History

The Location

Hand sketch of HillCliffe

HillCliffe has been a place of worship from time immemorial. Some sources maintain that it is the oldest surviving non establishment congregation in Britain [Goadby C19, Davies 1891]. This seems to be based on a gravestone in the graveyard dated 1357 and suggests a Baptist tradition before the Anabaptists and Mennonite communities that originated during the Reformation.

Others conclude that ‘we cannot claim this as the oldest Baptist church’ [Kenworthy C19] but quote evidence that the first minister, Mr Weyerburton, led a thriving church until his death in 1594.

Early photo of HillCliffe

Being close to the county boundary in the 18th century, when the Lancashire and Cheshire boundary was the River Mersey, the church owned a meeting house in Roe Buck Yard, Bridge St, Warrington. This enabled them to move worship between counties when the authorities tried to close the church and there is also a cellar at Hillcliffe for secret worship in times of persecution.

During renovation of the building in 1841 an old stone baptistery was found from antiquity on the site.

The church at HillCliffe is mentioned by the Baptist’s greatest preacher, Charles Spurgeon in his book ‘The Sword and the Trowel’ (1868).

Preachers

There have been hard working ministers like Rev John MacGowan (1748-59) who not only pastured the church but carried on a business as a bread maker in Bridge St. In those days the minister took services five days a week and twice on Sunday!

Picture of Oliver Cromwel

There have been difficult ministers like Mr Alexander Harper (1785) who refused to give up the church keys when the congregation ‘endeavoured to get rid of him’. The subsequent legal case closed the church for seven years and nearly bankrupted the members so that they had to sell their church in Warrington [Kenworthy].

There is also a tradition that Oliver Cromwell worshipped at HillCliffe during the time of the battle of Warrington (1651) and that one of his soldiers occupied the pulpit on that occasion [Kendrick].

Interesting facts

Members in 1882 recorded that during the Civil War a man and his wife (unnamed) from HillCliffe suffered martyrdom for their faith at the hands of Lord Derby.

Many American Baptist churches trace their history through HillCliffe after mention of a member, H Roller or Knowles, emigrating to the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1809. There is a legend of Aaron Arlington of Piedmont organising a church at HillCliffe in AD 987 and through this the American churches claim direct decent from the Jerusalem church of AD 31!

Many members have used and are using their God given talents for local outreach, from the HillCliffe football team to children’s Day Camp; as missionaries from China to Peru; to preach the Gospel and pastor other Baptist communities and to praise and worship our Lord in this place for hundreds of years.