The Bedford Wesleyan Methodist Circuit Account Book and the Minute Books of the Turvey Chapel Trustees provide interesting insights into the Turvey chapel and the challenges that faced the Trustees during the 19th and 20th centuries
In 1829, contributions to the finances of the Bedford Methodist Circuit begin to appear in the Circuit Accounts.
Even the smallest and newest chapels contributed to the fund to support the boarding schools established by John Wesley to educate the sons of itinerant circuit ministers at Kingswood and Woodhouse Grove.
In addition to the schools support, every chapel was expected to contribute to the Circuit Chapel Fund, The Yearly subscription and the July Collection.
In 1836, the Account Book includes for the first time the names of the Class Leaders in each chapel and their financial contributions.
The two Class Leaders at Turvey were Kezia Law and George Dent.
George Dent has been referred to earlier as an original trustee.
Kezia Law was born and baptised at Turvey in January 1817, the daughter of John Law, an Agricultural labourer, and his wife Mary. I have been unable to find out any more about her except that there is a person of that name apparently living in the household of Thomas Warren, shoemaker but age ‘13’ in the 1841 census. Age 23 would fit with her birth date. There is no Kezia Law in the 1851 census.
In 1841 there was an encroachment on the land at the front of the chapel by the rector who moved the boundary marks. This provoked a response from the Circuit Meeting (Kent, E 1992) but seems to have been settled amicably.
Membership, attendance and services
In 1850 the Circuit Meeting minutes record membership numbers for the various chapels. The total Bedford Circuit membership was 448 plus 15 ‘On Trial’. The figures for Turvey were 34 members plus 1 ‘On Trial’. These figures formed the basis for a calculation of what the Circuit hoped to raise each year.
One year later the National Census of Religious Worship was carried out on Sunday 30 March 1851 in conjunction with the general census of that year. Ford 1992 reports that the Wesleyan Chapel figures were –
Free Other Morning Afternoon Evening
50 30 – 57 42
Average attendance during preceding 12 months
– 50 40
The schedule of services and preachers for the Circuit was published on a quarterly basis. Preachers, both Circuit ministers and Local Preachers, were identified by a number. An extract from the plan for Sept – Nov 1865 shows the services at Turvey
Services at Turvey were on Sunday afternoon at 2-15pm and 6pm, both invariably conducted by a Local Preacher and there was a Monday service at 7pm when the Circuit ministers preached. No. 1 was Rev Thomas A Raynor, No. 3 was Rev George T Taylor, No. 11 was Mr Hopkins of 44 Offa St Bedford, No. 16 was Mr Twitchell of Willington etc. The abbreviation CC meant that there was a collection for the Conveyance Fund (Horse hire). There is no indication as to what P meant. I think it may have been that Mr Twitchell only preached one service and that there was a locally arranged prayer meeting in the evening.
The chapel from the 1870’s to the 1960’s
Over the following years work was necessary to maintain the building and improve it. On 4th October 1879 the Bedfordshire Mercury reported:
On Sunday 28th September 1879 the chapel which had been closed for some time for the purpose of erecting new pews was reopened for divine worship. Sermons were preached afternoon and evening by the Rev J P Elton of Bedford. On Tuesday afternoon a service was held in the Wesleyan Chapel when Rev Wesley Butters of London, formerly of Bedford, preached to a large congregation….At five o’clock tea was served in the school-room and vestry of the Congregational Chapel kindly lent for the occasion by Rev S Thomas, the minister….The collections amounted to £10 15s 4d.”
The Minutes of the Trustees meeting in 1906 recorded:
The question of Repairs having been in abeyance, was brought up. It was thought unwise to spend a lot of money on the old building if a satisfactory sale of the same could be effected, as some of the Trustees thought possible, and a site for a new chapel purchased. It was resolved that the following be formed into a Committee to visit Turvey and investigate the matter; Rev J Shrimpton, Mr B Mastin, Mr C Collins, Mr G Royle, Mr J Finch, Mr Dunham and A Dickens(sec).
The following year, Rev J Shrimpton reported on a visit to Turvey and read out a list of repairs required.
Taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration it was deemed unwise, at the present time, to enter upon a “New Building” Scheme. The same committee was reappointed and requested to make enquiries as to whether the Village Infant School room was likely to be offered for sale in the near future. If so, the meeting considered the room would answer well for a chapel. Mr Shrimpton promised to speak to Mr Frank Spooner – Director of Education- on the subject.
The approach to Mr Spooner did not succeed and so a request was made in 1908 to Capt. Higgins to purchase the two cottages in front of the chapel. He said that he could not sell the two old cottages unless the chapel put up two more cottages elsewhere. The Committee decided to write to both Mr H Wright and Mr Bamford for tenders for necessary repairs, the drawing up of specification for same to be left to Mr Shrimpton and Mr Dunham.
The old building was renovated at a cost of £83 14s 6d but it was not until 1911 that the last part of the debt was paid by Sir George Royle (at that time one of the Trustees). Sir George was an Assurance manager, one time Mayor of Bedford and is also remembered locally as a major contributor to the Barton & Royle Homes.
The following year the Trustees considered ‘the remuneration of the chapel keeper as it was thought that 5s per quarter was not adequate. On the motion of Mr Collins it was decided to increase the pay to 10s per quarter and the Secretary to write to the Chapel Keeper that the Trustees, in giving this amount, hoped she would be able to give good attention to the work.’
The officers of the chapel at this time were
Mr Hooker – Chapel Steward and Treasurer
Mr H Wright – Seat Steward
Mr Sargent (Jnr) – Organist
Mr Collins – Secretary
By 1925 further renovation was considered and a sketch and estimate were obtained from a Mr H S Manning FRSA for the sum of £90 18s. This decoration was completed in cream and brown.
In 1938 gas heating was installed in place of the old stove.
Also in 1938 a special meeting of trustees was called to consider the offer of a cottage in Turvey by Alderman T Clark of Watford. Alderman Clark, twice Mayor of Watford, had ‘worshipped in the (Turvey) church as a lad’ and remained a lifelong supporter (Grayson). The gift was gratefully accepted and terms drawn up ‘so that the present tenant (Mrs Chandler) had life use then it would be at the service of poor people, preferably Methodist’. (Minutes of Trustees 13th May 1938). Mrs Chandler was one of the chapel organists.
‘Wesley Cottage’ in May Road continued to be an asset to the chapel. When the tenancy became vacant in 1952 an advertisement was placed in the Methodist Recorder ‘Three-bedroom house in village 6 miles from Bedford to let at low rent to a keen Methodist family’. 23 applications were received from whom the Trustees selected a Mrs Janney, a Minister’s widow who was ‘willing to help start a Sunday School, Mothers’ Club or Sisterhood. Would play for meetings etc’.
The high point in the life of the chapel was reached in May 1954 when the Church was re-opened after an extensive scheme of redecoration and modernisation. Following advice from Mr Gerald King ARIBA, AMTPI the building was made ‘into a light and apparently larger one. Broken white, mimosa yellow, mist blue, pearl grey and romany red are these colours, and particularly effective are the long royal blue curtains hanging from the ceiling to the pulpit’. (Bedfordshire Times & Standard 14 May 1954) As at the inception of the chapel in 1828, the scheme was the result of effort by ‘Village Methodists, staunchly supported by several well-known Bedfordians’ (ibid). All the pews were removed and replaced by tubular chairs with blue canvas seats.
Eve Kent, a long term resident of Turvey recounted in 1992:
The main organisers of the Chapel (in recent years) were Fred and Olive Day who lived at Station End and cycled down to the village. Mrs Day was a tall stately woman who wore big hats and had a beautiful contralto voice. She was an accomplished preacher. Her husband, Fred was an outspoken man, also a preacher but with a small range of sermons which he kept in a box and brought out as needed. When he sang in the chapel, you could hear his voice all along Carlton Road. I have seen Mrs Day, beautifully dressed, drawing a bucket of water from a pump in Carlton Road to clean the Chapel. Mr Day used to empty the bucket loo which was at the back of the chapel (Kent E, 1992).
Frederick John Day was born at Chalgrave in 1893, a farmer’s son, and Olive Kate Ridgewell was born a year later at Turvey. They married and settled at Turvey in 1936 and in the 1939 Register are recorded as living at Laburnum Grove, Station End, Turvey. He is described as Working Farmer.
Over the ensuing 10 years the chapel’s active membership gradually declined and the decision to close was taken on 21st October 1965 after valiant efforts to revive the chapel had failed. These are the subject of the next article.
Ford, J A 1992: A study of Turvey 1786 – 1851: History Unit 111 Dissertation, Nene College, Northampton.
Bedfordshire Mercury, 4th October 1879 Turvey News Bedford.
Kent, E 1992: Turvey Chapels. Article in Turvey News. Turvey.
Grayson, P: The Old Chapel in Carlton Road. Turvey History Society Websit.e
Bedfordshire Times & Standard, 14th May 1954 Delightful Colours Aid Modernisation Scheme.
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.