The Chapel History

This church originates in the great evangelical revival of the late 18th century. In the 1770s, the locality around Mortimer – an expanse of heath and furze – was of a very wild character. About 1778, John Whitburn, a turf cutter, living in a cottage almost on the site of the present chapel, was converted under the preaching of the nearby Tadley minister, Mr [afterwards Dr.] Duncan. `Feeling a deep concern for the salvation of his perishing neighbours’, says an entry in the original church book, `he attempted to awaken them by argument, reading, and prayer.’ Whitburn held services in his own cottage on Sunday evenings and sometimes under the apple trees in his orchard and in other places around.

In 1797, two of his friends, who had joined the Baptist Church in Hosier’s Lane, Reading, persuaded their new pastor, the Rev. John Holloway, to come over and preach at Whitburn’s house. So large a number came that the cottage was too small to contain them, so that the service had to be held in an adjoining meadow. Mr Holloway, with the assistance of ministers from Reading, Basingstoke and elsewhere, continued the open air services throughout the summer. On the approach of winter, the congregation again met in the cottage, but the rooms were found inconveniently low and small.

At this juncture, Mr John Mulford, of Tadley, a wealthy and elderly bachelor, provided funds to help. With some contributions from Mortimer people [John Whitburn giving the land], Mulford erected the chapel in 1798. Several bricks bearing that date can still be seen above the window facing the road. On September 21st the chapel was licensed for worship by the Bishop of Winchester- a copy of the original certificate can be seen at the back of the church.

In June 1803, Mr Andrew Pinnell, a student who had just finished his course at Dr. Bogue’s Academy at Gosport, was engaged, and commenced his ministry at the chapel in August. One of his earliest duties was the interment of John Whitburn who died in December 1803. In his will, John left the chapel and surrounding five acres of land to be administered by Trustees `so as the Gospel may be faithfully preached’ there.

In 1805, it became necessary to enlarge the chapel to nearly twice its original dimensions and a manse cottage was added at about the same time. Chapel House, as it became known, provided much needed accommodation for the Pinnell family, with no fewer than nine children recorded in the baptismal register. On 30th May 1810, Andrew Pinnell was ordained to the Christian ministry at the chapel.

Although it had its ups and down, the chapel thrived through most of the 19th century: having been registered as a public place of worship, in accord with a general Act of Parliament, in 1860.

In 1905 the chapel was first registered for the solemnisation of marriages. However, after the First World War attendance and services at the chapel began to decline.

From the Second World War until 1960 church records were not kept except for a brief entry in 1956, dealing with correspondence with the Water Board and with arrangements for lighting the fires for heating the church on a Sunday.

In 1961 the chapel had a new heating system and an electricity supply. But, by 1963 the chapel was in desperate need of repair, and was closed for public worship in 1964 following receipt of an architect’s report that described the building as no longer safe. Services were moved to the School Room.

In 1972 the two cottages adjoining the chapel were repaired, and were inhabited throughout the 1970s. A serious damp problem was to re-occur after this; it being reported in 1983 that the manse cottage had been unoccupied for about eighteen months and the second cottage had also been vacated. Neither were considered fit to be lived in, and the premises continued to deteriorate throughout the rest of the decade.

The faithful few maintained their worship and witness throughout the 1980s. A feature of the summer months became a well attended open-air service. Membership, however, did not increase and in 1990 is given as 12 associate members – this taking account of the fact that some supported the chapel only as their second church, travelling from Reading or elsewhere to attend the afternoon service in the Schoolroom. An important development had been the listing of the chapel by the Department of the Environment in 1980 at the higher 2* grade; it was held to be `an outstanding example of a non-denominational building’. A planning application was made in 1984 to convert the chapel to residential use, prior to sale. This was refused because it would have caused excessive alteration to the structure and internal arrangement of the building, and the removal of fixtures and fittings which contributed to its architectural and historical interest.

In 1988, the Trustees attempted to sell the chapel, cottages and part of the landholding by tender through a Reading estate agent. This came to the attention of Basingstoke and Deane’s Planning Committee, which met on the 13th July. They recommended that the Trustees withdraw the current sale by tender, and consider alternative suggestions to restore the chapel, with which it was prepared to help. The required emergency work was carried out, although the full schedule of repairs were held in abeyance until plans were more advanced.

In the early 1990s another Connexional church, at nearby Goring on Thames, became more directly involved. The church at Goring had in the past given what support it could, occasionally supplying the pulpit and assisting with maintaining the graveyard areas. Work parties had come over, in the summer months, for a number of years. But now there was a new initiative; two young professional people, Dr. Max Rowe and his wife, Rosalind, felt a call to be involved in work of restoration of Mortimer West in both a spiritual and practical sense. In discussion with others, it seemed the first step should be to carry out a survey within the locality to see how spiritual needs were being met currently and whether there was still a need for a chapel with a strong evangelical witness at Mortimer West.

The resulting Development Study was completed by March 1991, and co-authored by Max Rowe and Mike Ward, also of the Goring church. On the basis of a survey of population, churches, youth activities, and other needs, within a radius of three miles or so, it was concluded there was considerable potential for the work of the chapel.

Two teams moved the work forward: the Coordinating Team, comprised of Goring and Mortimer members, with Brian Baldwin as Trustee; and the Building Team, comprised of Goring members, and Brian Baldwin, working with local planners and building conservation experts.

By the end of 1991 a partnership spirit was evident between the planners and building team, joined by Dr. Brenda Ward, a Goring member and historian at Reading University. This mutual cooperation led to joint work parties organised in November 1991 and January 1992 to clear the worst of the undergrowth surrounding the chapel and some of the interior rubble from collapsing plaster work and rotten wood flooring. By the end of 1992 a cost profile had been drawn up, plans produced, and tenders invited and returned, for the chapel work. The builders appointed in February 1993 were R. J. Smith and Co. of Whitchurch, and work on both chapel and cottages began the same month.

By August 1993 the chapel restoration was virtually finished, in time for the rededication service held on September 18th, 1993.

At the end of 1994 Allan Meakin and his family moved into the Manse; the chapel now had a settled pastor for the first time in over 100 years.

In 1998 the chapel celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding.

This brief history has been condensed from an original history of the chapel, written in 1998 by Brenda Baldwin. This booklet is currently out of print.