The Old Chapel in Carlton Road (Independent Wesleyan)

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The Independent Wesleyan Chapel

Creation and location

In 1828, two chapels were built by Protestant Dissenters under the Act of Parliament of the “52nd year of the reign of his Majesty King George the Third”, which gave them permission to break away from the Church of England. The Independent Wesleyans created the Carlton Road Chapel by either purchasing or being given land which had previously been gardens. The Chapel building with a small plot of land to the west, lies in the corner of the garden of The Cot, Carlton Road, with access from Carlton Road along an alley beside 8 Carlton Road. In more recent decades, the south side became the edge of the garden of 9 The Pyghtle.

The Chapel was requested for “religious worship, and assemblies, and persons teaching or preaching”. The Registration Certificate was sent to the Archdeacon of Bedford “I George Finch of Turvey” explaining “my house in Turvey … is intended forthwith to be used as a place of religious worship by an assembly of Protestant Dissenters”. Without any foundations, walls consisting of 18 inches of Great Oolite limestone rubble (useful life span of 150 years) were constructed. The single large door, precise east/west alignment, four large arched chapel windows and blank east wall, indicates this was built as a Chapel. The verdict of three stone masons over 35 years considering the work quality, is that the building was constructed in some haste.

Congregation

Ford (1992) noted that George Finch signed the Registration Certificate probably in December 1828.  In the 1841 census a George Finch was a baker.  However, the Bedfordshire Times and Independent (14 May 1954) provided a brief history on “Turvey Methodist Church”.  The unnamed reporter (“closely connected with the church”) noted the ground had been “bought from John Abbott, Victualler, Turvey in 1829 a year after the church was erected.”  The ground cost £30 for 20 yards by 10 yards.  He listed the first 1828/29 Trustees as being 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, Lavendon, labourer, John Hawkins Revis, Newton Blossomville, farmer; William Armstrong the younger, Wilshamstead, farmer. 

Schedule 1 of the St. Paul’s Circuit No. 92 of 1830 showed 106 “sittings”, as in pew spaces, for people in the Chapel, with 88 for rent and 18 free.  There were 30 names from 20 households from Turvey shown on the Register of Methodist Baptisms in North Bedfordshire between 1812 and 1947.  Four congregation families were correlated (Ford, 1992) with the 1841/1851 census data showing heads of households were:  a blacksmith; a journeyman bricklayer; two agricultural labourers.  From the 1851 Ecclesiastical Census, attendances at the Chapel over the year averaged 50 people in the afternoon and 40 in the evening.  Ford found the congregations of the two Chapels were friendly with each other and in contact with the Church of England.  For example, the Quarterly Meeting Minutes of the Methodist Bedford Circuit from 28 September 1847 showed “A letter to be addressed to John Higgins Esq., informing him of the Sermon and (Turvey Missionary) Meeting and respectfully inviting his attendance.”  Kent (1992) in Turvey News commented “there was good co-operation with the Methodist Chapel.  In the 20th century, Mrs Stephenson says they used to go to afternoon service there, after morning service and before evening service at the Congregational Chapel.”.  A Bedfordshire Times and Independent reporter commented in 1954 that the “utmost co-operation is being shown by the Rector of Turvey, the Reverend GH Browning. 

Events and Memories of the Chapel in the 19th century

Research on this chapel has been restricted by limited documentation. Kent (1992) explained that the Chapel Estate complained in 1841 about the Parish Church that “the clergyman had encroached on the land adjoining to the Chapel and removed the boundary marks”. A committee was appointed to meet the clergyman; “seemed to do nothing; later was reappointed with one substitution ‘and they were affectionately and earnestly requested to attend to the business’. The land must have been restored, …… the Anniversary in May or June was celebrated by a tea party ‘if fine on the Chapel lawn’. By 1865 ‘the case of Turvey Chapel was again discussed’ by the quarterly meeting of the Circuit (Bedfordshire Archives) and it was determined to continue the services there as usual for another quarter’.”

Emigration

To learn more about the emigration of 34 Turvey people, many from this chapel congregation, see the article “From Turvey to New Zealand”. Some took their worship with them, in that one couple allowed their new home to be “used as a meeting place for the early Methodist families who founded and built the Woodend Wesleyan Methodist Church.”

New Pews

The Bedfordshire Mercury (22 December 1877) recorded a meeting of the Wesleyan Mission Society, then noted the 50th anniversary in 1878. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent newspaper (4 October 1879) recorded that they closed to install new pews, re-opening on 28 September 1879 with celebratory services followed by tea in the Congregational Chapel. The total collections were £10 15s 4p. Kent (1992) wrote “The Reverend Wesley Butters preached….. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Gifts for the Musician

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 gifts were a bound copy of Wesley’s hymns “with tunes and new supplement” and a copy of the Village Organist, “each bearing the following inscription, a neat oak-framed copy being also presented”.  The text 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 co-operation 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 –  Bedford, November 6th 1888”.  The article explained Mr Sargent was “taken by surprise” and “briefly returned thanks for their kindness.”    

Events and Memories of the Chapel in the 20th century

In the brief history and update on “Turvey Methodist Church” (Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 14 May 1954), the reporter noted the current Minute Book had been started in 1902.  In 1913, it was decided the remuneration of the chapel keeper of 5s per quarter was not sufficient.  It was increased to 10s with the hope that “she would be able to give good attention to the work.”  In 1907, the Reverend Joseph Shrimpton, Superintendent Minister, approached Mr Frank Spooner, Bedford Director of Education, hoping to buy the infant’s school to use instead of the old building.  The notes stated later “there was little hope”.

Alderman Clark

In 1908  the chapel was renovated for a cost of £ 83, 14s, 6d.  Alderman T Clark, twice mayor of Watford, had “worshipped in the church as a lad”.  The reporter explained there had been one renovation in 1925 under Mr HS Manning, using cream and brown colours “which looked beautiful in its freshness”.

In 1938 Alderman Clark gave the chapel Trustees a house in the village.   He was the preacher at the anniversary for many years and in 1954, was over 80 years of age and still “a good friend”.  The chapel had a “well kept garden … in front with a neat lawn and a fruitful Blenheim apple tree”.

1950s

In the early ’50s, Pauline Cameron, daughter of Len Savage, recalled walking up the alley to visit the chapel.  The alley began beside her grandfather’s house on Carlton Road.  She went into the chapel to collect first ration books, then tokens and vouchers for sweets and food.     

1954: Modernisation of the Chapel

Under Mr Gerald King of Max Lock and Partners, in May 1954, a “transformation is taking place … of renovation and modernisation” changing it “into a light and apparently larger” chapel.  The Bedfordshire Times and Independent reporter commented “Colours, the names of which delight the ear….. Broken white, mimosa yellow, mist blue, pearl grey and romany red”.  He thought the “long royal blue curtains hanging from the ceiling to the pulpit” were “particularly effective”.  The pews were replaced by tubular chairs with blue canvas seats and backs at about £6.  10s. each (Eve Kent, 1992).   

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent reporter noted the support given by the Circuit Ministers in 1954 who were the Reverend S Dixon and the Reverend R Wright.  He explained Mr Charles Collins of Putnoe Lane, Bedford was the “trustee with the longest record of service”, having been appointed in 1902, serving as Secretary from 1914 to 1925, and Treasurer from 1931 to 1954.  Mr Leslie Fountain of Bedford became Treasurer in 1954.  The 1954 anniversary of 20 May, was expected also to feature the re-opening event by Mrs WG Poole, Bedford Borough Organiser for the WVS.  They were planning a further evening event chaired by the Honorable Romola Russell with the guest speaker being Professor ES Waterhouse, formerly of Richmond College.

At the time of the 1954 renovation, Eve Kent recalled

The caretaker, Mrs Chandler, lived at Wesley Cottage, May Road. There was a Methodist Minister, the Reverend Francis Marratt, living in the village at Meadow House. One of the circuit preachers was Mr Fountain, who is a Trustee of Barton Homes (in 1992).

The 1961 diary of Roy Boness (contralto in Bedford Choral Society) shows as a boy, he sang a soprano solo in the Chapel on Thursday 27 April. He recalled there was a healthy congregation.

Eve Kent, for Turvey News,  wrote about the characters:

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, had a beautiful contralto voice and was the Turvey correspondent for the Bedfordshire Times for some years. Her father, Mr Ridway, kept a shop in Turvey. I have seen Mrs Day, beautifully dressed, drawing a bucket of water from a pump in Carlton Road to use for cleaning the Chapel. Fred was an outspoken man, also a preacher but with a small range of sermons, kept in a box at home and brought out as needed. When he sang in Chapel, you could hear him all along Carlton Road. Fred used to empty the bucket loo which was at the back of the Chapel. Most people had bucket loos then. At Harvest Festival and on Chapel holidays, there would be a solo singer, sometimes this was Mrs Price, the matron of Carlton School. There was a beautiful brass urn for tea parties. For many years there was a Thursday Fellowship meeting. Some names of Chapel people were: Miss Vale, Edie Boucher, Mr French, Mrs Gladys Wadsworth, John and Harry Pullen.

Independent Wesleyans inside the Chapel

The congregation chose their own distinct version of Methodism, starting with commissioning and installing a good quality bell in 1829. This is unusual for Methodists. The bell expert, Clouston, analysed a rubbing of the bell in 1984. From comparators, he concluded the Turvey bell was cast by Robert Taylor and his son William at their Oxford Foundry in 1829.

Village residents explained the Chapel had a baptismal pool under the altar at the east end. This is also unusual for Methodists. One man in the 1980s explained his niece was the last person to be baptised in the pool but could not remember the date. It is possible that the pool was the result of the congregation following the ways of the United Revivalists.

Cross (1990s) explained that John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley

Made congregational hymn singing a normal part of Christian worship. In their day Methodists sang hymns unaccompanied to popular tunes of the moment, a precentor singing the first note to give the congregation the pitch. It was not until the nineteenth century that most of today’s most famous hymn tunes were composed and an organ became routine.

In 1779, John Wesley wrote “For many years I have been importuned to publish such a hymn-book as might be generally used in all our congregations….. It is not so large as to be either cumbersome, or expensive; …., a little body of experimental and practical divinity…., there is no doggerel; no botches; nothing put in to patch up the rhyme; no feeble expletives….., no words without meaning.” He grouped hymns into themes: “Exhorting Sinners to return to God”; Describing the Pleasantness of Religion”; “Praying for Repentance”; “For Believers Rejoicing”. After Wesley’s death, a revised Methodist hymn book was published in the 1820s which included additional hymns at the end of the book, “and a few others distinguished by the prefix of an asterisk”. This was the version used in the Chapel.

Methodist societies from the 1700s had “local officials and ‘band leaders’” (Cross, 1990s) who became “laymen capable of preaching and conducting services”. John Wesley initially resisted lay preachers but was persuaded by his mother to allow them to preach. Allowing laymen to preach would have been a major attraction for congregation members in comparison with the Church of England’s formal hierarchy.

Change of use

The congregation reduced over time, leading to the decision to close the Chapel, possibly during the late 1960s or in 1970. Useful items such as the tea crockery, were given to the Congregational Chapel. By 1971, cast iron pillars (Bob Turvey, North Bedfordshire Borough Council surveyor, 1983) had been installed on the ground floor, holding up a first floor with the first floor Chapel balcony having been removed. This floor divided the remaining three large windows to north and south. One northern large window was blocked up. Local people set up a herb and spice warehouse in the building: heavy items on the ground floor, lighter products upstairs. Large wholesale sacks were delivered to them which they weighed into smaller packs for retail customers. Jean Lawson, living in Carlton Road, was the supervisor. Nancy Waters worked there part-time (9 am to 12 pm) from 1971 to fit in with her son attending Turvey School. She remembered her children grumbling about the strong smells on her clothes from the sage, thyme, garlic powder and other herbs and spices when she returned home. There was an asthmatic “boss” who had to leave the warehouse when garlic powder was being processed. One daughter of Dave and Beryl Hilson briefly worked with Nancy. The warehouse closed, possibly in 1974.

The Chapel Becomes a Home

In the mid 1970s, a couple moved in, turning the building into their home. Neighbours saw them carrying in railway sleepers to reinforce the floors. At some point, the glass in each section of the remaining large windows became a random patchwork on non-matching obscure glass, most of which had been clearly intended for bathrooms. The obscure glass was legally required because those windows overlooked gardens to the north and south. The window frames began to rot and the industrial sized roof slates started to slide into the Cot’s garden.

At some point prior to 1979, a reproduction furniture dealer from Ramsey in
Cambridgeshire either bought the building or took it in lieu of payment of a debt.
He brought in a firm of builders from Wembley who over a four year period, took
out all the previous pillars and first floor arrangements, to break eight building
standards (Bob Turvey) as they created a large space downstairs.

Despite the breaches of building standards regulations, the Halifax Building Society was prepared to advance a mortgage, allowing me to buy the property in 1983. Since the Building Standards were breached more than one year before the Surveyor made his assessment, he could not force remedial changes to the interior. Fortuitously, North Bedfordshire Borough Council offered Home Improvement Grants in the early 1980s for houses where the roof or windows were allowing wind and rain entry which could cause deterioration. Their very generous grant ensured that the roof and all the windows were restored to a good standard which satisfied the Borough Council.

Modern obscure glass was used in the north and south facing windows. The smaller west facing windows could be clear glass since they overlooked the small garden. The belfry, topped by an arrow weather vane, still had the slanting slats which allowed the sound of the bell to be heard throughout the village but allowed rain and wind into the loft. The slats had deteriorated. The Borough Council gave permission for a neutral cladding to be placed around the belfry to protect the original construction. In 1983, the roundel high on the west wall gave the name “The Old Chapel” in black lettering visible from the ground. When closely viewed from very tall tower scaffolding during some roof works, the incised letters are “The Wesleyan Chapel”.

The “Old Methodist Chapel, Carlton Road” was assigned Grade II listing in 1989. Grade II buildings are “of special interest and warrant every effort being made to preserve them”. The periodic attention of stone masons has continued the practice of using lime mortar.

In the contractual purchase documents, Restrictive Covenants were accepted which set out the requirements of any purchaser: no external changes to the appearance of the building; no riotous behaviour in the building; no alcohol to be supplied from the building. Some of the Independent Wesleyans’ original values are therefore recognised. Through my various self-employment roles, using modern technology, I prepare my words for teaching students, but not preaching.

Bibliography

Bedfordshire County Council.  1989.  Conservation Advice Series 1 Historic Buildings and the Law.  Bedfordshire County Council:  Bedford
Bedfordshire Mercury, 22 December 1877. 17 November 1888.  Turvey News.  Bedford
Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 14 May 1954. Turvey Methodist Church Ready for Re-opening. Bedford
Clouston, RMW.  1984.  Analysis of bell rubbing.  Clouston:  London
Cross. C. 1990s.  John Wesley, Organisation Man.  Observer Supplement:  London
Ford, J., 1992.  A Study of Turvey:  1786 – 1851.  History Unit III Dissertation: Nene College, Northampton
Kent, E., 1992.  Turvey Chapels: Turvey News:  Turvey 
Registration Certificate 1828 held in the Bedfordshire Record Office archives.  Copy provided 1987
Warwick, J.  2018. From Turvey to New Zealand. Turvey History Society website:  Turvey
Wesley. J. 1820s (Preface, 1779).  Hymns:  London 

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