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Methodism in Great Barford

Great Barford Wesleyan Chapel in 1907 [MB1091a]
Great Barford Wesleyan Chapel in 1907 [MB1091a]

In 1809 James Duncombe, along with John Robertson, registered a chapel he had built on his own land with the Archdeaconry of Bedford. The denomination was not specified. However, it was probably Wesleyan Methodist. Great Barford Methodist Church, a pamphlet published in 1959 by Mrs. W. H. Robertson lists Great Barford Methodists listed in the old Society Book of Saint Paul's Circuit, Bedford. The names from 1794 to 1796 include:

  • James Duncombe, farmer;
  • Mary Duncombe, his wife;
  • William Grose, shepherd;
  • Mary Grose;
  • Ann Townsend, schoolmistress;
  • Mary Harlow;
  • Julia Cook;
  • Elizabeth Ing;
  • William Rowlett, shepherd;
  • Elizabeth Robinson, lacemaker;
  • John Cherry;
  • Robert Dent.

Great Barford was transferred to the Saint Neots Circuit in 1803. A new purpose built chapel was erected in 1824 on land acquired from Mary Grant, on the site of the current chapel, and in January 1825 a brick chapel building was registered with the Archdeaconry of Bedford by James Golding of Saint Neots [Huntingdonshire] and William Brocklehurst [ABN1/2, ABN2/219 and ABN3/3]. In 1847 an extension was made at the rear.

The secular authorities in the mid 19th century wished to know how many people in the country attended worship and the rough proportions for each denomination. Thus a census of worshippers was held on Sunday 30th March 1851, known as the Ecclesiastical Census. It was not a particularly popular exercise and the day itself, cold, wet and unpleasant, did not exactly encourage people to go outdoors. Nevertheless the minister, James Sugden of Saint Neots [Huntingdonshire], recorded that seventy adults and sixteen Sunday scholars turned out in the afternoon and a general congregation of two hundred and forty in the evening. He noted that the meeting dated from 1824 and had a hundred and twenty free seats and a hundred and thirty reserved.

In 1854 the Wesleyan chapel was registered by Adam Fletcher of Saint Neots, the minister. The registration was cancelled in 1903 when the current chapel was built over the course of three months and was opened on 27th October that year. The new building made use of the 1847 extension as a schoolroom, otherwise the old building was pulled down and completely replaced. The Bedfordshire Times of 30th October reported the opening as follows.

"In connection with Wesleyan Methodism there was another interesting and important function at Great Barford on Tuesday afternoon the occasion being the opening of the new Wesleyan Chapel, the foundation stones of which were laid with great enthusiasm on July 14 last. Wesleyanism is an old cause in Great Barford, the old chapel, which has been replaced by the present handsome building, was built in 1824. The new place stands out prominently on the left side of the road from Bedford, and provides seating accommodation for 170 worshippers. There is also a Zion meeting-house in the village, and the fine parish church has accommodation for 450, so that there is now provided a seat in a place of worship for every man, woman and child comprising the population of 680. The new chapel was designed by Mr. Thomas Cockrill, architect, of Biggleswade, and built by Messrs. Wrycroft and Sons, of Saint Neots. It is of red brick, with a liberal dressing of bath stone, with windows and door in the old Gothic style, tinted glass windows, and slated roof with ornamental ridging. Part of the old building is left for use as a Sunday School, which is connected with the chapel by large folding doors".

"The opening ceremony took place on Tuesday afternoon, when, despite the inclement weather, there was a large attendance of friends. After a prayer on the doorstep by the Rev. S. H. Phillips, and the singing of the hymn "To Thee, O God, we here erect", Mr. Phillips stated that as Miss B. M. Brown had been one of the most active workers in the cause he had great pleasure in handing her the key, and asking her to unlock the door and declare the chapel open. This Miss Brown did "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost". The people then flocked in to the dedicatory service, and the place was crowded, all being delighted at the comfortable interior. The Rev. C. H. Kelly, of London, conducted the service, which opened with the singing of "To Thee this temple, Lord, we build". A statement was made by the Rev. S. H. Phillips to that effect that the cost of the new chapel was altogether about £480, of which something like £251 had been already paid. Various schemes were to be put on foot for the raising of the remainder, and they thought that they saw the way to a considerable part of the balance. They were hoping for £40 as a result of the special services, and wanted £25 that day. After the rendering of the anthem, "Jerusalem, my happy home" by the choir, the dedicatory sermon was preached by the Rev. C. H. Kelly. A public tea was afterwards held at the Council Schools, for which the arrangements were made by Mrs. J. S. Brown, Miss Mitchell, Mrs. Clark, Miss Brown, Miss Hall, Mrs. J. H. Brown, Mrs. Swales, Miss Dover, Miss Watford, Mrs. Page, Mrs. Hilson, Mrs. Pedley, senior, Mrs. C. Pitts, Mr. E. Sabey, Mrs. Dawson Sabey, Miss Mayhew, Mrs. E. Sabey and Mr. J. Sabey junior. A public meeting was held in the evening, when among those announced to take part were Mr. J. J. Rundell, of London (chairman), Revs. C. H. Kelly, S. H. Phillips, A. Garland, D. B. Stothard and Messrs E. H. Cardell, H. Tysoe, A, Hall and J. Anthony, Collections were taken at the services in aid of the Building Fund".

Miss G Moor and a friend inside Great Barford Wesleyan Chapel in 1907 [MB1091a]
Miss G Moor and a friend inside Great Barford Wesleyan Chapel in 1907 [MB1091a]

In 1932 the Wesleyan Methodists joined the Primitive and United Methodists in forming the Methodist Church of Great Britain. At the time of writing [2010] the chapel remains a place of Methodist worship.

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service holds records for Great Barford Methodism including the following:

The Methodist chapel in March 2010
The Methodist chapel in March 2010

  • MB1346: Saint Neots Circuit steward's account book with Great Barford references: 1803-1832;
  • MB999: Saint Neots Circuit schedule book: 1839-1845;
  • MB1000: Saint Neots Circuit schedule book: 1845-1857;
  • MB1001: Saint Neots Circuit schedule book: 1857-1867;
  • MB1004: Statistical summaries of Saint Neots Circuit chapels: 1860-1878;
  • MB1002: Saint Neots Circuit schedule book: 1867-1885;
  • MB1003: Saint Neots Circuit schedule book: 1885-1906;
  • MB1225: Chapel pew rent book: 1885-1971;
  • MB1079: Chapel trustees' minute book: 1903-1904;
  • MB1080: Book containing accounts for the building of the new chapel: 1903-1904;
  • MB1082: Poster regarding laying the foundation stone of the new chapel: 1903;
  • MB1083: Newspaper cutting regarding the stone laying ceremony: 1903;
  • MB1086: Builder's account for the chapel: 1903;
  • MB1089: Correspondence regarding grants and loans: 1904-1905;
  • MB1091a: Photographs of the chapel: c. 1905;
  • MB1447: Sunday School register: 1928-1951;
  • MB1460: Chapel collection journal: 1939-1951;
  • MB1461: Chapel collection journal: 1951-1960;
  • MB1448: Sunday School register: 1954-1976;
  • MB1091: Correspondence regarding the installation of the organ: 1959-1960;
  • MB1459: Insurance policy: 1960