“Organised” religion as such came to Highbridge a little late. Until the early 1800’s meetings were held in the homes of the people who felt religion had a place in the lives of the inhabitants of the town.
In 1817 however, the local Baptists, who used to gather in the homes of their members, decided that the time had come to find proper premises. The congregations had increased too, in numbers that made the gathering in people’s homes impractical. 1819 saw the building of a Baptist Church, paid for as a result of subscriptions; it opened for divine worship on 19th April and became the first church in Highbridge and remained as such for nearly 40 years. Pastors were elected over the years, coming to Highbridge from local parishes like Minehead or Weston-super-Mare, with some coming from as far afield as Portsmouth or Saltash. Some were short pastorates, a year, with the average time being three to five years, although the Reverend Jesse Roberts from Creswell, Pembrokeshire stayed for twenty six years.
Prior to this time it was necessary for those wishing to attend formal church services to travel some distance to West Huntspill, Burnham or Mark. The new church was primitive in construction, the floor being in its natural state. The building was heated by a stove, set in the centre of the building and candles or lanterns provided light. Water for baptisms came from the village pump, which was the only water supply at the time. A Mr. Elliot became pastor of the congregation and on 18th May 1826 a church was formed; it had no constitution of its own with possibly Bridgwater providing the “parent” church.
In 1867, it was decided to rebuild the church due to the growth in worshipers and during the next two years, the Hope Baptist Church was rebuilt on its present site, it was opened on March 16th 1869. The first Baptismal Service to be held in the new church was on June 8th 1873 it was recorded that “The Audience were orderly and the service solemn” During 1885 it was becoming increasingly difficult to accommodate the congregation, so in November a gallery was erected to increase capacity. Further alterations took place in 1893 with a new schoolroom being opened. Following the departure of the Rev. Lemon from the church in 1894, he together with some twenty members of the church founded the Baptist Congregational Church that opened in 1895. The building can still be seem on the Huntspill Road next to the old West of England Creamery site. Records in 1903 revealed the congregation growing with a total membership of 104 and a Sunday school with 154 scholars. In 1914-16 with the outbreak of the First World War many young men associated with churches in Highbridge were called to active military service.
A house (the Manse) was purchased for the pastor in Church Street in 1918. In 1919 on 9th October a covenant was signed and Baptist Union became the appointed trustees of the church.
With the closure of the railway works in 1930 the congregation was depleted when families left the Highbridge area to seek work elsewhere.
Due to the National emergency in 1943, the church together with houses and the cemetery lost its metal railings, the church replaced these railing with a wall and wooden gates.
1946 saw the enrolment of the Boys Brigade Company, however, the Company was unfortunately disbanded after several years due to a lack of officers. Its sister organisation the Girls Brigade which commenced about the same time continued to flourish.
A Church magazine “The Messenger” was published in 1963 to be issued monthly with a hope of increasing circulation. It was reluctantly agreed to close the Girls Brigade in 1969 after 23 years, through lack of leadership.
A new Manse in Highbridge was purchased for the Pastor in 1988. In 1991 four plots if land (Albert Cottages) adjoining the hall were purchased and now form part of the Church garden. The 175th anniversary of the Church was celebrated in 1992 with an evening of praise in music and song.
Alterations and refurbishment to the Church and hall were undertaken between 1995 and 1997 which led to the building you see now in 2004.
(Information supplied by Angela Wilson)