Chapel of the Month – April 2016

This month’s Chapel of the Month comes courtesy of an Easter weekend visit to the wonderful Black Country Museum where a relocated chapel can be found gracing the main street…

Providence Chapel

Providence Chapel

The Methodist Chapel was built as Providence Church in 1837 at Darby Hand in Netherton, Dudley.

The tiny settlement of Darby Hand grew up in the late eighteenth century as a coal mining and nail making community at the side of the Dudley Canal. It was affiliated to the Methodist New Connexion which broke away from the main Methodist body in 1797 and was very strong in the area.

Providence Church played a central part in the life of the community for one hundred and forty years. It was not only a centre for Christian belief and practise, with a strong tradition of choral singing, it functioned as a social centre for the community with evening events and ‘pleasure days’ with a picnic or walk in the woods. Most importantly it provided education and welfare with Sunday School and adult classes on Sunday mornings and the Darby Hand Doctor’s Club ensured medical assistance to poor members of the congregation.

Now known as Darby Hand Chapel, services are arranged by the Friends of the Museum throughout the year and include a Sunday School Anniversary and Harvest Festival, helping to recreate an important aspect of Black Country life.

You might also enjoy this charming Gospel Car… And the fish and chips cooked in beef dripping are well worth the wait!

Gospel Car

Gospel Car

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Wesley Historical Society Annual Meeting and Lecture

Date: Saturday 25 June 2016
Brunswick Methodist Church, Brunswick Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7BJ

On Saturday 25 June, coffee, tea and biscuits will be available from 10.00 am in Brunswick Methodist Church Hall, which is on the ground floor of the building accessed through the foyer.

At 10.30am there will be welcomes expressed on behalf of the Church, the District and the WHS. This will be followed by a choice of options at 11.00am. There will be a guided walk to St Andrew’s Church, led by Revd Terry Hurst, to visit the church where Charles Wesley officiated at the marriage of Grace Murray to John Bennet, one of Wesley’s preachers, and the churchyard where several graves of Methodist historical interest are situated. Alternatively there will a research-focused option led by the Revd Dr Stephen Skuce, at Brunswick Methodist Church. At 12.30pm lunch facilities will be available in the hall and at 1.15 p.m. the AGM will be held in the church.

At 2.30pm the Annual Lecture will be delivered by in the church by Emeritus Professor J.R. (John Richard) Watson, formerly Professor of English, at the University of Durham.

Further details can be found in the Wesley Historical Society flier.

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United Reformed Church History Society Study Day

The United Reformed Church History Society will hold its Study Day at City URC, Cardiff on Saturday 23 July 2016.

The Revd Dr Robert Pope, Reader in Theology at Trinity St David’s, will give the Annual Lecture on Conscription, Conscience and Building God’s Kingdom: Welsh Nonconformists and the Great War.

Please register an interest with: Mrs Margaret Thompson, c/o URC History Society, Westminster College, Cambridge CB3 0AA not later than 1 June.

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Brethren Archivists and Historians Network (BAHN)

In early 2016 the Brethren Archivists and Historians Network (BAHN) will publish Gerald T. West’s ‘From Friends to Brethren: The Howards of Tottenham – Quakers, Brethren, and Evangelicals’. This is a monograph on the changing religious allegiances during the Beaconite controversy in the Society of Friends of the Howard family, especially Luke Howard, the pioneering meteorologist, and his son, John Eliot Howard, the noted quinologist. Further details about the publication as they become available will be found on the website at or by emailing the convenor at

The annual journal, Brethren Historical Review, will appear in late 2016. The annual subscription is £15 (half-price for students and the unwaged). A subscription form and methods of payment can be found on the website at A subscription also entitles members to a volume of essays, Brethren and Mission, which will be forthcoming in 2016.

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Chapel of the Month – March 2016

Once again we are deeply grateful to Dr Jenny Freeman for submitting a suggestion for Chapel of the Month:

Fairhaven URC

Fairhaven URC

Fairhaven URC

The Church stands like a beacon on the Fylde coast amid prosperous streets of substantial Edwardian houses, whose arrival heralded the need for a new church, now known as the White Church.  The place name – Fairhaven – was an inspirational theme in its creation from the start.

Pinpointed by its tall, white faience campanile-style tower at the north-east corner, in part resembling a lighthouse, in part a lantern, the church reflects the vision and purpose of its creators. Today we witness a confident statement of religious certainty, which characterised that period of economic expansion just prior to 1911.  But there are also deeper allusions in its presentation that reach back to early Christian churches and to the origins of Nonconformity.     Like many Nonconformist churches it has not been given the attention it rightly deserves.

Fairhaven Congregational Church (later URC) reached completion in 1911. Briggs, Wolstenholme and Thornly of Blackburn were the architects, but the brilliant guiding hand behind its conception was Luke S Walmesley, an elder of the church and a stained glass designer from St Anne’s (whose family had long associations with the project). The church was designed deliberately as “the distinctive feature in the district”, distinguishable from others by its prominence, with gleaming white facades that memorably catch the seaside sunshine.

Fairhaven URC Interior

Fairhaven URC Interior

Its style is described  as “Free Byzantine”, the plan form being that of a Greek Cross as adopted by the Eastern Roman Empire, with a typical domed crossing. Decorative treatment of Eastern churches often included mosaic, metalwork, embroidery and artwork depicting religious figures. These  feature at Fairhaven, combined with the Western craft of pictorial stained glass. Walmesley’s involvement with the Arts and Crafts Movement was  employed  to great effect, uniting Christian history with contemporary methods and materials.

Fairhaven URC Stained Glass

Fairhaven URC Stained Glass

Interest in Byzantium and Byzantine Art had been exemplified by J F Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral with its tall campanile and shallow domes. Key exemplars such as the Church  of St Sophia in Istanbul were influential. Knowledge of this, other churches and their furnishings had been intensified through foreign travel and photography. Architect Henry Wilson had, for instance, provided a Byzantine silver altar frontal for St Bartholomew’s Church, Brighton, in 1902. The poet W B Yeats wrote of  the “Holy City of Byzantium” in his much-read, mystical poem Sailing  to Byzantium. Later on, the Catholic architect F X Velarde was to be inspired by early Christian and Byzantine Art.

Externally, Fairhaven Church is surrounded by a lawned garden, open to all, bounded by a lowish wall with elaborated posts and iron gates. The slim tower over the main entrance is 90 feet high, its slender three-tier tower top pierced with openings and latticework, surmounted by a small dome and cross. The main body of the church has a shallow domed roof, smaller domed turrets occupying corners over each of two octagonal porches. The fourth is occupied by an organ chamber.

The walls between them are canted back, each filled with three arched glazed panels. Each gable above the porches is decorated with the distinctive Chrisma, originally the imperial device of the Byzantine Emperors and monogram of the name of Christ. The whole church is clothed in gleaming white Cerramo tiles made at the Middleton Fireclay Works in Leeds.

Internally, there is an airy uninterrupted space below the dome, with functional rooms around the perimeter reached through arched openings. On the walls  behind these openings is extraordinary stained glass.

Fairhaven URC

Fairhaven URC

Luke Walmesley, with Charles Elliott of London, designed the  glass, all executed by Abbot and Company of Lancaster. The windows “illustrate key moments in the unfolding story of the Old and New Testaments and the history of the Church before and after the Reformation”. They are divided into three parts, the largest, upper image of each group being the key component. The first deals with the lives of Moses and David and from there the life of Jesus. The Crucifixion at Calvary, the first Easter, the Ascension to Heaven and the Day of Pentecost are represented. Thence, events surrounding the Reformation are illustrated including the trial of John Wycliffe, dissident translator of the Bible, and William Tyndale, also translator and scholar, burnt to death at the stake.

Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley are depicted, martyred at the behest of Catholic Mary I. The Lord Protector and Arch-Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, features boldly with dissident Henry Barrowe and C18 Bishop John Robinson (who tried to unite the Swedish and Anglican churches).  The Great Ejection of clergy from the Church of England is recorded. Pilgrim Fathers sail away in the Mayflower. Major figures of  Nonconformity are represented by preacher John Bunyan, the poet John Milton and John Wesley, founder of Methodism, together with Congregationalist missionaries David Livingstone and William Carey. Isaac Watts represents hymn-writers.  The whole forms an impressive panorama of religious struggle and indomitable individual conscience.

The size, scale and vivid pictorial impact of the glass has the huge benefit of reminding viewers how much is owed to early Protestant and Nonconformist ideals and how hard won have been the long battles for freer religious expression and beliefs. Today, Congregationalists (and the English Presbyterians with whom they united in 1972) embrace a wide variety of theological understandings with a belief in the value of personal convictions, equality and the brotherhood of all believers – looking, as church literature states, “to no council, assembly or synod to authorise and sanction their order of worship.”

Fairhaven URC Stained Glass

Fairhaven URC Stained Glass

The platform retains many original timber fittings including the Pulpit. This was once centrally placed but later moved to one side. Its memorable feature is the panel of beaten bronze, made by Walter Marsden at the suggestion of Luke Walmesley, and unveiled as a War Memorial in 1921. It  depicts the winged figure of Truth cradling the body of a Fallen Warrior taken from the battlefield, together rising heavenward.  In iconography and emotional impact the work is a significant memorial to the Great War, yet its visual dynamics also draw upon the decorated reliquaries of Early Byzantium.

There is much use of terrazzo, mosaic paving and embroidery created by the Ladies Sewing Circle of the congregation, including a Chrisma worked in gold thread for the pulpit fall.

The church was constructed embracing up-to-date technology for the heating and lighting. The dome, spanning over 30 feet, has a concrete shell roof, metal laths and steel beams. The fibrous plaster ceiling is suspended on wires.


  • V. L. Atroshenko /Judith Collins, The Origins of the Romanesque, Lund Humphries, 1985
  • Clare Hartwell and Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England series, Lancashire: North, Yale, 2009
  • Irmgard Hutter, Early Christian and Byzantine, Hobart Press, 1988
    Dennis Hurlstone Mason, Fair Domes of Fairhaven: A History of the White Church, Fairhaven URC, 1990
  • Various church guides and literature (anonymous)

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Martin Luther – An Eastern German Tour

Under the aegis of the URC History Society, and of the Faith and Works Committee of the URC, a tour of Eastern Germany is being arranged for 2017 to see and study the towns related to Martin Luther.

The anniversary of his putative counterblast against indulgences is 31st October 2017. In varying degree the Protestant tradition owes greatly to the events that followed that year. This quincentary is  considered by Germans to have the highest importance.

The proposed tour, now at the design stage, will offer 9 days covering Wittenberg, Eisleben, Torbach, Naumberg, Erfurt and Eisenach, finishing up in Dresden.

The organiser is Anthony Earl, who has previously arranged a Chapels Society tour of the Waldensian Valleys and of Rutland and who is familiar with this terrain.

The cost will be approximately £990 including flights, some meals, 3 or 4 star hotel accommodation and  coach transport.

Members of the Chapels Society thinking of joining are asked to declare their interest by contacting Anthony Earl via

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Chapel of the Month – February 2016

Saffron Walden 1 Saffron Walden 2 Saffron Walden 3 Saffron Walden 5 This month’s post was kindly prepared by Stephen Rapkin, Church Member.

Abbey Lane United Reformed Church, Saffron Walden

Abbey Lane and Newport United Reformed Church incorporating Saffron Walden Methodist Church, Abbey Lane, Saffron Walden CB10 1AG

Worship at Abbey Lane, Saffron Walden, a back-street location typical of early Dissent, reputedly dates back to 1665. At first the congregation gathered at a barn in Frogge’s Orchard and later in a meeting-house built on the site.

The current chapel dates from 1811 and its size and quality reflect the growing wealth and status of the ‘Independent Meeting’ by that time. Later in the nineteenth century the congregation would provide Saffron Walden with its first non-conformist mayor, John Player – uncle of the cigarette manufacturer – and a further nine, one of whom, Joshua Clarke, served as mayor ten times. The 1851 census recorded 1,150 worshippers.

The building is Grade II listed.

Externally the façade is stucco in which is moulded the superscription “Founded 1665 Rebuilt 1811”. Above the entrance doors are fine, cast-iron Adam-style fanlights. The other elevations are red brick with random burnt headers.

The interior, which is a mixture of original 1811 fittings and significant changes made in 1888, is dominated by an 18th century pulpit, accessed by a stair with 18th century handrail, but now incorporating substantial 1888 extensions with barley twist columns.

A dais rail, thought to be mid 19th century and certainly pre-dating the 1888 renovations, is usually described as a communion rail, although this would have had no function in a Congregational chapel. There is a fine set of late 19th Century pews (1888) with decorative carved ends, scrolled armrests, brass numbers and umbrella racks. A screen, also dating from 1888, shields the pews from the front door and seems to exhibit some early Arts and Crafts influence.

The balcony, with dentilled cornice and solid-panelled front, is supported by elegant, slender cast iron quatrefoil columns. The fine gallery clock was donated by the ladies of the church in 1812.

An 18-rank organ, built by W M Hedgeland, dates from 1864 with modifications by Alfred Kirkland in 1899.

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Chapel of the Month ???

At the start of a new year we’d like to put out an invitation to readers to suggest their Chapel of the Month. Is there a building that you particularly like or a chapel you know with a great story to tell?

Please send your contributions to us so that we can share them with a wider audience. A couple of images and around 250 words are all that we need to create a post. And we’re happy to credit and link to the relevant organisations and authors.

So, what are you waiting for?

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The Disused Chapel on the Cornish Skyline

With thanks to our friends at the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance we have been alerted to a delightful half hour Radio 4 programme on Methodist Chapels in Cornwall, covering the history of how they were built, but also interviewing those who are looking after them now, whether still operating as chapels or converted into family homes.

Each chapel Petroc Trelawney (who went to the Sunday School at the Methodist Chapel on the Lizard) investigates has its own fascinating past and present history.

First broadcast on 21st December, you can ‘listen again’ at

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Chapel of the Month – December 2015

Petre Chapel, Brentwood, Essex ~ Grade II*

For December we have something a little different… An appeal to help save the Petre Chapel Angels from the Historic Chapels Trust.

The chapel was built as the mortuary chapel of the Petre family, leading Catholic family of Essex, near to the former family seat at Thorndon Hall. Dedicated in 1857, the chapel is the work of architect William Wardell (1823-1899), a Catholic convert, who emigrated to Australia. St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne and St Mary’s Sydney are both his work.

Petre Chapel

Petre Chapel

When Trust took over the Petre Chapel it was ravaged by the elements and wanton vandalism. The Trust improved security and management and urgently patch repaired the roof to protect the timbers where there had been a leak for years. Now the Trust needs to replace the 160 year old tiles to safeguard the long term future of the magnificent Petre Chapel Angels.

Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and the Country Houses Foundation have agreed very generous grants, leaving HCT with just £3,000 to raise. Subject to raising the money the Trust aims to go out to tender early in 2016 and to start building work as soon as the local bats have stopped hibernating and drier weather is in prospect.

While the scaffolding is up, the Trust will undertake a careful structural survey of the hammer-beam roof and a conservation survey of the apparently original paint scheme. This will enable a careful restoration of the paintwork and gilding in line with the original scheme.

So, will you help save the Petre Chapel Angels? Every £1 the Trust raises enables them to draw down nearly £43 in grants from Historic England and the Country Houses Foundation.

If you would like to help, download and complete the Petre Chapel Appeal donation form.

You can find out more about Petre Chapel on the HCT website.

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