Kempston East Methodist Church
Kempston East Methodist Church September 2007
The origin of Wesleyan Methodism in Kempston is not known. An early associate of John Wesley's, William Delamotte, had visited Bedford in 1739 and probably helped to sow the first seeds of the new church. Wesley himself first visited the town in 1753 at the invitation of disillusioned Moravian William Parker and in later visits formed the first Bedford Methodist Society in what later became Saint Paul's Methodist Church. It seems possible that Methodism spread to Kempston from this source.
It was usual for nonconformist meetings to register with the Quarter Sessions or the relevant Archdeaconry. The first known registration of a Methodist meeting in Kempston was in 1831 when Joseph Saville registered his own house and barn for worship [ABN1/2, ABN2/262, ABN3/3]. This meeting seems to have been the genesis of Kempston West Methodist Church.
Kempston East Methodist church is the daughter church of Kempston West and was built in 1904, opening on 26th October. The chapel is a large one, with seating for 500, designed by Gunton & Gunton of London and built by Samuel Foster of Kempston. Rooms for the Sunday School were added in 1934. The building is constructed from Weldon stone, rock faced with stone mullioned windows and a tiled roof. It was built in the shape of a cross.
A booklet produced in 1954 for the golden jubilee of the church tells the story of its foundation: “The first indication that Kempston West was inadequate to meet the growth eastwards of Kempston to Newtown is contained in the Minutes of a Leaders’ Meeting held on 18th December 1901, presided over by Rev. J. Goudie, at which were present Brothers G. Brandon, E. G. Brandon, J. Brittain, D. Caves, W. P. Cook, J. Gillett and A. Hislop. It was then decided “To have a tea at 6 p.m. on 1st January 1902 for the members etc. of the Church, the Stewards to provide fo1 110, and a Meeting at 7 p.m. when the Ministers will bring before the Meeting the necessity of having a new Chapel”. The Superintendent Minister at that time was Rev. J. Reeves Brown”.
“The Annual Meeting of members was evidently in favour of proceeding, as in the Minutes of a Ladies’ Meeting on the 26th February we read that “In connection with the New Chapel Scheme it was resolved not to have a Meeting before Easter Monday”. At this meeting Brother A. J. Riddy was also amongst the Leaders present. The next reference we can find is on the 14th September 1904, when the completion of the Chapel is in sight. We read that, amongst other necessary purchases, “200 cups and saucers like the sample obtained from Staffordshire at 3/6 per dozen be ordered, and 12 teapots, and 200 teaspoons at 16/9 per gross”. It was also recorded that new tea tables and trestles had been presented by Sir Frederick Howard, a great helper of the new venture, and that three new tea urns, bowls, washups and cans had been promised by Messrs. Felts. Lest it be thought that the well-known tea drinking habits of Kempston Methodists were only provided for, we next find that Rev. J. Gawthrop was asked to conduct a fourteen-day Mission in the new Chapel during the forthcoming winter”.
In 1932 the Wesleyan Methodists came together with the Primitive and United Methodists to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Although the town now had three Methodist chapels it was a growing community and the three buildings were spaced evenly apart and so all three remained open for over twenty years. Kempston East chapel remains a place of worship at the time of writing . The chapel formed part of the Bedford Saint Mary’s Circuit until 1942 when it was transferred to Bedford South. In 1971 the chapel became part of the new Bedford South and Ampthill Circuit. In 2010 the chapel moved to the newly created North Bedfordshire Circuit.
The interior of Kempston East Methodist Church in 1904 [Z50/67/105]
- Z50/67/105: photograph of chapel interior: 1904;
- Z50/67/106: photograph of Band of Hope during a march: c.1904;
- MB2097-2099: trust account books: 1904-1966;
- MB2106-2114: Sick Benefit and Dividend Society minute books: 1910-1980;
- MB2102-2104: collection journals: 1914-1955;
- MB2105: Sunday School register: 1917-1921;
- UDKP653: plans for proposed schoolrooms: 1934;
- MB2100-2101: leader's meeting minute books: 1934-1963;
- X854/4 page 239: photograph of Mayor of Bedford and Kempston Urban District Council chairman with visiting Conference of Methodist Ministers at the chapel: 1938;
- MB1784: Circuit Schedule Book including Kempston East: 1949-1975;
- Z857/2/3: programme for Sunday School pantomime: 1953; Kempston East Methodist Church: Jubilee 1904-1954;
- X291/558/4: programme for play by Wesley Players: c.1969.