Pages 43 - 46

Wrington Village Records
Studies of the history of a Somerset Village

Nonconformists in Wrington
Pages 43 - 46

Sources: Dissenters' Certificates, Xerox copies of original MSS in Somerset Records Office.
"The Old Meeting House, Wrington, 1662-1928" : a manuscript history by Rev. D. Lloyd, 1928, property of Mr. Marshall, Wrington. This history provided the background against which this shorter study is set.

In 1862 the Congregational Chapel celebrated its second centenary without having ever been able to celebrate its first. It could not have done so because it was shut in 1762. There is an extant copy of a printed appeal, dated 1837 which states that "the chapel was originally provided for one of those excellent of the earth, an ejected minister, the pious and learned Richard Alleine, who was ejected on August 24, 1662". This document was signed by the Rev. W. Lucy and H. J. Roper of Bristol.

There is no proof whether Richard Alleine did come to Wrington or did not. Even the Rev. David Lloyd, who compiled the history of the Congregational Church in 1928, admits that he could not have stayed at Wrington very long.

The facts are, however, that the seeds of non-conformity were sown at Wrington long before Richard Alleine had been ejected from his parish at Batcombe, some 24 miles away. In fact it was the Rector of Wrington, 1602-1644, Samuel Crooke (1575-1649), who pioneered popular sermons, extempore prayers and Presbyterian church organisation in north Somerset at the time of the Civil War and Protector's Commonwealth, who is really responsible for the start of nonconformity in Wrington (see paper Churchwardens' Account Book, 1634-1675). If Richard Alleine did come to Wrington in 1662 he must have found the ground well prepared, and it is quite possible that an assembly of dissenting protestants continued to meet from time to time in private houses. There are however no documents whatsoever relating to the presence of any kind of dissenting church, until 1714.

The first deed of 1714 relating to a chapel, described the building in purely secular terms, as "all that messuage and tenement situate lying and being in Wrington one orchard garden and back-side to the said messuage adjoining containing by estimation one acre", to which there was attached a right of Commons on the Hills of Wrington. This property passed down from John Pope to Thomas Morse, then to Joseph Budman, then through John Wiglesworth to Joseph Chapman whose widow sold it for £60 to Samuel Wallis, who was very interested in this free church cause at Wrington. Samuel Wallis conveyed this property in 1715 to eight trustees, among whom four came from Wrington: John Legg, gent., Henry Williams, malster, Joseph Gallopp and John Willett, yeoman, as "a place of religious worship by all as shall from time to time assemble there for the exercise of such religious worship and shall demean themselves soberly, decently and peaceably there". On Jan. 15th, 1715, a licence for holding meetings of religious worship by Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England was granted.

On July 25th, 1729 another Trust Deed was executed, which states that "on the said premises, viz. the orchard, garden etc. there had some time before been erected a Meeting House for religious worship by Protestant Dissenters", Between 1718 and
1740 the church had six ministers: John Milner, Samuel Baker, John Whyne, Joseph Bird and William Howell.

On the map of Wrington in 1738 there is no trace of any building erected on the site where the Congregational Church stands today. That land belonged then to Lord Pollet; and indications are that most of the meagre documentary references of this early period are to Meeting House Farm, high on Wrington Hill and a safe - if weary - distance from the Established Church! The Wrington Enclosure Act of 1813 refers to an "Ancient Tenement called the Meeting House", together with an allotment of land, no.106, on which have been erected six small cottages, situated on Wrington Hill.

It is said that at this time (of the Napoleonic Wars) the Meeting House was used as a military depot. This, again, may refer to Meeting House Farm. If this is so, perhaps the distance accounts for some of the ups and downs of its existence, as traced by the Rev. D. Lloyd in his history. According to this, the Meeting House was shut from 1751 to 1782, and again from 1788 until 1815. That nonconformists in Wrington continued to meet, however, is shown by the Dissenters Certificates, most of which relate to this latter period of 1788-1815.

These Certificates are in essence an application to the Bishop of Bath and Wells to have registered a place of meeting for nonconformist worship. The first certificate is dated 8th February 1790 and requests that a house belonging to John Worlock in the Town and Parish of Wrington should be registered as a house set apart for the worship of God and religious exercise for Protestant Dissenters. It is signed by John Worlock, Christopher Watkins, Edmund Rich, William Councell, James Budgett, James Tiny. The application was granted on the next day.

The next two certificates are both dated 13th July, 1791; both are written in the same handwriting, of Theophilus Lessey. The first is a request that a house belonging to Dennis Stallard on Broadfield Down (Meeting House Farm ?), the second that a house belonging to Samuel Bush on Havyatt Green should be registered as a house set apart etc., ...The first is signed by Theophilus Lessey, James Budgett, John Shew, John Noble, John Trew, Samuel Noble. The second is signed by Theophilus Lessey, Wm. Challenger, Henry Budgett, Robt. Parrish, Samuel Show, Charles Warley. These certificates were granted on the 1st September, 1791.

The next certificate, dated 17th April, 1795 and granted on the 2nd May, 1795, registers a house in the name of James Watts. This is signed by James Watts, Wm. Hunt, Isaac Budgett, Charles Warley, John Phillips, Jack Dovey, and Rich. Ball.

A turning point comes with the next certificate a year later, dated 22nd January, 1796 and granted on the 30th January. Here there is the very first reference to a "chapel lately erected on the premises of Mr. William Baily of Frome but in the Town and Parish of Wrington". It is witnessed by Wm. Baily, Wm. Hunt, William Councell Junior, John Noble, Joseph Dovey, Richard Noble, John Marshall, Richard Ball. It is quite possible that this certificate refers to the building which is situated next to Mr. Kingcott's garage, which is the property of Mrs. Monkton. I am told that even today one can see the holes where the beams were fitted to hold up the gallery.

This rather dilapidated late 18th century building does look rather like a church. The bay window may be a later addition when it was transformed into a dwelling house. It is widely believed by some of the Methodists that this was the forerunner of the present Methodist Chapel, and that John Wesley preached there. That there were Methodists in Wrington at this period is proved in the next certificate, applied for on the 3rd January, 1809 and granted on the 11th February, 1809:

"We whose names are hereunto subscribed do certify that the house of John Stallard of the Parish of Wrington in the County of Somerset is set apart for the public worship of God by a congregation of Protestant Dissenters of the Methodist denomination and we require that this our certificate be registered according to the statute made in that case and provided,

Witness our hands this 3rd day of January, 1809.
John Stallard, John Marshall, Charles Warley, James Thompson, Jeremiah Stallard, William Vowles."

The history of the present Congregational Chapel about which there can be no doubt, starts in 1815. A certificate applied for on the 1st November, 1815 and granted on the 3rd, states the following :

"I Richard Frost of the Parish of Wrington in the County of Somerset do hereby certify that a Meeting House in the Parish of Wrington (situate at the upper end of the Town of Wrington in the County of Somerset) is intended forthwith to be used as a place of Religious Worship by an Assembly of Protestants, and I do hereby require you to register the same according to the provisions of an Act passed in the forty-second year of the Reign of his Majesty King George the third intitled an Act to repeal certain acts and amend other Acts relating to Religious Worship and Assemblies or Persons teaching and Preaching therein. Witness my hand. ...etc.,"

According to the Rev. D. Lloyd the reopening service was held on the 8th November, 1815. The sermons were preached by the famous Rowland Hill of the Tabernacle of Bristol, the Rev. S. Lovell and the Rev. Thorp of Bristol.

This 1815 certificate is the very first certain indication of the site of the present chapel. In 1816 the Rev. Joseph Browning of Macclesfield settled as pastor. The church had to be enlarged to hold 350 persons. It was reopened again on the 21st October, 1817.

A rather different certificate was issued on 29th January 1822, and granted 6th February, 1822. This certifies that a certain building belonging to John Wilkins is intended to be used as a chapel for religious worship by Protestant Dissenters of the denomination of Independents. Signed by lames Durrant, John Wilkins, Richard Frost,
J. Foster, it forms a clue to the existence at this time of yet another group of nonconformists in the village, seeking freedom to worship as they wished.

The Congregational minister from 1837 unti11855, the Rev. William Dennis, engaged on extensive renovations to the building. The chapel was re-opened on 23rd October, 1844; yet in 1855 there were only ten members. Down in the village, a new chapel was erected for the Methodists in 1864, opposite the old one next to Mr. Kingcott's garage.

In 1962 the Congregational church in Wrington celebrated its tercentenary; even if we deduct from these three hundred years, the years when it was closed, it can still record 190 years of service in the village.