Serving Mersea Island since 1805
More than 200 years ago...
Until 1805, apart from the Parish Church at West Mersea, there was no other place of worship, and non-conformists, such as Congregationalists and Baptists, met in barns for regular services. There was a Strict Baptist Chapel in East Mersea (Meeting Lane), and of course the East Mersea Parish Church.
In 1805 (the year of the battle of Trafalgar) a local Oyster Merchant, Mr Bennett Hawes, who according to a note found amongst old papers, “had long wished to see the Redeemer’s Cause permanently established on this benighted island”, gave a portion of land in the field then known as Little Pattens to the Independents (the Congregationalists) for the site of a new Chapel building.
This was situated in Shelleys Lane, known locally later as Chapel Road and even later by its current name, Mill Road. This gift of land was then confirmed by a Trust Deed dated April 1836 and naming as Trustees various influential Tradesman in Colchester, probably connected with Lion Walk or Stockwell Congregational Churches.
Welcoming the Baptists
Numerous Pastors, honorary and paid, faithfully preached the Gospel but it was decided in the 1840’s to ask the Baptists, who were still worshipping in a nearby barn to join with the independents to maintain the cause.
The Schoolroom (our second hall) was probably built about 1841 on the site at the rear of the Chapel, and the Manse had been erected probably in the 1830’s. When the Manse was demolished in 1995, the date 1833 was found stamped in one of the bricks that had been used to build it.
The schoolroom served for some years as a day school, administered by a School Board of Trustees and some local gentry. A fee would have been charged daily to attend at the time.
A baptistry was constructed in the Church in 1966 with the aid of a £200 bequest in the will of the late Earl Alexander of Hillsborough, a member of the Church in his later years.
In 1974 additional land was purchased beside the Schoolroom to allow for extra parking. In 1980 the old kitchen was converted into ladies toilets and the men’s toilets were modernised whilst a new kitchen was built on the front of the Schoolroom. The church front porch was found to be cracked and a new larger foyer was constructed in its place, providing space for a crèche and bookstall.
In 1986 it was resolved that the chapel floor needed replacement so it was decided to modernise the building. Volunteer labour was used and with some professional help and the assistance of the then Pastor Tom Carter, who had building experience, the work was started. The old pews were replaced by upholstered chairs, a kitchen and toilet constructed under the gallery, and the new solid floor carpeted. The plaster was stripped off and replaced, along with new lighting and heating. The work took 3 months and was completed in April 1987 – the church met in the hall during this time. It was financed by the members and friends with the help of a short term loan from the Essex Baptist Association.
Becoming West Mersea Free Church
The church was renamed ‘West Mersea Free Church’ and a booklet of the new constitution and rules produced in May 1985. In the summer of 1989 the old manse behind the church was upgraded, including gas central heating and decoration throughout. Pastor Peter Gibson joined us in September 1989.
The manse had suffered problems with subsidence over the years and the church decided to buy a new manse off site in 1995. The Lord led us to a bigger house in Whittaker Way which was bought with gifts from members and friends.
Shortly after the purchase of a new Manse, the old building on the church site was demolished.
With plans to develop the church site in the future, the Lord at last gave us the opportunity to purchase the house next door to the church, 34 Mill Road, as to square off our church site.
In October 1999 we completed the purchase of the house, again with gifts from members and friends. We spent five months working on the house and at a cost of several thousand pounds it was insulated, had central heating installed, new bath room fittings, a new back roof, new fitted kitchen and was decorated throughout. Extra ground gained from taking some of the garden also expanded our car parking.
Chris & Rachael Upton worked as part time Youth leaders for 4 years in the late 90’s before Chris became the minister at West Lane Baptist Church near Leeds in June 2000.
In September 2000 we welcomed an Assistant Pastor with youth responsibilities, Carl Morehouse, who was a Spurgeon’s student working with us part time for four years. He and his family lived in 34 Mill Road on the church site, and when he graduated he went to Pastor King’s Church Mildenhall.
Joe Haward joined us as an Evangelist in 2004, and he also trained at Spurgeon’s college. On completion of his training he was called to set up a new church in Newton Abbott.
Pastor Peter Gibson was called to pastor a church in Bury St. Edmunds in February 2009, and so left the church after 20 years of leading the ministry. He has since retired and returned to the local area.
Our present pastor, Rev. Dr. Rob Hughes joined us in August 2011. Rob’s wife, Rev. Jen Hughes also joined us as a second minister in 2019, having been called to the ministry in 2014.
So, whoever the Pastor, whatever the name of the church, whatever the size of the grounds, the state of the buildings or the number of people worshipping here, the church has continued to faithfully proclaim a bible based Gospel message as originally envisaged all those years ago.