Our History

Extracts from a history of the South Shields Baptist Tabernacle revised from an essay written by Edward Clark (August 21 1909) and continued by Robert Douglas Wilson (March 31 1973)

It was sometime in the year 1840 that two brothers known as the "Bristol Brethren" came to South Shields from the city of that name and began to preach the Gospel from the Cross stairs in the Market Place. Their names were Bertram and Joseph D. Richardson. These two stalwarts, by their preaching and by God’s blessing, gathered around them a goodly number of men and women. By and by the time arrived when they felt the necessity of having some indoor meeting place and a big room was found in Wapping Street, below the Halfpenny Ferry Landing known as Bella Booth’s Long Room. In this long low ceilinged room and in this obscure corner of South Shields the Tabernacle had its birth, reminding one forcibly of Him whose birth was lowly and who was cradled in a manger.

This room soon became too small for the growing and vigorous community and permission was received for them to use the building known as the Union British School in Waterloo Vale, where three sermons often had to be preached - one in the lower school, another in the upper school and a third in the schoolyard. The Union School did not prove to be very comfortable so another change was made in the place of meeting, this time towards the High Shields end of the town. This accommodation - it was just another long room - was situated in East Holborn and was known as the "Old Drunkery". And then another move was made to the "Old Railway Station" (in Commercial Road) belonging to the North Eastern Railway. The work prospered and progressed so much that the people conceived the idea of building place of their own where they might have a permanent home; a place of their own after many wanderings.

A piece of land was acquired in Cuthbert Street and in the year 1842 you would have seen the men of the Church laying the bricks, mixing the mortar and doing the wood work, for the building was largely erected by voluntary labour.

In 1842 the congregation went into the new building before it was finished, so eager were they for a more commodious building. While the church in Cuthbert Street was being built a mortgage had to be obtained in order to furnish money for the land and materials used. The congregation at that time consisted mainly of poor men, very simple in a sense. Many of them were keelmen and had a notion that if they allowed their names to go forward as trustees then they ran a chance of having their boats taken from them and their furniture sold. After a short time it was found that the mortgage interest could not be raised for the people were poor. When the mortgage interest was over twelve months in arrears the mortgage was acquired by the Roman Catholic church. They took possession of the building and the congregation was evicted in the year 1847. There was nothing for it but to return to Bella Booth’s room in Wapping Street. They were there only a short time, returning to the Old Station in Commercial Road. They were undaunted by their ill luck and once having had a building of their own they were determined to have another.

They built a small mission in Cambridge Street and called it the "Ebeneezer" church. They took the name "Ebeneezer" from the first book of Samuel, chapter 7 and verse 12 ‘Hitherto the Lord hath helped us’, for in all their trials and struggles God had been their refuge and their help. They took possession of the new Church in 1855, just eight years after losing their first building to the Catholic community.

In 1866 the church called a student from Spurgeon’s College named Rev. Dr. William Hillier. Under his leadership the Ebeneezer Chapel soon became much too small to house the congregation, so a bigger place had to be found for the Sunday Services. A mission room on Johnson’s Hill was secured.


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