The Baptist Church in Thornbury has played a significant role in the community, certainly since the early nineteenth century. The photograph above shows what is believed to be an outing to the Cheddar Caves organised by the church in the 1930s. It is a reminder that the Church was the centre of the town’s social life as well as its spiritual life. So far we have been unable to identify the passengers in this photograph, although we know it came from members of the Dearing family. The photograph below on the right shows another outing, this time to Weston super Mare which we believe took place about 1933. The gentleman who is standing on the far left in that photograph is George Stone. Standing to the right of him are Rev West Johnson and his wife, Arthur Conway Lewis and his wife and Harry Phillips (Church Deacon and Choirmaster).
Sunday School. The Sunday School Movement was founded by Robert Raikes who was born in Gloucester in 1735 and died in 1811. This fact is recorded in Jack Pridham’s memories of his family and his early life in Thornbury in Jack’s lively and unmistakable style.
“For some unknown reason my mother thought I should attend Sunday School – Sunday School at the Baptist Chapel in Gillingstool. I seem to remember that it preceded a chapel service which Aunt Rose and her friends (but not mother!) attended and that I knew no other children there. I went two or three times at the most and then discovered that under the pulpit was hidden a huge, baptismal tank of water into which I would be fully immersed, backwards, at about the age of ten! Serious lobbying of my mother soon put an end to this activity and visits to Gloucester later taught me that the stern man on the plinth who was responsible for this particular hiccup in my life, was Robert Raikes, born in Gloucester and founder of the Sunday School Movement in England in 1780. He apparently had good intentions at the time as his foundation was mainly established to combat illiteracy and, initially, religion took a back seat. Sunday school changed later to an organisation that was strictly religious in scope.”
The records that relate to the Sunday School at Thornbury Baptist Church are especially interesting because they show that many of the events involved not only the Thornbury Baptist Church but also both those who attended Baptist Sunday Schools in the surrounding area and even those who attended other Nonconformist Chapels such as the Thornbury Congregationalist Church. This is because the school belonged to the Sunday School Union which amongst other things, enabled the churches involved to afford training for the teachers.
The Bristol Mercury of April 14th 1868 reported that at a meeting of the Sunday School Union 100 Sabbath School teachers from seventeen different Sunday Schools met in the British Schoolroom (now Gillingstool School) in Thornbury for counsel and discussion followed by a service at the Baptist Church. Some of the Sunday School Superintendants were well respected and remembered even today. These appear elsewhere on our website and include Herbert George Pullin (or Pullen).
Considering that the population of the whole parish of Thornbury was only around 4,200 at this time, there were large numbers of children attending Sunday Schools. In 1844 for example, when William Cross left Thornbury, there were as many as 210 children in the four separate Baptist Sunday Schools in the Thornbury area. Naturally, educating these large numbers of children involved a large number of enthusiastic and committed volunteers and in the meeting notes of the Baptist Church we have seen as many as 26 teachers at any one time assisting in the school.
One of the earliest references we have found to the “Sabbath School” which was recorded in the minutes of the church meetings for November 1842. The Jubilee meetings were held on Tuesday 22nd November 1842 and the minutes tell us that “children connected with the Baptist Sabbath School to the number of 192 were treated with tea and cake, each child with but few exceptions wearing a jubilee medal. The Revd J Winter of Bristol addressed them. Immediately afterwards about 130 friends took tea in the chapel. A Jubilee Service was held at the Independent Chapel (which was kindly lent for the purpose)”.
The Sunday School seems to have had two main events;
The Winter Treat was usually a tea party. We are indebted to Angela de Fraine who tells us that “on one occasion in 1918 it was felt that they could not provide so substantial a tea as other years owing to food restrictions and a ‘Wartime Tea’ was suggested. At the same meeting it was noted that it was the turn of the Congregationalists to provide the tea, their schoolroom windows did not have blackout blinds so they could not do it. The meeting decided that “owing to the difficulty of obtaining foodstuffs they could not provide a Public Tea, but only one for those coming from a distance.” It is notable from this that the winter treat followed the same pattern as the Summer Treat and the Sunday Schools as it involved other Dissenting and Congregationalist chapels. The Hereford Times of 28th May 1859 gives an idea of the scale of these events, even in those early days. It records a tea party at Tytherington for “several hundred children” from the Baptist Sunday Schools in and around Thornbury.
The Summer Treat. The other major events of the year was the “summer treat”. Older residents of Thornbury have told us that they can remember going by train to Weston Super Mare for the Baptist summer treat. John Longman explained that the Methodist Sunday Schools had to go by coach but the Congregationalist and Baptist Churches combined for the treat so they could go by train. Nellie Sherman was able to add more details of this and explained that they left from Thornbury station and so of course the train had to travel via Tytherington and Yate before joining the main line (click here to read about the Yate to Thornbury line). For this treat Nellie had to save half of her penny a week pocket money. They took their own packed lunches but the church provided tea at Browns in Weston super Mare. The records of what is now Gillingstool School show the effect that the treat had on the school numbers. For example on 27th July 1916 the entry reads “Dissenting Sunday Schools had their summer treat – 24 absent.” Angela de Fraine has kindly shared with us her notes from the meetings of the Sunday School teachers of the Baptist Church and she has found that New Passage or Severn Beach were also destinations for this treat. She also told us that ” on one occasion, in 1920, an outing to Weston Super Mare was considered, but the cost was thought too high for Sunday School funds and the usual visit to New Passage was proposed. A week later, another meeting was held and the visit to Weston was reconsidered. It was eventually decided to take all those over 9 years of age to Weston and ask them to contribute to the cost. Those over 9 years and under 14 to pay 1/-, those aged 14-18 to pay 2/3d, and that those who couldn’t go to Weston, along with all those under 9 to go to New Passage.”
It is interesting to note that despite war time and petrol rationing, it seemed to be important to carry on this tradition, even if some economies had to be made. A meeting in 1944 for instance discussed whether it would be possible to obtain cars for younger scholars and for older scholars and teachers to cycle to Severn Beach for their outing to be held in August.
The Baptist Football Team – the thumbnail photo on the right shows the team in 1920/21 season with Revd Camble. Of the players we know that Oliver Higgins was the ‘lad’ kneeling on the right. Click on the image to see a larger photo.