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Article by Peter West, 2019
Wymington Wesleyan

Wymington Wesleyan Chapel, in the High Street, was built in 1870/71.  But the fellowship which met there was much older — on June 15th 1807 a cottage in the village belonging to “George Mackeness” was registered for worship, and a few years later Wymington appears on an 1814 Plan of the Wellingborough Wesleyan Circuit as having a service once a fortnight, though the name is misspelt as “Warrizden”.  Perhaps a printer who did not know the local villages was trying to interpret the poor hand-writing of the Circuit Superintendent minister!

By 1826 they were meeting in Church Lane, in the home of Thomas and Ann Rains, who had moved into the village.  Whether the Mackeness cottage was no longer available, or the meetings had faltered and had to be re-started, we do not know.  By that time they were part of the Higham Ferrers Wesleyan Circuit, as the Wellingborough Circuit had grown and been divided. 

John Wesley (who lived from 1703 to 1791) encouraged his followers to stay in the Church of England, holding their own meetings at different times from the services in the Parish Church. But mutual misunderstandings and suspicions made that difficult, so by the 19th century the two were growing apart into distinct denominations.  But the separation was never complete, especially in villages, and people would often attend services in both places. 

On Sunday March 30th 1851, a nationwide census was taken of people attending worship.  In Wymington St Lawrence Parish Church had 37 adults and 47 children at its morning service, with 65 adults and 53 children in the afternoon.  The Rector said that there was also a fortnightly service on summer evenings (but not on that March 30th) which regularly drew in 95 people.  At the Wesleyan cottage meeting there were thirty in the afternoon and 78 crowded into the house in the evening — probably many of those would have been in the Parish Church on other Sunday evenings.  The Census also mentions a cottage registered for worship “about forty years ago” and used occasionally for worship by the Baptist minister of Little Street, Rushden, though not on that Census Sunday.  This was probably the cottage where “George Mackeness” lived in 1807 and had been registered then for Wesleyan meetings.  In 1851 there were 293 people living in Wymington, of whom 89 were children aged 15 or younger (at the last Census in 2011 there were 876, with 199 children).

Disputes in the Wesleyan Connexion about the authority of national Conferences and local Circuits led to the Wymington fellowship (together with the Rushden Wesleyans) leaving the Higham Circuit soon after 1851 and joining a group of “Independent” Wesleyans (later part of the Wesleyan Reform Union formed in 1859) which gave more responsibility and freedom to individual congregations.  Soon, with the rapid expansion of the local boot and shoe industry and the growth of the village, Wymington were planning to build their own Chapel, achieved with the help of Rushden friends in 1870/1.  

Children’s work was also growing fast — by 1925 the Chapel had sixteen members, but sixty children in the Sunday school.  The need for more accommodation led to the building of a separate Sunday School hall next to the Chapel in 1930.  In 1925 there were also 70 members of a “Band of Hope” society, an organisation founded in 1847 to encourage “total abstinence” from alcohol — many people in nonconformist churches had come to the conclusion that drink was one of the main causes of poverty in society.

But already the world was changing rapidly around them. It had already been clear in 1851 that many working-class families in big industrial towns had lost contact with the churches.  For many science was beginning to question the whole basis of religion and the Bible’s authority, and the bitter experiences of World War One destroyed the faith of many men (and not a few women) — what, they said, was the point of “Christian civilisation” if it could not prevent such slaughter?  For another half-century or so the many societies and clubs run by churches kept people in touch with worship, however occasionally, and parents sent (or mothers took) their children to Sunday school and church to “give them a good start in life”.  

Much of that has faded now.  But the members of the Chapel are still convinced that the Gospel Christ came to bring has a great deal to say to modern society.  And in 2007 they embarked on a rebuilding to make the Chapel and a new “Meeting Place” available not only to the congregation but to groups in the community, in Wymington and beyond.  Reopened in 2009 the Chapel still seeks to serve the community in which it is set.

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