If you want to find out about a particular chapel, here are some of the strategies you could try. Many thanks to Philip Thornborow for enriching the list.
Before you start, be warned that the history of what ended up as the United Methodist Church was very complicated. This “family tree” might help you. All these various groups shared a common desire not to be told what to do by people in London! So please keep in mind that your chapel might have started, and be found in, any of the following sources – Methodist New Connexion (MNC), Bible Christian, Wesleyan Methodist Association (WMA), Wesley Reform or Methodist Free Church aka United Methodist Free Churches (UMFC).
The story is complicated and this can make finding out about some of our chapels through official sources and maps very difficult. The problem is that the Wesleyan Methodist Association and Wesleyan Reformers were Wesleyan Methodists who had tried to reform the church. In some places all the members of a chapel left the original denomination and they kept hold of the building. In many other places they expressed their view that they were John Wesley’s true followers by naming their chapel “Wesley”. Non-Methodists writing about these chapels and mapmakers may not have realised that they had changed ownership.
As a rough guide the majority of MNC chapels were in the North-West, North-East and Yorkshire. The Bible Christians were very strong in the South-West, with a number of chapels further east (Hampshire, Sussex and Kent), a late outlier around Morecambe Bay, but very sparse or absent elsewhere. The UMFC were the largest group, so you may find their chapels in most counties.
1 Search information sources
Like the other websites in the Methodist heritage family, this site is intended to become the best single place to find out information about a particular chapel. Everything we know about a particular chapel will be on that chapel’s page and many pages have additional information in comments from visitors.
Search the site using the search box at the top right hand corner of the page:
- it will find not only chapel pages, but references to a chapel in wider articles and some of the people associated with a particular location
- try different spellings and names – names and spellings change over time, and there can be transcription errors
- Methodist chapels are organised in local groups called circuits. Circuit plans tell you who was going to preach where on a Sunday. A plan also tells you some of the people involved in a society
If a page does not exist for a chapel you know about, create one, using the information you have. Use the Add your story link on the navigation bar.
1.2 censuses and registrations
There is no definitive list of chapels, but there are snapshots at particular times. They include additional information, such as attendance and building capacity
- 1851 Census of Places of Public Religious Worship. You can access digital copies of these from the National Archives, but they are often hard to read and there’s a lot of them. It’s better to find a transcript of the your area of interest if you can. They currently exist for 32 of the English counties, and for Wales and the Isle of Man.
- 1867 Chapels Registered for public worship. From 1852, the Registrar General was supposed to produce a list of all buildings registered for public worship (which excluded the established church). The 1867 list appears to be the only one published. It is not easily available online but a transcript will be appearing on this site.
- 1940 Methodist Church Buildings return This link will take you a comprehensive list of all Methodist buildings as at 1st July 1940 which includes an indication of the branch of Methodism, the character of the structure, the sort of seating and the extent of the buildings. You are able to download the relevant sections.
If you are looking for information about chapels in London, then there are two useful extra sources:
- The religious census of London (1886) https://archive.org/details/religiouscensus00lond
- The religious life of London (1904) https://archive.org/details/religiouslifeof00mudi
Historic Ordnance Survey maps label chapels – although they don’t always tell you what denomination or specific name. You can use this to see when a chapel appears and disappears. You can also see how the building footprint and use changes over time. Two good sites are:
- National Library of Scotland – http://maps.nls.uk/os/25inch-england-and-wales Fewer years available, but you can enlarge the maps fully. The site also has rather more 6 inch maps – less detailed, but usually sufficiently detailed to find what you are looking for. It also has the facility to fade between the map and current satellite view.
- old-maps.co.uk – http://www.old-maps.co.uk/ The maps on this site cover more years, but unless you pay for access, you cannot enlarge them fully
Current Ordnance Survey maps let you see the recent footprint of the building on the site, if any. You can also find the grid reference for a precise location. Online at: https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/
Google maps shows the recent situation around the location. It also gives you hints about how names have changed over time. Various elements of Google maps give you more information
- Street View lets you see what is on the site at the time the Google camera went by. Some places the Google camera has visited more than once – click the down arrow, top left of the screen. There are a few places that Street View does not get to, especially in rural areas.
- Google Earth. The satellite view in Google maps lets you pick out building outlines, boundaries and former features such as abandoned railway lines.
1.4 internet sources
Local history sources
- Victoria County History at https://www.history.ac.uk/research/victoria-county-history is a research project, started in 1899, aiming to produce a history of every parish in England. Much of it is available through British History online at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue/secondary-texts. Use the in-page search facility in your browser to find references to Methodism, Wesleyan and other tags.
- local history society: many local history societies include information on Wesleyan Methodist and other denomination chapels
- local authority archives: when a chapel closes the records are usually placed in the local authority archive for safe keeping. To get full value you probably have to visit the archive, but the index will be online
- local newspaper archives: the local paper would record significant events such as foundation stone laying, openings (and closings), anniversaries and family occasions.
- Listed Buildings: many Wesleyan Methodist chapels are listed buildings. The official list is at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list and the search facility will help you find what you are looking for. Although the list focuses on the architectural features, you may also find some pointers to the history. The list will definitely tell you exactly where to find the building, and many entries now have a photo. Another site, British Historic Buildings is maintained by an interest group.
- Heritage Gateway: even if not listed, chapels are often recognised as having local significance. The best place to pick up what may be available in official records is the Heritage Gateway at https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/ Each county has a Heritage and Environment Record, which you can access from here, but a number of county councils have realised people are interested in chapels and provide online lists based on their records.
Current church website: the present Methodist church in a location will often have a history page telling the story of how it evolved
Many interest groups collect invaluable information, for example:-
- https://www.geograph.org.uk/ is a great picture collection including many chapels
- http://www.churches-uk-ireland.org/ – a listing, often with a picture
- online parish clerks: these are unpaid volunteers who collate and transcribe records for various parishes within their respective areas. Search for OPC for the county you are interested in.
2 Contact those who know
Sometimes it is easier to ask a person
- local church: find the contact details of the local Methodist church on its website or through https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/connect/find-a-church/
- My United Methodists users: users of this website can be a brilliant source of information; add a question in a comment on an existing chapel page or, for a chapel not yet on the site, create a new page using what you know and what you want to know.
- local history societies are often glad to help enquirers – it’s puzzle solving. They are often helpful in tracing what happened to a former chapel. Find the society by a web search.
3 Visit the location
Go and have a look at where the chapel was. Does the building still exist in part or as a whole? What about its surroundings? Does the building look like its written description? Walls? Boundaries? Date stones and engraved tablets? What can local people tell you?