At the sign of the Barking lion...

Baptist Chapel, Otley

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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baptist chapel

    Otley Baptist church sits at a corner on the edge of the village. I always think of it as a departure point for the wilds of high Suffolk, for the remote parishes of Monewden, Cretingham and Hoo, in comparison with which Otley is a thoroughly suburban place.

In 1851, the Government carried out the first, and so far only, national census of religious worship. Ministers of all denominations were expected to fill in a return, giving details of their congregation on the morning and afternoon of Sunday, 30th of March. It was a day of wind and rain, a fact used by many to excuse what they said were uncharacteristically low attendances that day. But Charles Tayler, the Rector of St Mary's Anglican Parish church in Otley, went one stage further. While recording that his congregation that day was about a hundred (not bad for a parish which numbered barely 600 souls), he went on to state that the average attendance was depending on the weather, on account of distance, sometimes about 300, sometimes not 100. I can give no certain account of congregations as they vary more than in any other parish I have known for last thirty years, weather and character of people (something like weather) being both uncertain. I have no desire to withold any information I can give, but there is an old established chapel of High Baptists in Otley, and general character of people, with some exceptions, is uncertain as to church attendance.

It is worth noting that Charles Tayler had been Rector of Otley for five years, a time long enough for his head to drop. If the poor man sounds a little bewildered, it was probably because of this simple, square red- and yellow-brick chapel whch had been built in 1800. For here, on census day, the congregation in the morning was a whacking 462, with an even larger congregation of 562 in the afternoon. The Deacon, William Wilson reported that attendants came partly from the parish and partly from the neighbourhood, an indication of the significant attraction of strong-armed non-conformism to the people of Suffolk. It would take the rise of Tractarianism to move the Church of England back into pole position as the major denomination of the county, and even so, the Baptist movement remains the largest non-conformist tradition in the county today.


Simon Knott, June 2008




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