The Story Commences

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Selwyn School

‘Our story commences in December 1912 when a group of people met in Selwyn Avenue school to discuss the possibility of commencing a Baptist Church in Highams Park. Many people had moved out from inner London, from such places as Dalston, Hackney and Shoreditch to live in the sweet country air of Highams Park! Many of them were loyal members of the churches from which they had come. They were disappointed to find that their nearest Baptist Church was two and a half miles away in Walthamstow, and they longed to have a meeting place of their own.

The original five people were Messrs. G. Cowling, A.S. Pierce, S. Penseney, F.J Russell and H.R Voak.

The London Baptist Association appointed a committee to look into the question of commencing a Baptist cause and amongst their members was the Rev. E.E Welton of Greenleaf Road Church, who was to do a great deal to assist the young church and be its Moderator until it was formed as a Church in its own right.

The original meeting on the 9th December 1912 agreed to commence an evening service in the day school (Selwyn school). The first service was held on 5th January 1913 and was conducted by the Rev. M.H Whetnall. The hymn books were ‘The Free Church Hymnal’ and the music was provided by a rather wheezy harmonium! Seating was in the school desks, which although used by the older girls in those days, could not have been very comfortable during a lengthy sermon. However the blessing of God was upon this work from its commencement and by 4th May 1913 it was decided to introduce a morning service and an afternoon Sunday School.

The original Sunday School had eighteen children – a Mr. Alfred Barnard was the Superintendent, Mr. Witman the Secretary and Treasurer and, a name long to be remembered and honoured in the annals of the Church, Mr Arthur Colliver, was the Registrar. Later he was to serve for many years as Superintendent. The Church Secretary from the commencement was one of the founders – Mr. George Cowling and he was faithfully to undertake this task until 1924. The name ‘Cowling’ is familiar to everyone who comes to our premises today from ‘Cowling Hall’ but this was so named in honour of his son Roland who went as a BMS Missionary some years later. It does serve, however, to remind us of one whose zeal and enthusiasm kept the work going during those early crucial years.

On 5th May 1913 the Rev. EE. Welton conducted a service at which he gave the right hand of fellowship to thirty members. Their names were placed temporarily on the roll of Greenleaf Road – Highams Park section (It was not until 1915 that the Church was founded as a separate cause).

The numbers of those attending the Church grew, so that by November 1913, the congregation came out of the cramped classroom into the hall and acquired eighty chairs for Services.

The first Anniversary Service was a very special occasion. This took place in February 1914 and the evening Service was held in the ‘Highams Park Electric Theatre’ as the Regal Cinema was then called. Between 500 and 600 people attended and it was noted that the collections for the day realised seven pounds!’


(From ‘These Sixty Years: The Story of Highams Park Baptist Church from 1913 – 1973, written and compiled by Marjorie H. Perry)