Luton; High Town Primitive Methodist Church

Bedfordshire

By Tim Banks

Primitive Methodism arrived in Luton from Aylesbury 1839. S Turner and H Higginson are the ‘connexional pioneers’ credited with evangelising Luton and Dunstable. The church developed so that in 1843, Luton was made into a separate Circuit.

The 1851 Religious Census includes a return for High Town PM Chapel, Luton made by Henry Pope, Minister Wellington Street.  The return states that the chapel had been erected in 1839 and contained 130 Free Sittings, 220 Other sittings and 50 Standing. However, Pope noted that ‘Our religious Services were held in the Town Hall, our Chapel being too small. Attendances on Census day, 30 March and the average attendances for the preceding 12 months were: 

General   Congregation

 

Census   Day30 March

 

Average   for preceding

12 months

Morning:

General   Congregation

Sunday   Scholars

Total

 

500

178

678

 

200

178

378

Afternoon:

General   Congregation

Sunday   Scholars

Total

 

 900

 178

1078

 

350

178

528

Evening:

General   Congregation

Sunday   Scholars

Total

 

 900

 178

1078

 

400

128

528

In 1852 a new chapel was erected and was registered for worship by Thomas Bennett of Luton, grocer (trustee) on 15 December 1852. This chapel was registered again for worship on 14 December 1866 by William Kitchen, Hightown, Luton, minister and registered for marriages the following day.

In June 1867, High Town chapel, Luton hosted the PM Conference. A Conference Camp Meeting was held in the town. 2 processions were formed starting from High Town and Park Town chapels which met on Park-square where they were addressed by Rev R Fenwick. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent estimated that ‘there could not have been less than between 5,000 and 6,000 persons present’.

Although other PM chapels were built in Luton, a new chapel was built in 1897 at High Town adjoining the 1852 building which became the Sunday School. Fundraising for the new chapel started in 1895. There were no less than 3 stone-laying ceremonies for the new chapel between April and November 1897. The contract value of the chapel was £2,566 and the contractor was Mr Parkins. The chapel accommodating 900 people was opened on 4 May 1898 by the Mayor of Luton in a service led by the Superintendent minister Rev Thomas Humphris. This chapel was registered for worship and marriages by Thomas Humphries, 74 Wenlock St, Luton, superintendent minister on 17 May 1898.

Sources and References

HB Kendall The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church Vol 2 – HB Kendall

Bedfordshire Chapels and Meeting Houses: Official Registration 1672-1901 Volume 75 Bedfordshire Historical Record Society – Edited by Edwin Welch

The Ecclesiastical Census, Bedfordshire, March 1851 Volume 54 Bedfordshire Historical Record Society – Edited by DW Bushby

Bedfordshire Times and Independent – 8 & 18 June 1867

Luton News and Bedfordshire Chronicle – 11 March 1897; 4 November 1897

Luton Times and Advertiser – 6 & 27 May 1898

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service – Community Archives website

Photo:Town Hall, Luton wheere PM services were held before 1852 when the original chapel proved too small

Town Hall, Luton wheere PM services were held before 1852 when the original chapel proved too small

Photo:High Town 1852 Chapel

High Town 1852 Chapel

Photo:High Town 1897 chapel

High Town 1897 chapel

This page was added by Tim Banks on 02/01/2016.
Comments about this page

The Primitive Methodist magazine for May 1853 (pp.304-306) contains an extended article by Henry Sharman about the opening of Luton Primitive Methodist chapel in High Town Road (LU2 0BW), an area of around 1,500 - 2,000 people at the time. Luton is described as a town "noted for the manufactory of straw and all kinds of fancy bonnets"

The chapel site of 31.5 rods cost £120 and the overall cost of the chapel was £950 of which around £325 had been raised at the time of opening.

The foundation stone was laid on August 5th 1852 by S How, followed by a tea meeting in the townhall.  Sermons were preached by G Jordan and J Waller.

The opening services started on December 16th 1852. Preachers included Rev Hobson of Bath, Mr Beal (Wesleyan), Everit, How, Jordan, Hobson, Rev Robinson., Rev Shovelton, Rev Brewin Grant B.A. (Birmingham), Henry Higginson of Ramsor (one of the original missionaries), Rev G Austin (London), Miss MC Buck (Leicester), Rev Harcourt (Luton) and Rev Male.

At the tea meeting the food was provided by friends of other denominations; this continued a tradition as several of the trustees of the previous chapel were of other denominations.

By Christopher Hill
On 18/02/2017

Samuel Turner describes in the December 1842 (page 453) Primitive Methodist magazine the opening of the 1839 chapel.

"Luton, Bedfordshire-—The first sermon preached by our people in this place was on the 2lst of April, 1839. The word preached in the open-air was attended with an unusual influence at times, and a society was soon formed. The congregations became so large that no house could contain them; we therefore were obliged to look out for a suitable piece of land on which to build a chapel. A plot in a very neglected part soon presented itself; the chapel was commenced, and, on the 14th of Nov., 1839, was opened for Divine service, in the morning and evening by Mr. T. Holliday, from London, whose sermons were listened to with thrilling delight; and in the afternoon by Mr. Horsell. On the following Sunday Mr. and Mrs. West preached four sermons, three in the chapel, and one in the open-air, to overflowing congregations. Good was done, and the collections were liberal. This chapel is thirty-six feet in length, twenty-two feet six inches wide, and fifteen feet six inches high in the clear. Since its opening a gallery has been put up at one end, Mr. Harland and Mr. Sanderson preached at the re-opening. A Sunday school has been raised, and nearly eighty children are taught the word of life. I here publicly present my thanks to the trustees for their liberal donations; but more especially for their valuable advice and active exertion in the commencement, progress, and completion of the chapel."
transcribed by David Tonks

By Christopher Hill
On 24/09/2017

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.