Protestant Nonconformity in Melton Mowbray

The Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray is perhaps best-known for being the home of the pork pie. Its market is recorded in Domesday Book (1086), and it is one of just a handful of places in Leicestershire with documentary evidence of a school in pre-Reformation times – indeed it had a school way back in 1347. In the 18th century it became a major centre for fox-hunting, and it is said that the expression ‘to paint the town red’ stems from a hunting visit to Melton Mowbray in 1837 by the Marquis of Waterford and his friends, who coated a pub sign, a shop window and several buildings with red paint.

Market towns could be centres of nonconformity, but differing religious views appear to have taken time to become widely accepted here. No illegal religious meetings were recorded here in 1669,[1] no dissenting meeting houses or preachers were licensed in 1672, and the Compton census in 1676 lists only one nonconformist within a population of 1,077 people old enough to take communion in the parish church.[2] That probably explains why dissenters saw Melton Mowbray as the type of place where ‘there may be an opportunity of Publick service’ in 1690.[3] Even as late as 1709 the rector was able to record ‘Non Papist, no Dissenter. No Meeting in the parish’.[4]

No early meeting house registrations have been found within the county quarter sessions registration papers,[5] and any return made in 1829 when details of religious meetings were sought has not survived.[6] Most of the information on this page has therefore been gathered from the 1851 religious census and trade directories. At a later stage of this project we shall be looking at records created by the various churches and chapels themselves.

 

Wesleyan Methodism

It is said that a Wesleyan Society existed in Melton Mowbray in 1779 and their first chapel was built in 1796,[7] but this project has yet to see primary sources confirming this.

A Wesleyan Methodist chapel was erected on Sagecross Street in 1808, at a cost of £1,500. This was extended in 1827, and by 1851 contained 514 sittings, 150 of them free.[8] In addition, the chapel was noted to support religious societies, day schools and charitable institutions.[9]

The 1851 Religious Census records three sermons held on census day, in the mornuing, afternoon and evening, with attendances recorded as 230, 60 and 300 respectively. The corresponding figures for average attendance were 250, 60 and 320. There was also a morning Sunday School, attended by 139 people, slightly lower than the average attendance of 150.[10]

The census also records the presence of another meeting place. This was not a separate building although it was being used exclusively for worship. It contained about 40 sittings, all of them free. There is no information about the location or build year. On census day, a congregation of 30 was recorded for one service, held in the afternoon. The same figure was given for average attendance. There was no Sunday School.[11]

The 1808 chapel was rebuilt on the same site in 1870-1 at a cost of £3,100, with 700 sittings according to White’s Directory.[12] This is contradicted by Kelly’s 1895 Directory, which recorded only 550 sittings, only marginally larger than the size of the 1808 chapel. Kelly’s Directory described the chapel as a ‘spacious edifice’ built in the Gothic style with red bricks and stone dressings.[13] It is not clear whether White and Kelly were describing the same chapel.

 

Primitive Methodism

Primitive Methodists were present in the village from the first half of the 19th century, although it is not clear when their first chapel was built. White’s Directory of 1846 recorded a chapel on Goodrich Street erected in 1845, but his later directory in 1863 recorded the build year as 1835.[14] This latter source also noted that the chapel contained 350 sittings and was erected at a cost of £640.[15]

There is no record of a Primitive Methodist chapel built in either 1835 or 1845 on the 1851 Religious Census. The census instead recorded a chapel erected in 1805, with 200 sittings, 123 of them free. On census day, services were held in the afternoon and evening, with an attendance of 80 and 120 respectively. The corresponding figures for Sunday School were 50 and 20. Average figures were not given.[16]

A new chapel was erected in 1888 on Sherrard Street, at a cost of £2,500. It is described as being built of red brick and stone dressings, with 500 sittings.[17] Sources after this date confirm the continued presence of a Primitive Methodist congregation in the town into the 20th century.[18]

 

Melton Mowbray Methodist Circuit

In 2015 there are two Methodist churches in Melton Mowbray, at Sage Cross and Sandy Lane.[19] The latter opned in 1970, replacing a Nissan Hut on Dalby Road.[20]

 

Independents

Independents first erected a chapel on Chapel Street in 1821, at a cost of £2,000.[21] This contained 500 sittings, 80 of them free.[22] The 1851 Religious Census is in slight contradiction to White’s Directories, which maintain that the build year was 1822 and the seating capacity 600.[23] The chapel also contained a large burial ground, and, as for the Wesleyan Methodists, it also supported religious societies, day schools and charities.[24]

The 1851 Religious Census recorded services in the morning and evening. On census day, attendance was 160 and 170 respectively. A figure of 25 was given for an afternoon service, although this was noted to be of adults who were present during the afternoon Sunday School session. For this, attendance by children was marked at 95, along with 100 for a morning session. For both congregation and Sunday School, average figures were not given.[25] An organ was purchased in 1857, at a cost of £120.[26]

The chapel was described in Kelly’s 1895 Directory as being of red brick,[27] and this may have been recently rebuilt, as the church website states that the original wooden chapel remained in use until the 1890s. The church became known as congregational, and in 1972 it merged with others nationally to become the United Reformed Church. It still meets in the town today (2015).

 

Baptists

Baptists first erected a chapel on Nottingham Street in 1872, at a cost of £2,200. This money was raised by subscription, including a £150 donation from the reverend. It contained 400 sittings and was described by White’s Directory in 1877 as ‘a handsome chapel in the Italian style.’[28] A later directory added that it was made from red brick.[29]

The church moved to a new site in 1992, a short distance from the town centre, where a modern brick church was built.[30]

 

Calvinist

Calvinists are mentioned in White’s Directory of 1846, which noted the presence of a Calvinist Chapel on Timber Hill. This chapel is described as a small building that was previously used as an infant school. This could possibly be referring to an old Methodist building.[31]

 

Mission Halls

The Gospel Mission is recorded to have been based on 44 Norman Street, and the Railway Mission was also located on the same street. These are recorded in the early twentieth century.[32]

 

Notes

[1] R.H. Evans, ‘Nonconformists in Leicestershire in 1669’, Trans LAHS, 25 (1949), p. 141

[2] A. Whiteman, The Compton Census of 1676: A Critical Edition (London, 1986), p. 340

[3] A Gordon, Freedom after Ejection: A Review (1690-1692) of Presbyterian and Congregational Nonconformity in England and Wales (Manchester, 1917), 68

[4] J. Broad (ed.), Bishop Wake’s summary of visitation returns from the diocese of Lincoln, 1706-1715. Part 2, Outside Lincolnshire (Huntingdonshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Leicestershire, Buckinghamshire) (Oxford, 2012), p. 767

[5] ROLLR, QS 44

[6] ROLLR, QS 95/2/1

[7] P.E. Hunt, The Story of Melton Mowbray (Grantham, 1979), p. 121

[8] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 362.

[9] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1846) p. 244

[10] 1851 Religious Census of England and Wales, entry for Wesleyan Methodists, Melton Mowbray, HO 129/418/28.

[11] Ibid., HO 129/418/62.

[12] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1877) p. 545.

[13] Kelly’s Dir. (1895) p. 293.

[14] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1846) p. 244; White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 362.

[15] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 362.

[16] 1851 Religious Census, entry for Primitive Methodists, Melton Mowbray, HO 129/418/29.

[17] Kelly’s Dir. (1895) p. 293.

[18] Kelly’s Dir. (1908) p. 528; Kelly’s Dir. (1916) p. 581.

[19] http://www.meltonmethodist.org.uk/churches.htm (accessed 15 August 2015)

[20] http://www.meltonmethodist.org.uk/sandylane.htm (accessed 15 August 2015)

[21] 1851 Religious Census, Independents, HO 129/418/31; White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1846) p. 244.

[22] 1851 Religious Census, Independents, HO 129/418/31

[23] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1846) p. 244; White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 362.

[24] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1846) p. 244.

[25] 1851 Religious Census, Independents, HO 129/418/31.

[26] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 362.

[27] Kelly’s Dir. (1895) p. 293.

[28] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1877) p. 545.

[29] Kelly’s Dir. (1895) p. 293.

[30] http://www.mmbc.org.uk/ (accessed 15 August 2015)

[31] White, Hist. Gaz. & Dir. Leics. (Sheffield, 1863) p. 362.

[32] Kelly’s Dir. (1908) p. 531; Kelly’s Dir. (1916) p. 581.