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Zion Baptist Chapel

This page was submitted by Trevor Stewart

Zion Baptist Chapel Z1600-8-2

Zion Baptist Chapel, Ravensden c.1995 [Z1600/8/2]

The Zion Baptist Chapel in Oldways Road was formed as a direct result of Reverend Timothy Matthews missionary activity in the village every Sunday afternoon, when after a busy morning preaching in Bedford, he would march through the village with his famous bugle calling folk to worship.

The first church (1831) met in two rooms in the cottage on Bedford Road of gardener Thomas Symonds (or Symons) and his wife Hannah. (Thomas and Hannah both born in Ravensden had actually themselves been married at Ravensden Church on 27th. November 1831 by Rev. Matthews). The congregation grew quickly and a vacant barn was rented for use as a chapel.

Thomas Symonds  Z1600-8-1

Thomas Symonds [Z1600/8/1]

Unfortunately the Registration of Places of Worship by the Archdeaconry does not give an exact location for this barn in either the 1831 or 1834 registrations, but it is thought that it was probably at the end, and to the rear of the cottages on the north side of Bedford Road then known as ‘’The Boarded Row" or "Campbelltown". It is also suggested that before moving to the new chapel the congregation further rented a larger barn adjacent to the Case is Altered Public House and Harper Cottages.

Soon after her marriage, and no doubt because of her friendship with Matthews, Hannah Symonds began raising funds for a purpose built chapel but sadly Timothy Matthews died in Bedford in 1845 before sufficient money had been collected to enable construction to begin.

The Chapel was built on land gifted by the owner of the adjacent brick works, Mr. John Green, and according to the church records also used bricks donated by him. It was opened in 1853 and Mr. Green later became the Superintendent of the Sunday School.

Because of the volume of support for the form of worship promoted by Matthews, and after his death by his followers, the chapel was enlarged in 1863 so that it could accommodate a congregation of over 200.

Hannah Symonds Z1600-8-1

Hannah Symonds [Z1600/8/1]

The front of the building was a small house for the use of the Pastor or the Caretaker and fittingly this was occupied from new and for many years by Hannah and Thomas Symonds. Behind that was the large chapel hall with a total immersion baptismal pool, also a balcony and a couple of schoolrooms. Hannah died in March 1885 and was buried in Ravensden Churchyard where her memorial stone is still in place and just legible. Thomas is believed to have died a couple of years later and to be buried with her.

For many years one of the bugles used by Rev. Matthews to call the village to worship was kept here.

The Chapel was closed in 2016 and sold and is now a private residence.

Some of the early documents relating to the Chapel have been deposited with the Bedfordshire Archives, others are still held by the current owner.

Items held at Bedfordshire Archives include:

  • Z1600/1/1/1-8: chapel minute books,1935-2008;
  • Z1600/2: various financial records;
  • Z1600/3/1/1-81: plans of services, 1900-2009;
  • Z1600/3/3/1-198: Links magazine, 1966-2010;
  • Z1600/3/4/1-18: Volumes of notices, 1970-2005;
  • Z1600/4/1: Church rules and basis of faith, c.1970;
  • Z1600/6/1: Membership book for Ravensden Band of Hope, 1871-1933;
  • Z1600/6/2: Membership book, 1885-1971;
  • Z1600/8/1: A Village Bethel (history of first 100 years), 1953;
  • Z1600/8/2: History of Zion Baptist Church, 1953-1997;
  • Z1600/8/6: Additional historical information, c.2003;
  • Z1600/9/1-4: Colour photographs of interior and harvest produce, 1994