Our History page 1

At the beginning of the 19th century there was a tremendous growth in the non-conformist
belief throughout the country, evidenced by small chapels and churches springing up in cities, towns, and villages. The worshippers in these communities were known as “DISSENTERS ” and often experienced hardship and persecution in the early days,

This is the story of one such church, in the town of Swaffham in Norfolk, known as a Baptist Church. Briefly, Baptists adhere to the New Testament truths of “Believers Baptism” (as opposed to the baptism of infants) and congregational church government (as opposed to a hierarchy of government from above.) Each church or chapel aspires to be self- supporting financially although from the early days there has been help and friendship between fellowships through associations.

In 1821 a labourer of Swaffham, William Jackman, “had it laid upon him” to start a Baptist Church. He persuaded a group of friends that this was right, and they hired a barn and borrowed chairs and forms from nearby cottages and invited speakers from other newly established Baptist fellowships to come and lead worship and preach. One of the first to do so was John Hewett, a member at Wymondham, who walked 23 miles there and back there regularly. Having proved his belief in the fledging church, the following year he became the first pastor and served it faithfully for the next 30 years.

The church prospered and was able to build a small meeting room or chapel in August 1823, with a burial ground at the corner of Whitecross Road/ London Road. It had a powerful influence in Swaffham despite suffering opposition and occasionally intolerance. All non - conformists had to apply for a licence for each service, obtained from the Bishop’s registrar and costing 6p - non compliance was punished by a hefty fine on all those attending, and most were poor farm labourers who could ill afford it.

  John Hewett reported that the church was a “ powerful influence in Swaffham” in 1832.  “ The congregation is steady and larger than ever. I preach 6 or 7 times a week. There are 4 houses open for public worship every Sunday evening, about 9 prayer meetings during theweek, 3 Sunday schools for 170 - 180 children and about 20 teachers.” (N.B. There was no universal state provision for education until the Act of 1880. Most churches were active during the 19th century in teaching the basic ‘ 3 Rs’, and many built schools for that purpose, raising the money and providing teachers.)




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