By tradition Dagnall Street Baptist Church has dated its foundation to around 1640, although the origin of this tradition is obscure.  What is certain, however, is that in the 1640s preachers with Baptist views were active in Hertfordshire, and not least in St Albans.  In 1645 Edward Harrison had been appointed by Cromwell’s authority as vicar of Kensworth, a village some 13 miles north of St Albans.  He was active in the St Albans area, and was a known supporter of the dissenters, particularly the Baptists.

Dagnall Street has in its possession a small book which records some of the members and events of the Kensworth Church.  By 1675 the Kensworth book identified 350 members meeting there, of which the 4th largest group were from St Albans – 12 men and 17 women.

The Cross Street Centre and Church today
The refurbished interior, 2003

Around the end of the 17th century there was greater, although not full, religious freedom, meaning that the St Albans Baptists could meet in their own town.  Registration was necessary for ‘Dissenting Congregations’ and St Albans had 200 on the register, although not all were ‘Baptist’.

In 1711, one of the first historical mentions of Baptists in St Albans is recorded, and by 1720 the first Baptist meeting house in St Albans opened on the site of the current church in Dagnall Street.  It had neither baptistery nor vestry: in those days baptisms took place in the river.  By 1809 membership had fallen to 27 people, however, under the pastorate of William Upton who was called to the pastorate in 1821, the congregation grew numerically and in its influence. One of the local streets is named after Upton.  

By 1842 the membership was 204 and the Sunday School 240.  By the time of Upton’s death in 1865 membership stood at 252 with 403 Sunday School scholars.  By 1880 it was clear that the 1720 building had become too small for the work of the church and, with impetus from Rev. W G Lewis, the members resolved in 1882 to “erect a new place of worship”. The present building was opened in 1885 at a cost of £5582.  Sadly, in 1884 Rev Lewis fell ill and died soon after. In his memory the church placed a stained-glass window in the new building.

By 1970 the membership had reached 353 during the ministry of Rev. Dr. W. Morris West. In 1989 the Cross Street Centre opened, replacing the old caretaker’s house and schoolrooms.  In 2003 a full refurbishment of the church interior was carried out and the link between the church and the Centre was enclosed.  The upkeep of our buildings is an ongoing responsibility, with the latest work, in 2023, being a complete refurbishment of the spire, to ensure its structural integrity for many more years.

Stained glass window, dedicated to the memory of Rev. W G Lewis