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Saturday, 24 October 2015


I am indebted to a fellow researcher of Baptist history for not only finding but allowing me to see a publication which had become something of a Holy Grail for me. I have been digging into the life of my great great grandfather, the Baptist minister William Augustus Salter, for around five years now. He served the congregations of a number of churches in the course of his life, from his first appointment at the Henrietta Street chapel in London’s Covent Garden to his last, the church in Clarendon Street, Leamington Spa, which he not only led but founded and built.

Rev William Augustus Salter (1812-1879) c1870 as pastor of Clarendon Street chapel, Leamington Spa

I have known for some time that the speeches and sermons made on 5th October 1836, the day of his ordination at Henrietta Street, had been published. I learned of a copy held by the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College, Oxford; but could not afford the time or train fare to make a speculative trip.

The Angus Library is Britain’s best collection of Baptist publications, founded on the personal collection of Joseph Angus (1816-1902), William Augustus’ brother-in-law. William Augustus and Joseph trained for the ministry together at Stepney Baptist College, and it was when Angus was in 1849 appointed as Principal of that institution that it thrived. Outgrowing its Stepney premises the college moved in 1855 to larger ones overlooking Regent’s Park. Then in 1927, twenty five years after Angus’ death Regent’s moved lock, stock and library to the more studious environment of Oxford.

Regent's Park College quadrangle today (photograph by Tomsett, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, my colleague mentioned that he was going to be doing some research in the Angus Library and kindly offered to look for the Henrietta Street sermons, which included the Charge to the Minister delivered by Angus’ and Salter’s old teacher Rev W.H. Murch, then Principal of Stepney College. Surely Joseph was in the congregation that day witnessing his friend’s entry into the ministry?

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the Henrietta Street speeches would include one from Salter himself. My great great grandfather’s words! His voice on the page! William Augustus spoke in response to the previous speaker, Rev J.J. Davies, who (according to the Order of Service) “delivered the Introductory Address and asked the usual questions.”

Unfortunately the published speeches do not include the questions themselves! But we are told of their nature. Before asking the “usual questions” of William Augustus, Rev Davies “put the usual question to the church, respecting the circumstances which had led to the present service [of ordination].” A church elder Mr Dawson responded with a history of Henrietta Street chapel, founded in 1817 and suddenly and unexpectedly deprived of its sitting pastor Rev T. Thomas in May 1836. Thomas (with that initial, could he have been Thomas Thomas?!) had effectively been headhunted by Abergavenny Baptist College. My great great grandfather had been filling Thomas’s shoes as a supply-preacher at Henrietta Street for the past three months.

Henrietta Street in 1837 – note the early layout of Covent Garden market (from Cary’s New Plan of London and its Vicinity)

Salter’s own “usual questions” were on the matters of his personal journey to God, his decision to enter the ministry, and his views on Christian doctrine. He replied with admirable piety and brevity on all three counts (occupying four pages of the published version compared to seventeen from Rev Davies). In the first matter, he was drawn to God, and eventually baptised at Camberwell Baptist Church, after starting as a volunteer teacher at the church Sunday school. In the second, he knew from the moment of his baptism that he wanted to be more than merely a member of a congregation: that he wanted to be of public service to God.

In the third, his Confession of Faith shows that he believed in the Holy Trinity, and in the fundamental wickedness of mankind from Adam and Eve onwards. Sin, at the core of our being, was however more to be pitied and repented of than cursed with fire and brimstone. Salvation was possible for all sinners thanks to the sacrifice of the Son of God. It’s a speech full of love for all sinners and for the glory of God.

We can be fairly sure of the names of two others present at William Augustus' ordination: William Brodie Gurney and his daughter Emma. Emma and William Augustus were married less than a fortnight after this service. Joseph Angus married Emma's sister Amelia a little under four years later. And the flyleaf signature of the original owner of the Angus Library copy of the Henrietta Street speeches is none other than Salter's and Angus's father-in-law, W.B. Gurney.

Signature in the flyleaf of the Angus LIbrary copy of his son-in-law's ordination speeches: W.B. Gurney, Denmark Hill

It’s fascinating to read the clear and convinced statements of William Augustus' understanding of doctrine at the age of twenty-five, because they are entirely consistent with the sermons which he preached more than forty years later in Clarendon Street, and which were published posthumously. That loving belief in the possibility of salvation for his fellow men and women made William Augustus Salter a gentle shepherd to all the flocks he tended.

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