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Wesleyan Methodists in Stanbridge

The Wesleyan Chapel in 1901
The Wesleyan Chapel in 1901

The first definite mention of Wesleyan Methodists in Stanbridge is in 1812. This is in a class book containing membership lists for all the local meetings in the Leighton Buzzard Circuit [MB1533]. It does not necessarily mean that there was a chapel in Stanbridge at this date as early Methodist meetings often took place in people's houses or in larger structures such as barns. In 1795 a John Olney helped to register a nonconformist meeting in Stanbridge and it is possible that this was a Wesleyan meeting, given that later Olneys were Weelsyans [see below]. Similarly, a meeting registered in 1817 may have been a Wesleyan meeting.

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 Methodists was made by James Olney "Manager", He noted that the chapel had opened in 1833 [see above] and had seating for 193, with standing room for a further 82. The attendance had been 47, with 63 Sunday Scholars, in the morning, 127, with 63 Sunday Scholars, in the afternoon, and a mixed congregation of 179 in the evening. Averages were said to be 109 and 70 in the morning, 120 and 70 in the afternoon and 160 in the evening. The morning of 30th March had been cold and wet, which had not encouraged people out of doors. A registration with the Archdeaconry of Bedford for 1833 in Stanbridge may be a Wesleyan meeting

A possible contradiction to the 1833 date given in the above report is a date of 1840 noted in the Circuit property register [MB1537] as the appointment of the land for the chapel from John Olney and his wife to Richard Tock and other trustees. Perhaps the best resolution of this conflict is that the land was appointed retrospectively in order to give the trustees full title. Olney appointed further ground to the trustees in 1869.

A Wesleyan chapel, presumably that referred to in the 1851 census,  was registered on 15th March 1861 by James S.Haigh of Leighton Buzzard, minister. This may or may not have been in Mill Road. The Mill Road chapel was again registered by, John Cooper of Leighton Buzzard, superintendent minister, on 30th August 1870, having replaced the older building [MB1537].

In 1932 the Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodist churches came together to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Stanbridge also had a Primitive Methodist chapel, next to the school on Tilsworth Road, but this was declared redundant in 1937 as the Wesleyan chapel was bigger and only one chapel was needed. The chapel was licensed for marriages in 1924 [MB1537] and Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service possesses a single register dating between 1956 and 1970 [MB327]. Additional land was conveyed to the chapel in 1951 and a kitchen and toilet extension built in 1960 [MB1537].

The last meeting of the chapel trustees was on 12th January 1972 [MB274]. The following entry was made under the heading Sale of Premises: "Mr.Clarke reported that he had received a number of offers from Messrs Brown and Merry [acting as the trustees' agents] ranging from £4,000 to £4,850 and from Messrs Connell from £3,750 to £5,000. It was proposed that the offer of £5,000 should be accept [sic] subject to contract. Proposed Mr.Higgs, seconded Miss Blake. It was proposed that the proceeds from the sale should be invested until the Quarterly Meeting had decided to what use the money should be put. Proposed Mr.Griffin, seconded Mrs.Beasley". As to the current account "It was proposed that when this account be wound up, what remains should be divided between Eggington Trust Fund and Eaton Bray Renovation Fund £50 to each and balance to circuit". Under the heading Sale of Organ: "It was proposed that the proceeds from the sale of the organ should be handed to the Quarterly Meeting on the understanding that the money be spent for musical purposes within the Leighton Buzzard Circuit. Proposed by Mrs.Beasley, seconded Miss Blake". There was also this entry, under no heading: "Mr.Button was asked to make sure the memorial plaques be removed before the premises were handed over. One was to be given to Mr.Higgs the other to be handed to the circuit for safekeeping".

site of the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel March 2008
The site of the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel March 2008

A note in the chapel trustees minutes states that the chapel was sold on 2nd June 1972 to a Mrs.T.Scott for £5,000. The final proceeds, after agents' and solicitors' commission were £4,816.18.