Incidents from our past.

A History prepared for our 150th Anniversary by Clifford Hill in 1975

Any attempt to write a history of Cam Methodist Church is unfortunately mainly frustrated by the complete absence of records prior to 1878. Thereafter the minutes of the trustees have been preserved. At the time of the Centenary Celebrations in 1925 there is a minute dated June 9th of that year which reads as follows: “Rev S A Worrall had accepted an invitation to preach on July 20th and a Public Tea and Meeting be held on the 19th (Saturday) at which Mr J T Vaisey should be chairman. A Souvenir Booklet to be produced containing an abbreviated history of Cam Methodism.” It was later found that there was not sufficient known facts to produce this and it was abandoned. Alas that is still true today.

It follows therefore that today no one knows how the Chapel or Sunday School came to be built, the story of which would be of so much interest now. The first minutes of a trustees meeting we have is dated March 11th 1878 wherein is recorded “The meeting unanimously agreed to the erection of a Sunday School room on the Trust property. The site and plans yet to be decided upon”. This is the only mention from then on of the building of the School which is strange and from other bits of paper I am not sure that this minute was not copied from an earlier record. Equally odd is that although the Trustees Account Book is available for the years 1851 to 1864 (when the average income and expenditure of the Trustees was about £15. Per year), the account books between 1864 and 1899 appear to be non-existent.

However, having been asked to try to give something which would be of interest at the 150th Anniversary of the Chapel what follows may excite a little curiosity sketchy though the story may be.

The land upon which the Chapel and Sunday School stand was purchased from a William Body by Daniel Malpass and James Young for the sum of Twenty Pounds, in May 1824. In the following October, they sold it to the Trustees for Sixteen Pounds - a generous gesture on their part. Readers may care to peruse the following extract from the original indenture.

THIS INDENTURE made the 15th day of October in the year of our Lord 1824 BETWEEN Daniel Malpass.... of the first part and James Harding.... Richard Williams the younger.... Dennis Potter.... and Abel Daggo Cook.... Samuel Holloway.... William Underwood.... Reuben Hill.... Stephen Hopkins.... and William Clark.... John Cole.... Samuel Smith.... and Henry Jones.... and James Workman.... of the second part and whereas the said sum of sixteen pounds is not the proper moneys of the said several persons parties hereto of the second part but hath been raised by private subscriptions and public collections by and amongst the Society of People called Methodists late in connexion with the Reverend John Wesley deceased assembling at Dursley.... and other benevolent persons and which said Society are about to erect and build a Chapel or Meeting House with necessary outbuildings upon the said.... ground.... Now this Indenture Witnesseth.... upon Trust nevertheless that they the said several persons parties hereto.... do and shall forthwith permit and suffer the said Society of People called Methodists at Dursley aforesaid to erect build complete and finish the said Chapel or Meeting House and Outbuildings.... Upon Trust.... to permit and suffer such person and persons only as shall be appointed at and by the yearly conference of the People called Methodists to be held at London Bristol Leeds Manchester or elsewhere..., and no others to have the use and benefit of the said chapel for the purpose of preaching and expounding Gods Holy Word and for the performing of all other acts of religious worship therein.... Provided nevertheless that the several persons soto appointed..., shall and so preach no other doctrines than those which are contained in certain Notes upon the New Testament and the first four Volumes of Sermons published by the said John Wesley deceased And it is hereby further agreed and declared that all such sums of money as shall be collected.... shall be paid and applied in discharging the.... necessary expenses of the said Chapel.... and towards the support of the Preachers for the time being stationed by the said Conference in the Circuit in which the said Chapel may be comprised....

When the Chapel had been built the east wall had encroached - apparently by agreement - six inches on the land of the adjoining cottage for which the trustees were paying one penny per year. In 1876 the owner and occupier died and the property was sold by auction at the Berkeley Arms Inn on October 26th of that year and was bought by the Trustees for £180. The cash for this purchase had to be borrowed and it was not until 1890 that the mortgage was paid off using legacies left by Thomas Wilkins and a Mr Chappell. It is a little curious that if the Trustees had no money available in 1876 to pay for the Chapel Cottage where then did the cash come from to build the Sunday School in 1878.

The purchase of the Cottage proved a useful addition as from then on it was occupied by the Caretaker and that position carrying with it dwelling accommodation enabled a much wider choice of employee than otherwise might have been the case. This however was not entirely an unmixed blessing and over the years more than one notice to terminate the job and vacate the premises was given with the inevitable difficulty of obtaining possession. An idea of the value of the post can be gathered from a minute of 4th March 1895 which reads “Chapel keeper appointed at a wage of £8 per year to include gravedigging.”

Burials in the early years were sometimes made in vaults underneath the Chapel as may be read about from the memorial stones embedded in the Chapel wall. The burial register appears to have been started in 1847 when on 2nd April Ann Tyrell was buried in Vault No 1. The first burial in the graveyard took place 11th October 1849 when Elizabeth Phillips of Cam was interred. It may be noted that in March 1903 the burial fees were 12/6 for an adult and 7/6 for a child for persons in connection with the Chapel. 15/6 adult and 10/6 child for persons not in connection with the chapel for a six foot grave. Anyone wanting a deeper grave to be charged at the rate of 1/6 per foot.

The Register of Baptisms began when in that year Ann daughter of Thomas and Sarah Nicholls of Cam was baptized at the age of three weeks, the officiating minister being Rev D Cornforth.

Other matters in connection with the Chapel through the years may be noted. A curious minute of the Trustees recorded on 15th July 1890 reads “The Steward was given power to make several alterations inside the Chapel such as to paint and put carpet and chairs according to his own idea.” My guess is that the Steward at the time was a man of means and was footing the bill himself and thus able to call the tune.

Street lighting in Cam was unknown therefore in January of that year it was resolved that the lamp outside the Chapel be lit during the dark evenings including Saturday.

The heating of the premises was a frequent source of trouble. In 1892 after considerable discussion it was decided to install a boiler and necessary piping for the sum of £44. After its installation trouble ensued between the Trustees and the Contractor which carried on for over a year but in December 1894 “Matters had been satisfactorily arranged with Mr Collins, the Contractor, respecting the heating apparatus.” In 1934 a new boiler was installed.

In 1897 it was agreed to accept an offer from Mr James Workman to build an organ chamber and to employ an architect to draw up plans for same.

Electric lighting was installed in February 1930.

For a good number of years the front of the schoolroom and chapel was covered with a Virginian creeper which in the Autumn was a blaze of glory. However in 1931 its tendrils had worked their way into the mortar between the front porch and the main building. This feeble plant went on growing until it had pushed the stone porch nearly an inch from the upright and it had to be torn down and rebuilt and the glory of the creeper was ended by its destruction ere it caused more damage.

In 1945 an electric blower for the organ was installed.

In 1954 the trustees having been presented with a fireproof safe, a legal necessity before it could be done, they decided to avail themselves of the Marriage Act of 1898 thus enabling marriages to be performed without the presence of the Public Registrar.

The foregoing more or less concludes such historical facts that emerge from the records but a few other references from the Trustees and Leaders minutes make interesting reading. Ever and anon the young children and teenagers could be troublesome. Thus in December 1905 we read “in consequence of recent and frequent disturbance in the Chapel Gallery at the Sunday Services it was agreed that from henceforth the Gallery be closed with the exception of members of the Choir.” The leaders in June 1902 resolved that “A company of gentlemen should look after the bad conduct in the Gallery. Card playing and novel reading must at all costs be stopped”. Again in 1904 “That Mr Vaisey do his best to control the children in the chapel services”.

On another subject it is recorded at the leaders meeting in January 1898 “Rev J H Sanders was grieved to announce that the Spiritual Life of the Members and Congregation was very low and was kind enough to take all the blame upon himself when we ought to have been blushing for shame.”

In 1890 the Leaders decided to hold a Society Tea a charge of 6d be made except in the case of the very poor.

Many readers will remember the controversy that went on for many months prior to the Act of Union which brought together the Wesleyans, Primitive and United Churches together under the one name of “Methodist Church”. On this question the Trustees voted one for and two against on February 10th 1923.

The Choir get frequent mention. Here are a few. In March 1903 “Rev S Smith wished to introduce the Chanting of the Lords Prayer and Vesper in connection with the services held in the Chapel. It was considered not advisable to chant the Lords Prayer but to give the Vesper Hymn a three months trial.” February 1903 it was agreed “To ask members of the Choir to render the Cantata ‘Pillar of Fire’ on Good Friday”. The new Methodist Hymnbook was used for the first time on the first Sunday in 1905.

I have refrained from mentioning the names of many, both ministerial and lay who gave years of devoted service during the last 150 years as I feel it would be invidious to do so. Nevertheless all should be grateful to those who caused the Chapel to be erected and the succeeding generations who maintained its life and witness- and to those who continue the work and witness - On to the next 150 years!