The South Oxford Baptist Church was built in 1938 as replacement for the Baptist church in Commercial Road in St Ebbe's, which had just closed (neither that church nor Commercial Road still exist). Initially the new church was overseen by a Deaconess, Sister Enid (Enid Clark). The first minister (from 1939 to 1943) was Revd Harold Bates Roberts, who lived with his family at 34 Wytham Street. Here is a photograph of Mr Roberts with other church members.
The church has three inscribed foundation stones in its eastern wall:
Cecil Viva Wilkins was a prominent Baptist layman, a retired grocer, baker and miller (born 1870), who lived in Bourton-on-the Water in Gloucestershire. In 1938 he was Secretary of the Oxfordshire & East Gloucestershire Baptist Association and one of its representatives on the (national) Baptist Union Council. Mrs Fotheringham was a benefactor and the widow of John Knight Fotheringham, Reader in ancient astronomy and chronology at the University of Oxford until his death in 1936. Revd HB Roberts's son David (born in 1932) remembers her as a 'formidable elderly lady' whom he once visited with his father. The Revd Oliver Percy John Smith had been the last minister of the Commercial Road Baptist Church, from 1932 to when it closed in 1938; he subsequently moved to Camden in London.
This photograph from the Oxford Mail shows Mrs Fotheringham laying the foundation stone of the church. To Mrs Fotheringham's right (in the flat cap) is the bricklayer George Surman, who was 18 years old and from Horspath. He worked for builder Charles Wesley Harris, whose premises were opposite the Wesleyan Chapel in Horspath.
David Roberts remembers that inside the church, the central pulpit, communion rail and panel were out of keeping and much too large for this then modern building; they were probably relocated from the Commercial Road church. Here is a photograph showing the interior. Mr Roberts also remembers that the church treasurer, Charlie Standbrook, ran a very good bakery business at 7 Gordon Street in New Hinksey. He had contracts to supply bread to the Radcliffe Infirmary, and to the Cowley Fathers, the Anglican monastery in east Oxford.
Behind the church is a small detached brick building which served as the Air Raid Wardens' post during the Second World War, and in 1940 the church was used as a centre for the reception and distribution of evacuees from London, with local Cubs and Scouts acting as messengers. Wendy Rich (née Parker), who lived with her family at 74 Wytham Street, remembered being in the church on the day that war was declared (Sunday 3 September 1939), and the minister Revd HB Roberts announcing it to the congregation. During the War the Parker family took in evacuees from London, and Wendy was a member of a tap-dancing troupe which regularly gave performances to entertain recuperating troops and later, American soldiers and airmen.
The church is now the South Oxford Christian Centre and is the home of the Oxford Corps of the Salvation Army.
With thanks to David Roberts for information, research, and images.
Revd HB Roberts (centre front) with other members of the South Oxford Baptist Church, probably Sunday School teachers, in around 1940. The woman to the right of Mr Roberts, in the large hat, was Miss Kendall, whose mother ran a corner shop on Wytham Street; her two brothers were early prisoners of war during the Second World War. Behind her, the tall man was Harry Pinfold. At least two of the other people in the photograph, including the man far right in the back row, and the woman far left at the front, were members of Welsh families who had come to Oxford to find jobs during the Depression of the 1920s. Image courtesy of David Roberts, son of Revd HB Roberts. (Click on image to close)