Music in the Wesleyan Chapel

Music in the Wesleyan Chapel, Carlton Road.

‘Methodism was born in song’. So says the Preface to the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book. However, the role of music had already begun to grow both in the worship of parish churches and Dissenting meeting houses before the arrival of Methodism (Rodell J. 2014).

The Congregational minister, Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) published 750 hymns in his lifetime and the Evangelical movement in the Church of England was notable for its hymn writers. Among these were Revd John Newton and the poet William Cowper in Olney who, in 1779, published the Olney Hymns and, within that collection, the famous ‘Amazing Grace’.

A contemporary account of John Wesley’s preaching quoted by Rodell records that he began his services with a short prayer, then led the singing of a hymn, preached for about half an hour, led the singing of a few verses from another hymn and closed with another prayer. (Arminian Magazine 1787) After his death in 1791, as Wesleyan Methodism spread, lively hymn singing became a very distinctive feature of worship and the Hymn Book was valued almost as much as the Bible in devotional use.

Charles Wesley, brother of John, was a prolific writer of hymns and these formed the basis of the hymn books used in Wesleyan Methodism . Many of his hymns are still sung today and feature in the hymn books of Christian churches around the world. As examples, on Easter Sunday his ‘Christ the Lord is risen today’ and at Christmas ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ continue to be popular.

Up until 1906 the book used in the Turvey chapel was the 1780 publication ‘A Collection of Hymns for use of the People Called Methodist’ in one of its revised versions with a Supplement.


In 1904 a new hymn book was produced and introduced around the circuit. Turvey was somewhat slow in adopting the new book. There is a note in the minutes of the 1906 Trustees Meeting –

Mr Shrimpton (Superintendent Minister) reminded the meeting that Turvey was the only place in the (St Paul’s, Bedford) circuit where the New Hymn Book was not in use. The meeting requests the Secretary to write to the friends there (Turvey) asking them to start with the New Book as soon as possible.

In 1933 a new hymn book was produced to coincide with the coming together of Wesleyan, Primitive and United strands to form the Methodist Church as we know it today. This book was in use until the chapel closed in 1965.

When the Chapel opened in 1829 there was no organ to accompany the singing. The first organ in the Turvey All Saints parish church was donated by Maria Higgins in 1838 and the current organ was donated by Charles Longuet- Higgins in 1847. It has since been extended and remodelled and is considered to be a very fine instrument for a village parish church. In the Chapel in contrast, there were not the generous benefactors to provide anything similar – the singing would be unaccompanied, each line of the hymn sung by the leader and then repeated by the congregation. It was not until 1842 that the Harmonium was invented in Paris by Alexandre Debain and affordable reed organs became widely available. This is a typical foot-pumped harmonium –

In November 1888 a presentation was made to Mr George Sargent for ‘the able manner in which he had for many years presided at the harmonium and trained the choir’ (Bedfordshire Mercury 17 November 1888.) The inscription on the presented gifts was

In view of the fact that for nearly 20 years you have presided at the harmonium in the Wesleyan Chapel, Turvey, a few of the local preachers of the Bedford St Paul’s Circuit have thought it desirable to make some acknowledgement of your long and faithful service. They gratefully recognise your hearty cooperation with them in the conduct of the services and earnestly pray that your life may be spared to lead the service of praise as hitherto.

So, there was a harmonium to lead the singing from about 1868 at least. In 1905 a new organ was purchased-

Proposed by Mr Parrott and seconded by Mr Martin that the old organ be sold and a new one bought in a figure of £21 towards which £18 had already been collected. (Minutes of Trustees 1905)

George Sargent’s son William succeeded him as organist. In 1912 the church officers were

Mr Hooker – Chapel Steward and Treasurer
Mr H Wright – Seat Steward
Mr Sargent (Jnr) – Organist
Mr Cotton – Secretary

When Wesley Cottage was given to the chapel by Alderman Clark in 1938, the tenant was a Mrs Chandler. She was an organist and in the 1946 Trustees meeting minutes the officers of the chapel were listed as –

Chapel Steward Mr F J Day
Treasurer Mr C Collins
Organists Mrs Chandler
Mrs K O Day

Mr and Mrs Day were the leading figures in the Chapel from 1936 until they moved to Putnoe, Bedford in 1963.

The main organisers of the Chapel 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 bag and brought out as needed. When he sang in the chapel you could hear his voice all along Carlton Road. (Eve Kent 1992)

In 1964, in response to an advertisement in the Methodist Recorder, Mr Oliver Smith of Bulwell, Nottingham was invited to live at Wesley Cottage and, in return, to try to encourage people to attend the chapel. He promised to provide an organist and keep the chapel and garden tidy. Sadly, there was no response to his efforts and at a Trustees meeting on 21st October 1965 it was decided to discontinue services. So, the Chapel fell silent.

Rodell J., The Rise of Methodism: A Study of Bedfordshire, 1736 – 1851 .p47 Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2014
Arminian Magazine 1787 p 101
Kent E. 1992. Turvey Chapels. Turvey, Turvey News.
The author is grateful to the Bedfordshire Archives for access to the Minute Books of the Turvey Wesleyan Chapel Trustees – MB2/TUR/2/4650.
Photograph of Hymn Book courtesy of Paula Grayson

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