Union Chapel History

The Lavendon Union Chapel – now the Lavendon Baptist Church

Baptist Chapel & Former Meeting House

 Above: an early view of the Union Chapel (centre) and the former Meeting House on the right.


The Lavendon Union Chapel, now the Lavendon Baptist Church, was built in 1894. In his book of 1900, Oliver Ratcliff tells us that “The Union chapel and school, at Lavendon, were erected with stone obtained in the parish by Mr H G Lay at a cost of £655, from the design of Mr Charles Dormer of Northampton. They are neat structures and an ornament to the village.”
The earlier chapel, against which the bus shelter was built in 1953, now forms part of No 1 Olney Road. The new Union Chapel was built in 1894 on waste ground to one side, together with a schoolroom and vestry.

The Union Chapel

An Extract from Lavendon Life of March 1983 – Issue 23

Newcomers to the village might be a little puzzled by the appellation “Union” given to the Nonconformist place of worship.

Throughout the past two centuries a happily united body of Baptists and Congregationalists have worshiped in Lavendon. For the greater part of the nineteenth century the chapel, then called the ‘Meeting’, was the building now part of No 1 Olney Road. It stands on the corner and the Bus Shelter is built on its north wall. There was a wall pulpit on the east wall. Entry was from Olney Road, and just inside the door stairs wound up to a commodious gallery.

In 1894 the members purchased adjoining waste ground and erected the present building. Schoolroom and Vestry were added in the following year. Grand opening services were held on the 25th June 1895.

A small group of Methodists were also worshipping at that time in their chapel in the Olney Road. At the opening of the New Union Chapel the Methodists closed their place of worship and united themselves in fellowship with the Baptists and Congregationalists. For many years the old Methodists building served the village well. It became the Headquarters of a very fine Division of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Eventually it was taken down and No 33 Olney Road was erected on the site.
On the 16th July 1914, 19 days before the outbreak of World War One, a beautiful 2 Manual Pipe Organ was installed in the chapel by Rest Cartwright Ltd* of London. Incidentally this organ was completely overhauled several years ago and is indeed a lovely instrument.

In view of the total independent nature of the Chapel, a new Trust Deed for the order of Church government was established in the year 1927. Incorporated with the new Trust Deed was a Declaration of Faith setting forth the Biblical Doctrines basic to the Worship. A copy of this Declaration can be seen in the Vestry along with two very interesting old posters.

Residents and visitors are warmly welcomed at the services, which continue afternoon and evening each Sunday, as they have throughout the past two centuries. Union Chapel is in very truth an evangelical, independent and united fellowship.

*According to current research (NBS:June 2010), Rest Cartwright was an organ builder based at Park Road Works, West Green, London. Seemingly Cartwright was christened ‘Rest-in-the-Lord’, in the family’s Puritan Baptist tradition but shortened the name to ‘Rest’ for business purposes.


Part 1 – The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony

Lavendon Union Chapel, now the Baptist Church, occupies a prominent position in the centre of the village. When the chapel was officially opened at a formal ceremony held on Tuesday 25th June 1895, Mr Thomas Wright who was then officiating remarked that ‘it should be rejoiced that it was placed, not where Nonconformist churches used to be placed, in any back corner, but in the full light of the village in which he hoped it would prove to be a permanent and manifest good’.

On 20th September 1894, less than a year before the opening ceremony was held, many from the village and elsewhere gathered to witness the laying of seven inscribed foundation stones that remain clearly visible today. This ceremony (which vindicates the chapel datestone of 1894) was the culmination of much effort over many years to raise sufficient funds by means of various events, including concerts and collections, to replace an adjoining chapel building and associated Sunday school. The earlier chapel building was described at the time as being ‘an old and dilapidated structure, unsecure and unsuitable’ and evidently too small to accommodate a thriving chapel community.

A contemporary account in the Northampton Mercury records the ceremony: “The day was fine, and a good number gathered in the afternoon to witness the proceedings. The new chapel is closeby the old one, and will be a handsome little structure, with schoolrooms attached. The stones were seven in number, and were laid by the following gentlemen: Rev J T Brown (Northampton), Rev T Arnold (Northampton), Mr J Wright (Birmingham), Mr C Pettit (Harrold), Mr Jefferies (Northampton), Mr J Perry (Northampton), and Mr J Field (Ecton).” It is perhaps curious that seemingly no one from Lavendon itself was entrusted to lay down a stone, though in fairness the Perry family were long associated with the occupancy and operation of Lavendon Mill. Mr Henry Parrish, an ardent supporter, provided the stone to build the chapel from his own stone pits in the village.

The newspaper account continues: “After this, the company adjourned to a barn (lent by Mr H Parris) for the purpose of taking tea. The tea tables were richly decorated, and were set out by Mrs Lay and Miss Osborne.” These two ladies were evidently assisted by some twelve others from the village who officiated at the tables. After tea a public meeting chaired by the Rev J T Brown was held in the same place, and there was ‘a numerous company present’ to hear various addresses given by the worthy gentlemen from the top table. “The Chairman said he thought it was about 50 years since he first preached at Lavendon in the old chapel.” The Rev M Joslin of Olney and Mr H Parris of Lavendon spoke about the financial position of the venture which in the event proved to be quite healthy. Indeed, a collection taken on the day reached the magnificent sum of £100, a good proportion of the chapel’s overall cost of £418-15s, including conveyance of the land.

Other stirring speeches followed. Also: “Some difference of opinion had been expressed as to whether the schoolroom should be proceeded with along with the chapel, and on the matter being referred to the meeting, it was unanimously agreed to build both chapel and school at the same time.” As a result, sharp-eyed observers passing by the chapel today will see that another five stones were set down on 26th September 1895 as a foundation for the former schoolroom to the left-hand side of the main chapel. These inscribed stones were set down by Miss S James (Wellingborough), Marianne Farningham, Miss M E Bain (Wellingborough), Mrs Anna F Fox (Birmingham) and also Miss C E Wright (Birmingham) on behalf of the Sunday School Children.

The speeches continued: the Rev A O’Neill of Birmingham said he was drawn to Lavendon by the fact that so many of his people at Birmingham had come from the neighbourhood and he was glad to get people from the country into his chapel. Finally, the Rev Joslin urged all to make the chapel a centre of usefulness. “He did not like the idea some people had, that a chapel was like a shop, and meant to ‘pay’. He also contended that religion ought to be voluntary, and if religion could not stand without props, he held it ought to come down”. Mr Clayson of Harrold then spoke a few well chosen words and the meeting was concluded by singing the ‘Doxology’ – a short hymn in praise of God.

Part 2 – The Official Opening Ceremony

Local Residents Attending the Opening of the Lavendon Chapel – Photo Courtesy of John Panter, whose Grandparents, Thomas and Jane Panter, appear in the back row, 3rd and 4th from the right.

Local Residents Attending the Opening of the Lavendon Chapel – Photo Courtesy of John Panter, whose Grandparents, Thomas and Jane Panter, appear in the back row, 3rd and 4th from the right.

In Part 1 above the Chapel Foundation Stone laying ceremony held in September 1894 was described. Nine months later on Tuesday 25th June 1895 the official opening ceremony for the Chapel took place. A contemporary account appeared in the Northampton Mercury as follows.

“On Tuesday the handsome new Union Chapel at Lavendon was formally opened, amid much rejoicing among the Nonconformists of the district. The meetings were marked by the utmost success, the attendance, which was exceptionally large, including friends from all the surrounding villages. The need for the comfortable and commodious building just erected has long been felt by the sturdy Nonconformists of Lavendon, who boast the distinction of being one of the oldest bands of their class in the Midlands. The old and dilapidated structure in which the services have hitherto been carried on becoming so unsecure and unsuitable, Mr Charles Dorman, of Northampton, was consulted, and drew out plans for a fresh chapel. From these plans Mr H Lay, of Lavendon, has erected a handsome modern structure, of which the Nonconformists of the village may well be proud. Local stone from the pits of Mr Henry Parrish, himself one of the most ardent supporters of the cause, has been used in the building of the chapel, and accommodation has been made for upwards of 150 persons. It is proposed, as soon as funds will admit, to add a block of Sunday-school buildings, space having been left for the purpose. The cost of the new chapel has been something like £420, the whole of which sum, it is gratifying to announce, has been raised.”

“Tuesday’s dedicatory meetings commenced with a service in the afternoon, when the preacher was the far-famed Rev Newman Hall, LL.B., D.D., of London. The chapel, which was crowded to its utmost capacity, was prettily decorated with plants and flowers, kindly lent by Mr G Farrer, of Cold Brayfield House. The first portion of the service was conducted by the Rev Morten Joslin, of Olney, and Dr Newman Hall, taking as his subject the need of the land for rain, preached an appropriate sermon emphasising the need for an abundant shower of the Holy Ghost into the hearts of the people… In Lavendon they were without a pastor, but belonging as they did to that priesthood of all believers they ministered to each other, and so accomplished their good work in the best and most Christian spirit.”

“Subsequent to the service an immense concourse of ladies and gentlemen, numbering close upon 400, sat down to a capital tea in Mr Parrish’s barn, close to the chapel. The trays were given and presided over by ladies of the congregation and other sympathisers.”

“Later in the evening there was a public meeting in the chapel. There was again an overflowing congregation. The chair was taken by Mr Thomas Wright, of Birmingham, who has family associations in connection with Lavendon.” Mr Wright was evidently supported by a good many other dignitaries from local villages and from further afield. Dr Newman Hall had urged the congregation at Lavendon “to support the Church in every possible manner, by regular and punctual attendance, by prayer, and by contribution. He hoped that the new building would stimulate them to further work, and that their church would prove of immense good to the district. (Applause).” The Chairman expressed his joy in being present on this auspicious occasion and said that “whoever ministered there it was essential, as in all congregations, that the ministry should not be one of wordy eloquence and show, but one of deep earnestness and becoming simplicity. (Applause).”

Mr Parrish subsequently outlined a statement of the new chapel’s financial position. With monies received up until the day, together with various donations received during the day including generous donations from several of the dignitaries, the debt on the chapel costs had just that day been cleared. Naturally enough this generated yet more applause from the meeting. Furthermore, Mr W Berrill of London, a cousin of Mr Parrish, had made them a present of a ‘splendid’ American organ and this too generated more applause. After several more speeches and some hymns the meeting drew to a close. The singing had been “efficiently accompanied on the organ by Miss Allen of Olney”. Finally it was resolved to build the schoolroom at once to complete the plan, necessitating a further outlay of £200. The foundation stones for this were evidently laid but three months later on 26th September 1895.

© N B Stickells: 1 July 2012

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