This month’s guest writer is architectural historian, Ellen Leslie.
This chapel, just outside Corsham, is one of the oldest independent chapels in England. It was originally constructed in 1662. It is 31 x 18 ft and has a small gallery on three sides of the interior. The interior is white washed and it also has a double pulpit.
In 1662 the Parliament of King Charles II revised the English Prayer Book and required church ministers to use fixed forms of service and consent to the new Book of Common Prayer.
As a result many ministers felt compelled to leave the established Church and many more were ejected from their livings. In the same year the Five Mile Act was also passed by Parliament and this required all ministers to take an oath that they would not at any time seek to alter the government of the church. Those who refused to do so were not allowed to come within five miles of any town or borough.
The Quakers built Monks Chapel in 1662 outside the five mile radius of the borough of Chippenham to conform with the Act. At the same time, Benjamin Flower, son of the Vicar of Castle Combe, was ejected from his living in Cardiff, and made Chippenham his centre for preaching. He established independent worship in Corsham as a Presbyterian. In 1689 the Act of Toleration was passed and in 1690 the Independents bought Monks Chapel from the Quakers.
In 1818 a Sunday school was started and in 1824 a new gallery was constructed. Because of its remoteness, people used to spend the day at Monks, bringing their midday meal and heating it at the fireplace, which also served to warm the chapel. From the high pulpit the preacher had a good view of the surrounding countryside and he could make his way to safety if the chapel was raided by troublemakers or anyone who was trying to arrest him. There are signs that there might have been a secret doorway out of the chapel via the pulpit. This would have been for the Preacher to escape the King’s forces when they looked for him.
Regular worship has continued uninterrupted since 1690 and the chapel is now used by the United Reformed Church (descendants of the original “Independents”).