Trumpington Wesleyan Methodists, 19th Century

There is evidence that Wesleyan Methodists were active in Trumpington throughout the 19th century, possibly meeting in two or more cottages in the earlier years and in a larger chapel by the 1870s. While the evidence about non-conformity from the parish vicars may be somewhat biased, this together with newspaper reports provides an interesting picture of life in the village.

In a diocesan return in 1807, the vicar, Rev. Thomas Heckford, reported that “We have many Dissenters – but of what denomination I know not. There is a Cottage I believe which is licensed … We have many who resort to Churches etc. whose Ministers are reputed Methodists but I know not whether they are or not of that Society.” In 1825, Rev. J. Hailstone was less communicative, responding to the questions ‘are there any Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists in your parish’ and ‘how many of each Sect’ with “Two or three families. I am ignorant of their denomination or the names of their teachers” (Ely Diocesan Records, Visitation Returns, 1807 and 1825; Victoria County History, 1982, p. 266).

The religious census held in 1851 received two returns for Trumpington, concerning the Parish Church and a Wesleyan Methodist ‘cottage’. The Wesleyan Methodist response referred to a cottage opened for worship in 1836 and able to hold 40 worshippers. It was signed by “John L. Wright, Local Precher, 30 March 1851” and described a “Wesleyen Mesodist” chapel “open for devine service 1836” in a “cottage occpyed by W Derby”. The cottage was able to hold a congregation of 40 and was said to be attended by 40 for Sunday afternoon and evening services. John L. Wright remarked that “this cottage is frequently crowed with Atentive Hearers” (Victoria County History, 1982, p. 266; Thompson, 2014, p. 174).

Unfortunately, neither John L. Wright or W. Derby were listed in Trumpington in the general census conducted in 1851 at the same time as the religious census, and the general census gave no information about the location of the cottage. Sometime between 1851 and the 1870s, the cottage seems to have been succeeded by a larger chapel.

In a further diocesan return in 1873, the vicar, Rev. Spencer Mansell, responded that this Wesleyan Chapel was “distant a few minutes’ walk” from the parish church and attended by “100 people at the utmost”, with prayer meetings at 11 am, 3 pm and 6:30 pm on Sundays and 7:30 pm on Fridays, with no dissenting Day or Sunday School. In response to a question about the number who attended the parish church, he replied “nearly all whose age, strength, etc., permit them to do so”, while of the number who neglect all public worship he said “I am unable to give an exact number but it is very small” (total population 840). However, in the diocesan return in 1885, the newly appointed vicar, Rev. Howard Augustus Crosbie, claimed about 100 people attended the Wesleyan chapel, compared with about 400 who attended the parish church and 350 who “neglected public worship” (total population 850, about 700 of whom were of the labouring class) (Ely Diocesan Records, Visitation Returns, 1873, 1885; Victoria County History, 1982, p. 266).

A ‘chapel’ was marked on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map, near the smithy on the west side of the High Street. The position of the text on the map is ambiguous but implies a building to the rear of the west side of the High Street. Shirley Brown noted that the building was known as the ‘Mission Hall’ and confirmed the location as being to the rear of a block of cottages on the High Street, between the smithy and 42 High Street. From comments by residents in the 1980s, Shirley understood that the hall was approached by a passageway from the High Street and was used for meetings and as an additional school room (Brown, 1986, photograph 7). Taken together with the 1885 map, this seems to confirm the location as being to the rear of the buildings now occupied by Cooke, Curtis and Co. or Sloane Court.

There were occasional items about the work of the chapel and its congregation in the Cambridge Independent Press newspaper. In November 1879, the Trumpington Wesleyan Chapel contributed £1 5s 6d towards Addenbrooke’s Hospital. In January 1885, the Wesleyan Sunday School held its annual “tea and entertainment”, with a public meeting presided over by Mr W. Allen and addresses by Messrs G. Jacob, D. Gentle, W. Powell, Utteridge and Marshall, with a marble timepiece presented to Mrs S. Powell (neé Gentle) by the teachers and scholars. There was another “entertainment” in March 1885, given in the chapel by teachers of the school and friends when “the building was so packed that a large number of persons were unable to gain admission”. It was chaired by Mr Wood supported by Mr Marshall, with participation by Mrs Powell, Misses Gentle and Pamplin, Messrs Flack, Colville, A. Gentle, D. Gentle, H. Gentle, Pamplin, Powell, Utteridge, and a closing collection that raised 16s for school funds ( Cambridge Independent Press , 1879-1885).

By January 1891, the work of the Sunday School was being “retarded by the want of more room”. The annual meeting of the “flourishing school” had a tea served by Mesdames Harradine, Gentle and Pamplin, followed by an evening meeting presided over by Mr G. Jacob from Hills Road Sunday School, with an address by Mr W. Powell. The September 1893 Harvest Thanksgiving at the chapel included a very successful public meeting with contributions by Rev. J. Gould, Rev. E.A. Bennett and Mr Looker. A Wesleyan Methodist convention was held at Hills Road Wesleyan Chapel in November 1893, when Rev. Gould reported that they wanted to set aside £200 towards a new chapel at Trumpington, saying that there was “a great sphere for Methodism in Trumpington”. A fund-raising bazaar for the Wesleyans was held at the Guildhall in October 1894, when Rev. Gould praised contributions from all places in the circuit and added that “One place for its size had especially distinguished itself, the smallest church in the circuit – that at Trumpington – had made a graceful recognition of its obligations to the circuit by its large contribution” ( Cambridge Independent Press , 1891-94). In the diocesan return for 1897, the vicar, Rev. Charles Gordon Wright, referred to one Wesleyan and one un-denominational meeting house, neither of which were endowed. He claimed that a large number of the population of 975 were both Church people and dissenters and estimated about 70% of the population was of the labouring class (Ely Diocesan Records, Visitation Returns, 1897).

The plans for a new Methodist chapel in Trumpington did not materialise. At the annual meeting of the Cambridge District Free Church Council in July 1899, it was reported that two sites had been offered for the extension of the Free Church, in Trumpington and on Hills Road. It was agreed that the Wesleyan Methodists would found a church on the Rock Estate [Hills Road] and “withdraw from Trumpington” and that the Free Church would develop a new church in Trumpington which would not be strictly denominational. Within a few weeks, by the end of July 1899, the memorial stone was laid for the Free Church [in Alpha Terrace], Trumpington. It was commented that there had been two small religious meeting houses in Trumpington for the previous ten years, one conducted by the Wesleyans and the other un-denominational, both of which had a “struggling existence” and this new Free Church was a fusion of both. The withdrawal of the Wesleyan Methodists from Trumpington was confirmed in January 1900, when a meeting of the Cambridge and District Free Church Council was told that “the Wesleyans had abandoned their work there” in favour of the work of the Free Church Council. In November 1902, it was being said that the Wesleyans and Baptists “had coalesced into one body” in Trumpington ( Cambridge Independent Press , 1899-1902).

Despite the laying of the memorial stone of the Free Church in Alpha Terrace in 1899, it was another 4 or 5 years before the Methodist chapel closed in c. 1904. The Free Church Year Book for 1908 reported that the Wesleyans and Baptists had “two feeble and struggling Missions” in Trumpington and that “It required some tact and no little patience, first to incline and then to enable our Wesleyan brethren to relinquish their mission room” and “the mission room at Trumpington had very nearly given them up and was of no great service or credit either to their Church or their Redeemer”. It reported that “the inadequate old mission-rooms were abandoned and a beautiful little chapel took their place”, the new Free Church (National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches, 1908, p. 102; Victoria County History, 1982, p. 266).


Shirley Brown (1986). Trumpington in Old Picture Postcards . Zaltbommel, Netherlands: European Library. [–Cambridgeshire/100-138320/Article]

Cambridge Independent Press items (accessed through British Newspaper Archive, British Library):
15 November 1879, p. 5 (BL_0000418_18791115_033_0005)
10 January 1885, p. 5 (BL_0000418_18850110_025_0005)
28 March 1885, p. 5 (BL_0000418_18850328_031_0005)
24 January 1891, p. 8 (BL_0000418_18910124_048_0008)
15 September 1893, p. 8 (BL_0000418_18930915_217_0008)
17 November 1893, p. 3 (BL_0000418_18931117_126_0003)
26 October 1894, p. 6 (BL_0000418_18941026_038_0006)
14 July 1899, p. 6 (BL_0000418_18990714_039_0006)
28 July 1889, p. 6 (BL_0000418_18990728_054_0008)
5 January 1900, p. 2 (BL_0000418_19000105_006_0002)
7 November 1902, p. 8 (BL_0000418_19021107_067_0008)

Ely Diocesan Records, Visitation Returns, 1807, 1825, 1873, 1885 and 1897. Cambridge University Library EDR C1/4.

National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches (1908). Free Church Year Including the Official Report of the National Council, 1908 . Reprinted 2013. []

David M. Thompson, (ed.) (2014). Religious Life in Mid 19th Century Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire . The Returns of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship. Cambridge: Cambridgeshire Records Society.

Victoria History of the Counties of England (1982). ‘Parishes: Trumpington’, A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 8 , pp. 248-67. [].

Andrew Roberts, September 2015

The history of the Wesleyan Methodist cause and Wesleyan Methodist chapels in Trumpington in the 19th century can be traced through information in Ely Diocesan Records, the 1851 religious census and newspaper articles.

1885 Ordnance Survey map showing the ‘Chapel’

1885 Ordnance Survey map
1885 Ordnance Survey map