The Chapels Society

The Chapels Society seeks to foster public interest in the architectural and historical importance of all places of worship that might loosely described as Nonconformist. We take an interest in present and former non-Anglican churches, chapels, meeting-houses and other places of worship throughout the United Kingdom.

The Chapels Society is a registered charity (No.1014207).

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New life for an old chapel – Zion Bristol

A former Methodist chapel in Bedminster Down, Bristol, has been transformed into a social hub with a café, art classes and children’s play mornings.

The chapel, now known as Zion Bristol, was closed six years ago when the declining congregation could no longer afford the upkeep. At risk of becoming derelict, the building was saved through a social enterprise project that has successfully preserved features such as the pulpit, benches and stained glass windows while providing a valuable resource in a deprived area.

Read the full story on the Triodos Bank website.

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My Methodist History

My Methodist History‘, the online community archive network set up by Methodist Heritage, is running a project to record all war memorials in Methodist churches.

Volunteers are being asked to photograph memorials and then upload details to the web.

Details about the project can be found on the My Methodist History website.


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Virtual Chapels of Wales

‘Virtual Chapels of Wales’ is the name of a planned new online museum and archive.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Addoldai Cymru (The Welsh Religious Buildings Trust) have secured a £60,000 grant for the development of a virtual museum dedicated to Nonconformism.

The website will tell the story of more than 300 years of nonconformity in Wales through the history and architecture of Nonconformist chapels. The project will build on the Royal Commission’s Coflein database, and be produced in conjunction with Addoldai Cymru and Capel (The Chapels Heritage Society). It will highlight the importance of chapels as a distinctive and iconic building type in Wales.

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Free WWI Lecture

A free lecture by Andy Vail

Date: Saturday June 21st at 11.30am (preceded by BHS AGM at 11.00am)

Venue: Highgate Baptist church, Conybere Street, Birmingham B12 0YL





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Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Chapel at risk

News has reached us of the tragic gutting of the interior of the former Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Chapel on Midland Road, Bristol. This unlisted chapel is also at immediate risk of total demolition. The Society in 2011 had previously contributed to an unsuccessful application for listing for this rare and striking example of Primitive Methodism.

The chapel is unlisted and dates from 1849, accommodating 250 congregation members and appears to have been the Primitive Methodists’ first purpose-built chapel in Bristol. Congregational decline in the 20C together with the destructive impact of wartime led to its closure just prior to the Second World War. The chapel however did not remain unoccupied, its last use being an architectural salvage business. It is the only surviving example of these mid-nineteenth-century places of worship in the immediate area.

The building is a competent example of the Norman revival style, constructed in coursed Pennant sandstone rubble with ashlar surrounds to windows and doorway, pitched slate roof over. The interior had retained many features from its time as a chapel. Pulpit, timber galleries set on cast iron columns with neo-Norman arcading on the front panels dating from 1867. There exists an undercroft, a semi-basement hall which was designed for school use.

Stripping of the interior was carried out over the early May bank holiday and plans for demolition to make way for flat development are well underway. Local opposition to the loss of this important historic landmark are strongly vocal and they ask for any help and assistance with this case.

More information can be found online.

If any members have any further information or wish to help support the campaign to save this chapel please do get in touch with our casework co-ordinator.

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Protestant Nonconformity and Christian Missions

A new book edited by member Martin Wellings has just been published…

Protestant Nonconformity and Christian Missions

WellingsThe aim of the book is to explore some of the contributions made by Protestant Nonconformity to Christian missions. The occasion of the conference which gave rise to the volume was the centenary of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910, but the topics treated here deliberately range more widely, covering missions in Britain and the wider world from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.

Martin Wellings is to be warmly thanked for gathering such an informative and stimulating collection of papers. They are scholarly and accessible, and deserve to be widely read.” Alan P F Sell, University of Wales, Trinity Saint David

The book can be obtained from bookshops or purchased online.

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I Never Expected to Become a Historian

Dr Tim Grass, President of the Chapels Society, will be giving a lecture entitled “I Never Expected to Become a Historian” at the Trinity Forum on Tuesday April 29th 2014.

VENUE: Dr Williams’s Library, Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR

TIME: 7.30 pm (Trinity Forum meetings begin at 7.30pm. Cold supper, tea and coffee is available from 7.00pm.)

MEMBERSHIP: £15 per year
NON-MEMBERS: £3 per meeting

FURTHER DETAILS: 020 7274 5541 or


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Christopher Stell

The Society is very sad to share the news of the recent death of Christopher Stell, aged 84. Christopher was a founding member of the Chapels Society and was internationally respected for his four volume Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses in England published between 1986 and 2002.

We will pay tribute to Christopher and his work in the next Newsletter but in the meantime you might wish to read the fascinating obituary published in The Times.

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Peverell Park Church ‘community asset’ bid

Here is an interesting news story from the BBC News website:

“Campaigners hope to save a former Methodist church in Plymouth after getting it listed as an asset of community value.  In the summer it was announced Peverell Park would unite with Pennycross Methodist Church, which is located about half a mile away.  The Save Peverell Park Church group is hoping to co-ordinate a combined bid to buy the building.

The group’s chairman, Ross Shadick, said other faiths could be part of it.  He said: “A lot of residents would be sad to see the church go.   If we had a consortium of three of four churches to share the space we’d have the benefit of three or four congregations coming together. We would embrace the fact other faiths might want to use the building.

Under the Localism Act of 2012, the Community Right to Bid scheme gives local groups the opportunity to nominate assets they believe are of social and cultural value for protection.”

More details about this story can be found on the website of the Plymouth Herald.

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Book Release – Valley of a Hundred Chapels

A new history book for the Upper Calder Valley offers a fascinating look into how the non-conformists of one Yorkshire valley helped shape the modern world.

chapel cover frontFormer Hebden Bridge Times and Yorkshire Post reporter Amy Binns, of Heptonstall, has researched the way the way travelling preachers in the Upper Calder Valley inspired a movement that led to a wave of chapel building as well as successful campaigns for trade unions, education for all and the vote. Ms Binns started the project while helping her local Methodist chapel at Heptonstall prepare for its 250th anniversary.

Amy told us: “I knew very little about the history of the dissenters, but the more I found out the more fascinated I was. The movement started with the Quakers and other dissenters saying they didn’t want to pray the way the Government said they should, but they ended up as champions of all the liberties we take for granted now.”

“Universal education started with the Sunday Schools, their pulpits were used to campaign for workers’ rights and universal suffrage. They really gave us so much.”

“It’s also been great fun digging through dusty scrapbooks and cupboards in chapel vestries. Chapel life seemed to be filled with so much humour and it still jumps off the pages of their posters and histories a century later.”

chapel cover back“Raising money was always a challenge, and I’ve found lots of original material from bazaars and teas of every kind. One group of young men at a Hebden Bridge Baptist Chapel advertised a sandwich tea and entertainment, and included a warning that any ladies attempting to help or assist at their event would be fined!”

“The ladies in particular loved to put on shows of everything from ‘animated statuary’ to ‘A Pageant of Noble Women’. Some of the humour was quite bawdy – they wrote their own songs and didn’t spare the men’s blushes.”

“And of course there are plenty of anecdotes about some of the more ‘verbally-challenged’ preachers.”

The book, which includes more than 100 illustrations sourced from local residents and archives, as well as three maps showing some of the remaining buildings, is available in bookshops and newsagents locally or via Amazon.

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