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Wesleyan Methodists in Ridgmont

The Methodist chapel about 1900 [Z50/95/60]
The Methodist chapel about 1900 [Z50/95/60]

Methodism was founded in 1740 by John Wesley. Over the years various differing strands of Methodism broke away from the main church, which came to be called the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In 1932 a number of the strands, including the Wesleyans, reunited to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain

Methodists are first recorded in Ridgmont in 1820 in the Church Book of the Baptist church [X347/2] where it notes that "Mr. Foord wished to join the Methodists" and in 1822: "Brother Foord's house being used by Methodists". It is in 1828 that Methodists in Ridgmont first appear in the Bedford Circuit Steward's Accounts.

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county's historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. The entry for the Methodist chapel [HER 8506] says that the chapel, at the junction of the High Street and Lydds Hill, was built about 1835. The Bedfordshire Standard for 1841 notes that the building was reopened in that year after the erection of a new gallery.

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 Ridgmont Wesleyan chapel was made by the Day School Master, R. J. Allsworth. He stated that the chapel had 150 free seats and 90 others. That day 60 people had attended afternoon service and 133 in the evening. The afternoon service was also attended by 90 Sunday scholars. The average for the preceding year had been 120 in the afternoon and 200 in the evening with 90 scholars in the afternoon. These figures compare very favourably with the Anglican church and are about half the congregation of the Baptist chapel.

In the nineteenth century nonconformist meeting houses had to be registered with the archdeaconry in which they were situated which, for Bedfordshire, meant the Archdeaconry of Bedford. The first surviving registration dates to 1845 by John Pickavant, minister of Bedford Wesleyan Circuit [ABN1/2, ABN2/380]. The chapel was licensed for weddings in the same year. The new chapel was re-registered in 1854 by William Henry Clarkson, superintendent minister of the Bedford Circuit.

The Bedfordshire Times reported in 1872 that it was closed for three months for alterations and repairs. In the Methodist archive at Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service is a plan [MB2648] for a schoolroom at the chapel. This room does not now exist and so the plan may never have been put into effect. The schoolroom used by the chapel seems to have formed part of The Firs at 85 High Street. The chapel closed in 1947 and was sold in 1949. It now forms part of The Firs Guest House.

The former Methodist Chapel January 2011
The former Methodist chapel January 2011