Ashby de la Zouch is a market town in north-west Leicestershire, close to the border with Derbyshire. It was a large parish of nearly 4,000 acres and became an Urban District in 1894. Blackfordby and Boundary are small settlements, two miles to the north-west of the town.
Ashby de la Zouch
No conventicles were recorded in 1669. Two Presbyterian ministers were licensed in 1672 together with three houses for Presbyterian worship: Samuel Doughty in his house, Thomas Doughty in his house and the house of William Hood. They may have drawn most of their congregation from surrounding villages, as in 1676 only 5 nonconformists were recorded in Ashby.
John Hartley was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in September 1692. He attracted 200 hearers to his metings, of whom 16 had the right to vote (owned a freehold valued at 40 shillings, or qualified through a borough franchise). In 1706 the Anglican incumbent noted that the only dissenters in the parish were Presbyterian, and they had a meeting house in the town. Three years later he recorded that their number was ‘not considerable’, and that they assembled once a week under Mr Hartly (sic). By 1712, 40 out of the 300 families in the town were Presbyterians, but by 1715 that number had fallen to just 10 families. The number of people attending Mr Hartley’s meeting was said to be about 50. They met daily in the summer, but only on every other Sunday in winter, suggesting many lived outside the town.
John Hartley had died by 1724. His place was taken by Nicholas Richards, who received £5 from the common fund for dissenting ministers, and by a Mr Statham.
This congregation is said to originally have been Presbyterian, and to date back to around 1675, when Rev Samuel Shaw, the headmaster of the Grammar School, preached to local dissenters. By 1725, the congregation had built a chapel in Kilwardby Street. It was rebuilt on the same site in 1825 (but see below), at a cost of £1700, and had a stone portico at the front, and a vestry and school-room at the rear. In 1829 the congregation was said to number some 500 people. By 1846, they had purchased a house in front of the chapel as a residence for their minister, and there was also a Sunday school.
In 1851, it was claimed that the building dated back to before 1800, perhaps to stress the congregation’s long history on that site, as there were presumably still worshippers at Ashby who could remember the rebuilding. There were 100 free and 300 other sittings. On Sunday 30 March 1851, two services were held, with very small congregations for the size of the building, and when compared to the figures given in 1829: just 42 were present in the morning and 40 in the evening – the least-well attended nonconformist services in the town that day. There was also a Sunday school, with attendances of 36 in the morning and 35 in the evening. The interior of the church was refitted in 1867.
The date of the formation of this congregation is given variously as 1798, 1800 and 1804. Initially meeting in a house in Mill Lane, which they rented, the house was rebuilt as a chapel on the same site in 1817, and enlarged in 1832. There were said to be 800 worshippers who met there in 1829. By 1846 there was a Sunday school attached.
On Sunday 30 March 1851, there were two services with 92 worshippers in the morning and 180 in the evening, and 110 attended the morning Sunday school. Capacity was said to be 190 in free seats plus 110 in other seats.
The building was sold to the Primitive Methodists in 1862, following the construction of a new General Baptist chapel on a site in Brook Street, near the Cattle Market. The new building was brick, with stone facings and a portico, and the total cost, including the land, was said to be £1500. With galleries on three sides, it could hold 500 worshippers.
The first chapel, situated between the Green and the Callis, was built in 1833 and was said to seat 250, of which 160 were free seats. Two services were held on Sunday 30 March 1851, with 100 worshippers attending in the afternoon and 200 in the evening. There was no Sunday school meeting that day, although around 64 children attended the Sunday school in an average week.
In 1862, the congregation purchased the former General Baptist chapel in Mill Lane for £325. This was a slightly larger building which would seat 300 people. It appears that the congregation continued to grow, as this was replaced by a new chapel in Burton Road in 1906, which cost £2500 and had 365 sittings.
It is said that there was a Wesleyan Methodist congregation in Ashby almost from the time of Wesley, which originally met in rented premises. In 1820, the congregation built a chapel on the opposite side of the road to their original meeting place, which was said to have over 500 sittings. The 1829 meeting house return states there were two Wesleyan chapels in Ashby (although nothing more is known of the other congregation), with a total of 1,500 people attending their services.
In 1851 the services were not as well attended as those of the Primitive Methodists. On 30 March, 83 attended morning worship and 135 attended in the evening. However, there was a thriving Sunday School, attended by 118 children in the morning and 172 in the evening.
In 1870 a new Gothic-style chapel was built in Kilwardby Street, at a cost of £2035, excluding the site, with room for 500-600 worshippers. In 1874 an organ was added, at a cost of £400.
A Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in Blackfordby in 1823, with 70 free and 20 other sittings, and room for another 30 people to stand. The village has a separate return in 1829, and the stated congregation of 100 worshippers, while a nice round figure, is not too far out of line with later records. There was only an evening service on Sunday 30 March 1851, which 70 people attended. The chapel was enlarged in 1860, to seat 150 people.
A chapel was erected in Boundary in 1855, made of iron, which was said to be able to accommodate 200 worshippers.
Return to Protestant Nonconformity: A-Z
- R.H. Evans, ‘Nonconformists in Leicestershire in 1669’, Trans LAHS 25 (1949)
- F. Bate, The Declaration of Indulgence 1672: A Study in the Rise of Organised Dissent (London, 1908)
- A. Whiteman, The Compton Census of 1676: A Critical Edition (London, 1986)
- John Evans’ List of Dissenting Congregations (Dr Williams’s Library MS 34.4)
- J. Broad (ed.), Bishop Wake’s summary of visitation returns from the diocese of Lincoln, 1706-1715. Part 2, Outside Lincolnshire (Oxford, 2012)
- Leicestershire trade directories
- 1829 Meeting House return
- 1851 ecclesiastical census
- RCHM, Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in Central England (London, 1986).