WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE OLD BUILDING?
WHEN WAS IT BUILT?
The original building was first built as a Baptist chapel in 1853. Like many of the gothic Victorian churches in the area it was built before most of the speculative housing around it, in anticipation of the arrival of the new properties and their residents. As the Leigh map from 1819 shows both Notting Hill (then Kensington Gravel Pits) and Kensington were still country hamlets less than 200 years ago, and in 1864 Portobello Farm still stood in splendid countryside. Notting Hill expanded gradually northward from the line of the turnpike leading from Bayswater to Shepherds Bush. The original form of the 1853 building included the octagonal towers which then had stone spires, a main hall and school room. This early version of the chapel was a lot smaller than it is now, seating only 600. The side walls ran back from just inside the outer edges of the north faces of the octagonal towers. I do not know of any pictures or drawings of the church in this form. (Its a most wanted information.) The map of 1862 on the right shows an outline of a much larger site, following expansion of the building in 1858, but still with the narrower frontage than today. The present building outline was built in 1866.
WHO WAS IT BUILT BY?
The project was conceived by the members of the first church in Notting Hill: the Baptist congregation whose original chapel, Silver Street Chapel built in 1823, still stands to the south of Notting Hill Gate, and which is currently called Bethesda Chapel. Silver Street was the original name of the section of the street where Kensington Church Street joins Notting Hill Gate. The names were altered in a tidying of the logic of London street names, long ago. Anyway Silver Street chapel did not actually stand in Silver Street itself, and can be found on the north side of Kensington Place, tucked in between the Circle underground line cutting and the backs of the shops on Kensington High Street. When the new Westbourne Grove Baptist Chapel was built in 1853 the congregation moved there, but clearly the Silver Street Chapel continued to be used till the present day. The new building was financed entirely by the congregation, mainly from local shopkeepers and small businessmen, builders and merchants. The photo on the right, which was discovered in the church archive before the redevelopment, is almost certainly the original team of deacons who founded the new building, as we know from another portrait that the central figure is William Garrett Lewis, the pastor who led the move. They are sporting huge Victorian beards, suits ranging from the neat to the sartorial, and of course, are displaying their pocket watches on chains. In the golden years of both the area, and the church, in the 1860’s and 70’s, when Notting Hill was for quite a brief period, a desirable home for London businessmen and retiring colonials, famous church members included a number of people of national fame. But the church’s roots lay in less prestigious social class, and typically of Baptist churches, rich and poor participated in the community without distinction.
WHEN WAS THE PRESENT FORM OF THE CHURCH BUILT?
Major extensions to the building in 1866 filled in the site and increased the capacity from 800 to 1500 seats, and a packed new building was opened by London’s most famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. The total cost of site and building work was £11,974!! The old church had a fine Brindley and Foster 30 stop 3 manual organ, originally hand pumped, a large balcony, a raised pulpit, and a full immersion baptistry. There were stone spires on the octagonal stair towers which were removed in 1949 after the second world war due to the risk of collapse. The building was surrounded by low railings which were removed during WW2.