A Brief History of the Non-Conformist Church in Nailsworth
by Margaret Marshall
(A) Forest Green Congregational Chapel
1662: 2000 ministers were removed from their pulpits by the Acts contained in the infamous “Clarendon Code” because in conscience they could not conform solely to the Prayer book services. They were forbidden to preach within five miles of any place where they had previously preached. Some of these outcasts would not however be silenced and carried on furtive ministries in private houses or in the open air.
‘Meetings,’ so one record tells us, were originally held in a lonely wood (Colliers Wood) about 3-4 miles distant. It is known that this wood extended from Colliers Wood near Woodchester Park across the area known as Forest Green and would have provided excellent cover for holding services in secret. What is more, they would have been meeting at he extreme end of the Parish of Avening, whose Rector, an ‘after conformist’ was known to have been sympathetic towards non conformists – thus protecting them from proceedings initiated in Minchinhampton or Horsley.
1687: Following the Declaration of Indulgence in 1678, Forest Green Independent Meeting,
1687 First Chapel Taken Down in 1821
as the church was originally called, was founded, and this was the first nonconformist registered in the area. Significantly, the land was purchased before the law was relaxed, so it looks as if they were jumping the gun to some extent.
1705: As a result of sermons relating to Baptism, some members left and worshipped at The King Stanley Baptist Chapel and in people’s homes.
(1715: First Baptist Chapel built)
1772: Rev. John Marks Moffatt came. Shortly after his arrival at Forest Green he started what may well have been the first Sunday School in the country. There is reference to a letter from Raikes to Moffatt of a later date, expressing regret at never having been able to visit the Nailsworth School.
1821: The new Lower Chapel was built on a site nearer the centre of Nailsworth.
Built lower down the hill
There were others who clung to the old site with all its sentimental associations. The wishes of the opposing party were not considered and so a division arose in the church and they built another chapel close to the original one, so that there were three Forest Green Chapels. Doubtless there were faults on both sides and a spirit of hostility was raised between those who had once been the members of one happy Christian family.
Taken in 1950
The new Lower Chapel built, and opened, remained (doubtless through the angry feelings which had been excited) but thinly attended, and the church may be said never to have fully recovered the blow.
The cost of building the Lower Chapel was £2,000 and though a large portion of this was immediately subscribed, it remained still in debt. The well known distress in the manufacturing districts, which arose soon after, aided still further to depress the cause and to cast a cloud on the whole affair and for many years, that once flourishing church was seen with grief by the churches round, to be rapidly declining. The church, for sometime, was in such an unsettled state, that it was not practicable for them to choose a settled pastor, and the pulpit was supplied by various ministers in and out of the neighbourhood. In 1847 the debt was wiped out by a magnificent example of sacrificial Christian giving, from the oldest deacon to the most junior department of the Sunday School, under the guidance of Rev Charles Russell.
The Lower Chapel carried on with a number of ministers for 300 years until in 1967 it reunited with Shortwood Baptist Chapel and formed Christ Church.
A Christmas Play Probably in the 1960s