Battle Methodists 1804 – 2014 : 210 years and counting
Below you will find a very condensed overview history of Battle Methodist Church. But we have published two books which explain very much more about Battle Methodist history, that of Methodism in this part of East Sussex and that of the churches of Battle as a whole. Purchase of these books helps us as all profits go to Battle Methodist Church.
“The Methodist Road to Battle 1756-2013”
Published 2013: The story of Methodism in South-East Sussex as well as a new more detailed history of Battle Methodist Church. John Wesley gave direct encouragement in the area around Rye, and Methodism then spread via various surprising routes to the Hastings, Bexhill and Battle areas.
“Battle Abbey and Battle Churches since 1066”
This was published in 2011: It describes the fascinating spectrum of the Churches of Battle, including a review of the completely demolished Abbey Church, local catholic recusancy, St. Mary's and its (to our eyes) controversial Victorian 'renovation', the rise and sometimes demise of local non-conformity via Presbyterianism, then various strands of Baptists, Universalists/Unitarians, Methodists and Congregationalists and the re-founding of the Catholic church.
Click on either book image below to get more details
A Brief History
The first Wesleyan services were conducted in Battle in about 1804. A later Hastings Circuit Book is lodged with ESRO and names the members of the Battle Society between 1822 and 1830. There is a fortuitous lodging at the East Sussex Record Office of quarterly membership tickets from 1827, just after the old Chapel was opened in 1826, up until September 1876. The first ticket was for William Crouch, issued by Preacher James Johnstone.
William Crouch's trial ticket
In 1851 at the time of the Religious Census attendances numbered approximately 100. More recently membership numbers were 48 in 1935 before declining in the 1980s, but then gradually rising again towards 50 by 2011.
The old chapel : Left - in 2011: Right - in 1911
The documents which emerged after the sale of the old chapel gave us the interesting but somewhat sad tale of the Revd. Thomas Ludlam. He had arranged and funded the building of the old chapel back in 1825/6. The story of his then on-going financial affairs proved to be a background difficulty for Battle Wesleyans for almost 50 years and particularly in the 1850/60 period, until the deeds were finally conveyed to the Chapel Trustees in 1874. This intriguing story has echoes in Hertfordshire where he was also posted.
We also have the names of the ministers/itinerant preachers who would have covered Battle area and of all the Trustees who were appointed in 1874, 1899, 1915, 1952 (a gap of 37 years!) and 1963. Every change of Trustees was essentially a change in ownership of the Chapel and legal documents had needed to be drawn up and witnessed to record each change. The 1963 group were the last trustees to be appointed as on and from 16th April 1977, when the provisions of the Methodist Church Act 1976 came into force the managing Trusteeship then automatically passed to the Church Council.
There was a good Sunday School before WW1, but this disappeared between the World Wars for various reasons. Strangely it did not re-start until 1981 and was then run for many years by the late Peter Coote, then the late Ann Menzies and more recently by Alastair Munro.
A view of Battle Hill pre WW1, old Chapel on right
The Sunday School in 191 - see the book for the names!
Click on the picture of the memoir cover to open it!
An old rather daunting pulpit was removed in 1954 and a new set of iron railings and gates were installed in 1950 by the Day family in memory of Elizabeth Freeman. These replaced those requisitioned during WW2, which themselves had replaced wicket fencing.
Many good people were found to play the accompaniments. Among those are the Misses Young in 1903, Mrs. Jempson in 1920, Mr. Crump in 1922 and perhaps most of all Miss M. Crump between 1923 to 1948, then Mrs. C. Freeland until 1961 when it was taken over by Mrs. Mabel Day (Miss M. Crump again, now married), who continued to the early 1980’s. She had been part of the music for 70 years and this had been recognized by the Methodist Music Society. It is an extraordinary record. Mabel made a record of her memories of the Chapel before she died in 1986 and this too makes fascinating reading which can be read by clicking on the image below.
A look at the Minute books from 1903 shows that a great deal of work was needed to maintain of the building even then. 77 more years passed (!) and by then the church required huge maintenance efforts. A small gallery was removed for safety reasons in 1990. By 2002 it was necessary to undertake a major refurbishment to the kitchen and WC. The continuing rate of expenditure was untenable and after the millennium there were early discussions about the future of the building. In 2007 a special Church Council was held to consider a report from the Rev. David Freeland, and the brave decision was taken to vacate the old 1826 Grade II listed Chapel and to move to a new building.
Given the size of the congregation (around 50) this may have seemed an ambitious undertaking, but the members set up four groups to take this decision forwards, co-ordinated by Alastair Munro. The membership of these groups changed over time but those who have contributed through the majority of the project to date have been: Merle Bailey, Dana Budd, Beryl Finbow, Fitz Fitzgraham, Keith Foord, Paula Foord, Christine Freeland, David Freeland, Andrew Knowles-Baker, Alastair Munro and Jane Munro.
In 2011 the 1826 Chapel was sold. The very poignant last services were held in the old chapel in November 2011. The Church then moved into temporary accommodation in the Function Room at the rear of the Senlac Inn…a strange arrangement for a Methodist Church, but the premises are separated from the pub and of course only soft drinks and teas and coffees were available!
Revds. Peggy Heim and Ian Wales leading the last service in the old chapel
On 7th August 2012 the site for a new Centre was purchased from Rother District Council. Site work started on 25th March 2013 and the keys to the building were handed over to us on 27th February 2014 .
On clearing the old chapel prior to sale a few items were found 'from the attic'. Nothing is of huge value, but the old Bible dates from 1847 and is in remarkable condition given its age. The brass missal stand must have been placed in the old pulpit. The old wooden collection bowls are a bit chipped and the impressive looking old communion chalice and goblets are not solid silver, but EPNS.
Above - Items from the Attic
Foye Estates are thanked for the loan of old conveyance and mortgage documents.
The following websites may be of historical or geographical interest:
Sussex On-line Parish Clerks
Church Photographs National Archives