St Barnabas Church, Southdown

The history of St Barnabas Church is an important layer of Southdown’s past that needs to be recorded and preserved. When the church held an exhibition of its history in June 2008, I took the opportunity to assemble the materials needed to put together this short article.

St Barnabas Church at Mount Road is situated in an area that is today Southdown but which used to be called Twerton Hill. Christian worship in this locality can be traced back as far as the 19th century. Antique newspaper cuttings reveal that by 1879 services were being held in a barn at Sladebrook Farm. These were led by Mr Weathergill, a Lay Reader. Then in 1881, a wooden building called St Michael’s Mission Room was constructed at the top of Blackdown Lane (The Hollow) where the entrance to Haycombe Cemetery is now. The Mission Room was an outreach post from St Michael’s Church in Twerton Village (1).

Between 1896 and 1900 the Vicar of Twerton, Prebendary Stokes Shaw, made efforts towards having a church built for the Twerton Hill area. This church was to be dedicated to St Katherine. Blueprints for the new church were drawn up and published in the Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald, but funding for the beautiful building was refused (2). Undeterred, the Vicar continued to press for a church at Twerton Hill, and in 1903 the first St Barnabas Church was built at the junction of Rush Hill and Englishcombe Lane (3).

It is said that Twerton parishioners regarded Stokes Shaw as a good man, rather like Barnabas in the New Testament, which may have influenced the decision to dedicate the church to St Barnabas (4). After the church was built, the St Michael’s Mission Room was moved to the same site to serve as a church hall. It is the wooden structure that can be seen behind the church in the above photos. St Barnabas Church was manned by staff from St Michael’s Church and also by Mr Hobbs – a Lay Reader serving from 1918 to 1936 who helped keep the church afloat by selling produce from his three allotments (5).

The population of the area steadily increased as work on the Southdown Estate began and green fields gradually transformed into urban settlements. During the 1920s and 1930s the congregation of St Barnabas Church established a football team, became involved in amateur dramatics and arranged annual charabanc outings (6). A new church hall was constructed at Mount Road in 1928, after the Council agreed to give land at Mount Road in exchange for the Glebelands owned by Twerton Parish. The Council built a housing development on the Glebelands that is today called Glebe Road (7).

The growth of the Southdown and Whiteway Estates made it necessary to separate from Twerton, so that the area could be served by its own resident priest. For this purpose Reverend R.M. Eglin was appointed to St Barnabas Church in 1933. Houses continued to spring up after the war, creating the need for a larger church. The new St Barnabas Church at Mount Road was completed in 1958 and the Parish of St Barnabas, Southdown established (8).

The demolition of the old St Barnabas Church and the sale of its land helped towards the cost of the new church. However, most of the cost was met by the War Damage Commission, in recognition of the loss of Holy Trinity Church at James Street West and St Jame’s Church at Southgate Street, which had both been destroyed during the blitz (9).

The eminent stained glass artist Michael Farrar-Bell was commissioned to create the striking East Window in the new St Barnabas Church. The window depicts Christ descending from the cross with the nails falling from His hands to signify His victory over death (10).

The Reverend HJ Thomas or “Father Jack” was Vicar when the church was consecrated. In addition there were several other clergymen and staff. There was also a substantial male choir and a range of flourishing organisations: the Church of England Men’s Society, Mothers Union, Young Wives Group, Ladies Handicraft Guild, Youth Fellowship, Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies. The tradition of the annual church outing was continued for many years (11).

In the 1960s Reverend “Frank” Hall and his wife Hilda enhanced many aspects of church life. Within the church, social events such as skittles evenings and parish concerts were organised. There was an emphasis on God’s love for the individual and using one’s skills and assets to serve Him. Starting in 1970 a new Vicar, Michael Lowe, was able to greatly increase the numbers attending the church with his enthusiasm and energy. During this time, St Barnabas Church and Southdown Methodist Church held many shared services (12).

Andy Radford became Vicar of St Barnabas Church in 1980, introducing a weekly worship meeting with modern Mission Praise type songs. He was succeeded by Timothy Boniwell in 1986, and Ronald Attley in 1996. Sadly, over the 1980s and 1990s there was a general decline in the levels of membership and attendance that St Barnabas Church had enjoyed in times past (13).

Reverend David Burleigh came to the parish in 2001, using a mixture of service styles – some traditional but friendly, and others quite informal. Today the congregation is small but very active, and church members join the Wells Walk for Save the Children each year. Organisations associated with the church also keep busy with their regular activities. These organisations are: the Barnaby’s Pre-school Play Group, Mothers Union, Wives Group, Evergreen Club for the retired, Sequence Dancing Club, Scouts, Cubs, Beavers and Guides.

In this way, St Barnabas Church continues to serve its neighbourhood, offering spiritual support and a venue for activities that foster social cohesion within the local community. You can visit the St Barnabas Church web pages here: St Barnabas, Bath.