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Methodism in Clophill

Clophill Methodist Church March 2007
Clophill Methodist Church March 2007

Methodism was founded by John Wesley in 1740 but a number of splinter groups broke away from the movement during the next century. Mainstream Methodism became known as Wesleyan Methodism and remained quite close to the Low Church Anglican style of worship, though with a completely different structure. Primitive Methodism, which emerged in 1811, was a much more fundamentalist strain in which local groups of churches exercised more autonomy than in the Wesleyan church and in which the laity did more of the decision making. The two strands came back together in the early twentieth century, along with the United Methodists, creating the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1932.

Clophill had a Primitive Methodist chapel in Luton Road, now called Old Silsoe Road from the mid 19th century until the early 20th century, when the chapel moved to the High Street. There was also a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Maulden, on the west side of the A6, though it was known as Clophill Wesleyan Methodist Church. This had been built in 1814.

On 3rd July 1934 the County Surveyor informed the Wesleyan congregation that: "the scheme has been submitted to the Ministry of Transport for their preliminary observations and from these it is quite clear that the whole of the Chapel building will have to be demolished" [MB1516]. On 23rd October 1934 Rev. T. W. Scholes of the Wesleyans wrote to the Secretary of the General Chapel Committee [MB1516]: "I should like to ask your advice about a rather awkward and involved problem…Our chapel, though rather old-fashioned, has been recently redecorated. It seats 200, and our society reports a membership of 49. Congregations are fairy good, and the people are hearty. Adjoining is a very small schoolroom, and before the problem I am writing about arose £300 had been raised for a new school. Half a mile away is an ex-Primitive chapel".

"The difficulties are really two, though each makes the other more complicated:-"

"1) The county authorities intend widening the important high-road to which the chapel fronts, and the scheme would take so much of our chapel property as would make the rest valueless for our purposes. Through a trustee who is a member of the County Council I learn that they will probably need the land in about two years' time. I fear they do not adequately realise that for a chapel scheme we need longer notice than might be needed for a housing question, and they say we can let the matter rest for a time, but I feel that we must at least have our own policy clear. Then they say that when the property is wanted the compensation will be paid on the site value and the property in its present condition. I should have thought that the proper compensation would be the cost of building a new one. Could you give me any guidance as to the usual practice in these matters?"

"2) If there is any rebuilding in view, the question of the two Methodist chapels in the village becomes acute, as to replace one with a new building might tend to keep up the division to the distant future. Though there may be some conservative feeling, my own congregation would welcome the fusion of the two churches, and I am not aware that there is any strong feeling against it in the other church, though I am less in a position to speak. We have many meetings and organisations in common, and in all that they do I keep in close touch with their super. The difficulty is that each church is a valuable asset to a small circuit. As to the rearrangement of circuits, I am sorry to say that when a committee under former Chairman of the District met last January, there was absolute reluctance on the part of the Cauldwell St. and St. Mary's circuits to unite, and there would be no point in Ampthill joining with one of them, as in the main it is those two circuits which cover the same area. One solution I had I mind was to unite the two congregations while keeping the two societies distinct for a time, but I find the other chapel would not hold the double congregation, let alone the big Sunday-school we should have. Another idea I have explored is that of putting up a building near the other chapel, so that eventually one could be a chapel and the other a school. But I fear village feeling would be opposed to this as though committing them to a union which has not been agreed upon, and in any case I cannot hear that land is available there".

The advice he received was that county councils were "invariably ready to act quite reasonably respecting places of worship and in several cases have give the trustees for their property replacement value". The other question, he felt, should be addressed by the District Home Mission and Chapel Committee. On speaking with his opposite number at the Primitive chapel the minister found that they both agreed that there should be one congregation and society and both thought it should belong to the Ampthill Circuit to stop the squabbling between the two Bedford circuits, though "I am sorry to add that there have lately been incidents provoking resentment (not approved by either minister) and it may be that the union cannot go through before our chapel is taken from us".

At a meeting of the Wesleyan Chapel Trustees on 28th March 1935 it was reported [MB1516] that "Mr. Taylor would probably be prepared to sell part of his land in High Street and our Valuer was asked to act in this matter". Eventually two offers were received - Mr. Goodman offered a site directly behind the existing Wesleyan Chapel and Mr. Taylor offered a plot in the High Street with a frontage of 80 feet for £200. Goodman's offer was accepted on 10th May. Then, on 15th May: "Clophill site investigations held up site not now available" [MB1516] - the adjoining owner had bought the site as an addition to his garden.

Bedfordshire County Council gave compensation of £2,235 for the chapel to be demolished [MB1516] - road widening was to begin in the Spring of 1936. By October 1935 it was suggested that the site in front of the existing primitive chapel in the High Street might be the best site [MB1516]. Eventually, in the summer of 1936, a site in the High Street was purchased by the former Wesleyan trustees from Mrs. M. A. Titmas, with the idea that members of the former Primitive congregation would be added as trustees when the two united. The old Wesleyan chapel was demolished in October 1937.

A plan for the new Methodist chapel in 1936 [MB1517]
A plan for the new Methodist chapel in 1936 [MB1517] to see a larger version, please click on the image

The first meeting of the Trustees of the Site for the Chapel took place on 27th July 1936 [MB1516] and by September architect Arthur Brocklehurst of Manchester [Lancashire] had produced plans. The trustees were as follows:

  • Leslie Edgar Manning of Clophill, corn merchant;
  • Lily May Burgoine of Maulden, spinster;
  • Alfred Coleman of Silsoe, horse keeper;
  • Harry Middleton of Maulden, retired grocer;
  • William John Pitts of Clophill, baker's roundsman;
  • Andrew Harris of Clophill, orchard worker;
  • James William Bushby of Clophill, land worker;
  • Cyril Abbott of Maulden, land worker;
  • Charles William Jenkins of Clophill, land worker;
  • Albert Edward Matthews of Clophill, land worker;
  • Sidney John Pitts of Clophill, orchard worker;
  • Ronald Abbott of Maulden, bricklayer;
  • Edward Errick of Maulden, land worker;
  • Cyril Bailey Townsend of Bedford, clerk to the local authority;
  • Charles Brightman of Pulloxhill, market gardener;
  • Albert Charles Izzard of Clophill, marker gardener;
  • Alfred Sharp of Maulden, labourer;
  • Linden Clarence Wootton of Clophill, tailor;
  • John Godfrey of Bedford, market gardener;
  • Francis William Peck of Ampthill, house furnisher;
  • Arthur George Hensman of Ampthill, motor mechanic;
  • Matthew Brunt of Maulden, marker gardener;
  • Harry Robinson of Maulden, solicitor's clerk;
  • Clement Charles Hardwick of Ampthill, grocer.

The builders of the new chapel were Stanford & Clarke Limited of Maulden who entered the lowest quote - £2,667/3/7 [MB1385] and the stone laying ceremony took place on 25th September 1937. The organ from the old Wesleyan chapel was repaired and installed and pews from the old chapel were stored for use in the new Sunday School [MB1385].

The Bedfordshire Times of 18th February 1938 reported: "The new Clophill Methodist Chapel is completed and has a pleasing appearance. The chapel, which faces the High Street, has seating accommodation for 214 and has central heating. At the north side of the chapel is the schoolroom, which holds about ninety. This is separated from the main hall by a folding partition which can be thrown back so that there can be one large hall for special services. The interior covers 240 square yards in all with three pairs of external folding doors fitted with panic alarm bolts: two of these doors are on the south side and one on the west side".

"There is a large window in the south wall, three in the north wall, three in the west wall, and two in the east wall. The seating will consist of chairs instead of pews and there will be two aisles with rows of four seats each side and rows of nine in the centre. The pulpit is fitted with rollers for moving it to any position in the chapel, and there is a communion rail, which is also transportable".

"The organ, which is fitted with an electric blower, is situated on the east side in a separate compartment. The vestry is on the west side. There is a kitchen on the east side fitted with a sink and an electric copper. The walls are distempered in buff and the woodwork finished with eggshell varnish".

"The floor of the chapel is made of deal blocks and the woodwork, including the roof, is Columbian pine with the exception of the window frames and sills, which are of red deal and oak. The lighting consists of eleven lamps of 150 watts each".

"The building was carried out by Messrs Stanford and Clarke, of Maulden, and the decorating by Mr. G. H. Woodcraft, of Ampthill".

"The opening ceremony will take place to-morrow (Saturday)".

The trustees meeting for 21st March 1938 noted: "It was reported that the High Street trustees had decided to sell their property forthwith, notices to appear in the local press" [MB1516]. The minutes to not state when the former Primitive members became trustees of the new chapel but it must have been shortly after this.