Finding out about a Primitive Methodist chapel

How to find out about a particular Primitive Methodist chapel
Chris Hill March 2020

There were more than 5,000 Primitive Methodist chapels at one time or another. If you want to find out about a particular chapel or place, here are some of the strategies you could try.

1             Search information sources

1.1              My Prims website https://www.myprimitivemethodists.org.uk/

This site is by far the best single place to find out information about a particular chapel. Everything we know about a particular chapel will be on that chapel’s page and many pages have additional information in comments from visitors.

Search the site using the search box at the top right hand corner of the page:

  • it will find not only chapel pages, but references to a chapel in wider articles and some of the people associated with a particular location
  • try different spellings and names – names and spellings change over time, and there can be transcription errors
  • Methodist chapels are organised in local groups called circuits. Circuit plans tell you who was going to preach where on a Sunday. A plan also tells you some of the people involved in a society

If a page does not exist for a chapel you know about, create one, using the information you have.  Use the Add your story link on the navigation bar.

1.2        censuses and registrations

There is no definitive list of chapels, but there are snapshots at particular times available on the My Prims site. They include additional information, such as attendance and building capacity

1.3        maps

Historic Ordnance Survey maps label chapels – although they don’t always tell you what denomination or specific name. You can use this to see when a chapel appears and disappears. You can also see how the building footprint and use changes over time.  Two good sites are:

Current Ordnance Survey maps let you see the recent footprint of the building on the site, if any. You can also find the grid reference for a precise location. Online at: https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/

Google maps shows the recent situation around the location. It also gives you hints about how names have changed over time. Various elements of Google maps give you more information

    • Street View lets you see what is on the site at the time the Google camera went by. Some places the Google camera has visited more than once – click the down arrow, top left of the screen. There are a few places that Street View does not get to, especially in rural areas.
    • Google Earth. The satellite view in Google maps lets you pick out building outlines, boundaries and former features such as abandoned railway lines.

1.4        Primitive Methodist magazine

The Primitive Methodist magazine contained many pieces about significant events in local chapels, including foundation stone layings, openings, re-openings, anniversaries and missions. It and its successor were published from 1819 until 1932: some are available online here.

We are working through the accounts of chapel openings, adding them to the site. Although we have added over 1,800 entries to date (March 2020), we have still only reached 1873. As well as the entries for each year, there is a cumulative index, updated from time to time.

1.5        internet sources

Local history sources

Current church website: the present Methodist church in a location will often have a history page telling the story of how it evolved

Many interest groups collect invaluable information, for example:-

  • https://www.geograph.org.uk/ is a great picture collection including many chapels
  • http://www.churches-uk-ireland.org/ – a listing, often with a picture
  • online parish clerks: these are unpaid volunteers who collate and transcribe records for various parishes within their respective areas. Search for OPC for the county you are interested in.

2             Contact those who know

Sometimes it is easier to ask a person

  • local church: find the contact details of the local Methodist church on its website or through https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/connect/find-a-church/
  • My Prims users: users of this website are a brilliant source of information; add a question in a comment on an existing chapel page or create a new page using what you know and what you want to know.
  • Museum of Primitive Methodism: at Englesea Brook, Cheshire https://engleseabrook.org.uk/ .  Well worth an explore and contact.
  • local history societies are often glad to help enquirers – it’s puzzle solving. They are often helpful in tracing what happened to a former chapel. Find the society by a web search.

3             Visit the location

Go and have a look at where the chapel was. Does the building still exist in part or as a whole? What about its surroundings?  Does the building look like its written description?  Walls? Boundaries? Date stones and engraved tablets?  What can local people tell you?

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