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Wesleyan Methodists in Tilsworth

The Wesleyan Chapel about 1920
The Wesleyan Chapel about 1920 [Z1304/124]

Wesleyan Methodism had quite a long history in Tilsworth. A class book for the Leighton Buzzard Wesleyan Circuit dating from 1812 to 1827 has members in Tilsworth in the first year recorded [MB1533]. William Goodson, a shopkeeper and prominent Tilsworth Wesleyan registered a house in occupation of Joseph Tompson as a nonconformist meeting with the Archdeaconry of Bedford in 1821 [ABN1/2, ABN2/180, ABN3/3/25]. Ten years later he registered a chapel in his own occupation with the archdeaconry [ABN1/2, ABN2/255, ABN3/3]. The nature of this building is shown by a statutory declaration by John Cooper of Tilsworth, labourer, in 1882, when he was 76 years old [Z210/90c]. He states that an old thatched barn fronting the green, let to himself, was formerly used as a Wesleyan Chapel. A small grocer's shop adjoining was, at the time of the declaration, let to Sarah Godfrey and another adjoining building was in ruins. He stated that for the last fifty years "and upwards" they had belonged to a Mr.Gadsden of Eaton Bray, baker, afterwards to John Olney of Tilsworth, farmer, showing that shopkeeper William Goodson was a tenant. The current owners, other members of the Olney family, were about to sell the cottages. Sadly, no further documents on the properties are held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service.

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 Wesleyan Methodists was made by William Goodson "Steward". He noted that the meeting (still the barn referred to above) had opened in 1831 and had seats for 114. Attendance in the afternoon had been 63.

The Leighton Buzzard Wesleyan Methodist Circuit property register [MB1537] records that the land for a chapel was conveyed by two men named Ellingham and Billington to "John Flemons and others" on 28th September 1859. Flemons was a prominent Leighton Buzzard Wesleyan. In 1804, when the Tilsworth Estate was sold at auction, the land had been part of Lot 55 described as Goldsmith's Croft, 1 acre, 4 perches, in the occupation of Richard Partridge of Wood Farm. The Wesleyan chapel was registered on 4th October 1862 by William Richardson of Leighton Buzzard, stationer, a trustee and the property register notes the existence of a "schedule for erection of Chapel" for the same year.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has the minutes of the chapel trustees from 1904 to 1977 [MB1622]. The chapel needed emergency repairs in 1912, for which the trustees gave retrospective approval. The chapel was redecorated in 1920. In 1923 the following resolution was made regarding a proposed union of Methodist churches: "It was proposed and seconded that we believe in Methodist Union but do not consider the time is ripe for it and suggest the negotiation between the three Methodist Churches [Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodists] be continued". In 1932 the various Methodist churches did indeed unite to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain.

In the same year it was noted in the trustees' minutes: "The Electric Light was installed early in 1932. The Lights were first switched on by the oldest members on January 17th when a tea was held when the following members paid 2/6 to complete the bill Mr.G.Sinfield (Outside Light), Mrs Piggott, Mrs Emerson and Miss Ethel Piggott, Mrs Kirby switched on the Organ Light, Mrs Thrupp, Mrs.F.Hyde, Mrs Fountain, Mrs.V.Stanbridge, Miss Ivy Piggott".

A Renovation Committee was formed in 1934 from all the adult members of the church. In 1936 the hope was expressed that some of the waste land behind the chapel could be purchased and used to build a schoolroom. Plans for the renovation and the schoolroom were approved in 1937 and an architect was asked to tender for a builder. The only quote was £370 for renovation and £254 for the schoolroom with an extra £55/10/0 for heating. This was not acceptable. The committee then advertised in the Leighton Buzzard Observer and received two more quotes totalling £575/7/6 and £525/14/- respectively. Neither of these was acceptable either; the committee only had £191 in hand and was not allowed to spend so much money. Permission was sought to spend up to £550, which was received and the work duly went ahead. The new schoolroom was opened on 2nd July 1938 by Mr and Mrs Thornley of Leighton Buzzard. Total works cost just over £600.

The chapel was again renovated in 1956 and in 1958 the chapel was registered as a place to conduct marriages, the first one being that of Eva Vivien Stanbridge and Ronald Stephen Hitchcock on 28th June that year. The roof was also repaired in that year. The centenary service for the chapel was held on 28th June 1962. In 1968 it was stated: "In view of the main drainage being brought to the village, it was agreed that Purser and Furlong of Leighton Buzzard, W.Watson Limited and Mr.C.Mead, both of Dunstable, be asked to give estimates for connecting of the same to Chapel premises, also for fitting a sink unit in the schoolroom". The chapel was not connected until 1970

 Site of the Wesleyan Methodist chapel December 2008
Site of the Wesleyan Methodist chapel December 2008

At the time of the last minute the chapel was still open and the managing trusteeship had passed to the Church Council under the arrangements set out in the Methodist Church Act 1976. The chapel registration was cancelled on 8th February 1991 and the building demolished; a modern house now stands on the site.