regrouping and consolidation under the pastorate of Ian Shaddick. The groundwork was laid for God’s people to move forward once again, and by 2007 Ian left a church leadership seeking God’s direction for a new phase. We praise God that the years that followed have seen the congregation grow rapidly, people come to know Jesus as their saviour, and many new ministries form within the church to meet the needs of the growing congregation.
There is a huge sense of God’s Spirit at work within the fellowship, and His leading into this time of growth in numbers and spiritual depth is very evident. We are in exciting times, and we look forward to all God has yet to do in the fellowship.
To cope with the increasing numbers, a lot of work on the building has been undertaken in recent days to bring facilities up to date and to increase the flexibility of the accommodation. Additional land adjoining the church was purchased in 2009 for parking and youth work, and plans are well under way for a new building to be added to the rear of the current building. In 2011 work was done to level the floor and provide new seating in the church to expand capacity to 160 while we waited for a new building. However, by 2012 the congregation had grown to the extent that the church was continuously full to beyond capacity each Sunday morning. As a stop-gap measure the morning services were split, with the children and youth having their own services in the Hall whilst the main service is held in the church.
Plans were put in place for a new building to accommodate a congregation of up to 250 with the capability of further expansion if needed. The planning and legal proceedings for this were long and protracted. By 2013 we could no longer sustain even the split services and so obtained permission to use parts of Brookside Community School for our morning services. Although not ideal, this enabled growth in numbers to continue, and we presently have well over 200 in our morning services.
We praise God that the church has remained faithful to the Gospel and, particularly in recent years, has grown considerably and continues to grow. But we praise God all the more for growth in spiritual depth, desire and love for God, and love for His people.
Of necessity this is a ‘potted history’ of our church, but we do want to thank God for His goodness and faithfulness to us as a church from the time it was built in 1814.