The establishment of a Baptist Church in South Harrow started in the open air in 1905. A group of members of Harrow Baptist Church led a tent Mission with meetings every evening from the 20 August to 10 September in Northolt Road, close to South Harrow Station. Besides open air meetings gatherings were arranged for children and men. The tent was filled every evening and many decisions for Christ were registered. The goodwill of other denominations, including the Church of England, the Free Churches and the Salvation Army, was expressed in their co-operation in this undertaking.
The mission was maintained, with enthusiasm and sound organisation, which included the visitation of the houses in the district, and this was followed up by preparation classes for church membership. Such missions continued for the next few years and it became evident that there was a need for a permanent place of worship in the Baptist tradition to be established in Roxeth. A site was secured in Northolt Road in 1909 where a corrugated iron building was erected and thus the South Harrow Mission was launched on the 15 December of that year. Regular services began on the first Sunday in January 1910. The building was described as ‘really good’ with seating accommodation for 100 people and classrooms and a vestry in the rear.
The Baptist Church at College Road Harrow showed a keen interest in the development of the Mission and funds were raised by them for the South Harrow Building Fund. The Rev H.G Hoare, then minister of the church at College Road, oversaw the project and presided at meetings and services. The introduction of a church in South Harrow was part of an extension scheme proposed by the Harrow Church some years previously when they had moved from their church premises in Byron Hill, Harrow to their current site of College Road. Part of the proceeds from the sale of Byron Hill Church had been allocated and a loan had been secured from the London Baptist Association. Various items of furniture for the South Harrow Church had been provided by interested members of Harrow Baptist Church and the Byron Hill children collected a substantial sum of money. In a real sense the undertaking was a continuation of Byron Hill, for its members who found the journey to College Road too much for them and so attached themselves to South Harrow.
The response of the neighbourhood was immediate. Within a few weeks 100 children were enrolled in the Sunday School, the Sunday evening service was well attended, a Women’s Meeting and a Band of Hope were started, as well as a Provident Club which was joined by large numbers.
As the work continued to expand, it was felt that there was a need for closer and more constant supervision. In 1910, a College Road member generously guaranteed to meet the necessary expense and Mr A Robson was appointed as superintendent by the mother church (College Road). He moved to South Harrow to be able to visit people and take his share of pulpit work. An early outcome of this was the introduction of a monthly communion service for those unable to travel to College Road, and twenty five shared in the first communion.
During those early years up to the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there were many problems, with numbers of worshippers fluctuating and difficulties of leadership. A problem of another kind became acute in 1911 when the demands of the steadily growing Sunday School outran the accommodation. A concerned member funded the building of a hut for the Sunday afternoon Bible Class. A company of Boys’ Life Brigade, the first in Harrow, and a Girls’ Sewing Class were formed.
There were several resignations in leadership in 1912 and Sunday morning congregations were poor. Despite this, evening gatherings and the Sunday School continued to increase and the work in all departments was better than ever before. Conversions took place and several candidates were baptised at the mother church. Many activities for young people were started, such as the Young Worshippers’ League, a Girls’ Guild, a Young Men’s Bible Class and the Boys Life Brigade continued to flourish and the Sunday School had increased to 250. A midweek service has also been introduced. The years of the First World War were a time when growth slowed down. Many of the young men were away in the Forces and groups within the church were depleted, however, the Sunday School continued to grow to a record number of 200 students. The minister and officers at College Road Baptist Church continued to oversee and nurture the South Harrow fellowship. With the end of the war in 1918, plans for reconstruction of the congregation were in hand and everyone was encouraged by the work.
1920 was a year of great industry in which youth efforts predominated. Uniformed organisations including Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scout were growing and flourishing within the Church. Missionary interested and support had been fostered and one of the Sunday School teachers had been accepted by the Baptist Missionary Society to serve in China. Unfortunately whilst on training in Birmingham, her health deteriorated and the offer was withdrawn. From that time she went on to serve in the West Ham Central Mission.
In 1921 some decisions regarding the financing of the South Harrow Mission had to be made and recommendations were made to the mother Church at College Road. These recommendations were adopted and the link between the parent church and its offspring was strengthened. During the next 18 months a Boys’ Brigade was formed; Scouts and Cubs were providing for other lads and Rangers, Guides and Brownies were catering for the girls. Other meetings for women were arranged and the Sunday School continued to grow reaching the height of 250 children and 27 teachers outgrowing the accommodation. A new hut, the gift of Mr George Rayner, was erected and furnished by friends of the Mission, and still the premises proved too small. In the pursuing years South Harrow began to grow with the diminishing of farms and the appearance of streets and houses all over the area. The South Harrow Mission continued to grow and flourish with regular preachers and the congregation increasing along with applications for church membership.
At a special church meeting at College Road on 22 April 1926 it was proposed, seconded and agreed that a separate church be formed at South Harrow in place of the existing Mission and that College Road would hand over, free of charge, the whole of the existing buildings and for a period of three years would make an annual grant of £30 to support the work. At the church meeting on the 3 June 1926 it was recorded:
‘It was reported that the new church at South Harrow was to be duly constituted on Tuesday next (8 June). On the proposition of the Secretary ……. It was unanimously resolved –
‘That we view with satisfaction the formation of a Baptist Church at South Harrow and pray that God’s riches blessing may rest on all its activities.’
At the next church meeting on the 1 July, it was reported that the South Harrow Church was duly constituted on Tuesday 8 June 1926 and that it was progressing satisfactorily. Twenty six foundation members transferred from College Road at the church meeting on the 3 June 1926 and a further twelve members transferred on 3 July 1927. There were also 18 others who enrolled on profession of faith. College Road continued to support South Harrow Baptist Church in its infancy and at the College Road church meeting on 1 December 1927 it was agreed –
‘That this church pledges itself to use its best endeavours to raise by subscription or special collections within the next five years the sum of £500 for South Harrow Baptist Church.’
Very soon a Church Secretary, Treasurer and Deacons were elected and the new church sought membership with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland and the London Baptist Association. From the beginning, members knew that it was important to have a permanent Minister to lead them and in September they unanimously agreed to recommend that the Rev. H. G. Hoare, then minister of Annandale Road Church, Chiswick, be invited to the Pastorate. Rev. Hoare accepted the invitation and on 19 November 1926 the new minister and his wife were welcomed at a social gathering and Mr Hoare’s ministry began on the Sunday two days later.
The new church soon became a pivot within the community. During that first year a monthly magazine was produced and distributed among the homes in the neighbourhood. A two-manual American organ with pedals was bought for 112 guineas in August and was paid for in December. It soon became evident that a new permanent and larger building was needed. By the end of the first year the membership had grown to 122 and the Sunday School had an ever-increasing number of scholars which stretched the accommodation and the young people’s work was crying out for more room. Before the church was nine months old a Building Committee was appointed and a Building Fund was inaugurated at a public meeting of the 24 February 1927. At this meeting, plans for a building to accommodate about four hundred people and a school hall divided into five classrooms as well as other rooms and offices were presented. The estimated cost would be £13000. Additional land next to the then church building was purchased on the site at the corner of Northolt Road and Scarsdale Road. Plans were drawn up by an architect and in November 1927 a contract was signed fixing the cost of the work at £6100. This was really a venture of faith, because at the time the cash in the Building Fund amounted £7. 15s. 1d! (£7.75p) However, the project went ahead and foundation stones were laid at the stone-laying ceremony on 14 January 1928.
During the months when the new building was rising the church made steady progress. Church membership grew and the new church was opened and dedicated with 148 on the roll. Weekly offerings rose from under £1 to over £6. A crèche was started to enable young mothers to attend evening services. Young people were expressing a desire for baptism and church membership.
The new church hall was opened and dedicated on the 7 July 1928 and the building soon became a hive of activity. As well as the Sunday School activities that took place, the records show that various gatherings during the week totalling seventeen, catering respectively for men and women, young people and children. The finances increased and the building work was duly paid for through individual giving and fund raising at annual bazaars. Whilst much effort was put into the financial situation, the spiritual purpose of the church was not overlooked or allowed to fall into the background. From the 29 September to the 6 October 1929, a week of special services for the deepening of the spiritual life of the members and for reaching the outsider with the Gospel was held. Interest in missionary work continued and a spirit of loyalty to the Baptist Missionary Society had been promoted by the leaders. The enthusiasm for the mission field was engendered in 1929 when Rev. Hoare’s daughter, Janet, who had qualified as a doctor, was accepted by the BMS for medical missionary service in India. Sadly her service lasted no more than a few months when she became unwell and died suddenly. A memorial plaque to her memory hangs in the church at South Harrow to this day.
Towards the end of 1931 Mr Hoare indicated that he felt his pastorate at South Harrow was coming to an end as he had accepted a call to undertake pioneer work elsewhere and his ministry terminated on the 17 January 1932. He had served 5 years as the first minister of South Harrow Baptist Church and saw the membership grow from 58 to 218. Twelve months passed by during which the church was without a pastor. In this period it was ably led by its chosen officers and supported by its members. Its many organisations were sustained in full vigour and it was teeming with young life. Early in 1933, the church was led to invite the Rev. Victor A. Price to become its minister. Like Mr Hoare, Mr Price had been trained in Bristol Baptist College and had already served a church in Warwick for five years so was experienced but youthful in his outlook. Mr Price accepted the call and his Induction Service took place on the 20 June 1933.
The work at South Harrow continued to progress and Rev Price became well integrated into the fellowship not only as pastor but also as a teaching minister, giving a series of lectures on various aspects of the Bible. In December 1934 a united meeting was arranged at College Road to mark the completion of that church’s promised gift of £500 towards the South Harrow Building fund. The growing pains of the church continued. The school-chapel had, like its smaller predecessor, become too small to accommodate the congregations. A similar position existed in the Sunday School, while the youth organisations were equally cramped. The officers of the church were questioning what could be done to solve this problem as it was not possible to build any further on the then current site. In January 1935 an Estate Agent made an offer for the site on which the church stood. Almost simultaneously came the news that the site on which stood St. Hilda’s Hall and a large house was for sale. This was in Northolt Road and very suitable for the church’s purpose. The church was offered £16500 for the sale of their site and the cost of site they wanted to buy was £5000. After much prayer, planning and negotiations the old site was sold and the new one bought.
Three days were occasions of special events in 1935 relating to the building of the new church. The first was on the 20 July when the foundation stones of the church and school were laid and the dreams of six months began to take shape. The second notable day was the 27 October when the congregation met for the last time in the school-chapel on the corner of Scarsdale Road. For the next six Sundays were spent in St. Hilda’s Hall when overflowing congregations made their way through mud and debris which littered the church drive.
The climax of the year came on the 14 December when the completed new building was opened and dedicated to the worship of God. The seating capacity of the church was 550. The new school block consisted of three large rooms which are linked to the St Hilda’s Hall. There is a caretaker’s flat built over the school block. When the accounts were submitted it was found that the expenditure had exceeded the money available by about £590. This was paid off by June 1938 when a new Organ Fund was opened. Again the work of the church progressed and membership in 1935 had increased to 312. Whilst rejoicing in its continued spiritual and material prosperity, the church recognised the needs of its neighbourhood and particularly raised funds and gave support to the unemployed of the area. The church was outward looking, becoming involve in local and national events of mission and evangelism and showing an active interest in the efforts of the Baptist Union and Baptist Missionary Society as well as the London Baptist Association and the work of local churches. So as the 1930s drew to a close South Harrow Baptist Church was very evident in its community. There were activities catering for everyone taking place on the church premises. As well as the Sunday services and children’s classes, there were Women’s Meetings and Men’s Societies, Young People’s Guild, Girls’ Auxiliary, Bible Study Circle, Round Table, Women’s Social Hour, Choir, Orchestra, Thrift Clubs for men and women, and, for boys and girls, the Young Worshippers Union, the League of Ropeholders, Scouts, Cubs and Guides. All were contributing greatly to the well-being and witness of the church and to the scope and effectiveness of its impact upon the neighbourhood.
The 3 September 1939 was again the onset of a world war and the activities of South Harrow Baptist Church were yet again to change. Times of services had to be re-arranged and young men again went off to war leaving the congregation and fellowship depleted. During the first year of the war, it was reported that activities were going on as normal, however Sunday evening worship was more informal with plenty of hymn singing and had moved into the Robert Raikes Room. In the early weeks of 1940 a Ladies’ Working Party met new needs by making garments for evacuees and requests for wool and clothing were generously met. To keep up morale, the young people formed a tennis club and a branch of the Band of Hope. One of the church halls was requisitioned by the Harrow Urban District Council and fitted up as an emergency Rest Centre. In March 1940 Mr Price announced that he had been called up to be Chaplain to the Forces and he was granted leave of absence from Easter Sunday 1940. The only war damage to the church was caused by a bomb that created a 10 feet deep crater in the middle of Northolt Road and from that some stones had been thrown up and damaged tiles on the church roof. Throughout the war years, the church buildings and its people contributed to the war effort by being open to the community and being available for use wherever there was a need. At the same time the regular activities of the church and its involvement in furthering the Word of God continued with zest and enthusiasm. During the war years numbers attending the church fluctuated and that included the Sunday School scholars. In 1943 there were 180 children attending Sunday School which presented a problem as the number of teachers had diminished. Whilst Rev. Price was away, the church was served by Mr Wensley, the minister of Deal Baptist Church which had closed during the war years. At the beginning of 1945 Deal Baptist Church re-opened and requested that Mr Wensley return. He preached his last sermon at South Harrow Baptist on 25 March 1945 and returned to his own pastorate. From June until September the South Harrow pastorate was temporarily filled by Rev. Walter Macdonald. Rev. Victor Price returned to a warm welcome on 1 October 1945.
At the start of 1946 life at the church began to return to normal and activities that had been curtailed during war-time started up again and began to flourish. One major project, the realisation of which had to be postponed because of the war, was the purchase and installation of a worthy organ in the church. Gifts for this purpose were made year by year and the fund grew slowly. At the end of the war the church applied itself diligently to making the purchase of the organ a reality. Within three years, the new modern organ was assembled and erected at a cost of £2250. By the date of its opening the entire sum had been raised with the assistance of a few legacies and anonymous memorial donations. The dedication services took place on 30 April and 1 May 1949.
This summary of the history of South Harrow Baptist Church has been taken from the book ‘The Lighted Path’ which was produced to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the church in 1951. Since that time there has been no officially recorded documentation of the progress of the church, however, it is evident that as times have changed and society has evolved, so has South Harrow Baptist Church. Sadly the congregations have diminished in recent years but the warmth of the fellowship remains and the outreach continues in all areas. The church is used for Christian worship every Sunday and the rooms in the school block are alive with meetings of the uniformed organisation, women’s meetings, and Bible studies. Sales and coffee mornings are still held to raise money for church funds and other worthy causes and, yes, there is still an organ fund! The buildings are also let regularly by groups, organisations and small businesses in the area which puts South Harrow Baptist Church at the heart of the community where we can continue to tell of the Good News of our Lord Jesus, whom we worship and to share the love of God with those around us.