B is for Baptist

Springhill is home to one of the oldest Baptist congregations in the country, formed in 1672 and still active today. During that time its history has mirrored much of the history of nonconformity in Britain. It emerged as a ‘dissenting’ congregation in the C17, gradually developing a distinctive adult baptist identity over the next 100 years or so. It then developed in parallel with major trends in baptist theology and praxis, being a particular baptist church in the late C18 and early C19 before adopting general baptist principles.

My aunt jokes, not without foundation, that before marriage she was related to half the congregation of Sion Cloughfold and after marriage she married into the other half. The family in question has been baptists for over 200 years and being adult baptist, that makes looking for baptisms somewhat tricky.

But back to Springhill and Sion Cloughfold as the church is known. Even the name is interesting in terms of one-place studies as “Cloughfold’ is an old name for the village with the modern village being known as ‘Higher Cloughfold’.

The church is said to have deeds dating from 1559 describing the transfer of land on which the church now stands. I haven’t been able to find this in the court rolls.

There is a strong tradition that Mr Kippax,the rector of Newchurch St Nicholas, resigned his living in 1662 and founded a dissenting congregation from which the church is said to have emerged. This is probably wishful thinking as St Nicks’ has no record of a rector of that name although it did call a new rector in 1662.

It is known that the congregation received a licence to meet for worship in 1672 in ’the barn of John Picoops’. The documents are still in the church’s possession. Again there is a strong tradition that the barn in question is in Springhill, sadly knocked down for road widening in 1939. It would better if the road were still narrow, maybe the traffic would pass more sedately through the village then. But we digress. There are also suggestions that the upstairs of Polefield Cottage may have been used for meetings at one time.

Later, in 1951, Polefield Cottage was bought by the Trustees of Sion Baptist Church for use as a manse.

Rossendale in general has a strong history of nonconformity and this theme will recur during this blog. I have no idea why a remote rural area should be so nonconformist, particularly when recusant Catholicism was strong in many adjacent areas. The history of early nonconformity in Rossendale remains to be written - now that’s a good idea for a thesis...

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