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Non-conformist chapels

Introduction

A nonconformist chapel is a building which accomodates worship and meetings by Protestants outside the established Church. The earliest buildings, and all those of the Society of Friends, are termed meeting houses. Other denominations refer to their buildings as chapels, although towards the end of the 19th century the term church came into use.

 

The main components of a Nonconformist Chapel are its facade (windows, doorways, inscribed tablet), interior fittings which may include a pulpit, pews, font, baptismal tank, organ, galleries, porch, external staircases, minister's house, school room (below or nearby), tower, burial ground and enclosing walls. Since Church of England schools were not attended by nonconformists, many chapels have school rooms or associated school houses.

Date

Many Nonconformist Chapels can be dated from a tablet above the entrance, which also identifies the denomination for which the building was erected. The date of opening of a chapel may be reflected in its earliest date of registration. However, meeting houses built before 1689 cannot generally be given precise dates. Many of those which registered at the time of the passing of the Act of Toleration had been in use for some time, so that registration does not necessarily reflect a newly-built chapel.

Old Dissent

Patterns in nonconformity may subsequently be divided between the Old Dissent (Society of Friends, or Quakers; Baptists; Presbyterians; Congregationalists, or Independents (there is an Independent chapel at Rowsham); Unitarians) and, after c1750, the New Dissent (Moravians; Methodists, including Countess of Huntingdon Connexion, New Connexion and Weslyans; Primitive Methodists).

 

Methodist Chapel in WaddesdonWithin towns the chapels and meeting houses of Old Dissent were frequently placed back from street frontages or down alleyways, in semi-secluded situations. In Haddenham the Methodist church is on the High Street, but this is actually a quiet road, not busy. In contrast, 19th century chapels were often in more prominent locations. In northern industrial and mill towns the chapel was often the largest building. Where its construction was patronised by important industrialists, a chapel might dominate a townscape.

 

The Old Dissent (Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Quaker) was strongest in towns. The Particular Baptists were most popular in Bedfordshire, Montgomeryshire and Monmouthshire, though there are Particular Baptist churches in Buckinghamshire, for instance Keach's Meeting House in Winslow. The General Baptists were more dispersed, with concentrations in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Sussex. An example of a General Baptist Chapel in Buckinghamshire is the Salem Chapel in Speen. 

 

The Quakers, or Friends, were strongest in the Lakes, London, and Bristol, with general representation across England. There are Friends Meeting House at Jordans and also in Whiel, Amersham, amongst other places in Buckinghamshire. The Presbyterians had their greatest following in the southwest, northwest, Northumberland, the Pennines, Berkshire and Essex. There is a Presbyterian meeting house in Chalfont St Giles.

New Dissent

New Dissent flourished in areas where the Church of England was weak: in sprawling rural and densely populated urban parishes. The Wesleyans were popular initially in the east of England, the Midlands, northeast and West Riding. An example of a Wesleyan chapel in Buckinghamshire is Providence Chapel at Penn. During the 19th century their popular support shifted to the southeast, London and the Home Counties.

 

URC church in BuckinghamThe Methodist New Connexion, the Wesleyans and the Bible Christians formed the United Methodist Free Churches in 1907. Further merging occurred in 1932 when the various Methodists groups were united under the Methodist Church. Smaller groups, like the Peculiar People were subsumed by the Union of Evangelical Churches. The Congregationalists and English Presbyterians became part of the United Reformed Church in 1972. There is one example of a United Reform Church in Brill