Maryport Street Baptist Chapel, Devizes
The present Baptist Church on Maryport Street was built in 1780.
As early as 1646 there was a congregation meeting in the house of John Freme and by the 1660s there were two Baptist meetings - one in Mary Fidsall's house. These joined together by 1672 with a congregation of 60-80. What became the Old Baptist Church was formed from this group, meeting firstly at 22,The Brittox, Devizes. The lease of this property was presented to the church in 1673 by Sir John Eyles of Southbroom House;. A meeting house was created on the ground floor. A number of leading townspeople were members in the early days and the church was a general Baptist Church. later it changed into a Strict and Particular Baptist Church.
The church was reasonably prosperous during the 18th century and in 1780 a new chapel was built in Maryport Street. This was a plain, square building to which an east gallery was added in 1785, to accommodate a larger number of people, while in 1818 a vestry, schoolroom and side galleries were built.
The congregation suffered two secessions;. one was in 1796 when a group left to join the Presbyterians. In 1837, because of divisions in the congregation, the pastor, George Wessley, left with some of the member left to form the Salem Baptist Chapel.
The chapel prospered during the 19th century and between 1882 and 1897 seven village stations were established from Devizes. In 1895 the congregation at Salem rejoined the church. In 1895 too the schoolrooms were enlarged for the extra children. The chapel itself was enlarged in 1928.
Today the chapel has a pleasant garden before its plain but distinguished facade, fronted by the entrance porches of the 1860s.
Background on protestantism in Devizes and details of Maryport Baptist Church
Devizes was early a place where unconventional religious opinions were professed. William Prior, a native, was executed for Lollardy in 1507 and there is other evidence of heresy in the neighbourhood before the Reformation. During the Civil War a meeting of doubtful legality was being held in the town.Quakerism and Anabaptism began to flourish.
Bishop Henchman of Salisbury, after conducting a visitation of his diocese in 1661, found the people of Devizes 'not good', though owing to the excellence of the rector they were giving 'very little trouble'. In 1662 41 parishioners of St. Mary's and 73 of St. John's were presented for not attending church, but the rector asked that no citation be issued against some of the latter who had repented and begun to conform. After 1662, however, ejected ministers settled in the town and taught there, and in 1670 Devizes enjoyed the reputation, perhaps not fully deserved, of being one of the two most notable seats in the diocese of 'great and outrageous meetings'. By the end of the 17th century several leading Devizes families were nonconformist. Towards the end of that century the unorthodox began to group themselves into sects. The most ancient, perhaps, were the Baptists. As early as 1646 a community of Baptists was congregating in the house of John Freme, and in 1654 what appears to have been a baptismal service in progress beside the Crammer was broken up by a mob. By 1669 the meeting in Freme's house had become Independent, though it is thought eventually to have rejoined the Baptists.
Two other Baptist meetings are discernible at this time, one in Mary Fidsall's house, in St. Mary's parish, and the other, reckoned to be Fifth Monarchist, at the house of Thomas Okey, a woolbroker. The second seems to have joined up with the first by 1672. Thomas Hicks was a leading 'teacher' of the Fidsall meeting in the sixties and gathered round him a congregation of 60–80. James Webb, a succeeding minister, took a leading part in the London General Assembly in 1689. Out of the followers of Hicks and Webb emerged the Old Baptist church or Strict and Particular Baptist church, as it has long been called.
In its early days the congregation comprised a number of leading townsmen, including Sir John Eyles, M.P. for the borough in 1679–81. The chapel consequently enjoyed a sober prosperity and attracted several benefactions in the earlier 18th century. These were mainly for the support of ministers, and, so far as can be learnt, there has been an almost unbroken succession of settled ministers from the time of John Filkes (c. 1709–23). The congregation numbered 59 in 1704, 300 in 1717, (fn. 321) c. 50 in 1777, and 69 in 1797.
During the 18th century the main events in its history were the erection of a proper chapel in 1780, the establishment of seven village stations between 1782 and 1797, and the secession of some worshippers to the Presbyterians c. 1796. This secession led to a dispute over the title to the Merewether, Eyles, and Hancock charities, which the congregation at the New Baptist chapel claimed. The dispute was settled in Chancery in favour of the Old Baptists in 1816.The chief subsequent events have been a secession in 1837 to found the Salem chapel, (fn. 323) the termination of that congregation in 1895, and the enlargement of the chapel in 1860 and 1928. Two notable pastors deserve a mention: C. H. Marston (1858–70), a physician renowned at the time for relieving cancer, who simultaneously conducted his spiritual and physical therapy, and J. P. Wiles (1907–27), author of Half-Hours with Isaiah (1915), an abridgement of Calvin's Institutes (1920), and other works, and a public denunciator of R. J. Campbell's 'new theology'. Just before the secession of 1837 the congregation numbered 109, probably in consequence of the zeal of Roger Hitchcock, minister 1830–3, a former Anglican clergyman who is said to have converted fifty. The numbers stood at 96 in 1842, but in 1851 the actual attendances were declared to be much higher. (fn. 324) The congregation first met at no. 22 the Brittox. (fn. 325) The premises, two lower rooms and an upper one, appear to have been in two parts. One part was a converted factory leased by Samuel Fidsall in 1664. In 1673 the lease was bought by Sir John Eyles, who presented it to the church. It was renewed in 1772 (fn. 326) and was still held in the church's name in 1834. (fn. 327) By her will dated 1712 Sarah Wright devised in trust a ground-floor room, then used as a meeting-house, which formed part of her dwelling. The remains of the meeting-house could still be traced in 1970. There once appears to have been a graveyard close by.
In 1780 a new chapel, not conventionally orientated, was built in Maryport Street, a plain square box without porches or vestries. An east gallery was added in 1785 and in 1818 a vestry, schoolrooms, and side galleries were provided. In 1860–4 the chapel was furnished with new windows, two porches were added at the east end, and a pipe organ installed. After the closure of Salem chapel the Sunday schools were enlarged.In 1922 an apse was erected and the side galleries removed.
At an unknown date a Mrs. Read, of Devizes, left £100 for the benefit of the Baptist church, Southampton, or, if that should cease, of the church in Devizes. The Southampton church closed c. 1820. The capital was then paid to Devizes, and, with interest arising from some other charities, was invested in the purchase of land near the meetinghouse, apparently to secure the approach to the chapel and to serve as a graveyard. By will dated 1699 John Redeleft £100. This was lost c. 1720.Joseph Wright, by will dated 1711, left £500, the interest on £200 of which was to be applied to the minister's stipend, on £100 to be distributed in sixmonthly doles to poor worshippers, and on £200 in training a man for the ministry. In 1712 Sarah, Joseph's relict, left the same sum, the interest to be distributed in the same way. Elizabeth Filkes, by will proved 1789, left £950, £5 of the interest upon which was to be distributed to poor worshippers and the rest to the minister. She also made a bequest to the Congregationalists. (fn. 328) In 1825 the capital (£527) of these three funds, which in the case of the Filkes charities had been reduced by the fall in South Sea stock, was spent upon the purchase of 21 a. at Broughton Gifford. In 1834 this yielded £46 rent, of which two-thirds was appropriated to Filkes's charity and a third to Wrights'. The share of Filkes's charity was divided according to the terms of the foundress's will. Two-fifths of the share of the Wrights' went to the minister, two-fifths to education, and a fifth to the poor. The poor's doles amounted to 2s. 6d. to 5s. a head. In 1901 the land was let at £50 and the rent applied in the same way.
Hannah Merewether, the wife of Sir Francis Merewether MP, and first occupant of Brownston House) by will dated 1730, left £500 to be invested in land, the proceeds to be paid to the minister. By will proved 1703 Sir John Eyles of Southbroom House left £50 to be invested in land for the unspecified benefit of the congregation. The money was settled in trust in 1706. At an unknown date Sarah Hancock left £20 to be invested for the benefit of the minister. The money was paid over in 1747, in which year the capital of all three charities was sunk in the purchase of 30 a. at Seend, reduced in 1804 to 25 a. In 1834 the land was let at £60 and the rent paid to the minister. From: 'The borough of Devizes: Religious and cultural history', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 10 (1975), pp. 285-314.