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The Mission Chapel
The Reading Room, also known as the Baptist Mission Chapel or Sunday School.
This small building is geographically in Evington Lees, Elmsted Parish, but just off The Street heading out of Hastingleigh.
There is a marked bridle way running past the building just off the left of The Street.
The Reading Room - circa early 2010
Below is a photo dated 1914, and not much has changed apart from a newer roof.
The following two articles were sent in, to be added to this page. The first is from an issue of Bygone Kent.[The Newspapers of the 1930's have numerous accounts of incendiary/arson incidents attributed to the general feeling of dissent in the nation at the time]
I am sorry I do not have the name of the author or the issue number of the publication that ran this story.
The second was sourced from a book in Folkestone Library. If anyone can supply the information I will
gladly give credit where it is due.
Early 19th century had been a period of turmoil and unrest in the rural areas of Kent and
elsewhere, with riotous actions concerning machine breaking, usually threshing machines, land
enclosures, seeking wage increases, also food, rent and workhouse riots, as well as the tithe
riots. During these there was much arson, particularly the burning of hay ricks and farm
buildings. One tragic example was that of John Dyke, reputed to be the last man hanged in public on
Penenden Heath, who was executed Christmas eve 1830 at the height of the burning of ricks,
and destruction of threshing machines. He was seen coming from the direction of a blazing rick,
accused of arson and on this flimsy evidence found guilty and hanged, protesting his innocence
to the last. He was interred in Bearsted churchyard. On 10th November 1830 there had been two
cases of arson in the area, one at Bearsted and the other at Thurnham. Years afterwards the
real culprit, on his death bed confessed to the crime for which Dyke was hanged.
"all that piece or parcel of land containing four perches in depth on theOut of this atmosphere of unrest came also an increase in religious dissension with a growth
of Non-conformism, as if this was a rebellion against the established church, the local
church and incumbent in particular. There was such an expansion of Baptist congregations
that the Kent and Sussex Association of Baptist Congregations had to be divided to form a
new one, the 'East Kent Association' in 1835.
It was during this time that William Marchant was a prime mover, with others, such as William
Hooker of Waltham, a miller, William Hooker of Wingham a yeoman, William Wall of Sellindge,
an ironmonger, Thomas Sharwood of Sellindge a grocer etc, in the acquiring from William Smith
of Elmsted on payment of £ 7. 10 shillings
north and south sides thereof two and a half perches in front and rear and
a total quantity of ten perches of thereabouts lying and being at Evington Leeze
in the Parish of Elmsted part of a larger piece or parcel of land which in the
year 1853 was enclosed by the said William Smith from the waste land of the
Manor of Barton otherwise Longport. And which said piece or parcel of land is
bounded on or towards the south by heriditaments belonging to Sir Courtenay
Honeywood Bart. on or towards the north and west by other land of the said
William Smith and on or towards the east by an occupation road leading into
the highway from Wye to Elmsted on which land to erect a Meeting House to be
used as a Place of Public Religious Worship by the Society of Protestant
Dissenters called Particular or Calvanist Baptists.
The date of the signing of the indenture between seller and purchaser
was 6th December 1869.
|A private advert,
published in the
Issue of 1st
WILLIAM SMITH, his X
Witnesses: Onslow Andrews and Henry Barton
The Elmsted Meeting House or Baptist Mission Chapel was erected in 1870 at a cost of £ 90. Every
conceivable difficulty was placed in the way of those building it by their own hands, the
labourers working as often as they could but their employers tried to get them to stop doing so.
Some were intimidated in their own cottages to have nothing to do with the construction, but it
went on, materials being carried free by those tradesmen who had horses and vehicles and intended
to worship there. Even after completion persecution continued against those who attended but often
the Chapel was too small for the numbers who came to worship therein.
It is uncertain when William Marchant wrote the verses to his 'A Church Rate Song', before or after
the construction of the Meeting House. It may have been sometime between 1867 and 1869 when he was
involved in the holding of religious open air meetings, with sermons by the Brabourne Baptist pastor
on Elmsted Village Green, or during the opposition to the Meeting House and intimidation of those who
built it. It was definitely composed at this period in his life and its sentiments relate how local
residents felt towards the payment of tithe to the established church.
It goes as follows:A Church Rate Song
by William Marchant
'The Vestry' has been duly called
And the rector looked appalled
As he took the chair for well he knew
that dissenters and others, not a few
were there to oppose the unrighteous plan
of squeezing money from every man
who occupied Farm or House or Stall
within the Parish of ' Tithe 'em all'.
Mr Churchwarden with faltering voice,
proposed he said, but not from choice
that a penny rate should there be made
to repair the Church, and further said
He should like to see some better way
of supporting truth, than to make men pay
So the Vestry thought, the Rector Saw
On which he exclaimed "it is the law"
Up rose a dissenter to declare
"The imposition was most unfair
Justice required that only they
who used the church should be asked to pay"
THE CATHEDRAL IN THE WOODS
In rural areas of Kent small primitive Methodist or Wesleyan brick chapels are frequently
to be found alongside a lane of road built on a remote site on the parish boundary, sometimes
a considerable distance from a village. The reason was twofold, the local Anglican clergymen
and squire gentry wanted the Non-conformists to be distanced as far as possible out of their
sight when they were worshipping; secondly the non-conformists equally wanted to be out of
sight to worship in their own fashion. An example of such a religious building is on the
Elmsted/Hastingleigh boundary among the deep Downland valleys with their wooded or grassed
slopes, but this one near Evington Lodge is so hidden from the Hastingleigh-Elmsted road it
is easily passed without being seen. It was known as "The Cathedral in the woods" before
some of the trees were felled. Now a public footpath past it proves this to be an accurate
Its origin lies in the religious dissent of the early 19th century and expansion of Baptist
churches in Kent. In the 1860's the Baptists held open air meetings on Elmsted village green as
the church was a very dark place with only one parish church service and no Sunday School for
children, the latter with parents spending the Sabbath in the village alehouse. These meetings
were surprisingly well attended with new adherents continually joining, so the Baptists decided
to raise funds and build their own chapel. In 1869 on payment of £ 7. 10 shillings, ten perches of
land were bought from a William Smith at Evington Leeze in Elmsted parish on which land to erect a
Meeting House to be used as a Public Place of Worship by the Society of Protestant Dissenters called
Particular or Calvanist Baptists.
Money was raised, materials given and those who had neither, gave their labour so that the Meeting
House was completed in 1870 at a cost of £ 90. Every conceivable difficulty had been placed in
their way. The employers of the labourers had tried to get the men to stop the work. Some were
intimidated in their own cottages, warned to have nothing to do with the construction, but it continued.
Those men with vehicles and horses carried materials free and in other ways those who intended to
worship there helped by using their craftsmen skilled. Even after completion persecution continued,
instigated almost certainly by the incumbents of Elmsted and Hastingleigh churches who saw their own
congregations declining. One founder was William Marchant, a tenant farmer of nearby Bodsham Green Farm,
father of Bessie Marchant (see Petham) who was forced to leave the farm by his landlord Sir Courtenay
Honeywood (buried with many of his ancestors in St James the Great church Elmsted) and move to Petham.
However the small Elmsted Meeting House or Elmsted Baptist Mission Chapel as it is now called, w as a
success, so rewarding the religious zeal and sacrifices that were made to bring such a building in to
being. The charming little Mission Chapel is still used for services. A new roof replaced the old several
years ago, but because of its isolation and modern morality 'the cathedral in the woods' has to be kept
locked when not in use.
Since those articles were published, the Mission Chapel became the Sunday School, but has
in recent years become private property and is fenced off.
1836 TITHE COMMUTATION ACT:This act of Parliament paved the way for the change over from paying tithes to the Parish priest, which had been some 10 percent of the yield of crops and livestock, and replace it with a mandatory monetary payment referred to as the 'Corn Rent' . Many felt this mandatory cash payment was unfair, and it led to the Tithe War in Ireland, where the majority of the population were Catholic and they objected to paying money to the Protestant 'Established Church'.
The majority of dissenters in and around Hastingleigh were not Catholics, but Quakers, Baptists and Methodists.
The Act resulted in accurate Parish Maps being commissioned to determine land ownership, and map the Glebe lands (Parish land owned by the church, from which an income was derived.) Following the mapping of Hastingleigh Parish, on 11th September 1838, Gostwyck Prideaux, the Rector of Hastingleigh, took out an advertisement in the Kentish Gazette as follows:
I, the undersigned, being Tithe Owner within the Parish of
HASTINGLEIGH, in the County of Kent, whose interest
is not less than one-fourth part of the whole value of Tithes
of the said Parish, do by this Notice in writing, under my hand,
call a PAROCHIAL MEETING of LAND OWNERS within
the Limits of the said Parish, for the purpose of making an
Agreement for the General Commutation of Tithes within the
Limits of the said Parish, pursuant to the provisions of an Act
passed in the 6th and 7th years of the Reign of his late Majesty,
intituled "An Act for theCommutation of Tithes in England
and Wales." And I do hereby also give Notice, that such
Meeting will be held at the PARSONAGE HOUSE in the said
Parish on THURSDAY the 27th day of September, at the
hour of Nine o'clock in the forenoon.
Given under my hand this fifth day of September,1838.
GOSTWYCK PRIDEAUX, Rector.
THE CHURCH RATES
The new system was immediately unpopular with non-conformists, because the Church of England was already financially supported by Parliament, while those of other faiths and those followers of the non-established Christian church, had to rely entirely on voluntary donations.
In 1837, the government addressed some of the issues raised by the objectors and introduced compulsory civil registration of births, marriages and deaths. Hence the change in how births, marriages and deaths are recorded and certificates being issued for each registration.
The paying of church rates continued to be compulsory by all land owners and occupiers until 1868, when by Act of Parliament it was no longer compulsory but voluntary to pay church rates, and has remained a voluntary payment ever since.
During the years 1836-1868 it was the responsibility of the church wardens to collect the church rates, and take out legal proceedings against those who could not or would not pay their church rates. This is therefore the background to the following newspaper reports regarding WILLIAM MARCHANT and his long battle against the church rates, culminating in the building of the Chapel at Evington Lees after church rate payments were no longer mandatory.
10 May 1859 of the Kentish Gazette
CHURCH RATE DISPUTE:
Thos. Marchant, jun., farmer, was summoned by the church warden of Brabourne, for the non-payment of a church rate, made on the 14th May 1858, amounting to £1.8s.6½d
On being asked what was his objection to the rate, defendant handed in a paper containing the following:-
I hereby give notice that the rate being illegally made, I object to its validity, under virtue of 53 George III."
The Chairman asked what other argument he had to sustain his objection?
Defendant replied that he was advised the notice he had given in was sufficient.
The Chairman:- The magistrates think otherwise.
The defendant then said that he objected to a sum of one pound nine shillilngs in the accounts, which was allowed to the clergyman for copying the register.
Mr. Farley [church warden] said it was a customary item, and was allowed by law.
The defendant then produced a copy of the 'Record', in which the editor stated in answer to a correspondent, that he did not believe the act provided for the payment of a fee to the clergyman for copying the register. In many cases the custom prevailed of granting a fee, but it should not be demanded.
The Parish books were produced, and it was shown that all the requisitions of the act had been carried out. The rate was at 2½d pence in the pound, and the estimate amounted only to £28. 16 shillings and 7½d.
Mr.Farley said it was not only necessary to give notice of objection, but also the grounds of objection.
The defendant here handed a copy of the 'Liberator' for the enlightenment of their worships on this point. It contained the report of a church rate case which had been brought before a superior court in which the judges' had ruled that in the case of a bona fide objection being made to rate, the magistrate had no power to adjudicate. That case, however, was not at all applicable, for there the party summoned had brought witnesses to prove the allegations, and no contradictory evidence was brought on the other side; notwithstanding which the justices made an order for payment.
The defendant said he attended the vestry when the rate was made, and moved that the clerk's salary of £5 be not included in the accounts; but the chairman did not put in to the meeting. He acknowledged, however, that his motion was not seconded.
The usual order for payment was made.
13 Sep 1859 of the Kentish Gazette
Mr. Thos. Marchant, farmer, of Brabourne, was bound in a sum of £50 to prosecute a writ of certiorari against a church-rate made in that parish. Messrs. H Headley and E.T. Scott, of Ashford, were surities for him in like amounts.
[certiorari= a grant of review of a government action by a court with discretion to make such a review. ]
21 Aug 1860 of the Kentish Gazette
BRABOURNE- On Friday last an auction sale took place in this parish under distress warrants for church rates, of property belonging to Thomas Marchant, jun., a farmer, residing at the Water Farm, and Henry Headley, a Quaker, of Ashford, who carries on the business of a Grocer at Brabourne Lees.
08 Oct 1861 of the Kentish Gazette
BRABOURNE- Some statements, containing a great deal of misrepresentation, have recently been published respecting a distraint for church rates in this parish. There is reason to believe they have been circulated by parties who do not hesitate to adopt any means, however reprehensible, for the purpose of engendering ill-feeling towards the Established Church.
The statements are in the form of a letter, bearing the formidable signature-"One who was Christened, brought up, and confirmed in the faith of the Church of England," and which sums as follows:
On Tuesday, September 24th the premises of Mr. Thomas Marchant, jun. of the Water Farm, were entered, and a mare and harness of the value of from £20 to £30, seized for a church rate of £1 14s 3d. A variety of articles, consisting of the usual description of farming implements, also hogs, bullocks etc, were before the eyes of the constables and from which the seizures might have been made. The constables had entered the premises on Wednesday previous, but neglected to put the warrant in force, notwithstanding the fact that many articles were at hand, and upon which a distraint might have been effected.
We question whether the cognomen [alias] adopted by the writer of the above be correct. As a churchman he would be taught to speak the truth, of which he is now, apparantly, incapable. There appears to be an organised attempt, on the part of certain parties in the parish, to evade the payment if possible, of what is legally due from them. Nothing in our opinion, can possibly be meaner, in a Christian country, than to resist the payment of a rate for the support of a Christian church. The party alluded to in the above letter is the same who made himself so notorious last year by disputing the magistrates' summons, which he described as a relic of bygone ages. This year he denied having been summoned, though he had previously admitted it to Mr. Andrews, the church warden.
In 1860 he was summoned for a rate of £1 14s 3d, which amount and the expenses had actually to be distrained for. A cart was seized and disposed of by auction for £4. For the purpose of creating a false impression the rate for which the distraint was made, was described as being only a few shillings. The horse and harness seized, as stated in the above letter, and sold on 30th September, are falsely described as being worth between £20 and £30. Many respectable parishioners can testify that they were not worth much more than half the lowest of those sums, though at the sale, the biddings, by Mr. Marchant's brothers and personal friends, were run up to £20. This course, however, was taken by them for the purpose of getting up an agitation.
When the constables went on the previous Wednesday, as described in the letter, they were very improperly interfered with in the discharge of their duty, and for which interference punishment ought to be inflicted. The shafts of a wagon were taken off in order to prevent the officers from seizing it.The officers were also taunted and jeered in a manner which ought not to be tolerated towards men who are called upon to discharge a very disagreeable duty. We have only to add that at the sale in 1860, the cart realised a fair price for a second hand article. It was doubtless worth more to Mr. Marchant, but if that gentleman was foolish enough to let it be seized for a rate he was legally bound to pay, he has only himself to blame.
The same remark will apply to his conduct on the more recent occasion.
17 Dec 1861 of the Kentish Gazette
ASHFORD COUNTY COURT
This was a jury case.
Mr Bennett said in this case his client Mr. Thomas
farmer residing at
Brabourne, was the