Old Dalby Methodist Chapel

Old Dalby Methodist Chapel

The Closing Of Old Dalby Chapel

Many Old Dalbians expressed their sadness at the closing, on May 20th 2001, of the Chapel at the centre of our village. Membership had been small for several years. The growing age and infirmity of the remaining few had made upkeep an impossible strain. Yet, not only has this Chapel been an unmissable landmark; it has been a natural focal point for large numbers of people, for example on each Old Dalby Day. More importantly, the Chapel and its predecessor were crucial to the experience of generations of families at the centre of village life for two centuries.
The Chapel was dedicated and opened for worship and fellowship in 1902, the date boldly engraved on the tower, It cost a mere £599 to build; but this must have seemed a huge amount to raise, given the meagre incomes most had to cope with. Before that the Methodist congregation met in the little Chapel, very bare and unpretentious, built in 1805 by John and Mary Orson, at the bottom of what was then an orchard belonging to the Hyslops. Prior to that, their meeting place was the front room of the Orsons’ farmhouse. Old Dalby’s Chapel was only the second village Methodist building in the Melton region, and was the only congregation in the present Melton Circuit to be then affiliated with Loughborough. Until well into the 18th century, the usual pattern of worship-life for Methodist groups was not only to meet in a cottage or farmhouse, but to attend the Parish Church in the morning and hold their own more free and fervent worship in the afternoon or evening.

More than the building itself, it is the powerful inner experience of people through these two centuries we need to recall. Countless stories of tragedy and humour, of delight and despair, must be there for the telling. For Methodists in earlier days mostly from the non-elite of society – while very abstemious in their life-style, prayed, preached and sang with great emotion, with plenty of openly expressed tears and rejoicing. Preachers in their long prayers and even longer sermons, shouted their convictions, and people might join in with cries of ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah’. Lives were often deeply transformed; sometimes no doubt the expected fruits of the Spirit did not grow naturally; to others, there was little to be seen but narrow bigotry. But, however much some held the renouncing of drink, cards, dancing, secular music, naughty novels and suchlike ‘indecent frivolities’ as essential marks of Methodists, what remained central was the ‘heart strangely warmed’, faith in the overflowing of divine love, a new sense of identity’ free from the authority of the Establishment embodied locally in Church and Squire. Earlier Methodists felt free from the cultural norms of the elite. In their distinctive faith, they were free to be their own people, able to stand proud and fearless before anyone, sure of God’s purpose for them.
This 200-year history, in other words, has strongly sociological as well as religious dimensions. In most villages, as more Methodist chapels were built, antagonism between Church and Chapel increased too. In the Melton area, though, there were some exceptions, For one thing there was a remarkable Vicar in Melton called Dr Thomas Ford, who was himself fully in tune with the Wesleys’ teachings. And early in the 1800s we read that the Vicar of Old Dalby often lent his horse to a Methodist preacher, James Burroughs -also the village schoolteacher when he was taking services at some distant chapel. Just before his death, the Vicar asked to be taken out to be blessed by looking upon this Methodist preacher’s final resting place: ‘The dust of the best man I ever knew’. For the building of this present Chapel, too, the Squire was the first to make a generous donation.
The war years. when a canteen was set up in the Sunday School, and when good numbers of the forces shared fully in the life of the Chapel, were obviously a high point in this place’s history. Quite a few men and women stationed at the Depot testified later that this Chapel was very important to them while they were separated from their own families.

Some of the family names of those found earlier in this 200 year history should be recalled at this time. A few of these names are still part of our village life, others may be forgotten: Barnes, Biddies, Black, Bonsor, Brewtnall, Copley, Crowhurst, Dalbv. Drake, Eastabrook, Gill, Goodbourne. Goodman, Greaslev, Grice, Halwell, Hawley, Jalland, Lockton, Marriott. Musson, Neville, Orson, Peel. Perkins, Pettitt. Pick, Purves, Richardson. Sharpe, Skinner, Spouge, Treasure, Woodford. One of the Treasure family. Alice (Fisher), recently left a £1000 for the Chapel; this will be well-used for various causes we are committed to. I apologise if there are some names missed, especially from more recent days. But special mention should be made first of the key role of John and Mary Orson and the following generations of their family. William Orson, for example. was an outstanding preacher and ordained minister who died at the early age of 37 in 1836. And in 1885 it was a Mrs. W. Orson who began the Sunday School. Then there was the remarkable record of Berry Spouge as organist from 1904 to 1954:D.Richardson from 1954-71. Nor should we forget the children (some still with us, their childhood long past) who had great fun pumping up the organ as it ran out of wind. Not to be forgotten, too, is the work of the Goodman family, especially Albert, Eli, Wilfred and Nora – Albert being Sunday School teacher and Superintendent for 52 years, Wilfred and Nora caring for the upkeep of the Chapel, and faithfully carrying out other duties, for long periods during this century. Douglas and Violet Woodford were also important to the life of the Sunday School for many years. The Jalland family too were stalwarts here for several generations.
It is very important now that we do not see this closure just as a sign of failure. Pastoral care will continue, and each second Sunday a Methodist will lead worship in the Parish Church. God has used this Chapel and its people to further his good purpose. The particular needs of those earlier times have changed. The challenges of our history today, the needs of our village, are different. What has not changed in the slightest is our need for the overflowing love of God, and a sense that because we share in his good purpose we need fear no one.

Eric Lott

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.