Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Duntisbourne Abbots, Gloucestershire

There used to be thousands of nonconformist chapels and meeting houses dotted around the country. Even a small village sometimes had two, and they could be tiny buildings, put up and maintained by a sparse congregation of Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, or others whose beliefs compelled them to worship separately from the established Church of England or the old Catholic Church. As congregations have declined or disappeared, many of these chapels have been demolished. But some survive.

Nonconformist chapels are at once among the most simple and most satisfying English buildings – simple because dissenters, with their Word-centred faith, tended to shun elaborate decoration and iconography, and so believed that there were better things to spend their sometimes limited money on than lavish fittings or statuary. So a small village chapel, like this one in the Cotswolds, often had this kind of simple frontage, with two tall windows and a door – and often a date stone above the door. Here, renewed stonework marks the place where the date stone was once set.

How can chapels survive where there are no longer worshippers enough to use and maintain them? Some have been converted to houses, with mixed results – a sensitive conversion can retain original features and create an inspiring living space. Some are village halls or other places of assembly, a use that can work well. A few are in industrial hands, again with varied success.

This one seems to be a double garage, the unlovely up-and-over door inserted at the East end. This is hardly an ideal solution – to some it will look like desecration. But at least most of the fabric of the building has been preserved – apart from this end wall and the vanished date stone there appear to be few other exterior modifications. At least the building is being used and what’s left of it is being maintained, and this unusual role is better than demolition. One hopes that one day some more appropriate use will come along.


Peter Ashley said...

Ah the dissenting chapel style, I knew it well. Preachers in tight fitting black suits with tie pins, disapproving looks from aunts and the incredible sense of relief as the last prayer was said and I was able to run off down village streets.

JasonLewis said...

Very interesting comments about what is known in Duntisbourne Abbots as the Moot House. Its last known use was as a meeting place for the WI. I too would hope that it can be converted to a better use than a garage !