A summary of the history of Ilkeston Baptist Church

The following notes are a very brief summary of the various stages in the history of the church.  For a fuller account, we recommend the booklet (on which these notes are based) “One Hundred Years of Queen Street” by Cyril Hargreaves, published in 1958 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the present chapel in Queen Street, Ilkeston.

1.  Beginnings (1785 – 1800)

The first Baptist congregation in Ilkeston was started on 22nd May, 1785, by preachers from the Baptist Church at Castle Donnington, a village about 10 miles south of Ilkeston, just west of the present M1 motorway junction 24.  The original church building was in South Street (immediately left of the present-day health centre).  At its founding in 1785, the church had 53 members.  The first pastor was John W. Goddard (pastor from 1787 – 1795).

Shared ministry

From its beginning until 1822, the Ilkeston church was a joint work, and had a joint pastorate, with Smalley Baptist Church, which had also been founded by evangelists from Castle Donnington.

Open-air evangelism

For many years, services were held in the afternoons, at 2.00 p.m.  This may have been partly because of the distances people had to travel, but we know that it was also because the church members spent the rest of Sundays engaged in open-air witness.  The fruit of this work is seen in the fact that, starting in 1785 with 53 members, the church baptised and added to its numbers in the first 5 years another 72 men and women.

Regional mission

This open-air witness happened, not only in Ilkeston, but also further afield.  The elders and members of the Ilkeston church would hold evangelistic services in such places as Heanor, Mapperley, Stanton, Cotmanhay, and even Derby.

2.  Development  (1800 – 1858)

Church planting

The emphasis on work outside Ilkeston continued.  The Ilkeston church was involved in supporting work, and planting new congregations, in such diverse places as Chilwell, Melbourne (that’s a village between Derby and Coalville – not the one in Australia!!), Newthorpe and Sutton-in-Ashfield.  In Heanor, a meeting was started in a club-room; this was later to become a congregation renting a disused Methodist chapel.  Evangelistic preaching also took place in Stanley Common, Eastwood and Horsley.

Sunday school

One of the most significant early developments in the life of the church was the establishment of a Sunday School in 1807.  A lean-to addition on the side of the South Street chapel was the original Sunday School room, and it was designed to accommodate 80 children.


South St chapel, with Sunday School room at the back


The work at Ilkeston and Smalley grew to the point where both causes were viable on their own, and they agreed to become separate churches, each with its own pastor, in 1822.


The church continued to grow numerically.  In 1823 the membership was 123; in 1845, it had risen to 141.  Baptisms had taken place, from the very beginning of the church’s life, in the river Erewash; to judge from the early minute books of the church, these were very popular occasions indeed.  It was recorded on 1st May, 1842, “…The seven friends were baptised in the Erewash – about 1,500 spectators who behaved very orderly.”

New building

The congregation and children’s work grew through the first half of the 19th century, until it became necessary to seek separate premises for worship and for the Sunday School.  The decision was taken in 1856 to build a new chapel, and use the existing chapel in South Street solely for the children’s work.  On Tuesday, 22nd June, 1858, Queen Street Baptist Chapel was opened; it was originally designed to seat 400 people.  The South Street chapel continued to be a branch of the work at Queen Street, focusing on children’s work.

It is perhaps worth recording a contemporary local newspaper description of the new Queen Street chapel.  “Of the many places of worship which have sprung up in our town, this is certainly the least attractive; some people think it positively ugly and repellent, and we have heard it likened to an engine shed.”  (No comment!)

3.  Consolidation  (1858 – 1881)

These years saw general continued growth, especially in the children’s work at South Street.


The pattern of morning and evening services was now well established, as was the practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in the evening.  Various radical and, for the time, controversial, innovations had been introduced into the services of worship, such as standing for prayer and singing, and the use of a bass viol (!).  And it would be fascinating to know precisely what lay behind the note in the church minute book which reads “Resolved that Bro. J. Hithersay and F. Mitchell and J. Wardle see to the choir being orderly during service.”

Other activities

It had started to become the practice to hold meetings and events other than worship services, which were intended both to attract visitors (what we would today call “pre-evangelism”), and to develop a social side to the life of the fellowship.  For example, in 1864, a Mr. T. Cooper held two lectures under the title “The Design Argument from Astronomy: or Proofs of the being and attributes of God derived from a study of the Solar System and of the Stellar Universe”.  It was probably not with the same target audience in mind that, in 1876, a tea was held, followed by “A Public Spelling Bee interspersed with singing”; it was minuted, when this occasion was planned, “that at the Bee the words shall be of one sylabble only [in view of the secretary’s apparent inability to spell ‘syllable’, we can understand why!]; that four prizes be given in money, the first to be £1…”

4.  Division  (1881 – 1918)

During these years, there was an unfortunate split in the church.  Disagreements between office-holders in the two chapel buildings led to South Street becoming in effect a separate church.  This division lasted until shortly after the First World War.

Forward movement

It was probably largely because of this division that the numerical strength of the church declined.  In 1895, the membership was 53 (ironically, the same number that the church had started from 110 years earlier!), with 150 children in the Sunday School.  An attempt to reverse this decline was made in the last years of the century by the proposal of a “Forward movement”, which aimed at a radical change in the ways of conducting meetings.  These changes included the introduction of an orchestral band, the bringing in of special preachers, the use of invited soloists, and “the extensive advertising of special subjects”.  These principles (which seem in many ways to pre-figure the contemporary practices of “guest services” and “seeker-services”) were a key feature of the 40-year-long ministry of Arthur Copley (pastor from 1898 – 1938).

Building development

The gallery was built in the chapel in Queen Street.  The chapel had originally been a single-storey building.  The construction of a gallery had been proposed at various times, and this was carried out in 1882.  It increased the church’s seating capacity to 500.  And a new extended schoolroom was built (since Queen Street no longer had the use of South Street for its own children’s work).

The new gallery, showing the original organ (top right)

Social and numerical growth

Through the years of Arthur Copley’s ministry, there was a remarkable growth in attendance at the church.  Much of this was as a result of the social meetings introduced as part of the “Forward movement” scheme.  These included woodwork and violin classes, a football club, and courses of lectures.

Mission campaigns

These social activities were regularly accompanied by evangelistic mission.  This was now focused, unlike in the earlier years of the church’s life, is special times of missionary campaign.  Such missions were held, for example, in 1902, 1904, 1906, 1907 and 1909 – the first of these was a joint mission with the South Street church, and the 1907 mission was a joint campaign of the Free Churches in Ilkeston.

5.  The Church after the 191418 War


1920 saw the reunification of the Queen Street and South Street chapels.  It may be that the losses suffered by the whole community and by the congregations of the Baptist chapels during the First World War had so affected the work that it was seen as necessary to heal the rift as soon as possible, and work together.  But by 1944, Queen Street’s use of the South Street chapel for children’s work had dwindled; South Street was therefore rented out, first to the Church of the Nazarene.  It was later used by the Elim Pentecostal Church, until finally sold, and since the 1980’s has no longer been a place of worship.

In the last few years, as there is at present only one Baptist Church in Ilkeston, we have reverted to being known simply as “Ilkeston Baptist Church”, rather than “Queen Street Baptist Church.”

Numerical decline

Following the death of Arthur Copley in 1938, and the Second World War, numbers attending worship dropped considerably, and in the following decades there was a smaller and fluctuating membership.  This had two other effects:

Building modification

First, a false ceiling was placed in the church, in effect closing off the gallery, as the numbers now meeting did not require the extra space.

Shared pastorate

Secondly, the ministry at Ilkeston became shared, first with Stapleford Baptist Church (1939 – 1946), then with Smalley  (1950 – 1956) – the same Baptist Church with which the Ilkeston church had shared a pastorate in the first 32 years of its life!

6.  The Last Few Years

Through the 1990s and into the new century a number of changes have taken place in the life and work of the church.  Some of these may seem on the surface to be quite challenging departures from what had been seen as the traditional pattern of life in Queen Street Baptist Church, though in fact they are almost all a rediscovery of aspects of the life of the church which had been lost or had lain dormant during the lean years following the Second World War.  Four particular things have developed.

Spiritual renewal

Whilst fully remaining a church committed to evangelical doctrine and preaching, the ethos of the fellowship has also moved more towards the charismatic.  This has been reflected in a change in patterns and styles of worship; for some decades the style of the church’s worship had been very traditional and formal, but it has increasingly involved contemporary worship material, open participation, and the use of those gifts of the Holy Spirit that are usually called “charismatic”, such as prophecy and prayer in tongues.  It has also led to an expectation that new converts will personally experience being filled with the Holy Spirit, with the development of resultant gifts and ministries.

Inter-church unity

Relations with other evangelical/charismatic churches have developed to a depth and quality unknown before.  There is a strong sense of unity and fellowship between church leaders, and many of the ministries in which the church is engaged are works in which members of a number of congregations are involved on equal terms.

Mercy ministries

Arising from this new quality of unity, there has grown a new shared commitment to ministry to the poor and needy in society.  This has at various times been a feature of the life of Ilkeston Baptist Church; but, in the providence of God, the church has developed a ministry to many people with social and personal needs. We now run a housing project for homeless men, called Kapstun Homes, and we have a regular ministry of distributing food parcels, to support people in the community who are struggling to cope on limited incomes.

This ministry to the poor has also led to another change in the “atmosphere” of our meetings…

Informal meetings

Our services have become more relaxed and informal, in order to make them more accessible to people unfamiliar with traditional church services. Our aim is to try and combine genuine worship and faithful preaching of the Bible with an atmosphere which is easy for people to feel at home in.