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Salem Chapel and the Dover Baptists


 

"It is too late in the day to enter any serious protest against the modern use of the name 'Baptists.'  The people so styled are not, as the uninitiated might imagine, disciples of John the Baptist.  Nor are they disposed to attach an exaggerated importance to the rite of baptism; as a matter of fact they make far less of it than those Christians who teach that it a regenerative efficacy.  Though the label 'Baptist' is very much of a misnomer, it has been worn so long that many of us would feel strange without it, for associations have rendered it as dear as it is familiar."   (W.H. 1914)

 

There have certainly been Baptists in Dover since 1643.

"Richard Hobbs was Pastor of THE BAPTIST CHURCH WHICH WAS FORMED IN DOVER IN 1643, and suffered imprisonment for his convictions.  His gaoler was so impressed by his uprightness that he gave him certain liberties, which were later withdrawn, as a result of a memorial to the magistrates.  The Baptists had their own meeting-house in the town by 1655 and John Feetness, Richard Hobbs .. and Edward Prescott of Guston, shared the pastoral office between them.  The Baptists were driven from their meeting-house in 1661, and for some time afterwards met more secretly in private houses. .. Notwithstanding the fact that they were meeting more privately, some of them were arrested and imprisoned in the Castle.   (W.H. 1914)

But Holyoak suggests that there may, in fact, have been Baptists in Dover since Roman times.

"If the term 'Baptists' be used with some latitude, it may be suggested that THE FIRST DOVER BAPTISTS were probably amongst the Roman Garrison and the first Baptist meeting-house may have been the old structure within the Castle grounds, which, when Augustine came here, he re-named 'St. Mary's.'  Of course, there were Christians in Kent long before that missionary landed at Ebbsfleet, and it is permissible to assume that the British Churches, which predated the invasion of our country by the Pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes, had some Baptist affinities."   (W.H. 1914)

One well-known Dover Baptist was Captain Samuel Taverner.  Born in 1621, he was made Captain of a Troop of Horse at the age of 22, and later received a commission from Cromwell, which he resigned after the Restoration.

Taverner had a grocer's shop in Market Lane, which he kept until his death.  During his term as Governor of Deal Castle, he heard Edward Prescott preaching in a field, and concealed himself behind a hedge to listen.  Despite having previously opposed the sect, Taverner was so impressed that he subsequently became a stalwart supporter.  In 1670, he was brought before the Privy Council, along with five other prominent Dover men, and reprimanded for attending conventicles.  Dover Corporation was commanded to seal up all such places, but Taverner would not submit to the Privy Council's orders and was imprisoned in the castle.

In 1681 he was ordained as Pastor of the Dover Baptist Church.  In 1692 he secured official permission to use the south end of his house near Market Lane for purposes of public worship.  He also set aside part of his garden for use as a graveyard; this was later incorporated into the Old St. Mary's Burial Ground (formerly St. Martin le Grand) and his tomb could still be seen there before the area was excavated for a new road in the 1970s.  The inscription read:

"Enclosed within a valiant Captain lies,
Holy and humble, pious, grave and wise,
A Gospel pastor, faithful to his trust,
Courageous for his God, here lies in dust,
Expecting to be raised with the just."

His second wife Susanna and his eldest son, a "chyrurgion" (surgeon) were buried with him.  On the wall near to his tomb was another epitaph, which described him as:

"Elder of ye congregation of Baptist Believers at Dover, 14 years and 9 months."

The congregation continued to worship in what had been part of Taverner's house for some time after his death, until, during the pastorate of Robert Pyall (c.1750) a bequest of 70 was used to purchase a site for a purpose-built chapel nearby.

A new chapel was built in Adrian Street in 1820.  At around the same time the General Baptists were opening their new Chapel, 60 was put up to start a Particular Baptist Church, and a former chemist's shop in Snargate Street was rented and fitted out for public worship.

In 1823 the foundation stone was laid for the Pentside Baptist Chapel.  This church was to move to the Queen Street Chapel, which had been vacated by the Congregationalists, in the early 1900s.  It finally closed in July 1909.

Salem Church was constituted in 1839, by dissatisfied members of the Pentside Chapel.  The first services were held in March of that year in Mr. William Corbett's school room, on the corner of Union Row and Military Road.  They started a Sunday school and set about making plans to build a new church.  The foundation stone of the new church, in Biggin Street, was laid by the Treasurer, Mr. Alfred Kingsford on 20th April 1840, who generously wrote off 800 of the debt of 1,800 remaining on the property five years after its opening.

In 1873 another Baptist Church was formed, which initially held Sunday services and a Sunday school in the Wellington Hall, with week-night services in the Gospel Hall, at the rear of a house in York Street..  They later moved to a new building, known as the Dover Tabernacle, in Priory Road.  This building later passed into the hands of the Salvation Army, who in turn sold it to H.M. Postmaster General, after which it was demolished in 1913 to make way for the new Post Office.

 

Salem Baptist Church
(Picture courtesy of Dover Library)

"Salem Chapel had its front considerably altered at the enlargement of 1879.  The Chapel, as built in 1840, stood back about 12 feet from the street, the intervening land being used as a burial ground until intermural burials were prohibited by the Public Health Act of 1852.  The present frontage was erected by Mr. Walker (the contractor for making the Dover and Deal Railway), who carried out the restoration of the Chapel in 1879.(J.B.J. 1907)

 

Salem Baptist Church
(Picture courtesy of Dover Library)

Extensive renovations were carried out in 1900.

 

The Salem Chapel stood where Boots the Chemist now stands in Biggin Street.  It moved to new premises in Maison Dieu Road, just to the north of the junction with Park Street, in 1969.  The picture above was taken in 1970, when the premises had been "acquired for clients" by Healey & Baker.  Also acquired shortly afterwards were Marcus' Stores and the Queen's Arms, all of which were demolished to make way for the new Boots store.

This is the new Salem, opened in 1969, in Maison Dieu Road between Park Street and Crafford Street.


A full history of the Salem Baptist Church can be found in Godden (2001)

The family history of Captain Samuel Taverner can be found here