History of the Village Congregational Chapel from 1662 onwards

1662 and all that...

The end of the civil war in England saw the Puritan cause in power, and culminated in the execution of Charles I in 1649. From 1649 to 1660 England was without a king, and during this period, known as the Commonwealth, many puritan clergy were instituted as vicars to various parishes. As puritans they had not been ordained by a bishop so that when the monarchy was again restored in 1660 under Charles II, and when the church again required episcopal ordination, the non-ordained clergy presented a problem.

Matters were brought to a head in 1662 upon the introduction of a new prayer book containing a clause requiring such ordination, and to which all the clergy were required to consent in writing, with the alternative of resignation. As the ordination issue was a matter of principle to the puritans, most of them, estimated variously between 800 and 2,000, chose resignation. Many of them continued to hold services in private, a practice which was then illegal, and these private meetings in 1662 mark the beginning of Congregational Churches.

Philip Lamb, vicar of Bere Regis, was one of the puritan clergy to resign, and he can therefore be considered as the founder of the Congregational Church in this parish. There were 73 clergy known to have been ejected from the Church of England in Dorset, the date of the " Great Ejectment " was 24th August 1662, although Lamb had resigned before being ejected.

He was a zealous minister preaching at Winterborne Kingston, his second church, as well as at Bere Regis From the age of 21 he laboured at Bere and Kingston, until his ejection, holding a service every day in the week at Bere at 6.00am. In his farewell sermon he said, "l may not speak from God to you, yet I shall not cease to speak to God for you."

Lamb secured a large place in the affections of the people, and there was great grief when he was silenced. For some time he continued to preach privately, and undoubtedly it was under his guidance that the Congregational Church was formed.

Later he was forced to move to Morden, where doubtless he found refuge with a stout friend of non-conformity, Sir Walter Erle, who lived at Charborough Park. Later still he moved to Alton Pancras near Cerne Abbas.

In 1672 he was granted a licence to be ‘a Congregational Teacher' in East Morden. Later still a convenient meeting house in Winterborne Kingston, probably the residence of Richard Woolfreys, was provided for him, where the people flocked from all parts to hear him. Persecution drove him to flee to Clapham, London, where he died in 1689 at the age of 66. He was offered £600 a year, a princely salary in those days, if he would conform, but he was not tempted. He was a man of unaffected piety, cheerful temper and engaging personality.

Precise information is not available of the trials and persecutions of the Bere Regis dissenters, as records, if kept, have since been lost. It appears that six ministers preached here in rotation once a fortnight until a Mr.Bulstrode settled here in 1670.

The various laws against non-conformity, although intended primarily to restrict the Roman Catholic cause, fell equally on other sects, and a great deal of secrecy was therefore involved in these early meetings. Matters were eased in 1672 when it became possible to take out licences for holding non-conformist meetings in private houses.

In the list of Ministers which follows, the dates before 1769 are approximate:

1662-1665 Philip Lamb, formerly vicar of Bere Regis

1665-1670 Six different Ministers preached rotation

1670- Mr.Bulstrode & Mr.Webber

1715-1727 John Copplestone

1727-1734 John Waldron

1734-1738 Luke Filmore

1738-1746 Thomas Coad

1746-1760 John Waldron,returned living at Ringwood.

1760-1763 Matthew Jackson

1764-1768 Mr.Lloyd

1769-1773 David Jones

1773-1777 Mr.Rogers

1787-1789 James Holt

1791-1807 Benjamin Howell

1808-1820 Ambrose Garrett, during this time a dispute arose and a section of the congregation seceded and built a church of their own.

(1813-1817)William Laxton was the first minister

(1817-1820)John Gay, when Ambrose Garrett resigned (in 1820 the two sections re-united.)

1820-1825 John Gay

1825-1827 Charles Greenway

1827-1830 Thomas Burgess Barker

1830-1844 Henry Stroud

1844-1846 Alfred Crisp

1846-1850 William Foster

1850-1853 James Edwin

1853-1856 James Wood

1857-1869 George Compton Smith

1869-1871 John Constance

1871-1874 William Barwell

1874-1876 John Rose Fuller Ross

1878-1882 Thomas Simm

1882-1886 John Rose Fuller Ross, for a further term.

1887-1891 Alfred Goodall (Photo)

1892-1896 Edwin Mansfield Potter

1897-1906 Joseph Blackburn (Photo)

1907-1921 Lawrence Crockall (Photo)

1921-1923 J.W.Scammell

1923-1927 J.Gardner (Photo)

1928-1936 H.J.Wheadon (Photo)

1936-1947 C.E.Redhouse

1948-1950 W.L.Duffett (Photo)

1951-1960 John E.Laukner

1961-1971 Bernard H.Dawson

1973-1980 Patrick Kellard

1980-2001 Raymond Healey

2001- James Morris

In the early days after 1662 the private houses of members were used for meetings and no records seem to exist concerning them, but on l0th July 1711 a house called 'Lockyers' was licensed, and the house of Mary Batrix (or Battricks), widow, was licensed on 10th January 1721. This latter house may have been the meeting house in Blind Street, which continued in use as such until 1820 when it reverted to a normal dwelling. This meeting house appears to have been used as early as 1743 and probably earlier. In 1813 a dispute of some sort arose and a section of the congregation separated and is said to have built it’s own chapel which was opened on the 9th July 1813. Seven years later on the 17th July 1820 the two sections were re-united and the Blind Street meeting house is said to have been given up.

What is now the Drax Hall had been the Congregational Chapel prior to 1783, and existed at least before 1777. On Isaac Taylor's map of the village of that date the building similar in size and shape to the present Drax Hall, is described as a 'Dissenting Meeting House', and the tenant given as V.Rawles. It is therefore difficult to relate the reputed building of a new chapel in addition to the Blind Street meeting house in 1813 with the fact that the Drax Hall chapel was already in existence. This chapel is said to have been rebuilt in 1829 during the ministry of Thomas Burgess Barker, and the present east facade probably dates from that time.

The North Street chapel was held on a life tenure basis and as some difficulty in renewing the lease was anticipated, consideration was given in 1869 to the possibility of building a new chapel. It was not then possible to buy a site in the village, but in 1871 the only available freehold site in the village, in Butt Lane, was purchased from a Wareham tradesman by Mr. George James Wood of Athelhampton, and given to the church. On this site a schoolroom was then built costing £400, and in 1877 the manse was erected. It too cost £400, but this sum was provided by J.H.Mundell (proprietor of what became Bemister's shop) who lived near Bournemouth, but who spent most Sundays in Bere Regis as superintendent of the Sunday school.

During this time the North Street chapel continued in use, but in 1872 the lease had expired on the death of the last life tenant, and after long negotiations the lease was renewed at £5 per annum, which at the time was considered excessive. In addition £35 had been spent in putting the building into a good state of repair. Some time later however many members still felt uneasy about the terms of the lease and arrangements were made to convert the Butt Lane schoolroom into a chapel.

This work was carried out by Mr. Elcock, a builder from Wimborne, at a cost of £255 and the new chapel was formally opened on 9th February 1893. The North Street chapel was then vacated and converted into the village hall. The vestry and associated rooms at the north end of the Butt Lane chapel were added in 1939. In about 1770 it was said that –“The number of hearers in the forenoon does not exceed 50 on average, and in the afternoon from 120-140, though some suppose that they must be nearer 200”. You can see the layout of it below.

(Click to enlarge)

Mrs. Barbara Skinner of London, who died in December 1769, left £500 in her will, to be invested for the benefit of the minister's stipend, and £200 to be distributed among the 'dissenting poor' of the parish. The communion cup has the inscription: “The gift of John King to the Communicant Dissenters of Bere Regis 1802

Our acknowledgements and grateful thanks are due to Mr. Fred Pitfield who supplied the information contained in this historical account.

It is almost 350 years since the “Great Ejection of 1662 and there are five churches in the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches that date from that time. They are Alton, Hampshire; St.Ives, Cornwall; Pontefract, Yorkshire; Wiveliscombe, Somerset; and of course, our own Bere Regis.

”Tis Jesus the First and the Last
Whose spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that’s to come.


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