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Article written by Alec Barber, Ruishton

James Blatch Cox, who may be regarded as the founder of “Zion” Chapel, was a member of the Baptist Church at Silver Street in Taunton which had been founded in 1814, and he pioneered the work at Creech St Michael from about 1816 until 1825 when he was ordained to the ministry at Bridgwater. From 1829 Mr Cox was minister of the Hatch Beauchamp Baptist Church until he joined the young Brethren Movement in 1841.

Mr Ian Kember’s booklet on the early years at Silver Street provides more information about J B Cox. The Methodists moved from the Octagon to the Temple in Taunton in 1811 and by 1822 a group akin to the Brethren occupied it. Cox was an ironmonger at 12 High Street. He  transferred from the Octagon  to Silver Street in March 1824. He may not have been alone as such transfers may have been a factor  in the rapid growth of Silver Street at this time. The dates do not quite tie up as he says that Cox became minister at Bridgwater in 1826.

The History of Bridgwater by Hamlin and Whitby (1937) states that J.B.Cox was a lay preacher in the Baptist Church in Taunton and his occasional ministry at Creech led to a Sunday School being formed and a chapel erected in 1824. He had also served North Curry. He started at Bridgwater in 1825 and left in 1828 for Hatch. 30 members were added at Bridgwater.

Macdonald Wigfield adds that Cox was ordained at Bridgwater in 1825. He gives the date of the move to Hatch as April 1829. Cox still seems to have been involved at Creech until 1830.

………Gabriel, a Stogumber man, was pastor of the North Curry Baptist Church and in 1830-1831 shared the ministry at Creech St Michael until there was a “manifestation of unpleasant feeling”

A 1975 History of Hatch by Miss A M Burrows refers to the Rev W Gabriel. However, she gives five previous ministers which suggest that if Mr Gabriel was active by 1830 the work must surely have had a longer history. The fact that Mr Gabriel came from Stogumber is of interest because about 1827 – 1829 William Tiptaft was the curate at Stogumber. One wonders whether his High Calvinism.owed something to his time at Stogumber or whether Gabriel brought his doctrine from Stogumber Baptist Church.

There are other indications that the North Curry  Church has a longer history. The chapel is much more substantial than the preaching sheds built elsewhere at this time.

George Medway had started preaching in 1826 and in 1830 he came to live in Creech St Michael. After sharing the pulpit with Mr Gabriel he became minister of the church of thirteen members which was formed at “Zion” on 15th November 1831; the Church prospered under his leadership. On 2nd August 1857 Mr Medway gave notice of his intention of leaving the church “which took the whole church by surprise, we thought it rather short notice.” Mr Medway’s last sermon as pastor at “Zion” was preached on 20th September and he moved to the ancient church at Loughwood, between Axminster and Honiton. He died in retirement about twenty years later. A memorial to him can be seen to the right of the door of Loughwood Chapel which was built in 1653 and is now in the care of the National Trust.

Mr Kember’s book on Silver Street page 125, includes Medway in a list of lay preachers at Silver Street in 1834 which is a little strange. The only reference in the Hatch records to him gives his name as Midway. These are probably just errors. Dr Dorothy Medway was a direct descendant of George Medway and a former B.M.S. Missionary who did some research on him and her note is as follows:-

“On 5 January 1784, by licence, Richard Medway was married at Cattistock Church, Dorset to Elizabeth Andrews of Evershot.

William their first, was baptised on 23 June 1784, the eldest of five children, being followed by Richard, Henry, Elizabeth and George of whom only  Richard, Elizabeth and George survived childhood.

George Medway was baptised on 13 August 1797, entered the Baptist Ministry and was at the chapel at Creech St Michael, Somerset, from 1831 – 1857. It was while he was at Creech that he married Sarah Waterman from West Hatch, their eight children were born there……

1877 George retired to the chapel at Chard without pastoral charge, living with his daughter Lydia at 19 Holyrood Street. Lydia married John Grabham, an Accountant from Chard.

There is some query as to the date of birth of George Medway. 1797 is the date given in the Dorchester Records Office, but the Loughwood tombstone reads 1800 – 1878 .

Rev James Young became pastor by the end of 1857. By 1863 his eyesight was giving him trouble – his “sad affliction” which resulted in some barely legible pages in the church book. He terminated his ministry at the beginning of 1870. After the retirement of Mr Young, the Creech St Michael Church was linked up with Silver Street under the guidance of its ministers, Rev. J. Wiltshire until 1872, Rev.S.Burn, and Rev.J.P.Tetley from 1874 until April 1902.

It seems that Rev James Young was able to speak at the stonelaying at Albemarle Chapel, Taunton, on 4 May 1875. We know that C.H.Spurgeon was in sympathy with the Albemarle group. The new church was founded by 13 members of Silver Street who objected to the invitation to Rev.J.Tetley. In fact almost all the time from 1846 onwards, the ministry at Silver Street had been General Baptist and liberal. We may therefore conclude that Mr Young was a decided Calinist and that after his enforced retirement the church came under Mr Tetley’s control.

The old O.S. map (no date) used for the cover of the 1970 history of the village – produced by the Primary School – shows the chapel as being General Baptist, despite the deeds.

Mr P.J.Thorne of Taunton was invited to take charge of the work in April 1902 and the link with Silver Street was severed. After May 1907 Mr Thorne served only as Secretary and Treasurer until he emigrated to Canada in the following year. This seems to have been a difficult period and once again “Zion” was taken under the wing of Silver Street. Mr A.E.Crossman had the oversight of the Creech St Michael work from 1908, assisted from October 1912 by Mr H.C.Minett. In April 1914 Rev. A.J.Davies of Silver Street became pastor of “Zion” but this arrangement did not last. A Committee took over and in November 1914, Rev.J.D.Howell became the first of a series of ministers who served North Curry and Creech St Michael. “Zion” was the junior partner providing only about a quarter of the minister’s stipend. In April 1917Rev. C. Carter followed, leaving in September 1921, for the sake of “his wife’s health!” The next minister Rev. G.R.Cole, served the two churches from 1922 – 1929, although in 1923 he threatened to resign for reasons which the Creech people “but vaguely understood”.

Mr. John Starke of Fivehead became pastor of both churches at the beginning of 1930 but in April of the following year asked to be relieved of his office, at the same time suggesting that Mr E.G. Francis of Taunton be invited to succeed him. A meeting attended by only four church members on 29th June 1931 accepted this arrangement. Thus commenced a period of real growth and prosperity which continued until March 1946. Not surprisingly the chuch had difficulty in finding a successor for him but Mr L.C. Baalham was pastor from January 1949 until November 1951.

Mr C.S. Willis who had been pastor of Trull and Corfe was then invited to Creech St Michael. Welcome meetings were held on 29th May 1952 and despite a health setback soon afterwards he was able to continue in office until the latter part of 1959. In the years that followed, church life appears to have been difficult but the next pastor, Mr J.P.Howse commenced his service with the church in August 1965 and new names begin to appear in the church books. Mr Howse resigned reluctantly in July 1967 when he obtained employment in Warwickshire. Mr E.B.Woodford became pastor at the end of 1967. Induction services were held on 27th January 1968. No pastor at Creech St Michael has died in office, and we are thankful that Mr Woodford is still very active amongst us, although a service was held on 30th September 1972 to mark his retirement.

Article copyright Alec Barber of Ruishton, May 2011