Abberley Methodist Chapel: non-conformist to the last

Following her earlier post concerning the timeline of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in the village, Jen Guest has now put some flesh on the bones and found out a lot more about the life of the Chapel and its congregation.  It appears that Abberley truly is a seat of non-conformity!

I have often wondered [Jen writes] about the little chapel which was situated on the edge of Rosedale, its only apparent legacy being the ‘protected’ brick wall dividing the Rosedale houses from the dormer bungalow next door.

It has almost disappeared from living memory—“we used to go past it but never went in ….we were Church people “A.W

“I passed it on the way to school (late 1930’s)…it was ruined, no roof and just a couple of windows” C.F.

“My mother used to go to services there as a girl living in Stourport.” J.R

I have also wondered about the siting of the chapel on the Common with houses around it. Normally nonconformist chapels are on the edges of settlements because the local squires would not allow them on their estates. Why was Abberley different? In fact it wasn’t. In 1857 when the chapel was built, Rosedale was still in private  ownership ,  one of the few pockets of land not belonging to the Abberley Hall estate. It was built just in time   Rosedale was sold to the estate in 1859!

Prior to 1857, services were held at the home of Mr Henry Dudley at the Elms or possibly Elms Green with 13 members. There were 10 members at Great Witley at the home of Mr Benjamin Taylor, ”Kingswood”.

At the laying of the foundation stone on Monday 31 August 1857, (a Monday so possibly a bank holiday) “about 400 persons assembled on the spot.” After much singing, praying and listening to addresses a party was held in a large marquee kindly lent by Witley Court (was this to further annoy the Jones family I wonder) and fully 250 people sat down to a plentiful tea.

” The happy company separated about 8 o’ clock.“

The Stourport Circuit plans reveal that numbers of actual members as opposed to congregation fluctuated quite considerably, peaking about 1862 with 36 registering. There are comments from I.L Wedley of the chapel not being large enough with people sitting on the pulpit steps and some not being able to enter at all. I also learned from the plan that Abberley did have some “backsliders” and that collections were regularly taken for the “worn-out ministers and widows fund”. By 1913 the ministers were more prosaically referred to as “aged”.

At the next land mark event in 1888 there were no members, 10 people having moved to another circuit. The reason for this might be found in an article in the Gloucester Citizen, 23 Feb 1888, entitled Persecution of Methodists at Abberleyand quoting from the Methodist Recorder. To summarise: the chapel had been closed for some time because of the determination of Squire Jones to stamp out Methodism.

A Mr Mitchell, a brave evangelist, came to the village determined to re-open the chapel and planned to sleep in the building overnight because he knew the villagers were afraid to give him shelter. The Chapel was particularly cold and damp and one old couple took him in. They had lived in their home for 36 years and had run a business from it. They promptly received notice to quit even though the man was disabled. In the end the order was revoked and the preacher, now lodging out of the parish, continued to preach in the chapel….”not to Squire Jones’s tenants but people from a distance.”

By 1896 preachers were again coming to Abberley. It still appears to be a popular meeting place for people outside the village.  According to the Wesleyan Church Record, Nov 17th 1907, “two missionary services were held, an excellent number attending in the afternoon and quite a large number at night.”

IL Wedley mentions in his book “Twix’t Severn and Teme” an Easter Monday gathering in 1913. He describes the interior of the chapel, oblong in shape with an old-fashioned pulpit in which the chairman is posted far above the heads of the people. At the far end stood a wheezy harmonium whose keys stuck down and with only one pedal workable. There was some hearty singing of hymns followed by individual and group items. A “reminiscence of old Abberley days” brought the meeting to a close.

Also in 1913 collections for the war emergency fund are mentioned.

Local names mentioned in the Index to Church Register c.1912-15 include; Wm. and Harriet Baldwin, Walter and Mrs A.J.Holmes, Sarah Glazzard-Church keeper, Emma Baldwin, Wm. and Gertrude Baynham, Edward and Mary Evans,Samuel Sheriff, Mrs Thirzon Ashton, Sidney Smith, Edward and Emily Jane Rawlings and B. Baldwin.

After this date fortunes appear to fluctuate again—from 1918-23 there are no records of services on the plan…..but by 1924,  preachers return and local people are mentioned as stewards, namely T Baynam, then S. Smith and Holmes. The renovation of the building prior to the reopening was helped by the transfer of funds from the sale of Clows Top Methodist Chapel of £108 8s.7d

Sadly by 1928 the trustees are arranging a meeting for the wrong reasons.  There are some very interesting letters here.  One writes, “you are quite right, no meeting of the trust has ever been summoned or held”… Another writes “I was not aware my name was still on the trust, in fact I’ve no recollection of being on the trust. It is many years since I last heard of Abberley.“  He lived in Edgbaston.

A form was filled in for permission to sell for £150, the reason given that there has been no congregation and no accounts for many years.

An interesting reply is received from the conference chapel committee:

  1. All inscriptions should be removed prior to sale
  2. They stress the importance of taking all possible means to secure the premises against being used for the manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquor, or as a theatre or dancing or music hall.

By 1933 attempts were being made to purchase it by a Mr Berlyan but the trustees wanted £350 and then asked him to make an offer. Very politely he wrote back saying he would rather not.

In 1934 attempts were being made by the Rector to rent the property for the Boy Scout movement but despite discussions as to who should do repairs nothing seems to have materialised.

The chapel was insured until 1939 … ”although the insurance is for £150 it is doubtful if that sum could be realised on a sale owing to decay through non-use.”  By 1940 it is deleted from the Wesleyan Chapel Trust Schedule.

Back to modern-day Rosedale again.

My last sighting of the chapel is in the conveyance of Rosedale, Abberley Common on 10th August 1949, John Ellis Talbot to Doris Mary Dowding which includes “the small piece of land, formerly the site of a chapel and the path leading thereto.” And here the story ends.

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