Friday, 15 June 2012

Where was Felsham’s Baptist Chapel?

During the19th century, non-conformists had a considerable presence in Felsham. Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, and Congregationalists all had official meeting houses though we know little about the size of their congregations. The exception is to be found among the Baptists. It is recorded in the Religious Census of 1851 that they had a Chapel in Felsham which adjoined a dwelling house, and that on Sunday 30th March (the date when the census was taken), a hundred people attended the evening service.

The Religious Census also records that 248 people attended the evening service in the Parish Church of St Peter’s. The population of Felsham at this time was about 400. If the congregations of the Baptist Chapel and the Parish Church were all drawn from within the village, the figures suggest that over half the population attended the established church and that a quarter of the population were dissenters.

If these figures are accurate it is quite remarkable that the religious practices of such a large proportion of the population in Felsham in the mid-19th century have received so little attention. The reason must be to do with the relative dearth of information.  The parish records are fairly comprehensive in providing information about the Parish Church but are absolutely silent with reference to non-conformist or dissenting places of worship.

The mention of a Felsham Baptist Chapel in the religious census leaves us with a number of questions:
  • Where was this chapel situated in the village?
  • What did the building look like?
  • Who were the 100 people that attended the evening service?
  • When did the chapel fall into disuse?

Some answers are to be provided in the Minute Book of meetings of the Rattlesden Baptist Church. In 1851, both Felsham and Rattlesden shared the same Baptist Minister and it is clear that the Felsham Chapel was a “daughter” chapel to that at Rattlesden. A clue to where the Felsham Chapel was situated is provided in a Minute of a meeting held on 16th July 1850:

‘Mr Gladwell of Felsham having made an offer of a room in his house for occasional preaching on condition of paying him 5/- to have it whitewashed etc. and afterwards an annual collection of about 10/- and to defray the expense of lighting and cleaning. We agreed to accept the offer.”

It is highly probable that this is the same house that was recorded as a Baptist Chapel during the 1851 Religious Census that took place about eight months later.

It is also likely that the Mr Gladwell mentioned was Mr Joseph Gladwell, a master shoemaker, who was living and working in a house on the south side of The Street between the Church and the Rectory. The Minute Book mentions ‘a room’ which would have hardly been large enough to house the 100 people mentioned in the religious census. However, maps show that the house was surrounded by many outbuildings and barns. It is probable that it was one of these buildings which housed the hundred members of the Baptist congregation that attended evening service on that Sunday in 1851.

Joseph Gladwell’s house with its attached ‘Baptist Chapel’ no longer exists. It was demolished sometime between 1851 and 1895 when the 1st edition of the OS map for Felsham shows that the whole area between the Poorhouse [the current PO Stores] and the Rectory gardens had reverted to fields.

In 1897, a new school was built on the site of Joseph Gladwell’s house and is now the Village Hall.

A fully referenced article on the Felsham Baptists, with illustrations and maps, is available online at