The History of Handcross Chapel

The following account has been taken from “The Strict Baptist Chapels of England” by Ralph F. Chambers. The word “Strict” is a shortened form of the word “restricted”; that is, we restrict church membership and the Lord’s supper to those who have been baptised and believe the same things as we do. We are “Particular” Baptists because we believe the doctrines of grace, commonly known as Calvinism.

"Handcross has a small red-brick Strict Baptist chapel standing well back from the main road, and almost hidden by the shops and houses. About the year 1775 the Holy Spirit was at work in this hilltop village, calling out a people for the Lord. After a while these exercised souls began to find one another out, and commenced holding meetings in one cottage or another for prayer and the reading of the Word. They do not appear to have had any minister or teacher, but received their instruction as the Holy Spirit opened their understandings and applied His Word to their awakening hearts. Those were hard and rugged days; people were very poor, consisting mainly of woodmen and farm labourers. Their well-thumbed Bibles were in most cases their only books, and many could not read at all. Yet they spent many precious hours around the Word of God.

Handcross was not then the village that we know to-day, for it was little more than an isolated stop for the daily stage-coach which plied between London and Brighthelmstone. But these anxious seekers after truth decided to arrange some meetings for the purpose of discussing the possibility of forming a New Testament Church. So they gathered on three separate occasions, seeking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, in order that they might make a right decision in relation to the nature of the church which should be formed.

What saith the scripture? They had not come to form a church of their own conception, nor had they any desire for a mere denominational existence: they wanted to know what the Holy Spirit said upon each question. They were anxious to be constituted a New Testament Church - but what kind of church was that? Was it a sprinkling church, or a church baptizing by immersion? Was it to be a congregational church or one of the presbyterian order? Was it to be an open or mixed communion body, or one confining the communion to members of the church? Each question was considered openly and without prejudice, and after three meetings they arrived at the conclusion that a Particular Baptist Church, observing close communion, was the nearest to the New Testament model. Here was one fixed desire - to have nothing but that which was clearly revealed in the Scriptures of Truth - no party, no denomination, as such, but that which was right in the sight of God.

As soon as a decision was made, steps were taken to constitute such a church, and in May 1778 it was decided to ask the pastor of the Particular Baptist Church at Sevenoaks and the pastor of the Particular Baptist Church at Wivelsfield to form the community at Handcross into a Particular Baptist Church. This was accomplished in 1780 and Thomas Humphreys, who had been the leader in the course of their enquiries, was chosen as pastor of the church.

The first chapel at Handcross was built in 1782 on the same site as the present building, and was a quaint wood and plaster structure, a drawing of which is hanging in the vestry of the present chapel. Worshippers came from East Grinstead, Dormansland, Edenbridge, Crawley and a score of surrounding villages and hamlets.

After sixteen years of service Thomas Humphreys received a call from the church at Brighthelmstone, and in June, 1796, with the prayerful consent of his people at Handcross, removed to that little fishing town. The next pastor to be chosen was William Fuller, who ministered from 1797 to 1829, a period of thirty two years. During his pastorate a Sunday school was commenced which continued for many years.

By 1885 the old wood and plaster chapel, after over a hundred years of service, was beginning to show its age, and a new building was becoming a necessity. Mr Knight, the pastor of Haywards Heath chapel, was deeply interested in the welfare of the Handcross cause, and in 1887 the Trustees met in his house to consider the matter. Encouraged by a donation of £50, they resolved to proceed with plans for a new building. The work was carried out and completed in 1888. Since that day the cause has led a quiet existence, and generation has succeeded generation in the conduct of the worship of God."