BAPTISTS are marking the bicentenary of their Halesowen church with special events and the publication of a celebration brochure.

Highlights of the 200th anniversary of the Carters Lane Baptist Church will be a Walk of Witness from Illey - where the church first started in cottages - to the site of the present building on Friday April 1.

There will also be a weekend of celebration services on Saturday and Sunday June 11 and 12.

Deacon Phil Turley said: “We hope that people who have had a connection with the church will try to attend for those events. They will be most welcome.”

The church grew from a recurring dream which a Hockley Baptist minister had in 1787 calling him to help and his deacons found Sunday school classes were being held in two cottages in Illey.

The teachers were hauled up before Halesowen magistrates when farmers complained that the children had damaged fences on their way home, but the case was dismissed when they explained how they were trying to teach the children to read and to be “good and obedient.”

In 1801 the Rudge Family, who owned one of the cottages, moved to Moor Street - now Woodgate Lane - and continued the school.

Services were held in several homes, including Howley Grange Farm and the home of Joseph Perry in Carter Lane, as it was then known, until the first chapel was built on land given by Lord Lyttleton.

Early records show worshippers, most of whom were farmers or nailers, walked up to 20 or 30 miles every Sunday to and from the chapel.

It opened on Easter Monday 1811 at a cost of around £230. The Bond Street Baptist Church donated £30, but it took the congregation until 1842 to pay for the building.

So many of the worshippers could not read that the deacons read out the hymns which were sung two lines at a time.

The chapel was rebuilt on the site in 1939, opening a month before the outbreak of the Second World War, after which the Sunday school hall became a barracks for a time for the RAF barrage balloon unit which operated from the adjacent field.

Today, the church is home to a variety of groups including girls’ and boys’ brigades, a prayer circle, exercise and line dancing groups.