Tottlebank Baptist

In the summer, I had the privilege to visit an old lady. Not some octogenarian with horn-rimmed specs and lace-covered sofas, but an old nonconformist chapel: Tottlebank Baptist. It was founded in the fiery days of persecution by Gabriel Camelford, the former vicar of Staveley in Cartmel. He had been ejected in 1662 for his puritanism. Robert Halley in Lancashire: Its Puritanism and Nonconformity writes:

Although ejected, he would not be silenced, as he felt a woe upon him if he preached not the gospel.  Beloved, not only in his own chapelry, but through all the lake country, he resolved to live and die preaching wherever he could find hearers, by the side of the lakes or in the shelter of glens.

Lancashire ‘north of the sands’, those areas of Cartmel and Furnace now called Cumbria, had not a single minister conform to the Prayer Book. They abandoned their stipends and houses so they might preach more faithfully the gospel of Christ, without regulation and episcopal meddling. One conforming minister sneered at one of the ejected puritans, saying his threadbare coat was “too mean for a minister”. He replied

“It might have looked finer if I had turned it”.

One of the men who assisted Mr Camelford was Roger Sawrey of Broughton Tower, a former Parliamentary officer. He helped the elected ‘teaching elder’ or minister. This gathered congregation which would soon become Baptist and was a centre of missionary activity throughout the district.

The first entry of its minute book reads:

The 18th day of ye sixth month, called August 1669.  A Church of Christ was formed in order and sate down together in the fellowship and order of ye Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Att the house of William Rawlinson off Tottlebank, in Coulton in furness.  There weare present and Assisted Mr. George Larkham, Pastor off a Church off Christ in Cumberland, and Mr. Roger Sawrey of Broughton tower.  A member of Christ and of that particular Church in London of wch Mr. George Coackine is teaching Elder.  The persons Joyninge themselves at this time, Gabriel Camelford, Hugh Towers, William Towers, James Tower, Joseph Towers, James Fisher, Henery Jackson.

I was delighted to see that the church there, despite its remote location and sparsely populated environs, continues to function and hold true. A somewhat tatty but earnest gospel poster was seen without, and a kindly caretaker bade us entry within.

I love old puritan churches, steeped in godly heritage and ancient devotion. I’m more delighted still to see its lampstand still glowing.