Our History

A Place with a Past

Hainault has no historic centre, unlike the nearby village of Chigwell with its old parish church, or neighbouring Barkingside and Chigwell Row, which remained agricultural communities remote from the centre of population until the beginning of the nineteenth century. There are natural or ancient boundaries in Hainault visible today and no surviving buildings older than the railway station, but there are many clues to Hainault’s past in this modern suburb.

Hainault is an old place-name, recorded as Henehout in 1221, and thought to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon, higna holt, meaning ’monastic community wood’. In those days, Barking Abbey owned the land, and after dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII it became crown land. Hainault Forest extended to Barkingside, and that part near the present industrial estate was known as the King’s Wood. No one lived in the forest; rather it was a place for farmers in surrounding areas to bring their animals to graze.

All this changed in 1851, when Hainault was disafforested. The arrow straight New North Road was cut as a logging track for removing the timber. On each side a parallel ruler was drawn on a map one-eighth of a mile from the track and the intervening land divided into parcels to compensate those people who had lost grazing rights. Their owners developed these properties as smallholdings, and by the end of the nineteenth century a few scattered agricultural buildings and labourers’ cottages had been built along New north Road.

The coming of the railway, linking older lines at Ilford and Woodford, was intended to stimulate house building. Hainault station was opened in 1903, but the new estates of Edwardian Ilford did not develop beyond Seven Kings and Cranbrook; the station was closed in 1908 and did not re-open until 1930, when landowners near the station began to sell their property for speculative house building. Hazelbrouck Gardens was built in 1927, the shops by the station opened in 1933, and by 1939 houses had been built between Tomswood Hill and Fencepiece Road and along New North Road as far as Limes Grove and Penrith Road. In 1934 a new terrace house in Trelawney Road could be bought for £495.

Christians in Hainault

Many of the residents in these new Hainault streets had moved from the older suburbs of east London; often they were young families with children. The parish church was Holy Trinity, Barkingside, although Church of England services were held in Hainault station waiting room from 1934 until temporary accommodation was built for St. Francis Church in Fencepiece Road.

The nearest free church was Barkingside Methodist Church, before Fairlop Gospel Hall (now Evangelical Church) opened in 1934. Among the new Hainault residents were a group of ladies who organised a Sunday School in 1933. The intriguing aspect of this Sunday School is that it was held in the open air, often in a field by Hainault Recreation Ground; later they met in sports pavilions or wherever accommodation could be found. Within two years a hundred children attended the Sunday School.

These indefatigable Christians soon made plans for adult services. Invitation cards were printed for the first church service, held on Sunday evening 24th February 1935, at the Limehouse Pavilion, which was at the eastern extremity of the housing development on New North Road where the Wickets estate is today. From that date weekly services have continued without a break to the present time.

The new church had arisen spontaneously among the first people in the new residential estate of Hainault; it was not founded as a daughter-church, and it had no denominational affiliation. The publicity identified it as ‘Hainault Mission’. It was inevitable, however, that those responsible for the service drew upon their experience and contacts. The services were led frequently by Baptist lay preachers, and the church developed a pattern that was recognisably ‘Baptist’. Within a few months the Mission was calling itself Hainault Free Church, often with ‘Interdenominational’ in brackets, In 1938 it became known as Hainault Baptist Church.

Hopes and Difficulties

The church possesses minute books from 1938. The records show a church with high hopes for its future. In 1939 it received a loan from the London Baptist Property Board to buy a plot of land in Franklyn Gardens for the erection of a church building. The site was dedicated in May of that year but war broke out in September and building restriction prevented further progress. Despite evacuation of children, men called for military service, rationing of food, black out, and bombing raids – Ilford was on the direct path of enemy action over London and more short fall bombs hit the borough than any other outer London suburb, Hainault taking its share – the doughty leaders of the fledgling church continued and expanded its activities, forming a Girls’ Life Brigade company in 1940 and a Boys’ Brigade company in 1942, both of which continue today.

Some pastoral oversight was given to the church during this period by several Baptist ministers living in the Ilford and Leyton area. The war situation drained the resources of the church, however, and from 1942 until 1949 Hainault Baptist Church continued under the administrative oversight of the diaconate of Ashurst Drive Baptist Church in Ilford. Locally, the church had a stalwart – Ethel Briton, the proprietor of Hainault Drapery Store, at 200 New North Road. She had been a driving force from the earliest days, and impressed everyone she met, not least the local newspaper reporters who were kept informed about every exciting event in the church.

Post-war optimism in the country at large was reflected in the life of Hainault Baptist Church. An evangelistic campaign in the form of a tent mission was held opposite the station. One of the missioners, Ralph Ashmore, was a ministerial student; he was much liked by the energetic church leaders, who invited him to a student pastorate in 1947. On completion of his studies and subsequent ordination, the Reverend Ralph Ashmore was inducted as first minister of Hainault Baptist Church at the Limehouse Pavilion in 1948. This was a courageous appointment on both sides: the Ashmore family lived in Croydon and there was no immediate prospect of a local manse, neither was there a church building, and the administrative affairs of the church were still under the guidance of Ashurst Drive Baptist Church.

Established and Constituted 

A temporary prefabricated building was opened for use as a church on the Franklyn Gardens site on 20th November 1948. After 15 years of Sunday School, 13 years of Sunday services, and nine years of owning a plot of land, Hainault Baptist Church now had its own home. Yet it had never been formally constituted as a Church. So, on 18th June 1949 special Foundation Day services were held, when 94 people were enrolled as members of Hainault Baptist Church.

Thus it was that 1949 became the year for reckoning Church Anniversary – logical or illogical according to one’s point of view.

The foundation members included some pioneers of the 1930s, as well as people drawn into the fellowship of a recognisably stable church, with a building and a minister. The members were not all from Baptist backgrounds; among the founder members were Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, as well as Baptists. One of the founder members, Gladys Seymour, was admitted into membership in absentia. In 1947 she had offered for service with the Baptist Missionary Society and was the last missionary to go to China. When missionaries were expelled from China, Gladys Seymour served BMS for several years in India, before returning to England as a Baptist member.

The church soon secured a loan to buy its first manse, and the Reverend Ralph Ashmore began an active preaching and pastoral ministry. An early challenge was the expanding population, for many houses in east London had been destroyed during the war and large areas of Hainault beyond Chestnut Grove and between Forest Road and Elmbridge Road had hundreds of the famous post-war ‘prefabs’ built on them, To the north and east of these prefab estates the London County Council built thousands of permanent houses that became known as the Hainault Estate.

Initially, Hainault Baptist Church was the nearest church to these estates, except for the extremes near Grange Hill and Chigwell Row, although the distance was not convenient. With a very large Sunday School already in Franklyn Gardens, a branch Sunday School was held in Forest Road to serve the prefab estate. Later Grange Hill Methodist Church, Manford Way Gospel Hall (now Hainault Evangelical Church), St. Paul’s Church of England, and the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption were founded on the LCC estate. A few people transferred their membership from Hainault Baptist Church to support these new estate churches.

Meanwhile, the drab pre-cast concrete interior of Hainault Baptist Church was transformed by wood grained panelling; in due course pews were fitted, an organ installed (the Rushworth & Dreaper Apollo organ still in use), and an open baptistery built (surrounded by a metal grille, designed by the minister, and depicting ancient Christian symbols).

Weekly meetings and activities were held for people of all ages, and in 1952 a wooden hall was opened next to the church. Hainault Baptist Church could now take its place alongside more established suburban churches in its traditional pattern of free-church life.

The church had an evangelical thrust, both in preaching and in the community. Among the young people in the church at that time was Elaine Thomas, whose talent as a linguist led her to work for the Wycliffe Bible Translators, specialising in African languages.


The personal charisma of Ethel Britton, which had given the church a vision for the future, was irreplaceable; her untimely death in 1950 was followed by a succession of secretaries and treasurers. By the time the Reverend Ralph Ashmore moved to Rayleigh in 1958, the church at Hainault needed to restructure its arrangements to meet its loan repayments and support another minister. It was at this point that the church made a wise decision in appointing Norman Teager as its secretary. Three generations of the Teager family were involved in the church, and this well-loved family was active in some way in almost every part of church life.

The first task was to affiliate Hainault Baptist Church to the Baptist Union, as a result of which it became possible to apply for grant aid from the Home Work Fund (now Home Mission) to support a minister’s stipend. Grant aid was received from 1959 until 1965, and enabled the Reverend Trevor Davis to be called to the pastorate; he became the longest serving minister in the church’s history, being at Hainault from 1959 until 1971.

Trevor Davis held an evangelical theology, but saw the benefits of the liturgical movement. The New English Bible was published and replaced the Authorised Version in church services. Gradually the Tudor language of prayer gave way to contemporary form. The service retained shape and dignity, however, despite modernisation.

The wooden church hall was demolished in 1962, and a new church erected in 1963. The old church became the hall. The new church was described as ‘modern but not modernistic’, and its design has stood the test of time; it suits formal worship well, although some have felt restricted by its somewhat inflexible arrangement. The meeting room in the church was named in memory of Ethel Britton, as was the wooden hall it replaced.

During the 1960s the Sunday evening service continued to have a larger congregation then the morning service, but slowly the balance changed. Sunday school was moved from the afternoon to the morning, so children shared in part of the church service. A mid-week Communion service was instituted on Wednesday mornings, and continues today. The traditional mid-week evening Bible study and prayer meeting was discontinued in favour of house groups.

Trevor Davis forged strong personal friendships with local clergy and ministers, and ecumenical links flourished between Hainault Baptist Church and other denominations in the district, culminating in united Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday in 1965 with Baptists, Anglicans, and Methodists taking an equal part. There was also a shared concern for the neighbourhood, and representatives of all the churches in Hainault met in the Ethel Britton room in 1966 to consider how the churches could set up a Community Care project. This pioneered the way for a borough-wide scheme, which continues today under the name Redbridge Voluntary Care.

The 1960s saw conversions, baptisms, and a growth in church membership. Three men entered the Baptist ministry: John Matthews, Kenneth Wolfe, and Michael Bray. Each distinguished himself in very different ways. John Matthews (who sadly died in 1999) held ecumenical pastorates before writing for the British Council of Churches; Dr. Kenneth Wolfe has become a lecturer at the University of Kent, at Canterbury, where he is an authority on the history of religious broadcasting, and has published a monumental work on the subject; the Reverend Michael Bray has served churches in Keynsham, Birmingham, and Sydenham, and is highly regarded for his specialist interest in counselling and his work on the ecumenical group which advises on the conduct of funerals.

International Prospective

The Reverend Charles Karunaratna was minister at Hainault Baptist Church, 1972-1979. Born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), he had trained for the Anglican ministry and was ordained in Canterbury Cathedral. His subsequent ministry in Baptist churches began in his native country; on returning to England he served several churches in east London before coming to Hainault.

Combining an enquiring, yet forthright, approach to ministry with a personal search for scholarship, Charles Karunaratna was awarded a doctorate in 1974. He urged people to take their faith seriously and sought loyal commitment to the church.

Once again financial needs became urgent, as grants applied for towards the building of a new and permanent church hall did not materialise. Funds accruing from the sale of the manse (which was not required, as the minister owned his own house) had to be used to complete the building of the hall suite, opened in 1976. Significant new loans added to the church debt. The hall, however, was heavily used throughout the week, with the church playgroup there every weekday morning, afternoon activities (such as the Sisterhood), and evening sessions for the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades and other groups.

Towards the end of the 1960s, the green paddocks of Limes Farm were developed by the local authority largely to provide additional rented housing. The scheme was controversial, but Hainault Baptist Church attempted to visit and welcome the new residents as they moved in. The Reverend Charles Karunaratna hoped for an ecumenical church on the Limes Farm Estate, but support was not forthcoming. Local churches did pool resources for a Sunday School in the Limes Farm Community Hall, which opened in 1974, but after two years it became the sole responsibility of Hainault Baptist Church and falling attendance led to its integration in 1978 with the church Sunday School in Franklyn Gardens.

The 1970s were a decade in which people became increasingly mobile, and new church members did not match the number who moved away from Hainault. Nevertheless, among the new members were some with outstanding gifts and vision, who served the church well in pastoral care, outreach, and social concern. Society was changing rapidly, often with industrial unrest and community disturbance and the church was challenged to respond to developing situations that appeared new and difficult to understand. In the 1979 general election, two church members (John Freeman and Ralph Scott) stood for parliament in the constituencies of Ilford North and Ilford South, although neither were elected.

Regaining Confidence

The ministers and clergy in Hainault decided to form a Hainault fraternal separate from the North Ilford fraternal, and soon lay representatives were invited to the monthly meetings. By the early 1980s, the whole spectrum of denominations was active as a thriving Fellowship of Churches. Hainault Baptist Church had not absorbed the surge of charismatic churchmanship in the 1970s, and the breadth of theology embraced within the Hainault Fellowship provided welcome support as Hainault Baptist Church went through a 3½-year interregnum.

The original generation of Hainault residents were now middle aged or elderly; young families were few and the child population fell to an all time low. Although children’s activities in the church continued to flourish, there was an evident change in the age profile of the congregation. It became necessary once again for the church to apply for grant aid from Home Mission as it took out a further loan to buy another manse.

The Reverend Stephen Biddall was minister from 1982 until 1991. Although a young man in his first pastorate, he related to older people as well as bringing new ways to interest children and challenge youth. A competent singer, guitarist and actor, Stephen Biddall introduced new hymns, songs and drama into the framework of structured worship. The decline in church membership was halted and slowly reversed.

The church continued to be outward looking. Stephen Biddall was appointed Baptist borough dean for Redbridge in 1987, and the following year became the first convenor of the Ilford Group of Baptist Churches. A deacon Stephen Pratchett, was appointed to the full-time staff of Christian Aid, and third world issues became an important feature of the church agenda. In 1984 Hainault Baptist Church twinned with South Rotterdam Baptist Church, forming a link, which flourishes today.

The 40th church anniversary was marked in 1989 by a Year of Mission – a multi-faceted series of events to unite the church in drawing people to faith in Christ.

Another overseas initiative was the World Mission Link organised by the Baptist Missionary Society, starting in 1991. With three other churches in Ilford, Hainault Baptist Church became linked with a missionary in Nepal, a few years later with missionaries in Brazil, and now with John and Lynne Thompson in Albania.

In 1992 the church repaid its final loan and for the first time since 1939, when it received the site loan, was free of debt on all its property. Consequently Home Mission grant aid came to an end and once again Hainault Baptist Church became financially independent.

Decade of Evangelism 

Churches in Britain agreed that the last ten years of the century should be a decade of evangelism. The local fellowship of churches, which now included Chigwell, planned an ecumenical evangelistic mission, which was held in a marquee in Manford Way in September 1994. The keynote of the decade was much in mind when the Reverend James Pate was called to the pastorate of Hainault Baptist Church in 1992. A minister with the heart of an evangelist, he sought to present the gospel in church, schools, and wherever he could find a natural opportunity. He found much encouragement among the strongly evangelical Anglican and free churches in Hainault and Chigwell.

James Pate recognised the need to address ethical issues and support those who were socially or politically active. He became Mayor’s chaplain for the London Borough of Redbridge in 1994 at the invitation of the mayor, Cllr. Linda Perham, who lives in Franklyn Gardens, and the church hosted the annual Civic service. The following year Cllr. Ralph Scott, a long-standing church member, was made deputy major of Redbridge.

As houses were sold, young families once again moved into the district. The child population has now risen, but this is an unchurched generation that does not readily see that the Christian faith has any relevance today. James Pate urged the diaconate and members of Hainault Baptist Church to respond to the tension thereby created for evangelical Christians between the cultures of church and society. It has been difficult, however, to be certain what form that response should take.

The relevance of our faith was at the heart of the theme ‘Everyday Christianity’, chosen by John Westbury OBE, a deacon of the church, who was elected president of the London Baptist Association in 1995.

The church ventured into a team ministry in December 1993. A deacon, Jean Andrews, had been studying the Baptist Union lay pastor’s course; the church appointed her assistant lay minister to work alongside the Reverend James Pate. Their gifts were complementary and the partnership proved a successful one, lasting until the autumn of 1996 when the Andrews family moved to Oxfordshire.

In the summer of 1998, James Pate became minister of Pilgrims Hatch Baptist Church, Brentwood, and Hainault Baptist Church found itself in a ministerial interregnum. The Reverend Neil Harding, minister of Goodmayes Baptist Church, is moderator at this happy milestone in our history.