The religious life of Saltash goes back in history too far for us to explore except to note that it would have been centred from about the 11th century at St. Nicholas with St. Stephens added about the l3th century.
The I8th Century produced some men of outstanding courage and ability, who have left their mark on the history of England. Among these are Wilberforce, Wilkes, Wesley, Raikes & Carey. It is not surprising therefore, that the conscience of the people was aroused, for although smuggling and law- breaking was rife there was a distinct movement towards the improvement of moral standards. So although the first Baptist fellowship seems to have been founded in the reign of Elizabeth 1, it was not until about 1750 that the first Baptist dissenters crossed the River Tamar to bring non-conformity to Saltash. The followers of John Wesley soon followed and by 1792 they also were holding open-air meetings.
The way of dissenters was not easy for they met with much opposition. In 1790 a group of Baptist evangelists, arriving by boat in Saltash, were stoned by locals, but they were determined people. They would have begun by meeting in the homes of sympathisers, or any available building. By 1791, their efforts were rewarded, when Rev. Isaiah Birt and Rev. Philip Gibbs of Plymouth Dock acquired a plot of land in Silver St. Thus with non-conformity established in the Town in the name of the Baptist community of Protestant Dissenters, the first chapel was built. It is commemorated on a stone erected by Isaiah Birt’s son and also by the graves of his wife and family. These may be seen on the South wall of the present churchyard. In 1797 the Minister of the Baptist Tabernacle in Plymouth, the Rev. Isaac Taylor, took on the additional task of being our first Pastor. Non-conformism was spreading and in l807 the first Wesley Chapel opened. At this time the Vicar of St. Stephens, Rev. John Dawson, was claiming that Saltash ‘abounded with dissenters’!
By the 1860’s the first church was in a state of decay and had to be demolished. In 1865 it was replaced on the present site with a new building shown above. This housed the town’s Baptist Fellowship for over a hundred years. The architect was Mr. J. Ambrose of Plymouth with Mr. Shaddock as the Saltash contractor. The foundation stone, laid by Mr. Jeffery of Liverpool in April 1865 can be seen in the wall of the current church close to the entrance.
Many other interesting gravestones are to be found in the graveyard. These include a man whose death is commemorated on three separate stones one wonders which wife had him in the end?The present Church held it’s first service on Christmas Day 1991 and was dedicated and opened in March 1992 following the destruction of the second church by fire on Christmas Day 1987, following a break-in. The intruder probably started it while trying to keep warm! The dramatic photograph below showing the ferocity of the fire, was taken by a local teenager using a camera given him as a Christmas present that very morning!