Lee Common Strict Baptist Church 1827-1969

This is a story of a people who had to move a few times to different meeting places or chapels within Lee Common.

Lee Common is a village between Tring, Wendover, Great Missenden and Chesham in Buckinghamshire. The first members of the Baptist congregation at Lee Common were people from Ballinger, Chartridge, Swan Bottom and Lee Common who used to walk to Townfield Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel in Chesham. One of them was George Chilton (1798-1881) who lived at a cottage called Woodside by Grove Wood along Lee Clump Road.

First Meeting Place and Church formed 1827

Before 1827 George Chilton offered his cottage as the first place for the people to meet in. In 1827 they were formed into a Church and continued to meet until George Chilton moved to Lewisham, and sold his property at Lee Common. The people had to revert to meeting in homes for a while. The new owner converted the chapel back into cottages. Meanwhile George Chilton settled at Knockholt, Kent where he continued his involvement with the Strict & Particular Baptists. This original building is no longer there, but its grassed-over foundations can be seen in the field.

First Chapel 1837

In 1837 the congregation at Lee Common bought a piece of ground in Oxford Street, Lee Common and built a chapel with a baptistry for baptisms. It was registered by Thomas Wright, David Pearce and Matthew Pearce.

Methodists

Meanwhile a Primitive Methodist society had begun in the village in 1836. This Methodist society grew and in 1839 they built a small chapel. In the 1840s (probably due to the success of the Methodists) the Baptist congregation shrank to no more than a dozen people who used to meet in the vestry of the Baptist Chapel. This Chapel was put up for sale and it was bought by the vicar of Wendover for £150 and used as a lecture room and school room. This building is now called “Juniper Cottage”, where there is an old baptistry under the floorboards. Later a new school house was built opposite it.

Lee Clump Chapel Built Prior to 1851

Mr Thomas Pearce (or Pierce), a builder and agent of Lord Howe at Penn was one of the Baptist preachers. He purchased a plot of land in front of Lee Clump Farmhouse, in Lee Clump Farm Lane (now Princes Lane). A few years prior to 1851 he built a little wooden chapel, known as Providence Chapel, which could seat 100 people, and it was opened by Mr James Wells of the Surrey Tabernacle, and was described as ‘a very neat, modern and commodious Baptist Chapel’. The Chapel was paid for by the congregation but in addition they had a mortgage of £75. It was later recalled that some of the preachers were local labourers who used to preach wearing smock frocks.

Appointment of a Pastor

A Baptist businessman called Joseph Cartwright, who used to buy trees and wood, came to Lee Common and attended the church. The people asked him to preach and he came more frequently and people started to come back to the church, and he helped to develop a Sunday School. On Tuesday 3rd October 1854 Joseph Cartwright was ordained pastor. He died on 21st April 1861.

The British School

Meanwhile a new non-conformist day school called the ‘British School’ was started in 1843 by the British and Foreign School Society .This first met at the new Primitive Methodist Chapel, where a new school room was added for it. In 1872 a purpose built school and schoolhouse were built in the village along Lee Clump Road. A memorial stone was laid by Miss de Rothschild of Aston Clinton on 18th October 1872. However with competition from the better financed Church of England ‘National’ School it fell into decline, and it closed in the summer of 1882. Mr Frederick Butcher, a wealthy businessman of Tring, bought the now redundant ‘British School’ and schoolhouse and let them out to a couple of organisations for a short time.

James Pearce

In 1877 a local man called James Pearce had a dramatic conversion experience after suddenly seeing himself surrounded by darkness while in the fields. He then met with the Baptists and after a while took part in their prayer meetings. The members then were mainly elderly and in about 1880 James Pearce was asked to take over the Sunday School, and he soon raised the numbers to 80 children.

Providence, Lee Common

Providence, Lee Common

Providence Chapel 1883

About this time the Baptist congregation were very poor and could not afford to repair their Chapel nor pay off the debt. Mr Frederick Butcher, from Akeman Street Strict Baptist Chapel in Tring, offered to help them out. In 1882 Mr Butcher paid off the debt and bought the chapel for £150. From August 1882 he rented the School House to James Pearce, and from 1883 he rented the School to the Baptists and they called it ‘Providence Chapel’. The School House came to be called Chapel House. Soon after vacating the old chapel it burnt down and was demolished. A disputed ownership of the site led it to
being split between the neighbours, and there is nothing to show of its existence. In 1886 Mr Pearce became a Deacon of the Church and a lay preacher and thereafter more of the services were taken by him, and sometimes by Mr Joseph Butcher of Townfield Chapel in Chesham, who also owned a house at Lee Common. It is believed that in 1900 the Chapel (previously the School) was remodelled and a gallery added, so that it could seat 150 people. The land in front of the Chapel was used as a burial ground.

1909 to 1929

In 1909 Frederick Butcher gave the Chapel, Chapel House and adjoining ground to the Strict Baptist congregation. That year the Church had 19 members, but had 66 children in the Sunday School taught by 7 teachers. Also in 1909 James Pearce became Pastor, and he devoted the remainder of his life to the Church, becoming known locally as ‘Holy Jim Pearce’. The Church Secretary was Mr Ernest T. Batchelor who was Deacon from 1908. The Church held its centenary in 1927. James Pearce remained Pastor until he died on Tuesday, 25th June 1929 aged 77. He was buried in the grounds of the Chapel. The Deacons at the time were Mr Joseph Hance and Mr W Stacey, who died in 1970 aged 99.

Memorials

On 21st April 1930 two tablets were unveiled in the Chapel to the memories of ‘James Pearce, who faithfully served them for fifty years as Superintendent and Deacon, and since April 21st, 1909, as Pastor. Under the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, he was enabled in life, walk, and conversation to commend the Gospel of Free and Sovereign Grace, and having thus served his generation by the will of God, he fell asleep in Jesus, June 25th 1929, Aged 77 Years.’; and ‘Frederick Butcher, Esq. of Tring, who for forty years was a kind, considerate Landlord, and a close friend and supporter of this Cause. In 1909 he handed over the Chapel and House to the Church in Trust as a permanent Home for them and the truths he held dear.’

In 1934 a plaque was put up ‘To the Glory of God and in Affectionate Remembrance of Ernest Thorn Batchelor who passed away November 24th, 1933. He faithfully served this Church as Deacon for 25 years and Sunday School Teacher.’

Account

In 1935 Mr Pearce’s daughter published ‘Workers Together – A Brief Record of the Lives of the late Pastor and Mrs James Pearce (of Lee Common, Bucks)’, which is the source of much of this history.

Today

The last service was held on 6th October 1968 and the Church was formally closed in 1969. The Chapel remained empty for sometime, but the cottage was rented out. In 1976 the Chapel and the cottage were purchased by the Pearce family. The Chapel was converted into a dwelling called ‘Chapel Farm’. The last burial took place in 1979. Meanwhile the Methodist church still survives in the village.

Neil Rees