The Methodist Church, Bridge Street. There is a long and proud history of non-conformism in Hungerford.
The 18th century:
John and Charles Wesley were Church of England priests in the 18th century. They felt called to bring the word of God to non-churchgoers and to address some of the pressing social issues of the day, matters not high on the agenda of the Established Church at that time. In due course this became a separate denomination known as the Methodist Church.
Jack Williams says (Adviser 12.2.2010) that John Wesley visited Hungerford 14 times between 1739 and 1786. John Wesley died in 1791.
Methodism in Hungerford in the 19th century:
The Wesleyan Ebenezer Chapel in Church Street was built in 1807.
The enthusiasm of the 18th Century Wesleyan Methodist reformers had waned somewhat after the death of John Wesley and by 1811 a new Church known as Primitive Methodists was formed. The split had come about over the conduct of Worship - the Wesleyans were more formal, but the Primitives often preached in the open air, often all day, and they were sometimes called "Ranters" because of their exuberance!
It was not until 1833 that Hungerford experienced the enthusiasm of the Primitives when evangelists Thomas Russell and John Hyde came into the town. (The Victorian County History states that the "Primitive Methodist Chapel was founded in 1830 when it formed part of the Shefford mission".).
They formed a group in a house in Moon Lane at the town end of Salisbury Road. (It is thought that this was actually the property later No. 2 Salisbury Road, home of Mr & Mrs Charles Fry in the 1970s-80s, demolished in the late 1990s when St John's Court was built. Tracey Chandler, owner in Oct 1997 stated "2 Salisbury Road was built as the original Methodist Meeting house of Hungerford, and the conveyancing document that we have had framed shows a number of Hungerford people who were involved in the purchasing of land including the nature of their employment".) The house was registered by Thomas Russell as a place for Methodist worship. The 1864 Billings Directory states that there was a "small Primitive Methodist Chapel in Moon Lane. No attached minister.".
Another Primitive Methodist Church in Oxford Street, Eddington had been built in 1840, and was well supported in 1851.
- Methodist Church, Bridge Street
- Primitive Methodist World Sunday School Worker and Gospel Temperance Record 21 Aug 1884 featuring G T Phelps of Hungerford (For more, see under 10 Bridge Street)
The Methodist Church, Bridge Street:
By the 1860's the house in Moon Lane was too small for the number of worshippers, and a new Primitive Methodist Church was built between 1864-68 in Bridge Street.
In a document dated 16th April 1866, Mr T C Atherton sold the land to Mr G T Phelps and other Trustees of the Primitive Methodist Connexion. The body of Trustees was set up on the same day. The site had been bought for £548.14.0d.
Mr George Thomas Phelps , confectioner, baker and grocer of 10 Bridge Street, was a key member of the Methodist Church in Hungerford.
A photocopy of the Primitive Methodist World (Sunday School Worker and Gospel Temperance Record) of Thursday 21 Aug 1884 features Mr GT Phelps of Hungerford:
"For many years Mr Phelps was the (Newbury) circuit steward, and a leading spirit of a band of most earnest, devoted, and successful workers for God in that the wide station - a band of workers who bravely and nobly stood by the cause in its infancy, who threw open their homes when homes were few, and who most loyally worked with their devoted ministers ... ... and more ... days of Primitive Methodism in Berkshire; a band of men whose hearts God had touched; men to whom God, and heaven and hell were eternal verities; men who lived a life of prayer and faith, who were filled with the Holy Ghost, and who were in labours more abundant, their one aim being to glorify God in bringing their fellow men to Christ. Some of them have already passed away to their eternal reward; but, thank God, others are still with us labouring as loyally and earnestly as of old to strengthen Primitive Methodism; and it may be well for the younger men, both ministers and laymen, to be occasionally minded of these noble self denying men of God, who, with the grand old ministers with whom they laboured, have had so large a share in helping to make Primitive Methodism the power it is today.
It must not, however, be for a moment assumed that such men as Mr Phelps lived entirely in the past, or are slavishly bound by the methods of the past. We know from a long and intimate experience of our brother that there can be none more keenly alive to the fact that, with growing intelligence and every varying developments of society, there exists a need for increasing culture in our ministry, both travelling and local, and a wise adaptation of our methods of working. His idea is, that to realise proportional success to that of the past, the increasing culture must be linked with the divine life and power; and with the wise adaptation of the methods there must ever be maintained that spirit of simplicity of motive devotion of life, and entire dependence on the Holy Ghost that so largely characterised our fathers, and in God's name achieved such wondrous success.
Rejoicing as he has done in the might displays of divine power so richly and frequently realised in the history of the Newbury Circuit, and delighting for so many years in the most intimate friendship of the holy men with whom he laboured in the Gospel, we do not wonder at his love for the heroes of the past; and we cannot but rejoice that he not only does this, but is equally loyal, liberal, and earnest in his support of the cause at the present time. He is, indeed, a living proof that it is possible to lovingly cherish the memory of the workers of the past, and yet be alive to the requirements of today, and most thoroughly appreciative of the work and workers of the present time.
For more than forty years he has been one of the most earnest and successful of local preachers, his preaching being characterised by considerable preparation and intense earnestness, and frequently accompanied by rich displays of that divine unction he loves so well and prizes so highly. Few can more truly say with the apostle Paul "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord." The great "I" being absent from his preaching, and his one aim being usefulness. we doubt not that hundreds of souls will be the crown of his rejoicing in the great day when every man's work shall be made manifest.
He is diligent in his attendance at the regular means of grace, never wilfully neglecting, and rarely being absent from the Sunday morning prayer meeting, or the week evening services; a worthy example to some who are rarely present unless a business meeting follows the service.
Our sketch would be very incomplete without reference to his earnest and able support of the Temperance cause from its introduction into Hungerford, when its friends were few its opponenets were many. He has, however, lived to gladly welcome some who were formerly opponents to a prominent position in that good work. Recognising the evils in that connection with public-house clubs, and believing that the religion of Christ concerns men's temporal welfare, he took the initiative in forming the Hungerford Primitive Methodist Benefit Society, which has had a long and prosperous career, and now numbers over 400 members.
He has lived to win the respect of his fellow townsmen - to win it, for in his opposition to the letting of the Common for horse-racing, and in his steadfast adherence to liberalism in politics, and earnest advocacy of total abstinence and Primitive Methodism, he has often had to take the unpopular side. But a constant life has overcome prejudice, and he has won the respect of all, and has, we believe, been invited to fill the highest offices in the town.
His home has ever been open to the preachers and friends of the cause, and to this day our brother is never happier than when with his esteemed wife he is entertaining those engaged in his Master's service. And he has felt more than repaid in the friendships he has formed, and in the beneficial influence the preacher's visits have doubtless had on his family. We cannot help expressing the opinion that in the past this has been one of the elements of the strength of Primitive Methodism and trust that the day will never come when the minister will not feel it a privilege to be welcomed into our people's homes.
He has lived tp see each of his seven children saved, two of them ministers, and each of them usefully serving their father's God. We do not wonder that the children of such a father and mother are children of God. It would be strange if it were not so. It is difficult for children of such parents to go astray - given to God in infancy, surrounded by the influences of holy living, family prayer, and (not least powerful) plenty of good literature, always including our own excellent magazines. Yes, godly parents may believe and expect that if they train up their children in the way they should go, when they are old, they will not depart therefrom.
In temperament our brother is generous, loving and earnest almost to a fault, and of no man we know can it be more truly said that he has lived to glorify God by loyal, loving, earnest support of the church of his early choice. We are glad to know that he still retains the earnestness and fervour of spirit that has characterised him in the past, and though 64 year of age, there is good reason to hope that he may remain in our midst for some years to come.
In concluding this sketch..... Amen.
The Methodist Church in Hungerford, continued:
The church was registered for the Solemnisation of marriages in 1868 (BRO, Parish Records). The Reading Mercury reported on 16th May 1868 that "three sermons were preached and the church was so full that there was no standing room and people had to be turned away".
The Bridge Street church was hardly a stone's throw from the fine new Gothic Wesleyan Methodist Church in Charnham Street, which opened a year later in 1869 the Wesleyan Methodists moved from the Ebenezer Chapel in Church Street.
Both churches in the 19th century were very well attended. In the seven years between 1852 and 1859 there were 66 baptisms in the Primitive Methodist Church alone.
As was customary in Methodist churches, there was a day school attached to both Church Street and Bath Road.
The school room at the back of the Methodist Church in Bridge Street was built in 1907, and, at the same time, alterations were made to the front of the church. A loan of £400 was taken up at the time - finally repaid in October 1947.
In 1932 the various splits in Methodism were brought together by the Deed of Union and one Methodist Church was formed. This was more easily done on paper than in reality and in Hungerford both Wesleyan and Primitives continued to meet separately until the Charnham Street Church was closed in 1971. The Wesleyans were invited to join with the Primitives at Bridge Street but many found themselves unable to do so
The property adjacent to the church, 9 Bridge Street, was owned by the church, and was used for some time as the manse. It was sold in 1992 to provide funds to modernise the church.
In 1993 Bridge Street was refurbished, chairs installed instead of pews, a garden established by the river, and other improvements made. This year a modern kitchen has been installed in the Hall to continue the Methodist tradition of hospitality. Much work continues to be done there to make the Church relevant within the town and to help where possible in a wider context. Bridge Street has a reputation for being a warm and welcoming Church in which to worship.
Follow this for the list of Methodist Ministers in Hungerford.
Norman Hidden's paper, 1983:
Further information about the site of the Methodist Chapel in Bridge Street comes from a paper written by Norman Hidden in 1983:
The history of the site goes hack many centuries, probably to the original division of land along the main street into burgage tenures in the 12th or early 13th century. Certainly a house was already in existence on this site in 1470, owned by the priory hospital of St. John. Whether the house was used by the priory or was let to rent is not known; but its situation so near to the priory itself (only the mill intervening between the two buildings) suggests that it may have originally been a building used for hospital purposes. By the 16th century, however, evidence suggests that it was likely to have been let as a source of rent for the priory.
When the priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1548 the king granted the priory property to Sir John Thynne, of Longleat fame. Thynne leased the property and in 1552 the building was said to be "late in the tenure of ..?.. Jennyns, and now of John Bytheway."
On Thynne's death the property became again at the disposal of the crown and (via court middlemen such as Dru Drury and Edward Downing) it was purchased as an investment, along with other former priory property, by Anthony Hidden, lord of the manor of Hidden - cum - Eddington. When Anthony Hidden died in 1591 it descended to his young son Roger, and was held in trust during Roger's minority by his stepfather Robert Roberts of Salisbury. After coming of age, Roger Hidden sold it to a London merchant named Price who almost immediately re-sold to Dr.Thomas Sheaff, a canon of St. George's College, Windsor. Sheaff, in turn, disposed of the freehold (in 1612) to Henry Atkins, the sitting tenant.
The building, its accompanying garden, and a small plot of ground which separated it from the mill on the north side remained in the Atkins family for over a hundred years. William Atkins, who may have been born in the house when his father was tenant of Anthony Hidden, succeeded to the freehold when his father Henry died in 1618. William Atkins died in 1643, and in the town rent roll of 1676 the property is listed as belonging to Edward Atkins. This is presumably the Edward Atkins who is described in later deeds of the property as fellmonger, that is trader in calf and sheep skins for manufacture of leather goods (such as gloves). When Edward died he left the property and business to two sons William & Edward, who continued the business as fellmongers. In 1726 the two Atkins brothers sold the property to William Allen the elder, also a glover.
At some time before 1748 Allen used the plot of ground between his house and the grounds of the mill to build a new house neighbouring his own and this new house became occupied by Edward Lucas. Joseph Allen in 1752 mortgaged both properties (as well as 15 acres of land he held separately. The property is described as consisting of two messuages, 1 barn, 1 stable, 1 shop, 2 gardens and 2 orchards.
The mortgagor insisted that a clause be inserted into his agreement with Joseph Allen which transferred to him the benefits of the building's insurance policy issued by the Society of the Sun Office in London for insurance against loss or damage by fire, dated 6 July 1752 and numbered 131349. The policy was valid for the main or original messuage for a total sum not exceeding £200 and it carefully excluded "all manner of outhouses or adjoining buildings"!
In 1739 his previous mortgagor having died, Allen was forced to find a new mortgage to enable him to clear that agreed in 1752. This time a local widow, Elisabeth Farrendon, came to his assistance. By 1769 Joseph Allen had died and his son Joseph Allen junior, also a glover, was able to clear his mortgage to Elizabeth Farrendon only by securing a further mortgage from Thomas Mundy. Finally in 1773 Mundy 'by the direction of Joseph Allen' sold to Sir William Dolben as trustee for widow Mary Garrard of Hungerford.
Among the documents which record this and the subsequent transaction, is a memorandum in Mary Garrard's handwriting which recounts the building of a wall between her property and that on its southern side, containing a special white stone commemorating the year of her wedding to the late George Garrard.
Mary Garrard died in 1802 and in her will left the property to her two sisters, Mulso & Judith Whitelocke. They had it put up to auction at the Bear Inn in the same year, when it was purchased by Thomas Atherton, a miller. Atherton is recorded in the town quit rent rolls as owner of the premises in 1805, 1818, 1832 and 1836.
I have obtained much of the detail in this record from original deeds in possession of the Methodist church. They were brought to my attention by Mr. Alfred Kew and most generously brought out of the church's archives and placed at my disposal through the good offices of Rev. John Morgan, the local Methodist minister, and I would like to acknowledge my debt to them in this respect.
- Methodist Cyber Café and Computer Centre [E4]
- Methodism in Hungerford [A31]
- Hungerford, Marlboriugh and Wantage, Wesleyan Methodist Circuits: Historic Roll, 1899-1904
- Hungerford Wesleyan Methodist Circuit - Volume 1: Baptisms 1810-1880
- Hungerford Wesleyan Methodist Circuit - Volume 2: Baptisms 1881-1937 and Marriages 1886-1897
- Hungerford Primitive Methodist Circuit - Baptisms 1869-1937