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Wesleyan Methodism in Hockliffe

The site of the former Methodist chapel March 2015
The site of the former Methodist chapel March 2015

The Hockliffe, Tebworth and Toddington Methodist Missionary Association was formed as part of the Luton Circuit in 1817 and a chapel was built in 1833. Hockliffe was one of the group of churches which left the Luton Circuit in 1843 to become founder members of the new Dunstable Circuit. Hockliffe chapel is described by local Methodist historian Colin Bourne in The Dunstable Methodist Circuit :

"It was a tall red-brick building with a slate roof. Two long windows graced each side wall. A path from the road led up to a porch and there were a couple of windows in the front with an inscription plate high up. Inside and below a back gallery which went the width of the building, there was a centre aisle with pews each side and a centre pulpit ahead. There was the ubiquitous harmonium and oil lamps hung down. It had seating for 140 people – 70 for lettings, 30 free and 40 for children. There was a small school outbuilding at the back and until 1857 the Wesleyans had a separate burial ground in the village."

Three years after the chapel was built, in 1836, it had a membership of 36, with 9 of these belonging to a separate class at Chalk Hill. 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, but the joint entry for Hockliffe and Chalgrave gives numbers for the Methodist chapel which appear too high to be the Hockliffe chapel and therefore presumably relate to the larger Tebworth Wesleyan chapel in the parish of Chalgrave. After a Victorian heyday membership at Hockliffe fell rapidly, to just 4 in 1916 and only 2 by the end of the First World War. After the chapel closed in 1919 the premises remained in use as a village hall until c.1985. The building has since been demolished and a private house built on the side. This was constructed using 'Red Rubber' bricks and pitch pine timber from the chapel building and in a style reflecting the old chapel.

An intriguing postscript to the history of Hockliffe Wesleyan chapel is found in a document written by Paul Spence and deposited with Bedfordshire and Luton Archives which recounts an unusual experience during the building's village hall days, when the author found himself alone in the old chapel after an evening function [MB2/HOC1/10/3928]:

"Oh who left the light on up in the balcony? I muttered to myself. I went up the rear winding staircase, switched off the offending light, came down the stairs, and on tip toe reaching for a cap was an old man about seventy or eight. "Hello, let me help! I didn't realise anyone was in! You must have been in the loo when I was looking for the keys?" I handed him his cap and he stood back and spoke, "Thank yo, I used to be able to reach these pegs years ago, they probably highered them or lowered the floor" he joked. "Oh you've been her before?" I said, "Are you from another village, and come down for the Bingo? Ah, I see." "No, no", he exclaimed, "I ain't from another village, I alars been here." "Funny" said I, "I can't remember your face". "Funny" said he, "I remember yourn". "You do? Where from?" "Oh, I remember you and your pals playing in here, cutting up a Mars or somethin', an' later on in life I saw you here at the meetings you were!" Oh, I thought, he must have been one of the folks at the A.G.M., people you see but don't notice."

"I looked at the old chap and quickly studied his features, he was an old rustic type, his jacket was a bit grubby – he had no collar on his striped shirt, but a brass collar stud, a small red handkerchief was knotted around his neck, he had a waistcoat and a silver chain which was attached to a pocket watch – the top of the chain had a sort of tee in the last link and was poked through his waistcoat button hole, the chain was drooped across his small chest, and the round impression of a watch was visible within the pocke – his trousers were grey and of no particular style, they were too long, and the old man had folded them up to make a turn up – and on his feet he had old boots which although very shiney they looked as if he wore them every day – "Well old chap" I exclaimed "Are you waking home, or is someone fetching you, or shall I drive you home?" "No thank you kindly" he said "I'll sit here a while". O dear, I thought, when is he going? The kettle will be on, or a lager poured, and "OK old chap, sit there a couple more minutes. I'll put the kitchen lights off then we'll have to go home, won't we?"

"So down to the kitchen I went – off whent the water heater, off went the lights, shut the sliding door down, and the old chap had gone by the time I had reached the light switch at the bottom of the stairs! And swinging on the coat hanger was his little black cap! Oh Sweet Jesus I though – I knew something was odd – got to get out! – got to get myself onto the street, under the street light, back to reality – I fumbled with the key, I cleared the entrance without touching the floor, my bottle was completely gone, I was scared I immediately knew what I had been chatting to – "Goodnight young fella, thank you for the chat, course I can reach the hat pegs really he, he" he chuckled. I slowed down, my fear went as quickly as it had come upon me. I chuckled loudly – "Good night old chap, see you again?" "Maybe, maybe!" "I locked the Hall door, came home, and wrote all this down!"