Anniversary of oldest Baptist church in Leicestershire

Out from the Elms – the church’s early history

Following Graham’s article about the church’s Year of years… here’s an extract from the
SUTTON-in-the-ELMS BAPTIST CHURCH HISTORY giving the link to 1650 – 365 years ago.

It is recorded that, in 1088, there was in Sutton a wood 120 perches long, and 80 broad. With an abundance of elm trees, it would appear the hamlet drew its name from them.

The Early Church.

Sutton-in-the-Elms is the oldest Baptist Church in Leicestershire, and was founded about 1646, the first Minister being appointed in 1650. The abundance of elm trees first attracted dissenters to worship here. Dissenters were those who did not conform to the established Church of England. They were persecuted by Officials, not allowed to hold public office of any kind, and branded by some as second class citizens. From the fact that the Deacons and members of the church were scattered about in the neighbouring towns of Leicester, Lutterworth and Hinckley, it is also supposed that Sutton originally became the place of meeting in consequence of the “Five mile Act”. For similar reasons the “Friends” also met in Sutton – the building still exists as ‘Quaker Cottage.

Quaker cottage. Sutton in the Elms, Broughton Astley
Quaker cottage. Sutton in the Elms, Broughton Astley

People came many miles to worship under the elms, making their own footpaths (old maps show footpaths from miles around converging at Sutton). An elder would read from the bible and prayers were said – but no singing for fear of being detected. In fact this created a custom, and hymns were not sung at Sutton until 1788. After the Civil War, and the death of Charles 1st, Oliver Cromwell allowed dissenters to practice their faith freely and so the church at Sutton flourished.

Architects's drawing of planned new church entrance on right. Original chapel (now vestry) on left.
Architect’s drawing of planned new church entrance on right. Original chapel (now vestry) on left.

In the year 1650 a church was formed under the pastorate of Mr. Thomas Townsend – then services being alternately held at Sutton, Willoughly, Bittiswell, Leir and Frolesworth (spelling of these villages taken from old records). Mr. Townsend remained Minister of the church for almost fifty years, resigning in 1699 due to infirmity, and dying at Sutton in 1704.

(Extract from the pamphlet published in 2004.)

See Graham’s main article about the church’s 365th celebrations. The architect’s impression opposite shows the small original chapel, the 18th/19th century main chapel behind, and the church’s vision for developing a new entrance and atrium.