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Kempston West Methodist Church

Kemspton West Methodist Chapel in 1960
Kempston West Methodist Chapel in 1960

The origin of Wesleyan Methodism in Kempston is not known. An early associate of John Wesley's, William Delamotte, had visited Bedford in 1739 and probably helped to sow the first seeds of the new church. Wesley himself first visited the town in 1753 at the invitation of disillusioned Moravian William Parker and in later visits formed the first Bedford Methodist Society in what later became Saint Paul's Methodist Church. It seems possible that Methodism spread to Kempston from this source.

It was usual for nonconformist meetings to register with the Quarter Sessions or the relevant Archdeaconry. The first known registration of a Methodist meeting in Kempston was in 1831 when Joseph Saville registered his own house and barn for worship [ABN1/2, ABN2/262, ABN3/3]. He had purchased the house, which stood in Water Lane, the previous year from a man named Pratt.

Notes on the history of the chapel were made by Rev. Frederick Pilkington in 1960 to celebrate the centenary of the chapel. In 1805 the house of John Ames was registered as a nonconformist meeting [ABN1/1]. The pamphlet explains that Ames was “a known Methodist name which appears in the Methodist Baptismal register of 1813”. In 1807 the house of Samuel Favell was registered [ABN1/1] and Rev. Pilkington thought that this, too, was a Methodist meeting: “The home of Samuel Favell appears to have been in use as a Methodist Meeting Place for nearly twenty years and it is probable that from this house the move was made to what was the first Methodist Chapel in Kempston in 1830, formerly a thatched cottage”.

“This house was left by Richard Kitch, a private in the Guards, in 1801 to his wife Catherine. His Will is WL220 in the County Record Office and the cottage is number 406 in the Kempston Award Map of 1804 [MA18]. John Savill bought this cottage in 1830 from John Tid Pratt [WL226] who had bought it in 1822 from Mary Wallis [WL224], sister-in-law of Catherine Kitch who had become owner in 1801. This house, sometimes described as one house and sometimes as two, in Records that have been preserved, was registered as a Place of Worship for a congregation of Dissenters in 1831 [ABN1/2, ABN2/262, ABN3/3]. The original application is preserved in the Bedford County Record Office. Sometime later William Cooper, of Biddenham, probably a member of the Saint Paul’s Society (the name of William Cooper is second on the membership list of 1781), with William carter, William Robinson and has Musgrave signed an application to register the congregation as Dissenters in 1833 [ABN1/2, ABN2/276]”. The cottage was adjacent to the King William IV Public House, hence the references to it in the archive of Bedford brewers Charles Wells [WL].

The pamphlet continues: “In 1829 the house was bought by the people who worshipped there, for £70, and described in the conveyance as “in Water Lane of two cottages with grounds whereon is intended to be erected a Methodist Chapel” [WL227]. It was sold by John Savill and on 28th August 1839 conveyed to eight Trustees whose names are of interest as the holders, on behalf of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, of the first Methodist property in Kempston. Their names and occupations were: John Brown, Butcher; John Smith, Plumber; J. W. Allison, Cordwainer, all of Bedford; James Henman, Farmer of Stagsden; David Henman, farmer of Bromham; William Robinson, Shopkeeper; John Britten, Labourer, all of Kempston and the Rev. Max Wilson, Superintendent minister”. A fire insurance policy of 1839 [WL228] details two thatched cottages and a nearby brick and tiled chapel with a pulpit, pews, desk and furniture. The chapel was insured for £100 and the furniture for £70. The pamphlet notes: “A minute of 25th September 1843 records, “A new gallery to be added in the Kempston Chapel providing the debt upon the chapel is not increased”.

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 Wesleyan chapel was completed by the steward, John Brown of Kimbolton Road, Bedford. The chapel is duly noted as commencing in 1839. It had 180 free seats and 70 others. The afternoon congregation had been 165, with 35 Sunday scholars and the evening congregation 140 with 15 Sunday scholars. Averages for the preceding year had been 160 and 35 in the afternoon and 150 and 20 in the evening.

The pamphlet continues: “This Chapel, known as the Bell End Chapel, served Methodism in Kempston at a time of social expansion and increasing population. Bell End at that time was an overcrowded area and to serve the neighbourhood the Methodists organised a Sunday School which, at that time, were uncommon. On 7th October 1859 the President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, the Rev. Samuel Waddy, gave permission for the sale of the old chapel (of five cottages) [WL229] and on 14th February 1861 it was bought by Thomas Robert Brown thus discharging John Brown now a farmer, John Prior, Stonemason; William Smith, plumber and Jabez Smith, who had retired to jersey, James Henman and William Longstaff of their duties as Trustees [WL231]”.

“The Society at Bell End grew and was in need of another Church. A further move was discussed and the Quarterly meeting held at Bedford on 24th March 1858 decided “That a New Chapel be erected at Kempston at a cost not exceeding £650, the debt not to exceed £50”. The new Chapel in High Street was opened on Sunday 22nd April 1860, the Governor of Richmond College, Rev. Alfred Barrett conducting the opening services”.

This chapel was registered in 1854 by William Henry Clarkson of Harpur Street, Bedford, the superintendent minister (a registration cancelled in 1904). At this time the chapel formed part of the Bedford and Ampthill Circuit. The chapel was registered in 1861 by Charles Carter of Harpur Street, the superintendent minister. An organ was installed in the gallery in 1877, at a cost of £40, replacing the old harmonium. This chapel was licensed to conduct marriages in 1890.

The interior of Kempston West Methodist Church in 1960
The interior of Kempston West Methodist Church in 1960

In 1875 the chapel moved into the Bedford Saint Mary’s Circuit. In 1882 the roof was repaired in addition to more minor renovations, all for a cost of £20 and four years later much greater improvements cost nearly £200. In 1893 a vestry and porch were added and the church enlarged costing £337. In 1896 the chapel was re-seated and the organ was moved to the east transept at a cost of £18. The organ was overhauled again in 1909.

In 1932 the Wesleyan Methodists came together with the Primitive and United Methodists to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Although the town now had three Methodist chapels it was a growing community and the three buildings were spaced evenly apart and so all three remained open for over twenty years.

In 1942 the chapel moved into the Bedford South Circuit. In 1958 a modern kitchen and cloakrooms were added at a cost of £1,500. Further alterations and renovations occurred in 1967 giving the chapel the frontage it has today [2013]. In 1971 the chapel became part of the Bedford South and Ampthill Circuit and in 2010 joined the newly formed North Bedfordshire Circuit.

Kempston West Methodist Church July 2007
Kemspton West Methodist Church July 2007

Sources

  • MB12: Circuit Stewards' accounts: 1817-1837;
  • WL227: conveyance of cottage from Joseph Savill to Methodist trustees: 1839;
  • WL89: abstract of title of Joseph Allen Piggot to former chapel premises: 1839-1875;
  • WL228: cottage insurance policy: 1839;
  • MB6-7: Appointment of Circuit Stewards including Kempston: 1841-1866;
  • WL229: consent for sale of old chapel by President of the Methodist Conference: 1859;
  • STuncat353: deeds to land purchased for a chapel but not used: 1858-1884;
  • P60/8/2: Kempston All Saints vestry minute book noting rating of new Methodist meeting house: 1859;
  • MB16: Circuit account "Chapel Buildings": 1859-1878;
  • WL230: conditions of sale of old chapel: 1860;
  • WL231: conveyance of old chapel by trustees to Thomas Robert Brown: 1861;
  • POE119/1: chapel noted in abstract of title of 13/15 King William Road, Kempston;
  • MB2116: Kempston West baptism register: 1871-1926;
  • MB1784: Circuit Schedule Book including Kempston West: 1949-1975;
  • X414/31: service sheet for reopening of chapel: 1967