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The pastorate of John Warburton

John WarburtonThe Warburton family, John and Lydia, with eight children arrived inthe town of Trowbridge on Friday 3 I March 1815. The deacons hadarranged a house in the Halve for their use and on Sunday 2 April 1815John Warburton preached his first sermon as pastor. The room on WickerHill which would hold some 300 people was crowded. Warburton records:’As a congregation we are so crowded on a Lord’s day that it is quiteuncomfortable.’  During the remaining months of that year 29were added to the church, 16 by baptism.

It was soon evident that this room in the town centre was becoming toosmall for the increasing numbers who met for worship and the need for achapel building was discussed. This was a large undertaking for soyoung a church. Financially it would foe a struggle, then where wouldthey build? The town of Trowbridge was undergoing much building work atthis time. Factories were being built and also houses for the clothworkers.  A site was found amongst the factories inTrowbridge, near the river Biss, an area which had a tendency toflooding. But here building commenced and was up to the ground floorwindow level when a lawyer walked by. Me stopped and enquired what thisbuilding was to be used for – another factory? No, he was told, thiswas to be a Baptist chapel. On hearing this, he offered the sale ofland in Union Street which was a better site. The deacons agreed, thebuilders stopped work and transferred to the new site, which was pan ofthe manorial land that was being developed. The cost of the land was£124 6s, the cost of building £1,232.

Zion Chapel opened in June 1816 at a service conducted by JohnWarburton and John Dymott of Hilperton. The deeds for the buildingindicate that the chapel was • a meeting house for a certain Sect orSociety of Protestant Dissenters called or distinguished by the name ofCalvinistic or Particular Baptists. The building required to beregistered as a Meeting House and this was done on 6 November 1816.However it appears that the application was incorrectly completed as afurther application was lodged on 23 January 1817. Until the opening ofZion Chapel die church at Back Street allowed the new church use oftheir burial ground. A stone was placed on the front of the chapel withthe inscription Zion Chapel 1810 – no reason for (he error in date hasever been discovered! It appears that the name Zion was chosen as thename of the building as prior to this the church book records no namefor the church. No pictorial record of the original interior of thebuilding exists however we are told that the pews were narrow pews withdoors, there was a high box pulpit and the building seated 700.

The fact the people of Trowbridge were mainly poor is shown in the timeit took to pay the cost of the building. £500 was paid at the time asthe church account shows that in March 1817 loans were made to financethe building. They were from:  William Hayward – £500; WilliamEacott – £100 and James Hayward – £100. These loans were at 5% interestrate and for many years the church struggled to pay them. It was notuntil 1841 that they were finally paid.
Warburton’s salary throughout the pastorate was £3.  In 1818the church agreed to pay the rent on his house, but by the end of 1818the church accounts show a balance in hand of 2s so the deacons askedWarburton to pay his own rent. They would I however allow him 2 monthseach year to go away preaching and collecting money from other churchesfor the work in Trowbridge and they would pay the ministers whopreached in his absence. So in the summer of 1818 Warburton set off toLondon and returned with £62. In August that year William Haywarcl waspaid part of the loan due to him.

Baptisms were frequent in those days when open air baptising was thenormal practice, large crowds of spectators would swell the normalcongregation and Warburton used the opportunity to preach the gospel tothousands at these yearly events. The first place used for baptismsfrom 1815-1817 is unrecorded, probably the river Biss. In 1818 a movewas made to the mill pond at Ladydown Mill when nine were baptised. Inthe next five years as many as 23 at a time were baptised. The last;occasion the mill pond was used was in 1823. In his ‘Memorials’ JohnWarburton Jn. wrote: M, myself have some faint remembrance of my fatherbaptising at Ladydown Mill’,

The following year the church used Birds’ coal wharf, a site stillaccessible just off the main Trowbridge to Staverton Road. On thisoccasion Warburton baptised 24 including two of his daughters Sarah andElizabeth. His wife Lydia had been baptised the previous year.

In 1825 it was the place for baptisms that brought to a head troublethat had been simmering in the church for several years. There hadbeen, Warburton believed, those who were dissatisfied with his ministryever since he arrived. They Criticized his salary, they attacked thecontent of his sermons and then in 1825 he was barred from using, theLadydown Mill for baptising, as the man who owned the mill felt thatWarburton and his church showed a narrow minded and exclusive spirit.One of the deacons was sent around the town to search for another sitefor baptizing, but he was unable to find anywhere.

The church was called together on 14 September 1825 and agreed to buildan indoor baptistry. The voting was: In favour 84; against 74, so themajority in favour was only ten.  Work soon began and on 9October 1825 six were baptised in the chapel.

This however was not the end of the matter as Warburton now receivedmany anonymous letters in which he called a Pope and a Tyrant, someasking how he could sleep at night. He was criticised for taking awaywhat many saw as a witness to the town believing that it was wrong tobaptise indoors. Why they were unable to continue to use Birds’ coalwharf is unknown. The troubles continued. The members who had objectedto the baptistry now brought this matter forward. On 24 October 1 825the members were asked to sign their names to all the church rules. 130did so but 30 did not. The minutes for the meeting records: ‘We whosenames are undersigned have agreed that no member shall come to theOrdinance of the Lord’s Supper until they have signed the above rulesas a number of members have objected to sign. We have agreed to givethem six months to consider it and if at the expiration of six monthsthey have neglected to sign their names we shall consider them as notbring in union with us as a church and shall at the expiration of thattime take such steps as the majority of the church shall decide’.

Warburton records that at time there was contention upon contention. Afurther church meeting held on 21 November agreed that Samuel Kurd andWilliam Chapman, who it appears were the leaders of this group shouldbe dismissed from the office of deacons; ‘Our reasons are First- webelieve that there is not that union betwixt them and our pastorneedful for peace. Second being out on a Lord’s Day they (Hurd andChapman) are seldom at home to fill their office. It was agreed that ifany of our deacons should ever go out to preach, he shall give up hisoffice as deacon’.

New deacons were soon elected on 5 December. They were Thomas Ball,James Porter, and Richard Knee. The six month period expired on 24 May1826 when the church separated twenty seven members from them – thesemet in the room in Wicker Hill, then built a chapel in Castle Streetcalled Little Bethel. When these members with their friends left,Warburton commented: ‘A strange smash it made when they and theirconnections gave up their seats’.
The outstanding debt at the end of 1826 remained at £ 700.Subscriptions were begun to attempt to clear the debt. Ln 1830 asubscription of one penny a week brought in about £ 50 extra a year.

Soon however Warburton wrote: ‘Many of the poor dear sheep that had runaway from the fold came creeping back, poor things’! Other additionscontinued with 24 being baptised in 1827 and a total of 100 peoplejoining the church between 1826 and 1830.

Extracted from the unpublished history of Zion Chapel Trowbridge by Andrew Jones