Chapel of the Month – August 2018

John Ellis, Immediate Past Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, brings a little sunshine to August’s Chapel of the Month with a trip to Polynesia.

“Go and make disciples of all nations”

Papetoai Chapel

Papetoai Chapel

Moorea is all you could wish for in a Pacific island. This speck in the ocean can provide a luxury holiday experience with all mod cons in a fake Polynesian hut. But should you find yourself there, turn off the perimeter road at Papetoai and walk down to the beach. Alongside you will see a lovingly tended and beautiful octagonal chapel with exceptional acoustics. You will also be contemplating a turning point in world history.

The London Missionary Society was formed to be an ecumenical sponsor of missionary activity. Its first overseas project resulted in thirty missionaries landing in Tahiti in 1797. There was no evangelistic response whatever and local politics resulted in them all being expelled. Most despaired and left but a handful believed God had plans and moved no further than to the adjacent island of Moorea. There they created a base at Papetoai. Still there was no response to the Gospel.

After twenty long years, the tide turned, they rejoiced in the first Polynesian baptism and in 1822 were able to form the first Christian church. In 1827 it erected its distinctive chapel on the site of a former native temple. Work was able to resume on Tahiti and from there the evangelisation of the Pacific Ocean islands was led through the remaining decades of the nineteenth century. While the focus may have moved elsewhere, the Papetoai chapel stands quietly amongst the coconut palms as the oldest Christian church in the Pacific.

Papetoai Chapel memorial

Papetoai Chapel memorial

In 1842 the French took political control of what is now French Polynesia and the LMS handed over the Church leadership to the French Protestant Mission. They refurbished the church in the 1880s but always acknowledged the crucial contribution of the LMS pioneers and erected a memorial to them in the church. Some of their graves are outside, alongside the ocean that was their highway.

In 2016 the Maohi Protestant Church in French Polynesia came home to its historical roots by joining the Council for World Mission, the equal partnership of Churches that succeeded the imperial model of the LMS.


All this may be 10,000 miles away but Chapels Society members who think of John Williams as a missionary martyr rather than a guitarist will have spotted the link. For decades, almost every British Congregational chapel had its Missionary Sunday when the octagonal LMS hut collecting boxes were opened. Sunday School scholars collected ship halfpennies to fund the work of the John Williams missionary ships around the islands of the Pacific. Vivid stories of dedicated service were told and in the chapel at Papetoai they spring into life.

And is our organist striking up:
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North,
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

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Chapel of the Month – July 2018

Every year the Chapels Society organises three visits for members. The visits take place in a range of locations across the country and every so often we return to London to explore some of the wealth of Nonconformist chapels in the capital. On 7 July Dr Jenny Freeman led an excellent tour of chapels in the East End of London – an area rich in social and architectural history. The first stop on our tour was St Boniface RC Church, also known as the German Church.

St Boniface is a post-war church, which replaced a church of 1875 designed by J Young and destroyed during World War II. Although relatively plain, the present church is notable for its landmark tower incorporating four bells from the predecessor church. The church also contains a range of interesting high-quality furnishings, mostly by artists and craftsmen from Kevelaer in Germany, the birthplace of Revd Felix Leushacke, who initiated the rebuilding.

More details can be found on the Taking Stock website and on the Survey of London website.

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Chapel of the Month – June 2018

2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage – a pan-European initiative that aims to encourage more people to discover and engage with Europe’s cultural heritage and to reinforce a sense of belonging to a common European space.

German Lutheran Church

German Lutheran Church, Aldgate

The slogan for the year is: Our heritage: where the past meets the future.

The UK is participating in the project and has its own dedicated website where special events and activities are listed on a calendar. Many ecclesiastical organisations are taking part, including the National Churches Trust, which has created a special blog post on its Explore Churches website to showcase churches and chapels with a European connection.

The blog features twelve places of worship, representing the original member states of the EU in 1993 and the members of the EEC, created 45 years ago. The article includes the Historic Chapels Trust’s wonderful German Lutheran Church in London.

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Chapel of the Month – May 2018

Nolton Haven Chapel

Nolton Haven Chapel (Credit:

Nolton Haven Congregational Chapel

For May’s Chapel of the Month feature we thought we might ring the changes and offer a little video… This is the story of major repair work to a small Welsh chapel that had been built in the C19 by a mining community; and the making by the present day community of a small exhibition to memorialise that lost community. The film has been made by the architect for the project: a Welsh language version has also been posted.

The Chapel by the Sea Video

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Chapel of the Month – April 2018

This month Moira Ackers shares with us the delightful Monksthorpe Baptist Chapel.

Monksthorpe Baptist Chapel - Entrance

Monksthorpe Baptist Chapel – Entrance

This Chapel was recently featured in the Chapels Society Newsletter 63. The mention of its surviving outdoor baptistry started a bit of a debate about how many outdoor baptistries do in fact exist. If you wish to follow this discussion in can be found in Newsletters 64, 65 & 66. Having visited this chapel on a February day of horizontal sleet and rain, I just hope the use of the baptistry was limited to the summer. To my horror the guide to the chapel suggests the baptistry was filled with water from the nearby dyke.

Monksthorpe Baptist Chapel is now part of the National Trust’s Gunby Hall Estate and is run in partnership with The Friends of Monksthorpe. It was built in 1701 for a community founded as early as 1669. Made to look like a barn, out in the Lincolnshire Wolds, at a time when although the Act of Toleration had been passed in 1689, dissenters may still have feared persecution the Chapel was well concealed and out of the way.

The key for the Chapel is available at Gunby Hall after making a £20 deposit; at the moment no map or directions are available with the key. (Perhaps the National Trust should provide a laminate copy of a map and directions and Monksthorpe is not easy to find. Some reassurance that one is on the right track, down a narrow road with ditches to either side would have been appreciated.) So, Monksthorpe is still well concealed, but it is well worth the effort as it is located in a very atmospheric part of rural Lincolnshire.

Monksthorpe Baptist Chapel - Interior

Monksthorpe Baptist Chapel – Interior

The interior is dated to the 1840s, when it was refurbished. The simplicity of the chapel is striking. A pan tiled floor with wooden pews and modest central pulpit. Underneath this is the patron Hugh Ayscombe’s tomb. A balcony is over the vestries and there’s a delightful potbellied stove. The choir have their own pews with doors to the left of the pulpit and to the right there is a harmonium. The Chapel is surrounded by domestic buildings for a caretaker which included stables and a pig sty. The Orchard is now a wildlife reservation area.

Services are still held once a month so see the website for details .For any “chapel crawler” this is well worth a visit and could be easily included on an interesting day out in an overlooked beauty spot.

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Chapel of the Month – February 2018

This month Jenny Freeman introduces us to the spectacular Armenian Apostolic Church of St Yeghiche, Kensington, London (formerly St Peter’s Church, Cranley Gardens)

Grade II*

View looking east showing the broach spire

The church was originally designed and built by the office of Sir Charles Freake (1814- 84) in 1866-7 using Kentish ragstone and adopting the Victorian “Decorated” Revival style. The surviving  tower and prominent broach spire at its north-west corner was Freake’s work, but no-one entering the church in its early days would have imagined the fascinating and successful changes it would undergo in subsequent years.

The church is cruciform in plan with a wide nave, aisles and shallow chancel. The interior was originally faced in brick, now repainted to enhance the effect of the interior.

In 1900, W D Caröe (1857-1938) became involved  in enriching the church with new marble on the walls, ironwork screens at the west and south ends and by introducing a clerestory in 1904-6 to let in more natural light. The delicate stained glass was  designed by Mary Lowndes. Stained glass by Ward and Hughes (now mainly lost through war damage) was set into the west end.

In 1909, an elegant new organ case and  in a new  chamber graced the south aisle, supported on four slim clustered columns and enriched  with Caröe’s favourite crocketted finials and sculpted figures. A west gallery was added.  New vestries and a church hall were built.

North chapel recess as the Armenians now present it.

With immense sensitivity Caröe inserted a Morning Chapel for Holy Communion at the northeast end next to the sanctuary. It is dedicated to the Holy Spirit and deeply contemplative in atmosphere with a low, almost grotto-like recess filled with delicate timber carving under a depressed arch. The gently restrained stained glass, stonework and carving are all to Caröe’s design as are the low bronze entrance gates and rails. Its ceiling is beautifully proportioned, lierne-vaulted in stone, with  bosses carved with doves evoking the Holy Spirit.

It was in 1922 that the pre-existing sanctuary was embellished as a WW1 memorial, introducing a semi-circle of stone-carved seating with lacy carved canopies and light stained glass fenestration above them. In the centre is a white marble Crucifixion with intricately detailed crenellations on slim columns enclosing the war memorial below. The carving was carried out by Caröe’s favourite carver, Nathaniel Hitch. The floor is marbled, Cosmati-style.

Caröe retained a special connection with the church where his Memorial Service was held in 1938, as did his partner, Herbert Passmore, a congregant and office-holder till his death in 1966. But yet further changes were to evolve when in June 1975 the church became redundant.

It was leased, then purchased, by the Armenian community in1998 for their own worship. Its Victorian middle-of-the-road Anglican mannerisms were extinguished in favour of a ravishing refitting that retained and re-emphasised, in a wholly sympathetic manner, the best of past changes, heightening their impact by the addition of magnificent new furnishings and colour. Paintings, elaborate gilded ironwork and lighting were added together with features required by Armenian liturgy. The new congregation clearly responded positively to Caröe’s mingling of varied European styles already evident in the church. Architects for the scheme were Austin Winkley and Associates.  An effective colour scheme was created with advice from Patrick Baty.

Close-up of east end as refurnished by Armenians.

The paintings introduced by  Armenian donors include the altarpiece by the famous Armenian architect,Vartkes Surenyants (1860-1921), a Virgin and Child by living Peruvian artist, Diana Mendoza, and a larger Virgin and Child set against a backdrop of mountains by Andrew Prior.

Some handsome external changes to lighting and ironwork heighten the impact of the building. An intricately carved Armenian Cross is carved into a large stone slab close to the entrance – a feature of Armenian churches.

The result is a triumph of architectural synthesis with a richly devotional atmosphere.

Jenny Freeman

Acknowledgment – Viken Haladjian

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Chapel of the Month – January 2018

The Parsonage Street Chapel, Macclesfield

Parsonage Street Chapel

Parsonage Street Chapel

Late in 1806, the itinerant American evangelist, Lorenzo Dow, came to Macclesfield and preached the dedicatory sermon of a new Chapel, belonging to the Free Gospellers, or Revivalists. Initially this group seems to have seceded to the Methodist New Connexion. However, the purchase deed of the Parsonage Street site declared their intention “to build a chapel for themselves and other persons of the Independent Interest dissenting from the established Church of England upon the old Methodistical principles and called the Christian Revivalists.”

The second Annual Meeting of the Independent Methodists was held there in 1807, and Hugh Bourne attended the third Annual Meeting also held there in 1808. Within a few years, however, the Macclesfield revivalists rejected free gospelism and yielded to the attractions of a settled paid ministry. In 1814, the chapel was offered to and accepted by the Methodist New Connexion Conference, sitting in Hanley, to which John Beresford, one of the trustees, was a delegate.

In 1836, the Methodist New Connexion moved to a new, grander chapel in Park Street and in 1858 the old chapel was acquired by seceders from the Unitarian King Street chapel. When, in 1888, the congregation re-joined the King Street chapel, it was decided that the Parsonage Street Chapel should remain as a school. The chapel was sold in 1904 and subsequently was used first as a billiard hall and then as a factory. Following the long period in commercial use, it is now chapel again, being the Elim Christian Life Centre.

With grateful thanks to John Anderson for this contribution to our Chapel of the Month series.

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Chapel of the Month – December 2017 – Churches of Christ

This month we are pleased to share a contribution from Council Member and Labour Historian, Professor Peter Ackers. Photos are by Moira Ackers.

Frontal View of Chapel

Frontal View of Chapel

Christians Meeting House (1910), Humberstone Garden Suburb, Leicester (Churches of Christ)

This meeting house was purpose-built for a little-known Christian group, The Churches of Christ, whose membership peaked in 1930, with 16,597 in 184 congregation. They were particularly strong in working class industrial areas, such as Wigan, Birmingham, Leicester and parts of Scotland. Their buildings are deliberately simple, but this one is part of a larger estate, designed by the Arts and Craft influenced, Garden City architect, Raymond Unwin.

Since the Churches often referred to themselves as just Christians or Christian Brethren, it easy to confuse them and their chapels with other bible Christians, such as the Brethren. Indeed, they were part of a wider Victorian ‘primitive’ reaction against respectable denominational religion, as dramatized by the fancy neo-Gothic chapel. Their mission was to restore simple New Testament Christianity and a distinctive package of beliefs included: adult believers Baptism linked to a weekly ‘closed’ Lord’s Supper, followed by an ‘open’ Gospel service, and mutual lay ministry rather than full-time Ministers.

Foundation Stone

Foundation Stone

Over the twentieth century, these austere positions softened. In 1957, the building was extended and in 1981 Humberstone and the Churches’ majority joined the United Reformed Church (URC) – though two groups, the Old Paths and the Fellowship of Churches of Christ remain separate. Humberstone URC later closed, but another Christian community now worships in the chapel.

However, this is much more than just another isolated nonconformist chapel.

Rather, it’s remarkable as one element of a larger, early twentieth century utopian experiment in Christian and Co-operative community-building. In 1897, a group of boot and shoe workers in the Crafton Street, Leicester Churches of Christ congregation decided to launch a new Anchor workers’ co-operative, dedicated to children’s footwear. Members of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, they already belonged to another co-operative, Equity; a pioneer member of the new Co-operative Co-Partnership movement. Manufacturing began in 1893, and the two key figures, Amos Mann (1855-1939) and J T Taylor (1864-1957), led the group on to build a specialist Anchor factory in New Evington. However, they had larger Co-operative ambitions, some inspired by the Garden City movement.

Estate House

Estate House

Thus, in 1907, Anchor opened a new garden suburb of semi-detached houses with gardens for working class families, run as a Co-Partnership Tenant Housing Co-operative. In 1910, the Christians Meeting House opened at its centre (an earlier plan to move the factory there had been rejected). Originally out in the country, with playing fields, an institute and other amenities, this small community has now been enveloped by Leicester housing sprawl. Yet it remains a poignant reminder of the strongly Christian origins of the British labour movement and its commitment to voluntary forms of collective self-help and associational life.

In Mann’s words: ‘This estate will remain a monument to the work of humble working men’.


  • Ackers, P., ”West End Chapel, Back Street Bethel: Labour and Capital in the Wigan Churchies of Christ c 1845-1945”, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47(2), April 1996.
  • Ackers, P., “Experiments in Industrial Democracy: an historical assessment of the Leicestershire boot and shoe co-operative o-partnership Movement”, Labor History (USA), October 2016.
  • Mann, A., Democracy in Industry: The Story of Twenty-One Years’ Work of the Leicester Anchor Boot and Shoe Productive Society Limited, Leicester: Co-operative Printing, 1914.
  • Thomson, D., Let Sects and Parties Fall: A short history of the Association of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland, Birmingham: Berean Press, 1980.


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Chapel once the beatitude

Although it’s a few weeks since National Poetry Day we thought that chapel crawlers might enjoy this poem by Jim Young, a poet in Swansea.

Chapel once the beatitude

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Chapel of the Month – November 2017

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Ellerton, East Riding of Yorkshire

Ellerton Chapel

Ellerton Chapel

This month we feature a Chapel at Risk that was brought to our attention by local campaigner Chris Cobley:

This delightful rural Georgian chapel with a remarkably intact original interior has an uncertain future. The chapel in the small village of Ellerton near the River Derwent was closed for worship in May 2017 and the Methodist Church has put the building up for sale.  There is no land associated with the chapel, other than the grass verge to the front, and it is difficult to see what the building could be used for.

Almost any new use would require gutting the interior and the removal of the box pews and pulpit, features that make this small chapel of particular significance.

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

Such reminders of the way that Methodism contributed so much to the cultural heritage of the rural East Riding of Yorkshire are fast disappearing.The East Riding was one of the most Methodist areas in Britain; out of the 600 nonconformist chapels built in the former administrative county before 1914, some 530 were Methodist – Wesleyan or Primitive. Of these only some 50 pre-1914 chapels remain in use of which only a handful retain their original interior, none as early as that at Ellerton.

Built in 1811 of cream brick the single storey building with hipped slate roof has a central projecting porch. The overlight to the entrance door and the two large windows to the left and right of the porch have Gothick glazing set in a pointed arch with red brick voussoirs.

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

Ellerton Chapel interior (C Cobley)

The chapel was given a small red-brick extension at the west end, probably in the mid-19th century. There is a small circular window on the west side, and rectangular windows with later glazing in the south front.

Inside six rows of white-painted panelled box pews are tiered, rising from east to west, with the rows divided down the centre.  Steps at either end of the rows lead up to panelled doors that open into the top row. A brown painted panelled pulpit centrally placed against the east wall of the chapel is flanked by panelled pews and seating.

When the chapel was built the leading trustee was Barnard Clarkson, who would have met John Wesley when he visited the Clarkson family farm at nearby Foggathorpe in July 1776.

Chris Cobley of the Bubwith Village Trust, with the support of the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire and others, is campaigning to make sure that this splendid small village chapel and its increasingly rare original interior is preserved intact. An application has been made to Historic England seeking the upgrading of the chapel from grade II to II* thereby giving confirmation of the great historical and architectural significance of this chapel and ensuring that due regard of the importance of the building is taken by  local and national government  and other bodies in deciding its future and provision of financial support.

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