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Wesleyan Methodism in Totternhoe

The former Wesleyan Methodist chapel and Sunday School August 2009
The former Wesleyan Methodist chapel and Sunday School August 2009

Totternhoe had chapels belonging to both the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists. The former had their chapel in Church End, whilst the latter had their chapel in Lower End.

A Wesleyan Methodist Society was in existence in Totternhoe by 1792 and for the first twenty years or so of its existence was often merged with Eaton Bray. Totternhoe and Eaton Bray were among the founder members of the Leighton Buzzard Wesleyan Circuit in 1812.The Dunstable Methodist Circuit: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Witness 1843-1993 quotes a history of 1863 about the early history: "Before the year 1840 the Totternhoe Wesleyans belonged to the Eaton Bray Society, but about the time the Primitives came to Totternhoe and tried to establish a cause by getting the members of the Wesleyan Society to join them, this however the Eaton Bray friends were not willing to accede to, and in order to prevent it they agreed with Mr. Pratt of Totternhoe to build a small place in which to hold services occasionally. Mr. Pratt exceeded his instructions as to size and raised a building much larger than was intended, but as the whole cost was only £200 they agreed to purchase it, all the funds that were then raised amounted to only £60 thus leaving a debt on the chapel of £140".

Volume 110 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1996 and edited by Edwin Welch contains registrations of Bedfordshire nonconformist meetings drawn from a number of sources.  The Wesleyan chapel was registered by a printed form by Leighton Buzzard circuit minister Joseph Wilson in December 1841 [MB1864]. It stood on the corner of Chapel Lane and Castle Hill Road and the building still survives.

 The former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel February 2010
The former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel February 2010

The Castle Hill Road Chapel was again registered by Leighton Buzzard circuit minister Joshua Mottram on 19th June 1861 [MB1864]. The 1863 history continues; "In 1862 the building was found to be altogether too small to accommodate the congregation and it was necessary to enlarge it, that thus by increasing the number of sittings the income might be equal to the expenditure. This had not been the case hitherto".

"As soon however as we thought of doing this a part of the Society said they would have a chapel at the other end of the village about ¾ of a mile from the nearest chapel, and as the first step towards it rented an old tenement that had been used as a blacksmith's shop. As soon as we began to enlarge our chapel they began to repair there instead of coming to ours - at length encouraged by the Primitives they left us altogether and built their chapel by which we have lost 22 members of the society, several Sunday school children and many of the congregation". This new Primitive chapel was on land which is now part of Green Farm on Church Road.

The Wesleyan Chapel about 1910 [Z1306/127]
The Wesleyan Chapel about 1910 [Z1306/127]

In 1932 three main strands of Methodism, Primitive, Wesleyan and United came together to create the Methodist Church of Great Britain. This did not mean the immediate closure of one of the two chapels in Totternhoe, presumably there were sufficient differences between the two to maintain two quite separate congregations. In 1938 a Sunday School building was erected on a site immediately adjoining the chapel to the north-west [MB1865].

 The rear of the former Methodist chapel and Sunday school February 2010
The rear of the former Methodist chapel and Sunday school February 2010

There had been no real housing developments at Lower End to bring in young people. The Lower End chapel transferred from the Leighton Buzzard to the Dunstable Circuit in 1974. The following year the Former Primitive chapel at Church End closed but none of the members transferred to Lower End, almost all transferring to Dunstable.

In 1989 permission to close Lower End chapel was granted. The Trustees' minute book [MB1901] for the 1st March 1989 reads: "The meeting went on to discuss the future of the chapel. It was decided to repair the hole in the chapel roof and to put netting along the guttering to catch falling slates. After a long discussion it was reluctantly decided that the chapel should close as there did not seem to be any prospect of the numbers attending the chapel increasing". The meeting on 29th March 1990 came to the same doleful conclusion [MB1901]: "It was felt that as our Sunday congregations were so few and lack of manpower to maintain the Chapel, that the decision made at the meeting in March 1989 still stands … The property to be put up for sale. It was agreed to have a special service on 25th March at 3.00 p.m. as we celebrate 150 years of worship and witness in this Chapel".

The last service was held on 25th March 1990 and registration was cancelled on 28th August that year. The few remaining Lower End members transferred to Eaton Bray, with which their spiritual forebears had been linked two hundred years before. The old chapel is now a private house, the last note in the trustees' minute book being: "Chapel eventually sold August 1991". Today [2010] the building's external plaque reads: "CHAPEL HOUSE RESTORED 1991".

Plaque on the old Methodist Chapel August 2009
Plaque on the old Methodist Chapel August 2009