The Independent Churches

The story of the Congregational Churches, or Independent Chapels of Dorset has been told by two authors – W. Denham and J. Ogle, in a book published in 1889. From the chapter on Maiden Newton we take the following information. At the time of the King’s Indulgence, 1672, licences were issued for houses of worship in ‘Newton, Dorset’ and one of them received a grant of £5 from the Congregational Fund Board on December 6th, 1703. In 1715 William Orchard was minister. In 1777 the house of worship had disappeared. Hutchings writes of it as situated ‘a little north of the town’.

The family of Dr. Andrew Reed, formerly the honoured minister of Wycliffe Congregational Chapel, London, and founder of several asylums for orphans and idiots, etc., was, for some considerable time, associated with Maiden Newton.

Thomas Denney is the next important person we hear of among the Congregationalists of Maiden Newton. Educated at Hoxton Academy, he was invited by the County Association to become itinerant preacher in Dorset. A meeting was held in Dorchester in July 1798 to welcome and solemnly set him apart for the work. He was appointed to labour in the vicinity of Maiden Newton. At the Association meeting held in Beaminster the September following, Thomas Denney gave an account of his work, of the good order manifest in various places, of opposition defeated, of providential openings for meetings and of hopeful impressions produced. More than 800 persons weekly attended his preachings in the various villages he visited, to many of whom the Gospel had hitherto been a strange thing! Mr. Denney took up his abode with a farmer at Down Frome (Frome Vauchurch) who allowed him to preach in his barn on the sabbath evening. Some young people were deeply impressed. A farmer at Cattistock offered him his barn for services, and another farmer became a decided dissenter with several of his family. A Mrs. Porter took out a licence for her house at Chilfrome, in which he held services. In some places he met with little encouragement, but for the most part was gladly received. In one of the villages when it was proposed to build a meeting house, a poor bricklayer came forward and said that though he could not give money he would cheerfully give labour to the value of £5.

Thomas Denney seeing that Maiden Newton was populous and central in situation was anxious to provide a permanent place of worship, and this was secured by the gift of a barn by Mr. Henry Petty, woolstapler of Evershot, which was forthwith fitted up and opened for divine service in October 1798. The expense is said to have been borne chiefly by a lady, whose name does not transpire. Mr. Denney left in 1802, but returned in 1840 and continued his work for six more years after filling various pastorates elsewhere. He died at Poole in 1858.

Henry Larter came to Maiden Newton in 1847 and in 1851 the new chapel was erected in Chapel Lane, on the additional plot of land given by Mrs. Henry Petty of Evershot. The new structure was put up in a workman-like manner, and was said to be the best piece of building in the town! The Weymouth Itinerant Society, and Dr. Andrew Reed each gave £10. There were other donors, of course, and the local trustees appointed were: Geo. Whitty, dairyman (Cruxton), Walter Whittle, plumber, J. Chalker, watchmaker, H. Harris, farmer (Chilfrome), and J. Devenish, shoemaker. In 1866 Miss Scott of Sherborne, sister of Mrs. H. Petty, gave a plot of ground adjoining the chapel premises for the erection of a schoolroom when required. As far as we know it was never required for the purpose. The Congregational Chapel fell into disuse during the 1914-18 War, and was finally sold for secular purposes in the 1930’s.  The chapel is currently the workshop of Messrs. Webb and Ford, local builders.

The Methodists in Maiden Newton

METHODISM in Maiden Newton has a history of more than a century. In a small book called Methodism in Dorset it is recorded that in 1870 ‘a work has been recently commenced through the instrumentality of Messes Bush and Gideon Wright, jun’r. But this is a reference to plans to erect the present chapel on the Crewkerne road. We first hear of the Methodists meeting in Frome Vauchurch in 1838, as witness a document at the Weslyan Church, South Street, Dorchester, which reads:

 In 1871 a further certificate was issued by the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths in England, to one John Hugill, Minister of Dorchester ‘under and by virtue of an Act of the 18th and 19th years of her Majesty Queen Victoria, Chapter 81, entituled – An Act to amend the law concerning certifying and registering of Places of Religious Worship in England, that a certain building known by the name of Wesleyan Methodist Chapel will be used as a Place of Worship by a Congregation or Assembly or Persons calling themselves Wesleyan Methodists’.

This building was erected in 1871 at a cost of £345 by I. Guy and Son, on a site purchased from Maiden Newton Mill. Furnishings cost another £35. The debt on it was not cleared until 1924, when the trustees (of whom there were nine out of an original eighteen) sold Waterloo Cottages at the back of the Chapel to Mr. Dubbin, a working miller in the village. It is interesting to discover from the Circuit Plan of Preachments that in 1880 there were 31 members of this Chapel and they gave about 10/- each p.a. for its upkeep, etc. It was opened on Good Friday, April 7th, 1871 by the Rev. A.M. Auley of London.

One of the houses in Frome Vauchurch already referred to and licensed for worship, rumour has it, was at Tollerford, Higher Frome near the old foundry.

The number of Methodists at any time varied little, being about 30. There were probably fewer Methodists in Maiden Newton in 1960 than at any previous time. As far as one can see from the Preaching Plans, Maiden Newton had only one local preacher ever living in the village, and none of the Circuit ministers has ever lived here, but always in Dorchester, the centre of the Circuit.

There was once a splendid small organ in the chapel which had the following inscription:

  • To the Right Reverend, the Lord Bishop of Salisbury and his Registrar, I, John Mason of Dorchester, Wesleyan Minister, do hereby certify that a house in the occupation of John Scriven in the parish of Frome Vauchurch, in the County of Dorset is intended forthwith to be used as a place of Religious Worship by an Assembly or Congregation of Protestants; and I do hereby require you to register and record the same according to the provisions of the Act passed in the 52nd year of the reign of his Majesty, King George the Third, intituled, An Act to repeal certain Acts and amend other Acts relating to Religious Worship and Assemblies and persons teaching and preaching therein, I hereby request a Certificate thereof, as witness my hand this…….1838. John Mason. I, Septimus Smith, deputy registrar of the Court of the late Diocese of Bristol do hereby certify that a Certificate, of which this is a true copy, was this day delivered to me to be registered and recorded pursuant to the Act of Parliament therein mentioned, Dated this 23rd day of November, 1838.
  • In 1851 a similar Certificate was issued by the Venerable, the Archdeacon of Dorset, to petitioner John Stevens, Wesleyan Minister, for ‘a certain dwelling house now in the occupation of Jacob Groves in Frome Vauchurch’.
  • Presented by the Citizens of Christchurch, New Zealand to the Discovery, for the Antarctic Expedition, August 1901 to September 1904.
  • This organ is on loan from Mrs. Richard Eyre of Bull Lane, Maiden Newton. It was constantly used throughout the voyage, and afterwards was given, together with the piano and pianola to Mrs. Eyre by her father, the Late Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Royds, K.B.E., C.M.B., F.R.G.S. Lieut. Royds (as he then was) was Captain Scott’s 1st Lieut. and the ship’s musician. Christchurch was the last stopping place of Discovery before entering Antarctica in 1901, and it was not until April 1st, 1904, that the expedition returned to New Zealand. This organ was first used on Saturday, December 21st, 1901, at a short Farewell Service conducted on the mess deck by the Bishop of Christchurch.