Benjamin Keach and Winslow


Old Baptist Meeting House
Bell Walk

You are going to visit a gem of a Baptist chapel, Keach's Baptist Meeting House, Winslow, Bucks, Englandpreserved much as it was in the early 1600s. The old Baptist Meeting House in Winslow is our contact with a little-known Baptist preacher who introduced two things we take for granted in church today – congregational singing and children’s work.

By car: Follow the A413 from Aylesbury or Buckingham. From M1 and Milton Keynes take A421 westwards and then B4033 through Great Horwood. There is free parking in Greyhound Lane, off the High Street, or pay and display in Market Square. By bus: buses to Winslow operate from Aylesbury, Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes. See Milton Keynes Council website for details.
There is no charge for admission to the Meeting House. During office hours, you can collect a key from Wilkinson’s Estate Agents 12, Market Square, MK18 3AF.
Be warnedthere are no toilets and no water, electricity, or gas, let alone wi-fi!

Benjamin Keach

Benjamin KeachBenjamin Keach was born in 1640 in Stoke Hammond, near Bletchley. When he was 15, he became a member of the church that met in Winslow Baptist Meeting House. Later, he plied a trade as a tailor in the Town. He went on to become the Pastor of the congregation. He also preached regularly at the Baptist chapel in Stony Stratford. In 1660, he married a local Winslow girl, Jane Grove. In the same year the monarchy was restored and King Charles II became king.

Under persecution

Parliament passed two acts directed against people who wanted to separate church and state. These made meetings in the Meeting House illegal. Buckinghamshire County Council raised a special army to hunt out Roman Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, Independents and Presbyterians and bring them to court. Benjamin Keach was harassed by the soldiers on more than one occasion and spent several short spells in prison. Once some soldiers threatened to kill him by riding their horses over him, but an officer stopped them just in time.

The Child's Instructor

In 1664, Benjamin published a book for children, called The Child’s Instructor, or a new and easy primmer. (Correct spelling hadn’t been invented).  As soon as the book hit the bookshops, Keach was arrested and charged with publishing a book that contradicted the teaching of the Church of England. He was fined £20 and sentenced to go to gaol for several months, to stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury for two hours and a few days later to do the same in the market of Winslow where his books were burnt in front of him by the common hangman. (A pillory held you in place while people could throw things at you).

Southwark and family life

In 1668, Benjamin moved to London. On the journey, highwaymen robbed the the family of all they had.  The Baptist church in Southwark ordained him as their Pastor and Benjamin carried out a remarkable ministry for the rest of his life in London.

Two years after they moved to London, John’s first wife, Jane, died.  He married again 2 years later, to a lady called Susannah. He had 5 children with Jane, two of whom didn’t survive childhood, and then two more girls and a boy. He then went on to have 5 daughters by Susannah – and one of them didn’t survive. How many altogether?

Singing the Praises of Singing Hymns

Title page of Benjamin Keach's hymn bookBaptist worship at that time consisted almost entirely of long prayers and long sermons. Benjamin advocated the practice of singing hymns together and published a hymn book. It was controversial, partly because his hymns weren't very good! It took him 14 years to convince his congregation to agree to sing some hymns after the service had ended so those who objected could leave  beforehand. Even then a few people still left the church in protest.
He died on July 18, 1704. Other hymn writers came along with more singable words and eventually people began (as we say now) to "sing from the same hymn sheet."