NOTE: The full list of Dissenters' baptisms, indexed by name, is available on a Data CD available from the Society. Follow the 'Census Data' link for more details.
Until 2003, we knew almost nothing about a Dissenters' Chapel in Arborfield, because there were very few direct references to it. There was a mention of a 'Methodist Chapel' in the 1839 Tithe Apportionment Map's 'Terrier' (List of properties), and in the 1851 Census the building was listed as 'One Chapel, not used for twelvemonth'. It was probably demolished soon after.
It was situated immediately opposite the 'Bull' Public House on the Reading Road, next to one of two cottages. We were alerted to its existence by a request from Alan Allwright of Adelaide in Australia, who was researching his family history. He wondered whether it was still in place, or whether there were any photographs of it. It's not, and there aren't. It would reduce the A327 to one lane, and would not be popular with motorists.
Alan had already traced a hand-written document from Rev. William Breach, dated 1813. He was the minister at the time, and continued for many years. He published several pamphlets, some of which survive at Reading Local Studies Library.
Alan also provided a snippet of news from 1746:
... In news just to hand we can report that at yesterdays meeting at John Allwright's new DISSENTERS CHAPEL at ARBORFIELD CROSS, opposite the well respected and appointed BULL INN, a fracas occurred due to a dissent among the Worshippers there and the building was torn down !
The pulpit was thrown into the village pond ! there is no report of the preacher. Our correspondent is advised that meetings will now be held in the Barn on the Allwright farm at Langley Pond. ......... 2nd APRIL, 1746.
The chapel was quickly rebuilt and remained for another century. It was owned in the 1830's by John Allright, along with the two cottages and a strip of land to the north. By the late 19th Century, the cottages had been rebuilt and formed part of the Newlands Estate - see the 1947 Sale Document for their condition when sold at auction.
William Breach's hand-written letter amounted to around 20 pages with additional notes in the margins. It is a not all readable, though Alan has managed to transcribe 90% or so, and has deposited the transcribed document with the Local Studies Library. Much of it deals with doctrine, but it also traces the main leaders. Strangely, the All(w)right name is barely mentioned. It started:
"From the present prospect of things among us, I am occasioned to give my best account I can of the preceding state of our Church at Arborfield - Rev. Breach."
"Some where near the year 1750 The Church first began …"
Here's our interpretation of the chronology based on William Breach's letter and additional notes:
A Mr Norris was unhappy with Church of England. Susanna Norris, his sister, moved from London to Langley Common to be near her brother. A friend of the family, Mrs May of Langley Common, encouraged meetings at Mr Norris’s house - probably in the early1740’s.
Mr Cudworth or Cudmore [both names were used for the same person] was the preacher from 1746 to 1765, and when the house church over-flowed, a new Chapel was built at Arborfield Cross. Another preacher, Mr Gill, joined the fellowship. However, for some reason he later split the congregation, and his followers went to a Barn at Langley Common. Happily, later they came back together as one fellowship
Mr Cudworth was said to be a ‘follower of Witfield’, but believed in infant baptism. George Whitefield and the Wesleys were the founders of Methodism, though Whitfield later broke away because of doctrinal differences.
Mr Norris took over preaching. He was a carpenter, not an intellectual, but ‘a man of spirit’. He seems to have been included in an early Methodist Circuit, with:
John was also assisted by Richard Knight and John Hall. William Breach ‘of Sinsom’ [Sindlesham] took over, in 1797.
Officers of Chapel on 8th May 1838 were:
The Chapel maintained a Baptism Register, and we can see the main family surnames involved, along with the numbers of children baptised. In summary, they were:
Several of these were well-known local surnames. Overall, there were 252 Baptismal entries, representing 55 surnames and 100 nuclear families. We can guess that the congregation was around 50 adults for much of the Chapel's life. The Women's Institute's history certainly hints that in the mid-1800's, "there was an empty Church and a flourishing Chapel; but in a very short time the Chapel was pulled down, as no-one went to it, and those who did not go to Church regularly every Sunday could be counted on two hands. The men went in the morning and the women afternoon in the winter, evening in the summer". Sir John Hayes, Bart., had become the Rector of St. Bartholomew's in 1839 and lasted 40 years, during which the old church was demolished and replaced by the Victorian building in Church Lane.
The Chapel didn't have authority to conduct marriages or funerals. Its members had to go to the local Parish Church for these services, and were treated harshly. For instance, in 1775, Barkham Church's Burial Register strates: 'John Allright from Hurst - one of the people called a Methodist, therefore not carried into church'.
Although the Dissenters' Chapel was used by the Methodist Society for many years, it was always privately owned, by the Allwright family - see the Allwright Family Page for more details.
There's an intriguing entry in the 1861 Census - George Childs from Swallowfield, who lived at Kenny's Farm, was a 'Labourer and Local Methodist Preacher'. Where did he preach? By 1871, he and his wife Jemima had moved back to Swallowfield.
Any Feedback or comments on this website? Please e-mail the webmaster