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Saint Marys Wesleyan Methodist Church Bedford

Saint Mary's Wesleyan Chapel elevation in 1864
Saint Mary's Wesleyan Chapel elevation in 1864 [BorBP19B/2]

Saint Mary's Wesleyan Methodist church was built in Cauldwell Street in 1864. It was between the later Numbers 29 and 31. The Bedfordshire Times of 26th January 1864 reported: "For some years the Wesleyan Capel in Harpur-street, although accommodating upwards of 1,000 persons, has been far too small for the present congregation, every available seat having been taken for years  past: the consequence has been that many who would have gladly attended its services have been sent elsewhere".

"The schools have also been very inadequate: it was therefore therefore determined that as soon as an eligible site could be obtained, a second chapel with suitable schools should be erected".

"A few weeks since such a site was offered in Caldwell-street, and was immediately purchased".

"It was at once decided that Mr. Palgrave, of Pall Mall, a pupil of Gilbert Scott's, should be employed as architect".

"Preliminary plans having been prepared by Mr. Palgrave, a meeting was held in the Bedford Rooms on wednesday evening last, when about 400 members and friends of the Wesleyan Society partook of tea, the arrangements of which were admirable".

"The business of the meeting was afterwards commenced with the Hymn "O render thanks to God above"; after which prayer was offered up by the Rev. J. Lees".

"The Rev. T. A. Rayner, in the absence of the mayor, who had been called to London, but whose hand and heart the rev. gentleman said were in the work, occupied the chair, and having in a few appropriate remarks explained the object of the meeting and what was proposed to be done, the plans were handed round the room [see illustration above], and from their appearance, it is likely that the building will prove an ornament to the town. The style is Florentine Gothic; and if the desired amount £2500 can be raised without difficulty, for there is to be no debt whatever, it is intended that the Chapel shall accomodate about 600 persons, in addition to the school children".

"The schools and vestries will be in close proximity to the Chapel, with ready access from the side street, so that the congregation will not be obstructed when entering the Chapel". [presumably to the left of the chapel - interestingly the right hand side of the chapel ran along the King's Ditch].

"Mr. Twitchell, of Willington, spoke of the advantages that Wesleyan Methodism had conferred upon himself, and of its blessings to his native village, where he had hitherto been unable to obtain a site for a Chapel. He was, however, thankful to see the cause progressing in Bedford, and it was his determination to do all in his power to help forward the present movement" [He had not long to wait - Willington's Wesleyan chapel was built in 1868].

The Rev. R. Brown, of Northampton, in an admirable speech, gave, among other facts, a very interesting account of the work which they had accomplished at Northampton, in an admirable speech, gave, among other facts, a very interesting account of the work which they had accomplished at Northampton, where two Chapels had been built; but, unfortunately had not been built without debt. A poor-women, however, a short time ago, asked him if some thing could not be done to liquidate the debt (£3,00) and from his sugegstion as well as the help of the good woman, a scheme was originated, and he was thankful to say that nearly the whole sum had been provided, and within another year he believed no debt would remain. He was thankful to be present at such a large and interesting meeting at Bedford, and he could look forward wit hconfidence to the efforts of his friends being crowned with success".

"Papers having then been distributed through the room, it is gratifying to state that in addition to the following subscriptions, about £200 was promised of small weekly sums of one openny to 5s. until April 1, 1865, it being hoped that by this date the Chapel will be completed".

"The principal subscriptions announced were: -
Messrs. James and Frederick Howard £500;
Mr. Twitchell, of Willington £200;
Mr. Howard of Caldwell £100;
Mr. Gray of Potter-street [Cardington Road] £100
There were also other subscriptions of £20 and £30, but the leading Wesleyans in the neighbourhood have not yet been solicited. Since the meeting on Wednesday other promises have been received, and from the general interest that is being manifested there is every reason to hope for a most successful result".

"Mr. Howard, of Caldwell, in a truly characteristic speech, which delighted all present, gave an account of the Rise and Progress of Wesleyan Methodism in Bedford. He especially referred to the visit of the Rev. John Wesley, in 1758, when on Friday, March 10, of that year, he preached the memorable assize sermon before Sir Edward Clive in St. Paul's Church, the text being "We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ". It was soon after this that by the courtesy of one Alderman Cooke, the venerable man, who was driven from the church, was permitted to preach in a lost, and from that time Methodism had risen in Bedford, had spread through the county, and was exetring a mighty influence for good throughout the world. He (Mr. Howard) was thankful to see it propsering here as well as elsewhere, and he hoped the Chapel proposed to be erected would prove a blessing to generations unborn".

"Mr. Biggs, who with Mr. Howard may be considered amongst the oldest Wesleyans in the neighborhood, said a few words upon the same topic, after which the Doxology having been sung, and prayer offered up by the Rev. G. T. Taylor, the meeting, which will not soon be forgotten, was brought to a close".

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel is shown in blue on this map of 1901
The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel is shown in blue on this map of 1901

The same newspaper devoted nearly a page to a detailed report of the laying of the foundation stone of the new chapel in its edition of 19th November 1864. The deeds to the chapel include the registration of the newly built chapel on 1st June 1866 by the minister Thomas Alexander Rayner [MB2041]. In 1879 new trustees were appointed for the chapel. The original trustees were: Edward Tenney Bousfield of Bedford, engineer; Benjamin Brown of Bedford, solicitor's clerk; Thomas Robert Brown of Bedford, butcher; Thomas Tokelove Gray of Bedford, wine merchant; George Bryant; Charles Day of Bedford, builder; William Chancellor Grey of Bedford; James Howard of Bedford, agricultural engineer; Henry Pain of Bedford, ironmonger; John Peet of Bedford, tailor; James Castleman Sheppard of Bedford, nurseryman; Charles Street; George Thompson of Bedford, lime burner; Thomas Twitchell and Frederick Howard of Bedford, agricultural engineer. The new trustees were George Jackson Cocking of Kempston, farmer; John Curtis of Bedford, coal merchant; Charles Hebbs of Wootton, brickmaker; Henry Herring of Bedford, commercial traveller; William Johnston Hogg of Bedford, commercial traveller; John Howard Howard of Bedford, ironfounder; James Edwin Isitt of Bedford, wool merchant; John Frederick Nutter of Bedford, private secretary; William Stewart of Bedford, gentleman; William Brown Tailor of Bedford, commercial clerk and Robert Valentine of Bedford, accountant.

New trustees were again appointed in 1894, Bousfield, THomas Tokelove Gray, Hebbs, Herring, Frederick Howard, John Howard Howard, Nutter, Stewart and Valentine continuing and the new trustees being Goushall Bartholomew of Wootton, farmer; William Bennett of Bedford, clerk; Alfred Clare of Bedford, solicitor; Henry Brown Clough of Bedford, Wesleyan minister; Thomas Percy Gray of Bedford, wine merchant; Josiah Ireson of Bedford, brickmaker and Benjamin Charles Palmer of Bedford, commercial traveller. Only Bartholomew and Thomas Percy Gray remained by 1915 and were joined by Ezra Angood of Bedford, brickyard engineer; Ernest George Brabdon of Bedford, clerk; Mark Kiel Bunker of Bedford, clerk; Alfred Henman of Bromham, retired builder; James Alexander Henman of Kempston Hardwick, retired farmer; Harry Jones of Bedford, engineer's foreman; William King of Kempston, clerk; William Murrell of Bedford, insurance agent; Frederick Notley of Bedford, clerk; Francis Phillips of Bedford, instructor in mechanics; James Newman Saunders of Bedford, retired farmer; Herbert Whitsey Sharp of Bedford, butcher; John George Source of Kempston, clerk and John Maynard Walker of Bedford, clerk.

In 1932 the Wesleyan Methodists and Primitive Methodists came together to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain. 1935 Alfred Henman, Jones, Murrell, Phillips, Sharp and Walker were joined by Isaac Twayne of Kempston, newsagent; Ernest George Turvey of Kempston, fitter; Ernest Thomas Prutton of Bedford, grocer; Charles Sydney Capon of Bedford, traveller; Frederick William Ward Tuffnell of Wootton, brickworks manager; Sydney Matthew Munns of Bedford, ironmonger; Kate Susannah Morris of Bedford; Emily Ambridge of Bedford; Harry Percival Morris of Bedford, grocer; Henry Samuel manning of Biddenham, decorative artist; Frank Luddington of Kempston, fruit grower; Ewart Kenneth Martell of Bedford, solicitor; William Arthur Riddy of Kempston, baker and Claude Valentine Ibbett of Kempston, draper and outfitter. In 1941 the four rooms above the chapel schoolroom were rented by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Limited.

In 1946 the former Primitive Methodist chapel further west in Cauldwell Street was sold, the congregations uniting at Saint Mary's. By 1953 the trustees were also contemplating sale of Saint Mary's. It was noted on 28th december that year "The Trustees have met and unanimously decided that the Chapel is redundant and that the future of the existing fellowship must be elsewhere" [MB1788]. At that date the chapel still had 75 members but there were other chapels in the vicinity and "general decline" was noted as the reason for sale. The chapel, schoolrooms and the manse at 1 Holme Street were finally conveyed in November 1954 for £9,850, the buyer is not stated but within ten years the site had been cleared for the building of Mander College.

The College building is on the site of the Wesleyan Chapel - seen in June 2008
The college building is on the site of the Wesleyan Chapel - seen in June 2008