The early history of the Old Chapel in Carlton Road, Turvey has been obscure because of the lack of original documentation (Ford J A 1992; Kent E 1992). The earliest preserved Minute Book of the Trustees dates from 1876 whereas it was believed that the chapel dated from 1828. Evidence has emerged which sheds light on the early years and places the chapel firmly as a part of the Bedford Wesleyan Methodist Circuit.
In 1827, the greatly loved and respected Rector of Turvey, Rev Legh Richmond, died after serving the parish for 22 years. In his memoir of Legh Richmond, Grimshawe wrote:
Previously to Mr Richmond’s incumbency, the village of Turvey appears to have been greatly neglected. The duties of the church were irregularly performed nor was there ever more than one service on the sabbath day among a population of at least 800 inhabitants. The ordinances of religion were not respected; the minds of the people were grossly ignorant, and their morals and manners rude and disorderly (Grimshawe T S 1833).
By holding regular services, giving popular lectures, encouraging the Sunday School, establishing a Friendly Society, visiting the poor and needy and numerous other good works Legh Richmond changed all that.
The church was numerously attended; the Sabbath became a hallowed day, and its approach was anticipated with lively expectation. The gospel was preached with fidelity and heard with deep and solemn interest…Instances were not unfrequent(sic) of sound and solid conversion; and even those who received little spiritual benefit learned to treat religion with respect. (Grimshawe T S 1833).
Rev Legh Richmond was followed by Rev J W Hawksley who was better known as a devotee of hunting (Godber J 1969) than a pastor of souls.
As Ford 1992 says, ‘It was in this atmosphere of loss and bereavement for the evangelical principles that … certain members of the community began to search for a substitute.’ This was moreover a time of international and social unrest. The French Revolution took place over the years 1789 to 1799 and War between Great Britain and France had dragged on from 1793 to 1815. At home ‘The surge in membership (of the Wesleyan Methodist Church) between 1828 and 1836 took place against the backdrop of deepening agricultural depression, mounting population pressures and widespread distress as the existing Poor Law structures buckled under the strain of the demand.’ (Rodell J 2014)
Simultaneously two initiatives occurred in Turvey .
The building and establishment of an Independent (Congregational) Chapel is well documented. (Kent E 1992 and Ford J A 1992). You can read more about this here. A Building Committee was set up of local people who were prominent members of the community and moreover who had considerable financial resources. A licence was sought from the Archdeacon of Bedford and a substantial brick Chapel was opened in 1829 to the south of the High Street.
In his ‘Bedfordshire Chapels and Meeting Houses: Official Registration 1672-1901’ Edwin Welch (Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Vol 75) lists three documents in relation to the establishment of the Independent (Congregational) Chapel in 1828/9. Welch does not list any corresponding document for the Wesleyan Chapel at the time of its construction, but he does record that in 1854 the then Superintendent Minister of the Bedford Wesleyan Circuit registered 8 chapels on the same day, including Turvey Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. It seems that the Methodists were not as punctilious as the Independents about registering – it was never mandatory – but did so to conform to new legislation introduced in 1852 transferring the function from the Archdeacon to the Registrar General.
The initiative for the building of a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel seems to have come from a mix of local and Circuit individuals. Much later in the story of the Chapel two stalwart members emerge – Frederick and Olive Day. It is thought that Olive Day was the Turvey reporter for the Bedfordshire Times & Standard (Grayson P) and was the author of an article in the 14th May 1954 edition concerning the reopening of the chapel following extensive redecoration and modernisation. In the article the first trustees of the chapel are listed (making it highly likely that the author had sight of the original Minute book) They were as follows-
George Dent, Turvey, gardener
Thomas Row, Bedford, gentleman
John Collins, Bedford, hairdresser
John Brown, Bedford, butcher
William Allison, Bedford, shoemaker
Thomas Hester, Bedford, chimney sweep
Thomas Castledine, Lavenden, labourer
John Hawkins Nevis. Newton Blossomville, farmer
William Armstrong the younger, Wilshamstead, farmer
It is immediately apparent that there is only one Turvey resident. The remainder of the Trustees are representatives of the Bedford Wesleyan Circuit. As with the Congregational chapel trustees, these men were mostly tradesmen, farmers, artisans but unlike the Congregational chapel trustees, at least 8 of whom lived in Turvey at the time, only one of these did, George Dent. This underlines the centrality of the Circuit in the origin and life of the local chapel.
The Structure of Wesleyan Methodism
Wesleyan Methodism in the 19th century followed a clear structure . The ruling body of the church was the Conference which met annually and appointed Ministers to the various ‘Circuits’ around the country. The Minister rode around his Circuit either on horseback or by pony and trap. The Bedford Circuit was formed in 1765 and originally comprised not only the county itself but parts of Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and was overseen by one Minister, Rev John Catermole (Anderson J M 1953). John Wesley made a number of visits to Bedford between 1753 and 1788 but there is no record of him having visited Turvey. Over the years, the boundary of the circuit changed as the number of chapels increased. In 1828, there were 15 chapels in the Bedford Circuit and 2 ministers. –
Bedford, Ampthill, Radwell, Milton, Marston, Lidlington, Wootton, Wilshamstead, Kempston, Clophill, Houghton, Cardington, Oakley, Haynes and Thurleigh.
Rev Maximilian Wilson and Rev Richard Cooper.
In 1829, Turvey was added to the list. Clearly the Circuit Ministers could not conduct services at all the chapels every Sunday and most services in village chapels were conducted by Local Preachers. These were men appointed by the circuit and disciplined by the Local Preachers Meeting. Within each chapel the members were divided into ‘Classes’ of about 12 individuals who met regularly under their Class Leader. George Dent was a Wesleyan Methodist Class Leader but was not a Local Preacher.
George Dent was born at Weston Underwood, Buckinghamshire in 1781 (Family Search), became a gardener and at some stage moved to Turvey. He appears on the Electoral Register for 1836 and for later years as a resident in Turvey and on the 1841 Census as resident on the High Street with his children but no wife. He married again on 9th August 1841, Mary Tysoe, at Turvey. In the marriage register he is described as ‘widower’ and Mary as ‘widow’. George died in 1853. What is most significant is that in the Account Book for Bedford Circuit 1817 – 1837 his name appears as one of two Class Leaders in the chapel at Turvey in 1836, the other being a Kezia Law.
Building the chapel
The Turvey chapel was built ‘without any foundations, walls consisting of 18 inches of Great Oolite limestone rubble…The verdict of three stone masons over 35 years considering the work quality is that the building was constructed in some haste’ (Grayson P). It was able to seat 106 people (Schedule of St Paul’s Circuit). The total cost of construction was £160.
The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for 1829 on page 475 records the opening of the chapel-
One interesting and unusual feature of the new chapel was the presence of a bell tower and a large bell.
The current owner of the chapel has had the bell analysed by a bell expert, Clouston, who concluded that the bell was cast by Robert Taylor and his son William at their Oxford foundry in 1829 (Grayson). How the chapel or the Circuit was able to afford such an extravagance remains a mystery. Perhaps someone wanted to make a point to the rather more significant All Saints Parish Church peal in the Tower 200 yards away.
Ford, J A 1992: A study of Turvey 1786 – 1851 History Unit Dissertation: Nene College, Northampton.
Kent, E 1992: Turvey Chapels. Article in Turvey News: Turvey.
Grimshawe, T S 1834: A Memoir of the Rev Legh Richmond : Seeley & Burnside, London 1834.
Godber, J 1969: History of Bedfordshire 1066 – 1888 Bedfordshire County Council 1969.
Rodell, J 2014: The Rise of Methodism A Study of Bedfordshire 1736 – 1851 : The Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 92, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk. 2014.
Grayson, P: The Old Chapel in Carlton Road. Turvey History Society Website.
Anderson, J M 1953: Early Methodism in Bedford : Privately published in connection with the Bi-centenary of John Wesley’s first visit to Bedford, 1753.
Wesleyan Methodist Magazine (1829) United Kingdom : Google Books online.
The author is grateful to the Bedfordshire Archives for access to the minute books of the Turvey Wesleyan Chapel Trustees – MB2/TUR/2/94 , MB2/TUR/2/4649 and MB2/TUR/2/4650 , of the Bedford and Ampthill Circuit Quarterly Meeting – MB1/BA/2/6, The Circuit Book 1817-1837 – MB1/BA/12 and numerous other documents.