Stoke has been known for its religious dissenters from at least the mid 17th Century, when the Quaker movement was strong in the village. Later, when the Bible Christians broke away from the mainstream Wesleyan Methodists in 1815, they found a growing band of supporters in Stoke. The Bible Christians met in each other’s homes, but by the 1830s they decided to build their own church. James House of Curryload Farm, not be confused with James House, baker in Meare Green, or James House of the farm now known as April Cottage in Collickshire, owned the five acre field known as Pims Ground. This stretched from Crossways Farm to the top of Curload Hill.
A portion of the Tithe Map of 1840. 713 is Crossways Farm and the buildings marked 888 were opposite what is now the entrance to the Baptist Church car park.
In 1840 the leaders of the local Bible Christians persuaded Mr House to sell them a small part of the field, just big enough to build themselves a chapel. One of the signatories on the deed of conveyance was Gilbert Gent, noted in the 1841 census as being a 75 year old shopkeeper. His home and shop, now demolished, stood where the extension was made to the church graveyard, opposite Watts Farm. Also recorded at the Gent home and named on the deeds was Thomas Haskins, a 19 year old farmer. Other signatories were Lawrence Dare Hunt, a 45 year old farmer who lived opposite the old Rose & Crown, John House, 60 year old tailor of Stanmoor, another John House, a 60 year old living in Churley, and John Elworthy, a 59 year old butcher from North Curry.
Stoke must have been something of an ‘outlier’ of the Bible Christians, who were primarily concentrated in Cornwall and Devon. The teachings were popular with farm labourers, and it is reported that in some areas, employers were urged that their influence be countered by having their adherents sacked from their jobs and turned out from their cottages. In contrast to the Methodists, from whom they broke away, and other non-conformist groups, the Bible Christians made extensive use of female preachers and pastors.
We have no records of the people involved in the church over the next 30 years, but we know that there had also been a number of Baptists in Stoke, who had travelled to worship in North Curry or Burrowbridge where chapels already existed. For whatever reason the Bible Christians sold the property at the bottom of Griggs Hill (then known simply as ‘The Lane’) to the North Curry Baptists for the sum of £52 10s - they had paid £10 for the land in 1840.
OS Map 1st Edition, c1888. Soon after buying the chapel from the Bible Christians the Baptists built a school room at the rear.
The conveyance was signed in 1870 by Lawrence Dare Hunt and Thomas Haskins, the other trustees, apart from John House the tailor who was now 82, having died. The North Curry signatories included three people from Stoke - Charles Squire, Charles Garland, shopkeeper in Curload, and Richard Hearle, basket maker, originally from Sutton Veney in Wiltshire and now married to John House’s grand daughter. Charles Squire had moved in to the village as a 20 year and had built up a successful bakery business based at Ash Grove, Meare Green, which was later taken over by his son Arthur. He also farmed 45 acres in the village.
The Bible Christians' Chapel today