Aylestone Baptist Church finds its roots in the dedication of four Baptist Christians who lived in Aylestone in the mid 19th century. From 1855 onwards, services were held on Sunday afternoons in a cottage in the Hollow in Aylestone village, owned by a Mr and Mrs Crosher. Four years later, they applied along with two others to become members at Belvoir Street Baptist Church in the city (next to the present day library). The Croshers invited preachers from Belvoir Street to come to Aylestone, and the village fellowship became a daughter church of the Belvoir Street chapel. A monthly newsletter was begun and circulated to all the cottages in the village – just sixty-five.
Belvoir Street Chapel - ABC's 'mother church'
The congregation grew to fifteen or twenty, obliging the Croshers to knock down a partition wall. But still the premises were insufficient, until a benefactor and member of Belvoir Street, Mr. Bennett, bought some land in Sanvey Lane. A chapel was built and opened in 1871 and Aylestone Baptist Church met there until the 1930s. After a period in the hands of the British Legion, the building is now owned and used by New Life Apostolic Church.
New Life Apostolic Church, which used to be the Baptist Chapel
In 1926, Aylestone Baptist Church started down the route of independence, being permitted by Belvoir Street to have its own membership roll. Full independence came in 1929, the year after the appointment of ABC’s first minister, Rev H. E. Abram.
Building up the work
By this time, the Sanvey Lane premises were themselves becoming inadequate. The church treasurer and hosiery manufacturer, Mr Edward Stibbe, gave to the church a plot of land on the Lutterworth Road and a church and school room were built in 1932, being formally opened the following year. This now comprises the church hall and surrounding rooms.
The present worship area was built in 1955, using money from the sale of Belvoir Street chapel after its congregation combined with Charles Street Baptist church to form Central Baptist Church. The pulpit from Belvoir Street became the centrepiece of Aylestone’s new chapel’s interior design, standing central on a stage that also houses a hidden baptistry. Money from the Belvoir Street sale was also used to build a chapel on the Stocking Farm Estate. Later, in the 1980s and 90s, the minister of Aylestone Baptist also served Stocking Farm until the demise of the latter's buildings after an arson attack.
The church before and after the lounge was built on the front
The church has been served by ten ministers over the years, two of the more notable being Leslie Hilliard who first served as minister prior to his appointment as a military chaplain during World War 2, and who later returned for his final pastorate from 1965 – 1973; and Brian Thomas, Aylestone’s longest serving minister, from 1979 – 2000, who oversaw many changes to the church’s worship life and mission, as well as the building of the lounge on the front of the church – an indispensable resource. The change in worship style was not appreciated by all, so to demonstrate that the church was concerned with the old as well as the young, a lunch club was begun that continues still today. A reflection of the changing use of the buildings and the increased diversity in worship is seen in the changes to the old Belvoir Street pulpit, which was split into two pieces and given wheels in order to make it moveable. Recently, with the pressure for space in the building, the pulpit had to be removed altogether and in 2007 it was returned to Belvoir Street Chapel where the original plinth still exists.
The Belvoir Street Chapel pulpit, used by Aylestone Baptist Church
for fifty years before being returned
The windows in the church reflect two anniversaries – the centenary window visible from the front of the church was added in 1971, and the millennium window on the side of the church marks a much more important anniversary – the birth of Jesus Christ. On the opposite wall from the millennium window stands a war memorial plaque that commemorates the fourteen church members who died in the First World War, and the two who died in the Second.
The Centenary and Millennium windows
Over the years, Aylestone Baptist Church has gained a reputation for being open to the community, through long-standing clubs and events. A May Fair with a procession headed by a May Queen – a lucky teenager selected from the Sunday School – drew good crowds during the middle years of last century, and a Christmas bazaar has long been a feature of the church's calendar. The church has often entertained the community with plays and musicals. The church’s commitment to Aylestone’s children and young people has been consistent for over forty years, with the formation of a Girl’s Guildry, then a Girl’s and Boy’s Brigade in the 1970s. Monthly band parades through the streets of Aylestone continued until the police withdrew their support. The Boy’s Brigade closed in 1998, and the Girls' Brigade closed in July 2007, to be replaced by our current girls and boys' mid-week club, Urban Saints. Meanwhile, annual summer holiday clubs and a weekly youth club remain a regular feature of church life.