A New Chapel
Posters appeared in Wangford and the villages nearby announcing that ‘the foundation of a more commodious chapel’ would be laid on 26 April 1844. The ceremony was to begin at two o’clock when an address would be given by the Rev. William Brining, the Primitive Methodist minister then stationed in the Wangford Circuit. This was to be followed by an ‘energetic and practical discourse’, as one of the congregation described it, by Rev. William Wainwright, superintendent of the Yarmouth Primitive Methodist Circuit. The anonymous witness concluded, ‘Hallelujah – God was there and good was done’.
The stone-laying ceremony was followed by an evening soirée with tea and then addresses by a host of ministers. The foundation stones were laid by William Gooch who, with his wife Charity, had joined the Wangford Primitive Methodist society in 1823.
The Primitive Methodists had established a cause in Wangford in 1823 and had made the village the head of a circuit. In 1827 a chapel was built, but although it was for their use, it was not the property of the Connexion. It very soon became too small for the many who wished to attend services and despite the addition of a gallery in 1833, it was still found to be totally inadequate and a larger building became an urgent necessity. After great efforts at raising money the new chapel was opened amid great rejoicing. It was named ‘Salem Chapel’.
By this time there were 53 formal members attached to the Wangford Methodist society with 630 in the circuit, an increase of 60 over the previous year.
The new chapel was built only a short distance from the older building. It was set back from the corner where the High Street and Church Street met. This last piece of information was found on a hand-written sheet of paper inscribed shortly after the chapel had opened. It went on to give a break-down of figures relating to the national Primitive Methodist Connexion including numbers of members, chapels, Sunday school scholars, teachers and even the number of deaths in the preceding year. Presumably the writer had taken these statistics from the circuit plans which regularly included them.
He then concluded his piece by a sudden outburst, saying,
Written May 2nd 1844 – Being the seventh year of the reign of her Majesty Queen Victoria, Sovereign of the British Empire, the largest empire in the world – and being one year after the signal defeat of Sir James Graham’s and his coadjutors’ Bill called the Factory Education Bill, but which was in reality a most infamous attempt to deprive Dissenters of their Religious Liberty by preventing them from having the power by educating their own children according to their own desires and principles.
It was signed ‘Beta’.
Clearly the writer of this note had a wider view than one concerned simply with narrow village affairs. He obviously had extremely strong views regarding the education of children from nonconformist homes.
A Royal Commission had gathered information regarding the employment of children mainly in the cotton mills and in the mines. It had also looked at the moral condition of children and were shocked to find that ‘children and young persons were growing up without any religious, moral or intellectual training; nothing being done to form them to habits of order, sobriety, honesty and forethought, or even to restrain them from vice and crime. In consequence, a consideration was given to spread ‘the blessings of a moral and religious education among the working classes’.
Sir James Graham announced that the problem was a national one and was not a party issue. He proposed making government loans available to new factory schools which would be under the control of the Church of England and the local magistrates. This meant that the religious education in the factory schools would be that of the Established church, although parents would be allowed to remove their children from specifically Anglican instruction if they wished and instead send them to schools run efficiently by dissenters. At the same time as these education proposals, children’s working hours were severely limited.
There was considerable opposition in Parliament regarding the way these schools were conducted. There were objections to the way the loans would be repaid. Also it appeared there would be no nonconformists as managers of these schools whilst the rules regarding the appointment of school masters meant that nonconformist teachers were effectively excluded too.
Debate outside Parliament was fierce. The bill was seen as a way of strengthening the Church of England and at the same time attacking nonconformists. Meetings were held throughout the country to protest at the form of the proposals and for the bill’s withdrawal. Thousands of petitions containing more than two million signatures were sent to Parliament. Some newspapers took up the cause declaring that no government should compel education and all state interference in the matter was wrong.
The bill was eventually withdrawn although further factory acts limiting working for women and children were passed in subsequent Parliaments. The writer of the Wangford paper must have been very pleased.