A brief history of the Lighthouse Baptist Church up to 1995
The following information was presented in a public exhibition at the 100th anniversary of the church building in 1995.
The section on the 1940s was inserted later with the assistance of George Bowes, son of Rev G. Bowes.
TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
The Lighthouse Church began in the 1860s, and may have been an offshoot from Bow Baptist Church which dates back to the 18th century. It had the name "Lighthouse Mission" and had its permanent building in a chapel in Blackthorn Street. The first entry for the Blackthorn Street Chapel/Lighthouse Mission in the London Baptist association yearbooks is in 1886. The pastor was one H.A. Fletcher, with 199 members and 4,312 Sunday School pupils in his care; and hopefully a lot of Sunday School teachers!
But that is still not where the story begins. In 1876 there was building work in Blackthorn Street, and the chapel was constructed so as to cope with the increasing numbers at the mission. The original chapel cost roughly £1,000.
It may seem that the beginning has been found, with the first building. However, a church is not just a building, but rather arises from a gathering of Christians, and the work of the Lighthouse did not start with the laying of cement on bricks. Instead, it appears to have started with a certain Mr Tucker in the early 1860s. At the start of that decade he built what was then only the third house in Glaucus Street. The area was largely market gardens going down to Burdett Road, before the industrialisation of the area which mainly occurred in the last quarter of the century. In the front room of Mr Tucker's new house in Glaucus St, a bible study meeting was started with the help of the Rev. J.R. Cox.
The church building at Blackthorn Street continued to be the base for church activities until it was bombed in World War 2. From 1895 the Word of God was also shared in the current building, which is more or less opposite to where Mr Tucker's house would have stood in what is now Maddams Street, which was then the original Glaucus Street. The Blackthorn St building continued to be used for church services. When the present Lighthouse building was opened, it was primarily used for Sunday School classes. It was also the base for associated young people work such as Drill Team, as seen in the photo opposite, and a "Christian Endeavour" group, encouraging personal holiness and spiritual growth in its members. The cost of the new building in 1895 was £2,785, and with further alterations in Blackthorn Street a total sum of £5,500 had been spent by 1897. £4,550 of this amount had been raised by that time, with a loan of £950 from the Baptist Building fund.
[PHOTO OF MR GRAHAM'S INDUCTION]
THE LIGHTHOUSE CHURCH, BOW – 7TH JULY 1897
Situated in the midst of a densely populated neighbourhood, the Lighthouse, Bow Common, has for many years been a beacon to guide men and women on their spiritual pathway. The inhabitants in the vicinity are mostly of the artisan class, and those who attend no place of worship until a consciousness of thinking of something more than this life is aroused within them. For some time, therefore, the work radiating from Blackthorn Street was mainly of a mission character; it still retains much of its original form, although there is now a settled church with it meeting in the commodious chapel at Devons Road, the cost of which (£2,785) was more than raised before the opening services were celebrated. Through the efforts of Rev. T.J.Hazzard the work was greatly prospered, until all the buildings were so fully occupied that it became necessary to adapt the old chapel on a mere modern plan to provide for the manifold agencies connected with it. This having been resolved upon, the alterations were speedily set in progress, and last Thursday special services were held in celebration of the completion. By means of the improvements accommodation is provided for 1,000 scholars in the Sunday School; classrooms are formed by which the junior and senior scholars can be separated and which will also be utilised during the week for meetings of young men and young women, and it is anticipated that educational and industrial classes will be conducted. By a temporary partition a good room can be provided for social meetings, and another for a class of 200 infants, the space hitherto used by and for them having been frequently crowded almost to suffocation, but which will now be left free for a much needed soup kitchen in the winter, and, if necessary, for relief work, free meals. The cost of the alteration has been about £1,200.
This was the work, the accomplishment of which was celebrated on Thursday by thanks to God for putting it into the hearts of those who desire the extension of His kingdom to contribute of their substance toward the cost. The day was mostly devoted to special services, but at the mid-day luncheon, at which that true friend of the mission work, Mr T.A. Denny, presided, a statement was made showing the present position of the building fund. From first to last the expenditure was £5,500, of which £4,550 had been raised. Toward the balance of £950 the Baptist Building Fund had offered a loan of £500 free of interest, repayable in ten half-yearly instalments, leaving £450 to be raised. Mr. Denny, who had already given £100, offered £50 more of the other £100 could be raised in two months, on which Mr. Seagram promised £25, and with other donations there is but £130 remaining to be raised if the Chairman's offer is to be redeemed. The sum is not a large one, and ought to be readily forthcoming from those who have a desire to uplift the moral condition of this large section of the working classes: it is certain the people who are to be benefitted cannot provide it.
One of the best ways to test the genuineness of the work of this character is to pay an unexpected visit to the chapel. On Sunday evening when from the odours pervading the atmosphere of Bow Common, most people would have been glad to escape the neighbourhood to get a little fresh air as an antidote to what they must perforce endure for the other six days of the week, there was a fairly large congregation, in which old and young of both sexes were equitably proportioned. They are warm-hearted people, too, if the hand shake and welcome given to a stranger is any indication. That grip of the hand told the story of the ranks to which they mostly belong; it was hearty, but like bringing the palm in contact with a board, and would lead the visitor to realise what is meant when he reads of the "the horny-handed sons of toil". The singing at the service was enthusiastic: it seemed to come from the heart as well as the lips, thrilling any who might have been accustomed to having the praise portion of divine service performed for them by a choir, instead of taking part in it themselves. The preacher Mr. Hazzard, is too familiar a figure amongst the poor district to need describing; he has the reputation of working hard, and his looks do not belie it. A man of culture, he, however, does not attempt to parade his knowledge before his congregation; his discourse to lead them in and to the right, rather than to terrify them into it with word-pictures of the horrors of eternal punishment. Selecting as his text a passage from St. Paul's epistle to the Hebrews, he pointed out how Christ was the true High Priest, bearing the sins of the world, and just as the priest under the Mosaic dispensation entered into the holy of holies and there made intercession for the Jews, so the Saviour interceded with the Father for all who were willing to forsake their sins and come unto to God by Him. The association of the office of priest was logically worked out in comprehensive language, and was listened to for about half an hour with rapt attention. Altogether it was a very pleasant and instructive service, and went far to reveal the secret of Mr. Hazzard's hold on the people: it is not a display of preaching power so much as its restraint, by which he is able to proclaim the gospel in terms understandable by his hearers: not the terrors of the law so much as the all embracing pardon for those who choose to accept it. This has secured him a congregation: its continuance will retain it.
BLACKTHORN STREET CHAPEL, 17TH MARCH 1893
On Sunday, March 5th and Wednesday 8th, services were held in connection with the 5th anniversary of the Pastor, Rev. T.J. Hazzard, who preached on Sunday, morning and evening. On Wednesday a large number of members and friends partook of tea, and a public meeting was afterwards held, presided over by the Pastor.
Encouraging reports were given by the workers of the various branches which are being carried on in connection with the chapel including: the Sunday School, tract work, mothers' meetings, men's and young women's Christian societies, band of hope, workmen's home, soup kitchen; young men's devotional class, house-to-house visitation, open air work, Drift Children's Mission, children's Sunday evening services and sick visitations.
Many of these organisations have been instituted by the energetic Pastor during his four years ministry, and promise to become very useful in the neighbourhood, which is so much in need of every Christian effort that can be put forth.
HARD TIMES AND CHURCH GROWTH
It is easy to be romantic about the East End. But take a closer look at the street may of the area, and imagine what it was like living here at the turn of the century. Count the number of factories in the area. What smells would greet you each morning? Bow was both a manufacturing and residential area.
The strike at the Fairfield Road match factory in 1888, led by Annie Besant and Herbert Burrows, highlighted the social problems of the time. The 1400 women workers came out to strike, protesting at the poor working conditions and wages of 4 shillings a week (23% dividend to shareholders at the same time). The chemicals caused discomfort and bone disease, known as "phossy-jaw". They won the dispute and formed a union, but the rudiments of a welfare state were still 20 years away, and free health care 60 years on.
In this environment the Baptist churches were expanding and the annual meeting of the London Baptist Association in January 1985 talked of the "The Needs Of London":
"During the past year the council has been made to feel that the work actually done by the association is small indeed compared with what is waiting to be done. In the far east, and in the north, to say nothing of the district just selected in the south west, there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed ... It is for every church in our ranks to do its utmost to extend the cause of Christ among the teeming multitudes of the city in which we live."
THE LIGHTHOUSE CHURCH, DEVONS ROAD, BOW
Mrs Benson wishes to express her grateful thanks for the numerous letters of loving sympathy concerning the death of her dear husband, Rev. Henry Benson. Many have truly said that he gave his life for the people of Bow. He was a true and faithful servant of God, and ever strove to keep the Gospel Light burning bright in the "Lighthouse". The funeral service will be held at the above Church on Thursday next at 2.15pm, and his body laid to rest in Bow Cemetery.
EEN 15TH NOVEMBER 1918
I regret to hear of the death a few days ago of the Rev. H. Benson, who only resigned from the pastorate of the "The Lighthouse" Devon's road, Bromley-by-Bow, a few weeks ago, after 12 years service. He had accepted the pastorate of a church at Epsom, hoping it would involve less physical strain thus he had not gone to reside at Epsom, being in residence at Lichfield road, Bow. Mr. Benson was an incessant worker and his labours had told upon his constitution. He was only 40 years of age. My sympathies is with the widow and family.
[PHOTO OF REV BENSON]
LIGHTHOUSE BAPTIST CHURCH 10TH JULY 1925
In connection with the departure of the Rev. B.M. Prangnell, the pastor of the Lighthouse Baptist Church, Bow Common, who has accepted a call to the church at Cosham, farewell services, which were attended by large congregations, were held on Sunday, the 28th, and a public farewell meeting took place on Thursday last. The proceedings at the latter were opened with tea, at which generous tributes of affection and appreciation were voiced by the neighbouring ministers and workers, including the Revs. W.G. Howe, J. Earle Morrell, G.T. Allpress, H. Williams, E.C. Moxham, G.W. Kelsey, Sister Mabel (Berger Hall) and Mrs Colton (All Hallows Church).
The public gathering, presided over by Dr. J.W. Ewing, M.A., was also ell attended. Special tributes were paid to the pastor's work during his six years ministry at Bow by the chairman and the Rev. Chas Clark (Rector of All Hallows), Rev. John Haydon (Secretary of Eastern Group, London Baptist Churches), Rev. Thomas Jackson (Whitechapel), and Dr Mowll.
The Church Secretary (Mr. W.J. Croft) gave a brief resume of the Church's history and spoke in grateful terms of the pastor and his work, expressing the deep regret of all at his departure, and their cordial good wishes for his future. All the speakers bore testimony to the whole-hearted way in which Mrs Prangnell had lent her services to the Church and identified herself with the various efforts of her husband and the manifold activities of the Church.
During the evening Pastor was the recipient of farewell gifts consisting of a handsome leather pocket wallet containing Treasury notes subscribed for by the Church and congregation, also a very choice writing attache case from members of the Christian Endeavour, Girl's Club and Men's Parlour. On behalf of the Sunday School one of the girl scholars, who read a very touching greeting, presented the Pastor with a fountain pen. The women of the Church have subscribed for a special gift for Mrs Prangnell, which they purpose presenting at a special function.
Mr and Mrs Prangnell having suitably and feelingly expressed their thanks, the proceedings concluded with the Benediction and Doxology.
THE EMPIRE ON WHICH THE SUN NEVER SETS
Britannia rules the waves in 1895, and rather a lot of the dry bits of the world too. To get an impression of this imagine setting out from Devons Road in 1895 to take your world tour, complete with pith helmet, mosquito net and stiff upper lip. You only speak English, though, and need your afternoon tea every day and to sleep under a fluttering Union Jack each night. Can you manage? Take the steamer from Southampton and make your way down to and through the Mediterranean, stopping off at Gibraltar and Cyprus. You want to reach India and could take the short route through the Suez Canal and past Aden. But you opt for the scenic route, down the Nile, through Sudan, Uganda, the Rhodesias and onto South Africa. After resting yourself in the Seychelles you reach India. Then it's down to Australia via Malaya and New Guinea, pause for breath in Fiji, cross Canada, hop on a banana boat from the Bahamas and land at the West India Dock just by what'd now be McDonald's next to the A13. You've managed.
There was a terrible price to pay for such imperial grandeur, and not only by the indigenous peoples of the dominions. London was the capital of the vast capital and the East End was it's workplace. Stories of Victorian hardship are commonplace, and their impact easily lost. But take a closer look at the street map of the area, and imagine what it was like living here at the turn of the century. Count the number of factories in the area – what smell would greet you each morning? Bow was a manufacturing and residential area.
There was work around the hall concerned with the social needs and concerns of Bow. A "Band of Hope" group waged its own particular war against the ravages of alcoholism from its base camp in Blackthorn Street. There was much concern for the victims of poverty and economic depression in the area, with soup kitchens a feature of the Lighthouse's early mission in Bow. The figure of Sister Margaret looms large over the caring work from Blackthorn Street, in the 1920s and 1930s. A Baptist church worker of the time, her leaving tribute in the E.E.N (?) article below provides a valuable insight into the practical outworking of the Christian love which was the foundation of the Blackthorn Street Mission Hall.
LEAVING AFTER 11 YEARS - SISTER MARGARET OF BOW LIGHTHOUSE MISSION 21ST JULY 1936
On Thursday there was a large gathering at the Lighthouse Baptist Church Mission Hall, Blackthorn Street, Bow, to bid farewell to Sister Margaret, who is leaving the district after nearly eleven years service.
Mr. R.J. Stanger; Vice-President of the Mission, was in the chair and Rev. H. Mackenzie Simpson (minister and President) conducted the service. Mr J.R. Harrison and Sister Margaret had done great work amongst the sick and homes had been changed for the better and lives had been transformed by her influence. The Major of Ilford (Ald. J. Shipman) said the Sister had done great work and in her next sphere of activity she would be able to look back and see the results of her labours in the district. Mr. W.G. Collins (President, Eastern Group, London Baptist Association) said they would all miss Sister Margaret. She had given up ordinary home life and sacrificed herself for the sake of others. The Rev. A.E. Pope (Secretary, Eastern Group L.B.A.) said Sister Margaret could, with humility, look back on her work with a measure of satisfaction. She invested herself in the work and the return would be the moulding of human lives in the direction of good that would last as the years passed on. Miss Clara E. Grant (of the Fern Street Settlement) said she felt most grateful to all who were doing spiritual work in the district.
In the present troubled conditions of the world there were two influences in life which would help to solve international problems – the influence of a good home life upon the children, and the influence of the church societies, with their warm fellowship and the care of each other. By such influences spread throughout the word, the conflicts between the nations could be prevented.
Mr. E.P. Dennis (Superintendent, Salmon Lane Mission) said at his mission they knew a good deal about the work of Sister Margaret. The impression she had made upon the hearts of the people would never be effaced. He knew the difficulties of the work in his district of Limehouse, and the Sister must have been very efficient in hers at Bow to do so well for eleven years. The Rev. A. Wilmot of (Bow Baptist Church) said many people had told him how they had been helped by Sister Margaret. Miss Kelly of the Ranyard Mission Mission and Sister Herriot, of the Shaftesbury Society, also spoke in appreciation of the Sister's work.
The Mayoress of Ilford presented Sister Margaret with several gifts – A purse with money and a book from the Church; money and an umbrella from the Women's Own; money and a testament from the boys and girls of the Sunday School; and a fountain pen from the junior girls club. A bouquet was presented by little Miss Molly.
Sister Margaret in returning thanks, said she appreciated the sincerity of the various speakers, and felt very grateful to everybody connected with the Church for all they had done for her during the eleven years.
SUNDAY SCHOOL MEMORIES
Sunday School nowadays may conjure up various images for us in the late 20th century – small groups of children, large amount of glue and glitter and an informal setting of bible study. Now take yourself back to the end of the 19th century, and a world without television, radio, video and sticky-backed plastic. With cramped housing and large families the ideal place to take your children on a Sunday would have been, yes – the Lighthouse Sunday School. There were still 185 children registered in 1939, numbers roughly double those of church members for the period.
Let's leave Blackthorn Street with a memory of a former Lighthouse deacon and former Sunday School member, Mr Les Johnson. "Each summer an outing for the children was organised - a day trip to the coast. A special private train would be chartered, picking the children up at Bromley station and heading for the coastal resorts. Or a team of up to 20 char-a-bancs would wait outside the church, for the hundreds of children, teachers and parents. Sun, sand, buckets and spades, ice, creams ......"
George Bowes was minister at the Lighthouse from 1940 to 1953. He was a London City Missionary on loan to the church. During the war years he worked in the shelters and was known as "Mr. Joy Joy" (from the chorus). His family lived in Glaucus Street until 1949.
During the Second World War the original Lighthouse chapel in Blackthorn Street was bombed, so the 1895 Sunday School building on Devons Road was thereafter used for the main Sunday services.
In 1945 the church celebrated the 50th anniversary of this building as a Jubilee.
Not every lighthouse stands by the sea. There's been one standing at Devons Road for a hundred years now. Lighthouses are beacons for warning and guidance. They are friendly places for sailors out in dangerous waters. An unknown person (or was it a committee?) decided it would be a good name for a Baptist Church building in an area not so far from the London Docks. The Light, or course, is Jesus and His message of peace with God. The dangerous waters are this world with its trails, temptations and false hopes. And the sailors on this stormy sea? They are you and me.
You are warmly invited to join us in our centenary celebrations.
The local baptist congregation has been here since 1860s
but the current church building is 100 years
Saturday 6th May
2pm – 5pm
Open Day – come and see what we've been up to, have a look
round, a slice of birthday cake and a cup of tea.
Sunday 7th May
3pm – light refreshments follow.
Celebration Service – Thanks and praise to God for His Work
so far and a look to the future
There's a conservative government in power, a long-reigning queen on the throne and the faintest signs of recovery from a long economic recession in Britain. Germany has been unified quite recently. Russia is in a state of decline and crisis, while the Balkans are rumbling to the sound of intermittent shooting. The Irish are still a "question". The year: 1995 or 1895? Take your pick. As the final tiles were built put in place on the Lighthouse roof, the world beyond was strangely similar to today's world.There were differences though; cast your mind over a few of the more obvious ones.
In the sporting world, British teams won just about everything, largely because there were few very few other countries playing sport. In football England could probably call themselves world champions by virtue of beating Scotland 3-0 and Ireland 9-0, in 1895. Sunderland were league champions and Aston Villa beat West Bromwich Albion in the F.A. Cup final. At cricket England won the Ashes and beat South Africa the following winter. Shane Warne and Allan Donald mere glints in their grandparents' eyes.
Being top of the pops in the 1890s meant either singing music hall songs about dillying and dallying down at the old Bull and Bush, or singing operatic tunes to words such as tan-tan-tara zing boom; often your lot as a music follower was not happy one, happy one. Light relief came from across the channel in the form of a Euro smash hit, the can-can with its great lyric la, la, la, la, la etc. They don't write them like they used to....
Membership numbers are fickle statistics but the downward trend is obvious and a little sad. The Lighthouse building was rarely ever full after the first few years, and the gallery was not often needed. The world wars seem to have had very little impact on overall numbers, but older members remember that the congregation seemed much smaller after the second war. Perhaps the method of counting members did not keep up fully with the changes? It is also likely that members displaced elsewhere will have remained enrolled during the upheaval of the war and post-war periods.
The population density of this area is roughly a quarter of what it was at the turn of the century and, like other churches, the Lighthouse lost many people – particularly young families who tended to be rehoused on the fringe of London. Nevertheless, the impression of decline is real. There has been a drift away from church attendance in the 20th century. The physical conditions in Bow and Poplar have improved enormously but the spiritual condition seems hardly to have improved at all.
The decline seems to have halted in the mid-70s and a number of churches have experienced some growth. The recent history of the Lighthouse has been of a youngish congregation changing quite rapidly. The renovation of the lower part of the Lighthouse building, the rebuilding of the side rooms and the re-slating if the main roof have been acts of faith in the the future. We pray to God to renew and revive His work here.
There have been a number of gaps while the church was led by deacons.
In addition to the ministers listed in the above table, Neville Reid joined Erik Pattison as joint minister in 2015.