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.