Leigh Beck Baptist Church: The Vision

'The First Hundred Years'

Rev. Frank Brown

Rev. Frank Brown came to lead the Church in 1960. The reader will remember that there had been a vision of a new church being built. It was during The Rev. Brown’s Ministry that this came to the forefront again. Rev. Brown gave an astounding speech in 1962 viz:

         ‘Next year, 1963, is the Diamond Jubilee of our Church and your Deacons lovingly and prayerfully bring before you the following suggestions for your brotherly consideration and acceptance. 

Your Deacons and Officers have very carefully noted that other denominations have already done what we purpose to do. They have seen the need and have planned accordingly in the building of 2 new churches. Anglican and Methodist. This being in the light of the growing population of Canvey Island.We must now decide whether we, as Baptists, shall continue to spend more money on our present building, which has been much improved but, which nevertheless still requires more and more money to be spent on what will remain a very old sort of temporary structure. May I recommend the Diamond Jubilee be the starting point of our new venture of building a new Baptist Church on Canvey Island.’

So the seed was sown for the new Church building (what we now occupy in 2003)

It was during this same year that Rev. Brown gave a speech of the habits of many only attending Sunday morning services, whereas they used to attend both morning and evening services. Was their first love and faith growing cold? (Was this the beginning of the smaller numbers now attending the Sunday evening service)

During Rev. Brown’s Ministry in June 1963 the Church celebrated its 60 years of witness. A special service of thanksgiving was held at which the Guest Speaker, was the President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland – The Ref. Hubert Watson. During this Diamond Jubilee week there were special events held such as:

    Diamond Jubilee concert arranged by the Life Boys (Proceeds in aid of New Church Building Fund. (held on the Saturday June 22nd)
    The Call of Jubilee – Service conducted by Rev. Frank Brown held on Sunday June 23rd
    Diamond Jubilee Rally held on Tuesday June 25th
    Morning coffee and Women’s Rally arranged by ‘The Women’s Friendly’
    United Youth Rally held on Thursday June 27th
    Dedication and communion Service held on the Friday

Membership had risen to 128 (108 – Leigh Beck and 20 Winter Gardens). During this period of time the Mothers Fellowship was flourishing very well. With 20 – 30 mothers and children attending on a Tuesday afternoon it was a good point of contact for the Church. Rev. Brown would often be in the meeting to speak to the mums and help out with the small children

After 3½ years Rev. Brown announced that he would be leaving to go back to his previous church and by the end of September 1963 the Church was once again without a minister. The Rev. Brown, like many of his predecessors, had help achieve many goals at Leigh Beck and he left a church that was very strong both in numbers and faith.


The Church quietly and steadily played its role in the community, serving and guiding. And it was God’s guidance that the vision of a new Church building was in sight.

The Rev. Idris Jones of Leeds, received and accepted the call to the Pastorate in October 1964. Under his leadership the seeds of the new expansion of the Church began to grown and the Church began its ‘Outreach’ campaign.  Special invitations were sent to non-members of the church to join in Harvest Festival and Christmas Services, with heartening success. And the idea of a new church, now proceeded rapidly.

Then in 1965, although resources were slender and expenses heavy, the Deacons and Church, after much prayer and consideration resolved: ‘That in order to maintain the Ministry of God’s work and the Baptist Cause on the Island, it is urgently necessary to build a new Church’. Plans were prepared by a member of the Church, Mr Ray Aylin, and the building fund, without any special Appeal began to grow. New ways of raising money and resources were carefully sought.


Stone laying Ceremony early in 1970 for new Church Building Rev. Idris Jones and Mr Mason (Deacon of the Church and a County Councillor

Even the young people of the day did their ‘bit’ to help raise money for the new Church Building. During 1966/67 a group of young people got together and produced a magazine titled ‘KNEEZ’. This magazine was produced in aid of the new building. They sold each copy for 6d. The Editors were M & P McNeill. The young people of the day wrote many interesting articles. Some of the contributions were made by Margaret Kingsley, Martin and Philip McNeill, Madeleine Bindoff, R.L.Barton, Kay Bennett, Mick Lanchester, Lin Benfield and Idris Jones.

Canvey Island continued to expand. From a hundred people at the beginning of the century, the population grew to 17,000 in 1965 and to 28,000 in 1970 – so a larger and better church was really needed.

The Building fund for the new Church was a great challenge and the Church did all they possibly could to encourage local people to get involved in this project.

It was also during the year 1966 that the bungalow at the back of the Church (named Warley) was demolished, as it was in such a bad state of repair.With this bungalow being demolished, the vision of a car park being in its place would come to fruition.

Many articles featured in local papers and the following is taken from a report by the Canvey News on February 6th 1970:

  • At a meeting of members of Canvey Baptist Church it was agreed that the present building, which has served the Island since 1903 was to be demolished, it having fallen into a state when, without the expenditure of a considerable sum of money, it would be unfit for further service.
  • Plans for the erection of a new church are now with Canvey Urban District Council awaiting, we trust, their approval.  Should this be forthcoming in the near future, it is hoped that the construction company may be able to commence work during March 1970. 
  • The cost of this work will be approximately £14,000 of which approximately £5,000 is in hand.
  • During its lifetime the present Church has seen many thousands of children pass through its Sunday School and youth organisations. Some of these are still living upon the Island, and others are spread all round the world, a large number busily engaged in Christian service as the result of instruction given while in fellowship with us.
  • Some may like to show their appreciation in a tangible way in this act of faith now being shown by the present membership.
  • As we approach the time of demolition and rebuilding news of our progress will, through the courtesy of this newspaper, be made known, said Mr E.G.Barrett, secretary.

Plans were at last past and on Saturday September 5th 1970, the new Church at long last held its opening Ceremony. The opening and dedication was performed by the Rev. T.W. Shepherd and the Address by the Rev. D.M. Mackenzie.

The report given in the local paper reads as follows.

Friday September 11th 1970

         The dream of 7 years came true for Canvey Baptists on Saturday when a new church, costing nearly £15,000 was opened and dedicated on the site of their old church.

         The previous building had been demolished and a fine new building put up.  Before a large crowd outside the Rev. T Shepherd (Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend) carried out the opening.  He was called on so to do by the Rev. Idris Jones, Canvey Baptist Minister………………Speaking of the new Canvey Church, the Rev. Mackenzie said ‘This is going to be a place of fellowship – with the breaking of bread, the prayers, and the witness to come’.   Earlier, Mr R Aylin, Building Secretary and Church Treasurer, regretted that Mr Bennett had not lived to see the occasion. He recalled that it had been planned for 7 years. He said that he had heard the church likened in appearance to a bingo hall but its present construction was just within their financés and they could not afford a traditional looking one. He recalled that their previous church, prior to its demolition, was falling down.

During the latter part of 1973 the Rev. Idris Jones became very ill and unfortunately passed away. For 10 faithful years he served the Church at Leigh Beck. Rev. Idris Jones was greatly missed. His wife Nellie, who also worked faithfully for the church, carried on worshiping with the folk. Nellie passed away in 2002.


During the 1970’s the Church continued to flourish – The Cabin Boys reformed in 1973 by Mrs Joan Barrett, which later became known as Anchor Boys. The Girls Life Brigade continued in vast numbers with yearly displays being held in the Casino Hall. They also went up to Albert Hall once a year. According to Vera Jones who was an Officer at the time in the Girls Life Brigade, one year the gymnastic team came 3rd in the whole district and took part in the Albert Hall.

1st Canvey Reunion 1964. Mrs Kingsley retires after 42 years as Captain at the Company’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

During 1974 a Lay Pastor Mr V Boulter moved to Canvey Island and was worshipping at Leigh Beck Baptist. From time to time Mr Boulter would preach at the Church and within a short time, he was invited to become the Lay Minister whilst in the period of interregnum. He was part time at first and then the Church asked him to become their full time Minister. Mr Boulter possessed his own bungalow in St. Anne’s Road and therefore didn’t want to move into the manse.

Again the Church seemed to be attended well with 103 on the membership made up as follows 83 worshipping at Leigh beck, 11 at Winter Gardens and 9 members on the associate Members Roll. During this time the Church were also supporting one of its members (Miss Margaret Kingsley) as she progressed through Missionary Training.  Another Holiday club was planned for the following April under the Leadership of Mrs Pietrowsky. The Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade meetings were very popular and well attended.

Mr Boulter left Leigh Beck Baptist to return to his old Church in 1976. Another time of interregnum followed, with the Deacons guiding the Church with the help of Pulpit supplies from other churches.


During 1979 the Church ‘called’ The Rev. Brian Durkin to be their Minister. The Induction Service was held on Saturday March 24th. The Act of Induction was upheld by the Rev. D. Horwood, President of the then Essex Baptist Association. The Charge to the incoming Minister was given by The Rev. R.J. Hamper J.P and the Charge to the Church was given by the Rev. T.W Shepherd, General Secretary of the Essex Baptist Association.  Solos were sung during that service by Dorothy Emblem (now member) and Mr Ian Piotrowsky (past member)

The Women’s Friendly Meetings during this period of time used to number 40 and sometimes even 50, according to Florrie Gregory. Most of the Women’s Friendly was led by the ladies themselves and sometimes the Minister such as Rev. Durkin would give a talk. After a cup of tea, the Lord’s Prayer was always recited before the ladies would make their way home.

Opening Ceremony of the new church Building of Winter Gardens September 1982

18th October 1980 was the date of the Induction of Mr Eric Whybrew to the Lay Pastorate of the Winter Gardens Baptist Church. Rev. Brian Durkin also took part in the Induction Service of  Eric Whybrew. It is interesting to note that Mrs Vera Ryan, the then Church Secretary, took part in this service – Vera has just recently been called to be with the Lord (February 2003). The Lord’s calling of Vera has left a massive void at Winter Gardens, as her whole life centred in and on Winter Gardens Church. Vera Ryan was indeed a great stalwart of the Church.

The dream of the years of the Winter Garden folk came true on 4th September 1982 with the opening of their new church building. The opening ceremony was performed by Leonard Lewin, elder and former pastor.  It was preceded by welcome and prayer by Pastor Eric Whybrew. The new church and hall cost £60,000. This multi-purpose building was better equipped to cater for more groups, including youth groups and a Sunday School.


Induction service of Rev. Gilfillan

In 1983 Rev James Gilfillan became part-time Pastor. Rev Gilfillan also worked as a District Nurse. The Induction Service of Rev. J Gilfillan as Lay Minister of the Church took place on Saturday January 29th. During this service the church’s Singing Group took part and a solo was given by Mr J Andrew.

Later during that year the Girl’s Brigade held a reunion dinner to celebrate 60 years of the 1st Canvey Girls Brigade. After the meal a film was shown by Aubrey Stevens, recalling their past activities. It was noted that since organisation was started at Leigh Beck in 1924, there had only been 3 captains – Mrs Marjory Kingsley (who founded the Girls Brigade at Leigh Beck), Miss Freda Hall, who started her career in the ranks, and the then present officer at the time, Mrs Yvonne Hawkins. When the 1st Canvey Girls Brigade was first formed there were 10 members; at this point in time there were 60. It was also during the 1980’s that the Girls’ Brigade very sadly paid their last respects to one of their most dedicated founders – Miss Freda Hall died, aged 76, at her home in Taranto Road. The Rev. James Gilfillan said at the time, and was reported in a local newspaper –

Three Girls Brigade Captains – Mrs Kingsley, Mrs Yvonne Hawkins and Miss Freda Hall 10th Nov. 1984. Company’s 60th anniversary.

‘Freda Hall came to Canvey she was just 14 and stayed on the island for 62 years.  She was one of the founder members of the Girls Brigade in 1924 and took over as captain in 1973 until 1979′.  The Girls from the brigade formed a guard of honour at Miss Hall’s funeral in Leigh Beck Church’.

During this era a door was installed into the Youth Hall in memory of Mr Lewin a past stalwart of the Church. This door gave access to the corner plot which made it much easier when holding various events on the plot of ground. The Church heating was changed from electric storage heaters to Gas boiler and radiators and new hardwood, double glazed windows were installed in the manse.


A group of the Friends of Youth getting together to say goodbye to Joyce & Alec Dodd’s

The Friends of Youth was originally the Guild of Friendship. This was a group of Officers from the Brigade who used to make various handicrafts and sell their work. The funds made from this sale of work used to be sent equally to the headquarters of the Girls Brigade and their own Girls Brigade Company at Leigh Beck. At a later date when the Girls Brigade was about to close at Leigh Beck, it was decided not only to continue making handicrafts for the youth of the Church but to pray sincerely for the young people. With this decision, other ladies from the Church joined this group. All monies raised from their handicrafts would go towards youth work at the Leigh Beck Church. The name of the group changed to that of FRIENDS OF YOUTH. This work in 2003 still continues under the leadership of Brenda Ekins, and many dedicated and gifted ladies, such as Ivy Aylott and Doris Flaherty (who have almost 188 years between them) work tirelessly on their sewing machines to produce incredible work for their sales.

Very sadly in 1987 the Girls Brigade ceased owing to no captain.  After 63 years of Girls Brigade meetings being held at Leigh Beck this was a great shame. So as not to lose the girls that were really interested in the Church work a Girl Covenanters group was formed later that year under the leadership of Mrs V Ellis and Mrs B Higgins.

Rev. Gilfillan and his wife Jeanetta decided to return to Scotland and therefore left Leigh Beck in 1989.

Girls Brigade – Church Parade in the Church Car Park

Comments about this page

  • Any idea when this photo was taken, I have one very similar taken in 1981

    By Janet Hynes (nee Blundell) (13/06/2009)
  • I was in the 1st girls brigade with my twin sister . This brings back so many amazing memories

    By Lesley cadman (07/01/2020)
  • Myself and my 2 sisters attended Girls Brigade for many years and my mum Brenda was lieutenant whilst Yvonne was captain. We enjoyed a number of camps staying in church halls all over. It was a real family affair as my Nan, Gladwys Madge used to help in the camp kitchen with Mabel, Grace, Freda ( once she’d stepped down) and the lovely sisters One of which was called Florence? One was tall whilst the other incredibly short even to us as youngsters. I recently came across a scrap book made at the Isle of Wight camp. 😂

    By Trish (11/02/2020)

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