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The Bunyan Meeting in Elstow

The Bunyan Memorial Hall about 1910 [Z209/95/78]
The Bunyan Memorial Hall about 1910 [Z209/95/78]

John Bunyan came from Elstow so it is only fitting that there is a continuation of the church he helped to shape in Bedford in his home parish.

Edwin Welch researched the history of registrations in Bedfordshire for Bedfordshire Historical Records Society Volume 75 Bedfordshire Chapels and Meeting Houses [published in 1996] and found the earliest registration for the Bunyan Meeting in Elstow dated to 7th November 1812 when the Green House (i.e. the Moot Hall) was registered at the Archdeaconry of Bedford [ABN1/1].

On Sunday 30th March 1851 a census of all churches, chapels and preaching-houses of every denomination was undertaken in England and Wales. The local results were published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1975 as Volume 54, edited by D. W. Bushby. The return for the Bunyan Meeting was made by John Jukes, the minister and the salient points were:

  • That it still met in an upper room at the Green House;
  • There were free sittings for 130 and 15 other sittings;
  • The general congregation that evening was 90;
  • The average congregation for the proceeding three months was also 90.

The Bunyan Meeting chapel in Elstow was registered by the senior minister, John Jukes of Dame Alice Street, Bedford in 1860. This was, presumably, still at the Moot Hall. The Bunyan Meeting minute book [BY9/3 page 167] stated in 1878 that: "As there appears no probability of a new chapel being erected" the Moot Hall should be repaired as the building was "fully adequate to the requirements of Elstow for Nonconformist worship and Sunday School Teaching". A lease of the building in 1895 from Samuel Whitbread (Lord of the Manor of Elstow) to Bunyan Meeting trustees, is extant [BY16/4/12]. The lease was of six rooms, one of which was at the east side of the ground floor, the other five being on the upper floor. The rent was just 2/6 per annum though the meeting had to pay the rates.

Elstow Moot Hall September 2007
Elstow Moot Hall September 2007

In 1910 the Bunyan Memorial Hall, on a site next to the village school, was built. The foundation stone was laid on 20th May and the building was opened on 27th October that year. The site was given by the Whitbread family. The building has a three layered stained glass window depicting scenes from Pilgrim's Progress. The Bedfordshire Times of 20th May had a major article on the stone laying ceremony.

The following paragraphs come from the beginning of The Bedfordshire Times article: “There was a felicitous and interesting ceremony at Elstow on Thursday, when Sir Frederick Howard laid the memorial stone of the new Bunyan Memorial Hall at Elstow. For nearly a hundred years a congregation has worshipped in the venerable Moot Hall on the Green, and has been served by a succession of faithful workers, and now it is felt that the time is come when the congregation should have a more permanent and better equipped home for the work. In this beautiful and historic village there are many memories and memorials of Bunyan and his times, and it seems fitting that there should be a memorial building in which the people who endeavour to walk in the way that he pointed out should meet to draw inspiration from his teachings and uphold his traditions and the example of his piety. The Hall, which is to stand upon a site which had been given with characteristic generosity by Mr. Samuel Whitbread, will provide good accommodation, for the purposes of public worship and for the work of the Sunday School. It is estimated to cost, when completed, £1,600, and of this sum £1,086 had been already contributed. It is the hope of the Committee that it may be possible to open the Hall in September next, practically free of debt. The work of building has been commissioned, and the foundations are being well and soundly laid”.

“The site is on the main street, adjoining the village school, and nearly opposite the Bunyan cottage. The ground plan shows a main hall 46 feet by 25 feet, approached by an entrance porch, with oak doors, and there will be two class-rooms, which will be separated from the main hall by a folding movable division, so that they can be easily used as additions to the hall, the whole giving seating accommodation for nearly three hundred people. There will also be an infants’ room 20 feet by 15 feet, a class room 15 feet by 12 feet, library, cloak and ladies’ room. The floors are to be of maple wood, and there will be a pine dado 4 feet high round the wall, which in the upper part will be plastered. The roof will be partly open, showing the timbers of the roof principals and ceiling at the collar line. The heating will be provided for in part by hot water radiators, and special attention will be given to the ventilation. Externally the walls will be of red sandstock bricks, and the roof will be covered with red tiles, the gables being half-timbered in oak with rough timbered panels, overhanging eaves and barge boards. The elevation fronting the road shows a large and handsome Tudor bay window, with oak mullions and transoms and lead lights. The gable above the window is filled in dark oak vertical timbers, rough cast between, and bordered by barge boards under the eaves which are supported by ornamental brackets, the whole being terminated at the apex with a finial. There are two similar gables on the north side to the ends of the two classrooms, and another at the end of the infants’ room on the south side. A turret ventilator will be placed on the ridge of the main roof. It will be seen that the style chosen for the building is a pleasing treatment of the English domestic, which is well in keeping with the old-world air of this interesting village”.

“The contractors are Messrs Freshwater and Sons of Bedford and the work is being carried out from the plans and designs, and under the superintendence of the architects, Messrs Usher and Anthony, 9 Saint Paul’s Square, Bedford”.

“The memorial stone will bear a bronze plate with ornamental moulded border, and embossed as follows in XVIIth century lettering:-“

“BUNYAN MEMORIAL HALL
TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN BUNYAN,
PREACHER, DREAMER, INTERPRETER,
This stone is laid by
Sir Frederick Howard,
May 19, 1910”

The meeting house is still used today, the church being known as The Elstow Bunyan Christian Fellowship, it is part of the Congregational Federation.

The Bunyan Memorial Hall February 2012
The Bunyan Memorial Hall February 2012

Sources for the history of the Bunyan Meeting in Elstow held at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service include:

  • Z209/64: scrapbook by wife of Superintendent of Sunday School on his work: 1884-1892;
  • Z209/55: Sunday School admission register: 1890-1932;
  • Z209/66a: scrapbook by wife of Superintendent of Sunday School on his work: 1890-1897;
  • BY16/4/23: Sunday School library register: 1890-1912;
  • Z209/57: Superintendent's register of teachers' and scholars' attendances: 1891-1912;
  • Z209/65: scrapbook by wife of Superintendent of Sunday School on his work: 1892-1897;
  • BY16/4/12: tenancy agreement for the Moot Hall: 1895;
  • Z373/585: photograph of upper floor of Moot Hall when used by Bunyan Meeting for services: c.1900;
  • BY16/4/14: band of Hope attendance register: 1906-1923;
  • Z209/59b: scrap book: 1907;
  • CDE14/1-7: plans and elevations of new Bunyan Memorial Hall: 1910;
  • CRT180/326 and CRT170/4/15: account of laying of foundation stone of new meeting: 20 May 1910;
  • BY16/4/13: hymns composed by Thomas Hands: 1910;
  • X373/586-587: photographs of foundation stone laying: 1910;
  • X373/588: photograph of opening of Memorial Hall: 1910;
  • Z209/62: papers on the building: 1910-1963;
  • Z209/95/78: photograph of Bunyan Memorial Hall: 1910
  • Z50/142/135: photograph of Sunday School: 1911;
  • Z209/58: Superintendent's register of teachers' and scholars' attendances: 1913-1926;
  • BY16/4/1: ledger kept by the treasurer: 1925-1945;
  • Z209/59a: Superintendent's register of teachers' and scholars' attendances: 1926-1932;
  • BY16/4/8: Bunyan Tercentenary order of service: 1928;
  • BY16/4/6: church calendar, blotter and year book: 1932;
  • BY16/4/3: Sunday School Clothing Club: 1934-1962;
  • Z209/61: notes on Communicant Church Members' Group and Junior Members' Group: 1939-1941;
  • BY16/4/15: Sunday School club register: 1939-1949;
  • BY16/4/11: cash book: 1942-1945; BY16/4/4: church balance sheets: 1944-1955;
  • Z209/56: Sunday School admission register: 1945-1946;
  • BY16/4/2: ledger kept by the treasurer: 1945-1973;
  • BY16/4/16: Sunday School club register: 1949-1960;
  • BY16/4/18: photograph of the meeting: c. 1950;
  • BY16/4/9: public tea and service commemorating the 50th anniversary of the church in Elstow: 1960;
  • BY16/4/20: carol concert programme: 1960;
  • BY16/4/17: five Sunday School class registers: 1961-1963;
  • BY16/4/10: miscellaneous papers: 1962-1966;
  • BY16/4/5: leaflet advertising an Autumn Bazaar: 1963;
  • BY16/4/21: stewardship leaflet: 1963;
  • Z209/60: Diploma of Honour from National Sunday School Union & Christian Youth Service to Percy William Townsend for 32 years service: 1964;
  • BY16/4/22: printed leaflet giving details of services: c. 1965;
  • BY16/4/7: Elstow and Kent leaflet number 33: 1966.