Rural chapels survive in their thousands throughout England, evidenced in stone and brick of the activities and beliefs of generations of local Dissenting congregations. "Village Chapels: Some Aspects of Rural Methodism in the East Cotswolds and South Midlands 1800-2000" examines the largely unknown history of 35 Methodist chapels in 23 Cotswolds and Midlands villages from the early 19th century on. Those now converted to other uses are almost all still recognisable as former chapels; a minority are still active. Some of their early congregations were persecuted physically by local people. Almost all struggled to raise funds to build and then to run their chapels. Architecturally, the book concludes, these rural buildings fall into four broad categories - the earliest being usually small, simple and cottage-like (but with an occasional striking tall red-brick chapel), while later designs had distinctly Victorian Gothic-Revival features. Reasons for the phenomenal growth of Methodist 'New Dissent' (and its subsequent subdivision into - in this area - Wesleyan, Primitive and Reform churches) are discussed.
The bulk of the book is, however, a detailed historical study of people (farmers, tradesmen, shopkeepers, agricultural labourers) and their 35 chapels.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"While Oxfordshire's village churches have glossy hardback volumes devoted to their architecture, no one has bothered much about the history of dozens of solidly-built small Methodist chapels. Village Chapels aims to remedy this with histories of chapels in 23 villages around Banbury and Chipping Norton." (Oxford Times). "The author goes beyond the buildings to offer a fuller approach, encompassing the people involved with the chapels, their occupations and status, and the chronology and changing fortunes of the congregations. She has undertaken valuable original research, drawing on an impressive array of sources...........Overall this study is a valuable demonstration of what can be discovered about an important, sometimes undervalued and threatened, part of rural history." (Oxfordshire Local History). "The little houses of worship Dr. Ashbridge describes are all miraculous survivors, having seen the steady decline in worship in the twentieth century and, in many cases, suffering the indignity of being taken into secular use - as offices, storerooms and of course house conversions. She writes about her subjects with affection, putting a human face to the stories of these modest buildings." ("Cake & Cockhorse", journal of the Banbury Historical Society).