Did you know that Bradfield and Rougham Baptist Church and St Mary’s Church Rougham used to be enemies?
In 1834 Abi Last came home to Bradfield to look after her elderly parents. She had been working in Somerset as a domestic servant. Abi attended the newly built Baptist Church in Garland St, Bury St Edmunds, but this was a long journey for her and impossible for most of her fellow villagers who were incredibly poor. So she invited Reverend Cornelius Elven to preach in the village.
This ‘provocative act’ was to cause major repercussions.
Most of the villagers in Bradfield lived in cottages owned by the local landowner whose son, Reverend Robert Davers, was living in the Bradfield Rectory and who was also Rector of St Mary’s Church in Rougham. His family were opposed to the non-conformist movement so Abi found a villager whose cottage was big enough for a meeting. Reverend Davers’ wife watched who went in, wrote down their names and many of them were evicted from their homes. Open air meetings were held for a while, until a plot was found to build upon.
A school was added and the Sir James Stiff Almshouses for non-conformist widows were built in the 1870s.
But why should two local churches be enemies? 1834 was a very different world to 2012. The Poor Law Reform Act had just been passed by Parliament, which meant more Workhouses were being built and these were sponsored by wealthy landowners. Rural workers were encouraged to seek employment in urban areas. The Church of England was predominantly in the hands of the local landowners — they appointed the ministers and gave them their salaries, so they had a very great say in the forms of worship. The landowners were thus keeping themselves separate from the ‘wretched poor’ On the other hand the Baptist Church was organised and run by those same ‘wretched poor’. Thus a major conflict of interest!
They are friends now.