The first Baptist presence in the area appears to have been in Alverstoke in the 1660’s under the Rev J Webber. From this a Baptist presence was established in Portsmouth in 1698 which eventually became known as Meeting House Alley (later Kent Street). It was from this that Victoria Street, Gosport was established. In 1811 Meeting House Alley sent people to found Forton (Victoria Street) meeting in premises in Ferrol Road. Subsequently they built a church in Lees Lane. They were under the leadership of Rev Thomas Tilly until 1847 or 1848, with a membership in 1840 of 85. In 1818 (or possibly 1820) Forton sent people to found Lake Road in Portsmouth which became independent in 1829. Lake Road later led to the foundation of Harbour Street in 1861 (due to a split) and (as a result of missions) to Park View, Kingston Road, Alfred Street and Elm Row (which eventually became London Road in 1894).
By 1852 the church had outgrown the premises at Lees Lane and a new chapel was erected in Victoria Street at a cost of £700. The Rev James Snedmore led the church from 1848 to 1864, with a membership in 1860 of 95. We will return to Victoria Street a little later
Stoke Road Baptist Church on the other hand, appears to have come from the Union Chapel which was at the other end of Stoke Road. It began some time in 1883, first meeting in Vernon Hall (part of a school situated on the corner of Stoke Road and Prince of Wales Road). This was under the leadership of Rev William Compton, who had previously been the minister of Union Chapel. The reasons for founding another Baptist Church are not known but may have been theological or personal. In 1884 this group of ‘Particular Baptists’ meeting in Vernon Hall purchased land in Avenue Road on which was erected the ‘Tin Tabernacle’. By 1885 the membership was 78. In 1902 plans were made for a new church in Stoke Road. The foundation stone was laid in 1909 and the new building was opened in March 1910. The ‘Tin Tabernacle’ was sold and used as a cinema until destroyed by fire in 1916.
The work continued steadily through the inter-war years. However, the Second World War brought severe problems with the Sunday School being abandoned and most organisations closed. The 1950’s brought re-establishment and fresh growth under the leadership of Rev Joseph Wilson, but Stoke Road did not escape the national trend and there was a steady decline throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s despite continued faithful ministry.
The Rev Dr D J Davies came to Stoke Road upon his retirement in 1966 and served the church for nineteen years. In 1985 the Rev Roger Collinson, recently retired from the Royal Navy, was called to the pastorate. With him came new vigour and growth. The membership increased to 98, the highest since 1930. In 1989 the Rev and Mrs Collinson were called to serve with the Baptist Missionary Society in Brazil.
The 1990’s saw national decline as far as church attendance was concerned and Stoke Road suffered as did many other churches. The ministry of Rev David Chard sought to reach beyond the church into the community and saw Alpha courses start on a regular basis. It also saw growth in a Parent and Toddler group and the initiating of Lunch Clubs. The death of Rev Chard in Pastorate in December 2005 came as a shock to the church.
Joining of Victoria Street and Stoke Road
It was under the ministry of Rev David Chard that the joining of Victoria Street Baptist Church and Stoke Road Baptist Church took place. Victoria Street had enjoyed times of great blessing, particularly under the leadership of the Rev Benardo Green. He brought great skill and energy to the church and both the buildings and spiritual life of the church were renewed. However, his ministry came to a sudden end with his death in 1936. After several further ministries full time ministry came to end at Victoria Street in 1962. Lay Pastors faithfully served the church from 1963 to 1975, but from the latter date the church depended on the ministry of visiting preachers and the leadership of its secretary Jim Creed. The membership became smaller and older and it was realised that resources could be better and more profitably used for the Lord by joining with the fellowship at Stoke Road. The two churches formally came together on Sunday 14th February 1999.
After a number of years discussing and seeking to redevelop the Stoke Road site and building, the decision was taken in 2011 to move from the site. This decision was made by the members during the ministry of the Rev George Bexon (which started in September 2006). The building had very much become unfit for purpose and despite seeking permission to redevelop it this proved not to be possible in the end. This move had been preceded by a period of five years hiring another building for Sunday morning worship whilst using the church hall for other meetings and activities. So it was that in 2011 the church began hiring buildings on an ex-MOD site, Royal Clarence Marina. In 2013 it began hiring a larger building on the site. The belief of the church was that God had led the church to this new ex-MOD site to establish a new Christian witness and work on the site. It had been redeveloped with around 600 new homes and a further 1200 in further developments either side of RCM. There was also a marina and businesses on the site. The vision that the church holds is to eventually purchase a building on the site that would become a community hub. This move also led to a change of name, Gosport Waterfront Baptist Church.
It is this rich heritage of a long and faithful witness in Gosport that Gosport Waterfront Baptist Church continues. Those involved seek to present the same gospel message of love and peace through Jesus Christ to a new generation and in a new and fresh way for the 21st century.