This brief history is, if you like, a work in progress. Over time we will add supplementary pages, which will open as separate pages in your browser; there is a list of these separate pages at the bottom of this page: here. We will also be adding some much needed photos. History is written over time, so bear with us!
The early days
In the beginning, from early in the nineteenth century, the town’s Baptist Fellowship occupied a variety of meeting rooms! An initial chapel was constructed in Archer Street (1845); this now part of the local Masonic Hall. During the following 25 years, various factions were created and splits in the fellowship occurred. As a result, groups of Baptists met successively in the Livingstone Buildings (on Northgate), the Railway Institute (the corner of Whessoe Road and North Road), Leadenhall Street (Northgate again) and, finally, the newly erected chapel in Grange Road (1871).
Grange Road Baptist Church
The original building comprised what is now the front (west) half of the church, the part built of stone; the rear half, in brick, was added shortly before the First World War.
During the latter part of the Victorian era, industries involving railway engineering, metal forging, steel rolling and wire manufacture and bridge building swelled the town’s population. One result was the need to ‘take the Gospel to the people’! Members from Grange Road began a ‘tin hut’ mission to railway and metal workers and their families in Corporation Road. This outreach resulted in the construction and formation of a ‘daughter’ Baptist Church (1904) on the corner of Corporation Road and Easson Road. It is at this point that we ‘lose’ the Baptist Tabernacle in Corporation Road and what follows is about Grange Road – at least until a later part of this page.
Following the General Strike (1926) and a period of Depression, fresh groups of workers invaded the town in search of work in the local linen mills and knitting woollens industry. This time, some church members moved across to the Geneva Road area of the town to, again, ‘bring the Gospel to the people’. During the mid-Thirties a generous gift allowed for another ‘daughter chapel’ to be built in Geneva Road – the Geneva Road Baptist Church. Like Grange Road, the church at Corporation Road, known officially as the Darlington Baptist Tabernacle, remains with the Baptist Union. The Geneva Road fellowship is now a Free Evangelical Church. Both Geneva Road and Corporation Road continue to serve their respective local communities well.
Despite suffering building occupation during World War Two and reduced attendances afterwards, a welcome numerical resurgence came in 1958. The many terraced houses to the east of the church provided families who were keen to swell the Junior Church and Youth Club. This mission to the people was extended further afield, on to the Skerne Park Estate, following its construction in the early Sixties. The post-war decades also saw a period of Uniformed Organisations (Scouts, Cubs, Guides, Brownies and Boys Brigade) based at the church, featuring particularly strongly during the 20 years from 1950 to 1970.
The Uniformed Organisations have now gone and the people on Skerne Park are served more directly by other churches nearer to them. Since the early ‘Nineties’, the fellowship has developed a strong Gospel and pastoral witness to the Darlington community through its distribution of emergency food and basic household supplies (bedding crockery, pots and pans and the like) to the homeless and others for whom day-to-day living is a struggle. The church has also become a base or venue for charitable and similar organisations, such as the 700 Club (who have now moved elsewhere), Positive Life Choices, Conductive Life Service and the Alzheimer’s Society.
The Baptist Tabernacle
The part of this page which summarises the history of the church in Corporation Road has yet to be written. Please bear with us. We ARE working on it.
Darlington Baptist Church
It was in the present decade that conversations began to take place about a possible merger of the two churches in Corporation Road and Grange Road. In July 2017 “Darlington Baptist Church” was formed. In a sense, we have come full circle. Grange Road and the Baptist Tabernacle, in a technical sense, will become history, but their legacy will live on in our new church.
Already things are happening. Two new church initiatives, ‘Broomtree’ and ‘Care & Share’ offer support for those with mental health issues along with, in the case of Care & Share, wider support for all in a social gathering. Changing Lives have begun support sessions, in the Basement at Grange Road, for women who have suffered abuse. ‘Film @ Four’, each month, offers a family film – for children of all ages.
It is going to be an exciting future, in God’s hands, and we have the privilege and responsibility of helping write the first pages in the new book.
There is written reference to a nineteenth century history of Baptist life in Darlington, but this appears to be lost. The first written history we have is “The Baptist Church in Darlington: A Centenary Record, 1810-1910”, by G W Bartlett. This effectively covers the period before the separate church in Corporation Road formed. History had to then wait a generation or three before, in 1996, Theo Howells and Peter King wrote “Still in the Midst: the story of a continuing witness”. After summarising what was written by Mr Bartlett, Still in the Midst continued the Grange Road Baptist Church story up to 1995. Not to be outdone, Dennis Johnston wrote “The First Hundred Years, 1897 – 1997: an illustrated history of Baptist witness in Corporation Road, Darlington”, a title which speaks for itself.
We have a number of copies of “Still in the Midst”. If you would like one, do get in touch with us.
Our hope is that, subject to copyright and other issues, we will be able to publish, electronically, the text of the three histories referred to in this section. Our further hope is that one or more members of our congregation might be encouraged to write a short history of the final twenty years or so of both the Grange Road and Corporation Road churches – leaving a clean sheet for a future historian to begin, “Once upon a time, back in 2017, a new church called Darlington Baptist Church was formed… ”
Apart from inevitable gaps as ministers leave, the Archer Street church, along with both Grange Road and the Baptist Tabernacle, have maintained a more or less unbroken line of ministers. You can view them on a separate page (click here for a list). Note that the Tabernacle list is not quite complete; this will be rectified shortly.