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Trowbridge

Lawrence Oliphant, a native of Trowbridge, first encountered Methodism through the preaching of John Haime while serving as a soldier in Belgium in the 1740s. Returning home, he set up a preaching room in Frog Lane, and Wesley preached there on 17 September 1754. The itinerants continued to preach there until falling numbers deterred them. A fresh start was made in 1781 when William Moore, then stationed in the Bristol Circuit, preached in Shails Lane. One of his hearers, John Knapp, was moved to rent an old scribbling shop and fit it up as a place of worship and the preachers began to come regularly on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons, The first class included members of the Cooke family, of whom Wesley wrote, ‘I do not wonder that that the word of God should flourish in Trowbridge, where a few of our sisters are a pattern to the whole town.’ In 1782 Adam Clarke began his ministry here and gave a lively impetus to the infant society – and found himself a wife.

Coming to Bradford Circuit as superintendent in 1789, Joseph Sutcliffe found a society of 70 in Trowbridge and saw it increase to 100 during the year., with the first chapel being built close to the bridge, opened on 11 May 1790. Its proximity to the river made it susceptible to flooding. In 1796 the society was split by disagreement over Methodist relationship with the Church of England, particularly over the administration of the Sacrament in their own chapel rather than receiving it in the parish church. Half of the society members left, either for the parish church or for the dissenting chapel.

A Sunday School was established about 1805-6 by Joseph Butterworth, who had married Anne Cooke. It flourished for a time under the leadership of George Gray and then of John Dyer, reaching a membership of 800, but was later taken over by the Anglicans. A new Methodist Sunday School was then formed, and in 1852 a second school was formed, originally in a cottage at the top of Timbrell Street, with a purpose-built schoolroom in 1860.

The chapel itself was enlarged in 1814 by the addition of a gallery, but by 1821 the need for a larger chapel was recognised. A site in Manvers Street was bought in 1835, close to where the earliest preaching of Wesley and others had taken place. A foundation stonelaying took place on 9 June and the opening took place in May of the following year, with Robert Newton as preacher, followed two Sundays later by Jabez Bunting. Three galleries provided for enlarged congregations. An organ was installed in 1844 and in 1846 four classrooms and a vestry were added. The resulting debt on the building as not finally cleared until 1862, partly by the proceeds of lectures by W. Morley Punshon.

With both the population growth in the town and growing congregations at Manvers Street, a second chapel was called for. Wesley Road mission church was opened in 1872 in Newtown, a rapidly growing area inhabited by ‘factory operatives and well-to-do machinists’. Membership grew from 19 in 1872 to 100 in 1877. . A schoolroom was added in 1881 as part of the celebration of the centenary of Methodism in the town. A day school began there in 1898, later transferred to newly erected premises elsewhere in Newtown. Major renovations of the Church were undertaken in 1930 and the 1990s. Gregory Hall was built in 1933 to accommodate the Beginners Department.

The Manvers Street congregation is now part of Trowbridge United Church, along with that of the former Tabernacle Congregational Church in Church Street. This currently worships in the Park Club in Trowbridge Park, using other rented premises during the week.

Quotations

John Wesley’s Journal:

September 1754: ‘I rode to Trowbridge, where one who found peace with God while he was a soldier in Flanders, and has been much prospered in business since his discharge, has built a preaching-house at his own expense. He had a great desire that I should be the first who preached in it; but before I had finished the hymn, it was so crowded, and consequently so hot, that I was obliged to go out and stand at the door; there was a multitude of hearers, rich and poor. Oh that they may not all hear in vain!’

September 1780: ‘At the invitation of that excellent woman, Mrs. Turner, I preached about noon in her chapel in Trowbridge. As most of the hearers were Dissenters, I did not expect to do much good. However, I have done my duty: God will look to the event.

September 1781: ‘I preached … at Trowbridge. How long did we toil here and take nothing! At length, it seems, the answer of many prayers is come.’

March 1784: ‘About nine I preached at Trowbridge, where a large congregation quietly attended.’

March 1786: ‘I had appointed to preach in Trowbridge at noon; but we could not get thither till half an hour afte. I then preached without delay.’

September 1789: ‘I preached at Trowbridge, in an open place to a multitude of people.’

Sources

  • Wesleyan Methodism in Trowbridge (1862)
  • Wesley Road Methodist Church, Trowbridge,Wilts 1872-1972

Category: Place

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