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Moravians in Riseley

Moravian chapel and Sunday school about 1900 [Z50/96/40]
Moravian chapel and Sunday school about 1900 [Z50/96/40]

The first known Moravian meeting in Riseley was registered in October 1759 by Robert Dawson and Robert Jackson. It was described as a chapel of "Unitas Fratrum", united brothers, on the west side of the High Street adjoining an estate belonging to Mr Allen of Souldrop on the south and an estate of Mr Woodward of Caldicot on the north [QSP43/1, QSM13, 174, MO44]. Moravians are a Protestant sect originating, as the name tells us in Moravia, today part of the Czech Republic. It had its origins in a movement in the 15th century headed by a man named Jan Huss which believed in married priests and denied the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. The church, following persecution, almost died out and was re-established in the 18th century, first arriving in London in 1735 and in Bedford in 1745.

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 Moravian church was completed by minister "or labourer" William Dickinson:

  • Question VI Is the building used exclusively as a place of worship? Yes except for Church Meetings which are always conducted with hymns and Prayers".
  • There were 140 free seats and standing room for 30;
  • Congregation in the morning was 115 with 25 Sunday scholars;
  • Congregation in the afternoon was 80 with 25 Sunday scholars;
  • Congregation in the evening was 185 with 12 Sunday scholars
  • "The above is a fair return … perhaps a little larger than usual. It will be seen that the numbers actually attendant exceed in one case the space supposed to be vacant. The reason is that forms which hold properly only 5 are made on such occasions to hold 6 or even 7. The Church Meetings referred to are Meetings for the consideration of new cases of application to join the Congregation, and the enlargement of the sittings etc., which can hardly be called worship"

The chapel was again registered, including a separate registration for marriages, in August 1858 by John Hull, the minister. Both registrations were cancelled on 18th March 1971 when the chapel was closed. Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service, whilst having an extensive archive on the Moravian church in Bedford [MO] has very little on the one in Riseley.

The house at the rear of the former Moravian chapel, 111 High Street, was listed by the former Department of Environment in June 1974 as Grade II, of special interest. It dates from the late 17th century and is built of colour-washed roughcast over a timber frame, with a 20th century tiled roof; it comprises two storeys.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting the property [DV1/C217/32] found that it was the manse for the Moravian chapel, in occupation of Rev J E Harvey. The house contained a parlour, a study, a living room and kitchen and a scullery with three bedrooms above. A brick and tiled barn stood outside. The valuer commented: "Bad situation" and "Old place with new patent tile roof".

The former Moravian chapel April 2015
The former Moravian chapel April 2015