The purpose of this document is to clarify the guiding principles for the future conservation of the former chapel, understood as the careful management of its fabric and historic significance in the context of sympathetic new uses.
Significance of the Grade II * listed former Methodist Chapel built in Tolpuddle, Dorset
The former chapel is listed as grade II* by English Heritage.
It was built in 1818 as a Methodist chapel. The continued existence of this chapel can be confirmed through to 1843, and it may well have remained in use until a new village Methodist chapel was built in 1862-63.
As a chapel it was used for worship by at least four of the six Dorsetshire Labourers, who in 1838 became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Three of them may well have preached from its pulpit. It is believed that George Loveless ,one of the Dorsetshire Labourers, was a lay preacher in the chapel. It is likely that George Loveless & Thomas Standfield were actively involved in the construction of this unique cob building.
The building is mainly built of cob on brick and stone/flint bases. The roof has double roman clay tiles. The original door leading from the road is blocked with an infill window with a boarded hatch above it. There is a beautiful original central pointed arched window opening on the rear wall which is blocked with brickwork. The building is thought to be little altered from how it looked in the 1830’s, although it may have had a thatched roof at that time and some of the doors have been moved.
The 1999 English Heritage report on the building by David Robinson states:
“Apart from the historical significance of the site, the simple and austere architecture of the chapel should not be underestimated. It is an example of a small rural Methodist building with its roots in the pioneering aspirations of this branch of nonconformism.”
The building is currently, and has been for a number of years, in a poor state of repair and currently is not in use. It is on the At Risk Register, English Heritage Building ID: 106409
It has been used for agricultural purposes for the last 150 years or so.
In February 2015 the building and site were purchased by a newly formed Building Preservation Trust – The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT)
Emergency repairs to stabilise the cob walls and to make the building wind and water tight started on Tuesday 17th February 2015, funded by a £9500 grant from English Heritage and managed by the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT). It is hoped that the major conservation works will be completed by 2018 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the opening of the building.
The Trust looks forward to consulting local people about possible future uses for the building once renovation work is complete.
The development of the former Chapel will also help to enhance the visitor and tourist experience as part of the ‘rural life’ heritage corridor linking Dorchester with Hardy’s Birthplace, Athelhampton House and Tolpuddle. The former Chapel is featured on the new Audiovisual Trail being developed by the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum.
Click the links below to see audio/video presentations showing the history of Methodism in Tolpuddle and a time of trouble at the chapel.
The Trust would like to thank The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum Audio Trail for giving us permission to use these links.