Methodism in East Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1977


Picture if you can a spring day in 1877, just one hundred years ago. It is May the 21st - Whit Monday. But spring in that year had not lived up to its usual expectations. On the day before - Whit Sunday - the rain poured unceasingly all day long, and earlier in the year the Thames Valley had been inundated by one of the most disastrous floods of the century. When the people of Molesey awoke on this Whit Monday the rain had stopped, but although it was dry it remained dull and overcast and a fresh wind was blowing [1]. However neither clouds, nor wind, nor threat of rain, could dampen the hearts of Molesey’s Wesleyan members, for on that day their own chapel, the chapel they had striven for some thirty years to attain, was to be opened.

The Victorian era was, of course, the heyday of evangelical oratory, and the Wesleyan Church had always been noted for the eloquence and sincerity of its preachers, and it had been announced that one of the most eminent of these - the Rev. Alexander McAuley, the president of the Wesleyan Conference - had agreed to come and deliver the first sermon in the new chapel. Mr. McAuley had the reputation of being "a godly and earnest man, powerful and successful as a preacher, generous and hospitable", and as the opening had been advertised in the national Methodist press, a goodly crowd was expected.

At three o’clock the chapel was packed and Mr. McAuley’s address was as earnest as was expected, taking for his theme the 24th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, Christ’s admonition to the disciples on their disbelief at his resurrection. The discourse was divided into three parts, the Church in weakness, the Church praying, and the Church receiving power. In conclusion he urged the congregation to pray unceasingly for blessings to attend the labour which they had that day inaugurated. He expressed a fervent hope that blessings would descend, and that the services conducted in the new chapel would prove a source of great spiritual benefit in the neighbourhood [2].

During the service the thoughts of some of the gathering must surely have drifted back to the time which had gone before, back to the endeavours of the folk whose hard work and simple faith were now rewarded in the glory of the building newly blossomed before them.


Portrait and signature of the Rev. Alexander McAuley, who preached the first sermon in East Molesey Methodist church.


Obviously the first thing upon which they would ponder is whether Wesley himself had ever visited this village, and whether he had ever preached here, for after all he was the very fount from which the movement sprang. Alas! it seems he never did. In the eighteenth century the Moleseys consisted of two very small farming communities, each of about two hundred souls, and somewhat under the direct control of resident lords of the manor. Not in the main a land of alienated and unchurched masses, or rife with the social ills which filled the more populous towns, and it was to the latter places, where the work of salvation was in greater demand, that Wesley’s efforts were mainly directed, and where the natural material for righteous conversion could be found. However he certainly travelled along the Portsmouth Road, and his journals show that he stayed at Twickenham. He was several times in the neighbourhood, at Dorking, Epsom, and Cobham, and he preached his very last sermon at Leatherhead [3]. The word would quickly pass around the surrounding district whenever he was to speak, and folk would travel miles to hear him. Undoubtedly, therefore, there would have been Molesey people in his audience when he preached in these other districts.

The growth of Methodism which was such a vitalising force in many parts of the country seems to have left Surrey practically untouched. In 1797 in the entire county of a hundred and forty one parishes there were only eight Wesleyan preaching houses, and these were mainly in the more crowded places close to London [4].

The earliest congregation of Wesleyans in Molesey is said to have met in a little wooden cottage in Bell Road. A cottage long since demolished, but which formerly stood between the house now known as "Old Manor House" and Tanner’s Bridge [5]. It was in such humble and homely surroundings as this that the great majority of Methodist societies began. However, no records of this meeting appear to have survived, and it apparently existed only for a short time, for it was never registered as a meeting-house as the law at that time prescribed.

A more authenticated and regular gathering existed from about 1847. In that year a Mr. Thomas Thomas moved to East Molesey from the little town of Culmstock in Devonshire, and opened up a private school in a house in Bridge Road [6]. A house known as Suffolk Cottage, which stood (and in fact still stands) opposite to where Cedar Road is now. Mr. Thomas was then a young man of twenty six, recently married, and his new wife assisted by taking the infants. He was a devoted Wesleyan, and obviously a man of intellect and ability, with a desire to spread his energetic faith to the good people of Molesey [7]. Very soon the school-room of his house was opened as a meeting place, and each Sunday evening a public service was held. Wesley himself had insisted that Methodist services should be held in the evening so as not to conflict with the afternoon service in the parish church, for he still considered the movement as part of the Anglican Communion, this proved to be of inestimable value for Methodism, and was still continued even after the two denominations finally separated.

This room was registered as a meeting-house on the fourteenth of November 1849 [8], but it appears that there was no regular minister, for the number of ordained Methodists at that time was deplorably small, and the employment of local lay preachers had to be resorted to extensively. Probably the gathering obtained what help it could from adjacent chapels. Molesey was then in the Croydon circuit, which covered a vast area of the swiftly expanding London suburbia, hence the help which others could afford, though willingly given, was not able to be very great. Consequently it was likely that more often than not Mr. Thomas himself had to take the service, for he was described as the "manager" of the meeting.

East Molesey was then passing through a period of rapid change. The opening of the railway to Hampton Court station in 1849 brought this sleepy little village into the suburban belt; and in the wake of the rich stock-brokers, merchants, and high-grade civil servants, who formed the bulk of the then commuter class, came a host of shopkeepers, tradesman, master craftsmen, and such like. The type of people who were regarded by the upper social circles as inferiors, the nouveau bourgeoisie to be held at arms length. But this new middle class was emerging into a prosperity never known before, they desired to be locally autonomous, unfettered by the establishment, and in religious observance at least they felt they could show their independence. Among this community Mr. Thomas’s mission found fertile ground.

In 1851 with the regular decennial population census it was decided that a count should be made of all the people who attended a church or place of worship [9]. It was the first complete record of religious obedience ever attempted throughout the entire country. One particular Sunday in March was chosen, and every church and chapel had to make a return on a prepared form of the accommodation, attendance, and such like. A mass of facts and figures was accumulated, and considerable disputation and interfactional wrangling was sparked off. So much so that the authorities fought shy of any repetition of the exercise, and none has been taken ever since.

On that Sunday twenty-seven people were counted on the seats in Mr. Thomas’s little school-room. An indication of the enthusiasm with which the Wesleyan Methodist message was being received in Molesey, especially, as has already been said, among the commercial and shop-keeping community. It is interesting to note that the first board of trustees of the chapel consisted of:- a builder, a butcher, two grocers, a tailor, a draper, a school-master, an engineer, & boot­maker, and two gardeners.

Among the band of earnest followers who joined as the communion grew larger, one finds the names of several men who moved into the district from other parts of the country, bringing with them the faith they had learned on their native hearths. From as wide afield as Devon and Suffolk. The men who not only founded successful businesses and shops in the expanding village, but also the family dynasties which right through the succeeding century and into this provided the steadfast backbone of Wesleyan congregations. A band who were well represented among Mr. McAuley’s audience as he preached that inaugural sermon. Families with names like Moss, Nunn, Bailey, and Peacock, who continually crop up in Molesey Methodist records, and whose descendants live in the district still.

A keen admirer of Mr. Thomas’s school was Lady Hoste, who occupied one of the apartments in Hampton Court palace. She was the daughter of the Earl of Orford and widow of Captain Sir William Hoste, a protege of Nelson and one of his most brilliant commanders [11].

Lady Hoste became Mr. Thomas’s patroness, and seeing the good he was doing in Molesey and the poor and cramped conditions in which he had to conduct his school, with great generosity she had constructed for him a fine new house with large rooms for teaching his pupils incorporated into the building. This was erected in the freshly developing area of Manor Road. A house which later in the century was renamed "Tor House School", and which, as "Tor House" still stands [12].

The new school was officially opened on Monday the seventeenth of December 1860, by a Mr. R.N. Bailey of London, who, it was reported, "gave a humorous and spirit-stirring address for two hours to a numerous and respectable audience. Mr. Bailey was listened to with rapt attention and was repeatedly cheered". Mr. John Collins, who moved a vote of thanks to the speaker called attention to "the noble buildings which Lady Hoste had erected for the inhabitants of East Molesey, and said he hoped they would fully appreciate this kind act, and that many of their children would be educated there". He also said that Mr. Thomas had the right idea in that a solid basis ought first to be laid in religion and morality, and that other acquirements followed on the superstructure [13].

The Wesleyan services were now continued in the new school-room, and the change of venue appears to have given them a new lease of life. Very soon the room, which held some sixty people, was nowhere large enough to hold all those who wished to attend, and another room had to be thrown open as well in order to accommodate the congregation, which at times numbered nearly one hundred. There followed a great evangelical revival. As one eye-witness enthusiastically declared "some of the worst characters in the village became converted. One Sunday evening, after a sermon upon ‘The Witness of the Spirit’, 16 penitents knelt down" [14].

The Methodist Connexion has always laid great emphasis on class meetings for young people. It is with no surprise, therefore, that we find in 1864 a Sunday-school was opened in the same building. Firstly under the superintendence of Mr. E. Bailey and later of Mr. John Nunn [15]. Mr. Nunn was a young man who had then recently moved into Molesey from Hoo in Suffolk to become bailiff at Island Farm, West Molesey, a job which he soon vacated in favour of opening a butcher’s shop, which stood on the corner of Pemberton and Walton Roads [16].


Early in 1863 the first blow fell upon this thriving community. Mr. Thomas, the rock on which they relied for so much, passed away, at the comparatively early age of forty-four. This was misfortune indeed, not only for Methodists but for the whole village. "In him", it was said, "Molesey people had a gentleman who was highly distinguished for the first rate character of the instruction he imparted to his pupils" [17].

The Wesleyan Society now had to look around for fresh premises in which to meet. However, by this time the connexion had been built up into a cohesive unit, and received a great deal of assistance from the Richmond Circuit, of which it was now a part. It was with confidence, therefore, that the idea of building a chapel for their own exclusive use was put forward.

By the side of Mr. Thomas’s school was a plot of land of just over two acres in extent, part of the land originally purchased by Lady Hoste, which was then unused. This plot, it was considered, would make an ideal site for a chapel. Lady Hoste was willing to sell the land. All that remained was to raise enough money for its purchase.

Luckily there existed in the Methodist movement at that time a group of men who had risen to great fortune on the tide of Victorian expansion, and who with great missionary zeal generously placed a portion of their riches at the disposal of the church, expressedly for the purpose of erecting new churches in expanding areas like East Molesey. We must now introduce such a man. A man called John Chubb [18].

John Chubb was the "son" of Chubb and Son’s Lock and Safe Company, and the man who raised the firm to become a national household name. He was born in 1815, a Methodist of the fourth generation. It was said that his devotion to the Wesleyan cause combined the firmness of conviction with the ardour of passion. From his youth Mr. Chubb was familiar with the society of the ablest of Wesleyan ministers, whose conversation and influence contributed greatly to the formation of his opinion and character. A character which is exemplified by one speaker, "A better never lived, charitable and obliging to all the deserving and unkind to none". He was a brilliant engineer and revolutionised the security trade with his inventions, from which he became extremely rich. However, his cheque book was an "open sesame" for any object concerned with the Methodist church, especially in the work of selecting and securing advantageous sites for the erection of new chapels.

Mr. Chubb was not unacquainted with this district, for he would come down angling on the river Thames. In August 1861 the "Field" reported that he had caught "a fine trout", weighing some six and a quarter pounds, whilst fishing off Molesey Hurst with the well-known local waterman Tom Davis of Bridge Road. Doubtless many anglers would like to be able to catch trout in the Thames today [19].


John Chubb. The generous donor of the land on which East Molesey Methodist church stands.

Mr. Chubb’s assistance in the purchase of the land was sought, and he magnanimously agreed to bear the whole cost. Therefore, on the 28th November 1866 a deed of conveyance was drawn up whereby he became the owner of:-

"All that piece or parcel of land or ground situate at East Moulsey in the County of Surrey bounded on the North West by the Manor Road on the South East and North East by an orchard belonging to the Devises of the late John Arnison but in reality as to the North East by land belonging to Lady Hoste and on the South and West by land belonging to Francis Jackson Kent containing by admeasurement on the North West and South East sides thereof respectively fifty feet and on North East and South West thereof respectively one hundred and eighty feet or thereabouts as the same was then fenced out and delineated in the plan drawn on the back of the Indenture and therein coloured red" [20].

The next thing was to transfer the property to the care of trustees who would have the legal custody and administer it on behalf of the members of the chapel. A trust deed was, therefore, draughted. Which according to an Act of Parliament passed in 1736 had to be enrolled in the Court of Chancery. In this case the word "enrolled" really means what it says. The records of the court, as they had been for hundreds of years, were written onto parchment "membranes" which were then sewn together top and bottom into one long strip about a hundred feet long and then rolled up for storage. These rolls are now in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, and in fact the East Molesey Wesleyan deed, which occupies about five membranes, is the last deed on its particular roll. Consequently in order to read it all the previous documents have to be rolled off, and when finished with, rolled up again.

The trust deed was dated 31st December 1866, and by it John Chubb conveyed the land he had bought to a board of eleven trustees, of which he was to be one.

The powers and responsibilities of the trustees and the limitations of the settlement were stipulated in the deed by reference to "The Model Deed". This was a similar document by which a chapel at Skircoat near Halifax in Yorkshire was settled on the congregation in 1832, and which has become the standard reference for almost all Wesleyan Methodist trusts ever since. The device of the model deed, which saves the considerable expense and tedium of itemising each and every clause word for word in every deed, was first introduced by the early Methodists in the eighteenth century. In 1746 John Wesley, on the advice of three "most eminent counsellors", used a deed to settle the trusts of the New Room at Bristol, which came to be used as a model for later similar establishments elsewhere. The Skircoat Model Deed simply regularised and brought up-to-date the earlier example [21].

It is interesting to consider the men who were chosen to form the first board of trustees, who they were, what they were, and from where they came. Mr. Chubb we have already spoken about. Then came three men from Richmond, all local tradespeople: Somers Thomas Gascoyne, builder; George Freemantle, butcher; and William Lucket, tailor. Of these undoubtedly Mr. Gascoyne was the most noteworthy. He was a Richmond councillor for many years, served as mayor, and sat on most of the town committees and organisations. In his old age he wrote a book of reminiscences, in which he recalls the Richmond of the past, of life in the old time, the events with which he had been associated, and the personalities with whom he had been in contact [22]. From other parts of the circuit came Robert Samuel East, grocer, and Thomas Tippett, engineer, both from Hampton; and Joseph Baker, bootmaker, Teddington.

East Molesey was represented by three men, David Moss, Sydney Pullen Peacock, and David Martin.


Somers Thomas Gascoyne. One of the first trustees.

David Moss was the founder of a family who have provided staunch Wesleyans in Molesey over several generations. He came from Suffolk, having been born at Dennington in that county in 1821. He married a young lady from Bungay and soon after, in 1853, immigrated to East Molesey and set up in business as a market-gardener and florist at his house "Claremont Cottage", which still stands in the Walton Road between Pemberton and Park Roads. He and his son Edgar, who later kept a corn merchant’s shop where the Cooperative store now is, together filled a variety of the offices in the chapel during a period stretching over some seventy years [23].

Sydney Pullen Peacock was brought to live in East Molesey in 1846 at the age of five years, when his parents moved here from Cranleigh and opened a General store near the Bell Inn. Later the shop was moved to larger premises in Walton Road, opposite to Grove House, now the site of Grove Court, where one side of the business specialised in grocery and the adjacent part, which was managed by Sydney, in drapery. Afterwards all or some of this was transferred to the shop at the corner of Walton and Manor Roads, now Mr. Fox’s television shop, where it was known as "Peacock’s Emporium". An advertisement for this in 1876 announces it as "The Molesey Boot Warehouse", and goes on, "S.P. Peacock - Specialises in Ladies Walking Boots - Satin, Lasting, French Manufacture, Elastic 8/11, Button 12/6, Sewn Boots in great variety - Boots sent out for fitting" [23].

Mr. Peacock’s father "had originally come from Suffolk, which county thus provided the three leading Methodist families in Molesey at that time - the Mosses, Nunns, and Peacocks.

Of David Martin, who is stated to have been a gardener, there is little information. He is not mentioned in any of the street directories of that period, neither does his name appear in the census returns of either 1861 or 1871.

However, the most colourful character on the board of trustees was undoubtedly Samuel Wesley Bradnack, the owner of a private school in Surbiton. He was the son of a Methodist missionary, and formerly ran his school in Cobham, where he was instrumental in setting up a thriving Wesleyan community in spite of tremendous difficulties. "Mr Bradnack", it was reported in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, "was deeply concerned to witness the low state of religion and morals generally; the village contained an excess of public houses which were the nurseries of intemperance and of kindred evils. He fitted up his barn as a place of worship, he himself inviting the people to attend, distributing among them religious tracts and collecting their children together in a Sunday school" [24].

One of the pupils at Mr. Bradnack’s school at Surbiton was a lad named Thomas Anstey Guthrie, who under the pseudonym of F. Anstey claimed a moderate fame as a novelist and playwright, mainly on account of his first literary excursion, a humorous novel called "Vice Versa", which some years ago was made into a most successful film. It tells the story of a man and his son changing identities. The father in the role of the son is sent back to "Crichton House", the school of "Dr. Grimstone", where he is made to feel most uncomfortable. Thereby justifying the novel’s subtitle, "A lesson to fathers" [25].

Guthrie frankly acknowledges in his autobiography that the activities at Crichton House were liberally founded on the experience of his own schooldays, and that his own schoolmaster was undoubtedly the origin of Dr. Grimstone. Not that Mr. Bradnack is ever named as such, for as Guthrie candidly admitted he was terrified of being sued for libel. He describes the real headmaster as "rather formidable in appearance, tall and broad, with a clean-shaven upper lip and a beard sprinkled with grey, but his manner was genial, and I did not feel at all afraid of him". Of his wife he said she "looked kind and motherly, as indeed she was". He also describes visits to Hampton Court, Kingston and Richmond Park.

These then were the gentlemen who were the trustees and had the responsibility of looking after the property. The fact that the majority of them were appointed from outside the district reflects an aspect of deliberate policy. It was designed, and in most cases used, to limit the powers of, the local congregation and strengthen the hand of circuit and national interests. In the early years, it seems, some churches after being built, often with mainly outside money and assistance, were managed entirely by local self-governing members who could if they so desired, and sometimes did, have a change of heart and remove their church from the Wesleyan fold to another denomination. By having the control in the hands of men from other places this possibility was considerably reduced.

Having overcome the first obstacle and acquired the land the next endeavour was to concentrate on the building to be provided. It was decided, most sensibly, not to be too ambitious at first, to take things step by step, and not to embark on the erection of a large chapel until it was certain that sufficient means would be available to pay for it. The wisdom of adopting this course was amply proved a few years later when the Baptists in Molesey launched on the construction of a lavish and costly chapel in Bridge Road, which they could not justly afford, and for which they had neither the capital nor the hope of raising it. Within ten years it had to be sold to repay the debts, and the magnificent building became a boat-building works, and is even now still used for commercial purposes.

The committee resolved instead to erect a temporary building at the rear of the site, which would serve in the dual role of both chapel and Sunday-school until enough money could be raised to enable a permanent chapel to be constructed on the vacant space left in front of it.

At the circuit quarterly meeting in January 1867 it was reported that "£100 has been promised on behalf of the school-chapel at East Moulsey, the site of which was a short time since most generously presented by Mr. Chubb" [26].

Within eight months the work had advanced sufficiently for the foundation stone to be laid, and the ceremony was performed by Mr. T.L. Wilson, of Teddington, on Thursday 8th August 1867. It was reported "There was a numerous attendance. The Rev. Mr. Coleman, superintendent of the Richmond circuit, presided, and other ministers present were the Rev. T. Jeffries of Kingston; Rev. Mr. Eldridge of Cobham; and the Rev. Francis Sharr of Hammersmith. These gentlemen, with Mr. Wilson, having ascended the scaffolding, the devotional part of the proceedings commenced. This being concluded, Mr. Wilson received a mallet and a silver trowel from the presiding minister, and went through the usual formalities. The stone bears the inscription:- ‘This stone was laid by T.L. Wilson, of Teddington, Aug. 8, 1867’. Mr. Wilson, turning to the spectators, said he had laid the stone in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the Trinity in Unity, the Triune God, of whom they were not ashamed. In conclusion Mr. Wilson trusted they would raise a school, and also a chapel in front, which would be worthy of the place. A collection was made at the close in aid of the building fund, which raised about £30. A public tea was provided for the friends in a private house adjoining the grounds" (Presumably Tor House) [27].

When the Richmond circuit gathered for the October quarterly meeting, Mr. Coleman reported that the building was almost complete and would, in all probability, be opened on Tuesday 29 October. No accounts of any official opening ceremony appear in any of the news­papers, it seems likely, therefore, that none was held. Nevertheless, it was probably with much jubilation that the local society moved into their new home, the first that was truly their own [28].

It was a comparatively small building, holding about a hundred and twenty people. Its exact location can be obtained by reference to the accompanying detail from the first 25 inch Ordnance Survey map, which was published in 1868.

Part of the first 25 inch Ordnance Survey map of East Molesey, published in 1868, showing the location of the original Wesleyan chapel-Sunday school.

The services in the chapel were often taken by undergraduates from Richmond Theological College, which had been started in 1843 to train men for the Methodist ministry. Part of the student’s instruction consisted of preaching practice and active pastoral work in the various chapels situated around the college. One governor of the college said he always rejoiced in the prosperity of the cause at East Molesey because "it was largely helped by the labours of the students, and he could say that they came there every time with increasing pleasure, because they saw the work of God prospering in that place in the most natural way by the diligent and earnest and constant labours of the people on the spot" [29].

Well that was the view expressed by the principal to the congregation at Molesey. The students themselves appear to have seen Molesey and other outlying chapels in quite another light, if a story printed in one book is to be believed. As most of the youths were not very wealthy they had to walk over all the way from the other side of Richmond. A stride which was not always looked forward to with the utmost delight. One governor, so the story goes, who had been a missionary and walked vast distances across the Indian plains, still believed that if a student was not in good health, far better than doctor’s medicine was a long tramp to a distant village to preach on the next Sunday, and this was the prescription for all ills. Indeed it was said that the men were afraid to let it be known that they were unwell as inevitably the cure would be an appointment to officiate at Molesey, Esher, Hook, or some other distant chapel.


Meanwhile the society had not forgotten the need for a proper, permanent chapel. A building committee was appointed and the collection of funds continued apace. The Methodist Recorder of 9 June 1876 contains on its front page the following advertisement:-

"East Molesey, Surrey, A new chapel must be built to meet the needs of a growing Society and School in a most promising neighbourhood. Bazaar on 28th June. Gifts will be received by Rev. J. Pratt, Richmond, Surrey" [30].

The bazaar made a clear profit of £60.

Within nine years a sum had been raised and an interest-free loan had been negotiated, sufficient to permit a start to be made on the permanent fabric.

The architect chosen to design the chapel was Mr. Alexander Lauder of Barnstaple in Devonshire [31]. A staunch Methodist who had built a number of Wesleyan chapels up and down the country, including the chapel and hall in his native town. Of which it is recorded "Much of the success which has attended these various chapel erections is due to the valuable cooperation and liberality of the architect, Mr. Alexander Lauder, who in addition to generous donations, rendered his professional services in each case gratuitously". Besides his work as an architect with an office in High Street, Barnstaple, he had a lease of some clay fields in a nearby village, where he produced bricks tiles, pipes, and other terracotta wares, and later developed a business of decorated art pottery for the tourist trade in the town, from which it appears he prospered. He also taught architecture in the local college, where one of his pupils was a lad called William Richard Lethaby, whose talent he soon recognised, and whom he took into his office. This lad afterwards became the first principal of the London School of Arts and Crafts, and author of several books on architecture and arts [32].

The design of the chapel, like most of Mr. Lauder’s works, is of a simple, pleasant edifice, in unostentatious Gothic, constructed of yellow brick with stone dressings. The contract for its erection was awarded to Mr. Thomas Hickenbotham, a builder, of Sunbury Common, for a sum of £1,175, including provision for heating and lighting. The plans were passed by the East Molesey Local Board, the local authority at that time, at their meeting held on 1 August 1876 [33], and two days later, on Thursday 3 August, the foundation stones were laid by William McArthur, M.P., and T.W. Pocock, J.P. [34].

Both of these gentlemen were influential figures nationally in the Wesleyan world, but neither of them were local residents or had direct connections with the district. However, they were both very rich men, so possibly the decision to invite them was moved partially by thoughts of substantial donations towards the building fund. If this was so the desire was crowned with success, for we read that Mr. McArthur dug into his pocket to the tune of £25 and Mr. Pocock to £20 [35].

Mr. McArthur, later Sir William McArthur, was a supreme example of the standard Victorian success story. Born in Ireland, he was successively, a woollen draper, a wool merchant specialising in the Australian trade, Australian and New Zealand property owner, sheriff, alderman, and lord mayor of London, and member of Parliament. Although nominally a Liberal he was an ardent imperialist. He was described as "a zealous Wesleyan throughout his life", and at his death left most of his fortune, about £150,000, to various charities, chiefly connected with the Methodist denomination [36].


William McArthur, M.P. Who laid one of the foundation stones of the Methodist chapel on 3rd August 1876.

Thomas Willmer Pocock came from a line of prominent Wesleyans, his great grandfather had stood in the pouring rain to be beside John Wesley when he laid the foundation stone of the City Road Chapel. His father, W.W. Pocock, the architect of Spurgeon’s Tabernacle at Newington, and many other chapels, including that at Cobham, was the author of a book on the History of Methodism in the Southern Counties, and is commemorated by a window in Wesley’s Chapel [37].

Beneath one of the stones a bottle was deposited, into which was placed a copy of The Times, The Surrey Comet, and The Methodist Recorder, together with a plan of the Richmond circuit, and a paper detailing the circumstances leading up to the building of the chapel and the names of the trustees and the building committee [38].

When the stones had been successfully laid, each gentleman was presented with an engraved trowel, and the two followed with, what the Methodist Recorder described as, "very interesting, liberal-minded, and Christian speeches on the public benefits resulting from the building of places of worship". Mr. McArthur expressed his pleasure at being present to witness the commencement of a venture of this kind. He believed there was no greater act of charity or mercy than of erecting houses for the service and worship of God. After observing that he believed that in a Methodist chapel the pure and simple principles of Christianity would be preached and nothing else, he concluded by expressing earnest hope that the blessing of God might rest on the undertaking. Mr Pocock gave an "eloquent dissertation" on the principles and history of Methodism; and the Rev, J. Pratt, superintendent of the Richmond circuit, thanked both gentlemen for their presence.

At the public meeting held in the evening in the old chapel, Mr. Walter Taylor of Teddington, who was invited to be chairman, not only "imparted a cheerful tone to the meeting by his hearty speech", but also contributed £21 to the building fund [39].

With the conclusion of these formalities the real work of constructing the chapel was able to proceed, and day by day the edifice grew before the eyes of the congregation. Finally, on the 21 April 1877, the announcement for which they had all been waiting appeared in the Surrey Comet:- "The new chapel is approaching completion and will be opened on Whit Monday" [40].

We have now brought the story back to that momentous Whit Monday afternoon; back to Mr. McAuley’s inaugural address; and back to those members of his audience who had witnessed the story we have just unfolded, and who were probably recalling it to themselves as he spoke. But the record doesn’t end there. In fact one might say that it was then only just beginning.


In his opening sermon Mr. McAuley had stressed upon those present "the desirability of uniting in the praiseworthy effort of freeing from debt the beautiful building which they had opened that day, and not allowing their efforts to become relaxed until that work had been accomplished [41].

Each year at Whitsuntide, on the anniversary of the opening of the chapel, a tea and public meeting was held, which was joined by friends from all the surrounding societies. In fact it was remarked "the East Molesey anniversary is considered a sort of holiday amongst the Wesleyan body". Every year also at this time the financial statement was read, it showed that the debt on the chapel, which started out together with the cost of the earlier building at £1,750, grew steadily less and less.

In 1879 the Comet reported:-

"The proceedings of the Wesleyans in East Molesey deserve recognition at the hands of the public. A little over two years ago it was resolved to build a new chapel. The time has arrived for a payment of £173 off the debt, and great effort was made by the friends to realize that sum, and they set to work with a will. Sermons were preached on Whit-Sunday. Monday was devoted to a tea meeting, at which 100 sat down. A public meeting held subsequently, realised altogether £22, this enabled the money to be paid. The friends of the cause may be fairly congratulated on the position" [42]

Within another six years the debt had been repaid in full [43].

Over the years since 1866 the ten trustees of the original board prescribed in the Trust Deed were continually reduced by deaths and removals, until only two - David Moss and Thomas Tippett - were left to carry on the functions. Certain others had been co-opted to fill the gaps, and had in fact served, but there was some doubt as to the constitutional validity of their nomination. Therefore the two lawfully appointed trustees petitioned the Board of Charity Commissioners to regularize the position, in order that the trust could continue to operate legally, especially in view of the fact that additional buildings would soon be expected, greatly enlarging their sphere of responsibility. Consequently, on 2 June 1885, the commissioners issued an order, the effect of which was to remove all those members who because they had moved away from the district no longer wished to serve, or who could not be traced; confirmed the appointment of those whose nomination was in doubt; and designated an additional six members. Bringing the total number of trustees up to seventeen, of whom eight, or almost half, were now resident in Molesey [44].

Under the Marriage Act of 1837 any building which had been certified for religious worship could be enrolled with the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, for conducting the Wedding Ceremony, so long as at least twenty householders signed a form attesting that the building had been duly registered as a place of worship and had been used as such for at least twelve months.

Therefore, as soon as this statutory period had passed, twenty men and two ladies subscribed their names to that necessary form, and on 6 November 1878, James Edgell, the Superintendent Registrar of the Kingston Registration District, declared that the chapel was "duly registered for solemnizing of Marriages therein, pursuant to the Act of 6th and 7th William IV, cap 85". This action was ratified by an announcement in the London Gazette on the 15th of the same month [45].

In less than a month the first wedding service was held, and appropriately enough the first bridegroom was Mr. Harry Moss, who was united to his sweetheart Miss Betsy Hoare. Harry, who was a stonemason had in fact exercised his craft working on the construction of this very building, and was the twenty-four year old eldest son of David Moss, who as we have already seen was one of the pioneers of the Methodist movement in Molesey [46].


Meanwhile the original building at the rear of the chapel had been handed over completely to the Sunday School, which at the time was making rapid strides, under the fervour and energy of its superintendent and teachers. By the early 1880s there was an average attendance of around a hundred and sixty scholars, all accommodated in a room designed only for a little over a hundred. The crush being so great that some children had to sit on the knees of others, and it was feared, as the minister stated, "If the sanitary inspector had come in some Sunday afternoon he would probably have given an order that the school must be closed, because it was perfectly insufferable on a hot Sunday afternoon" [47].

After what was described as "many meetings, much consultation, a great deal of prayer, and some liberal offers", a resolution was made to "arise and build", and to build such a scheme as would provide a school larger, more convenient, and more imposing. A school purpose built, to meet the needs for many years to come, and would excel anything of the sort in the neighbourhood.

In January 1885 the Comet announced another great advance in East Molesey, "The Wesleyans in this village", it said, "have determined on a bold stroke for educational purposes. The committee has had plans prepared for a new school to hold 300 or 400 children" [48].

The plans to which this reference was made were drawn up by Mr. Charles Bell, an architect with offices in New Broad Street, London. A prolific designer, who was responsible altogether for some sixty Wesleyan chapels, twenty-five board and Sunday schools, several mission halls, colleges, banks, warehouses, and market halls, and for laying out three cemeteries, including that at Hampstead [49].

His design was a radical one, consisting of a central assembly hall, to seat about two hundred people, and opening out around it fourteen classrooms, each to hold some ten or twelve children, so that small groups could be taken for individual instruction without being distracted by others around. Mr. Bell explained that so far as his experience went this was quite a new departure in Sunday school architecture. This was the eighth Sunday school he had had the honour of building which was attached to a chapel which some other architect had designed. It was perfectly well known to all Sunday school workers - of whom he was one - that teaching could not be efficiently carried on unless there was a separate accommodation for each class. Each of the classrooms would have a large window, so that plenty of the light of heaven could stream in, and there would be a most efficient ventilation. He thought when completed it would be a striking and effective interior and a very handsome auditorium [50].

Above the classrooms and entrance hall, on three sides of the building were galleries overlooking the main hall, bringing the total possible assemblage to four hundred people. On the fourth side was a dais with rising choir stalls behind. On each side of the entrance was another classroom intended for older scholars. "For", as it was explained, "it is a fact well known to those associated with Sunday school work that when scholars attain the age of 15 or 16 they do not care to be connected with younger children, and in order to meet this susceptibility and retain the scholars in the school at this most important period of their lives these classrooms have been so arranged that the senior scholars will have a separate entrance, and will be kept distinct from the main school, into which, however, they can of course be introduced on any special occasion".

"Each of the classrooms", it was further reported, "will be well lighted and ventilated. The main building will also be amply lighted, and will have an open timbered roof of stained deal, supported by elegant iron columns with curved wooden moulded principals. Ventilation will be provided for by the best modern tubes for the introduction of fresh air, and exhaust pipes will be provided for the extraction of vitiated air. The upper part of the roof of the central hall will form a ventilating chamber connected with a painted ventilating ridge. The whole building will be in a plain substantial style, well suited for its purpose".

A contract was drawn up, in the sum of £1,200, with Messrs Potterton and Gould, an East Molesey building firm, for the erection of the school, and operations commenced in the early months of 1885. By May the work was sufficiently well advanced to permit the usual ceremony of laying memorial stones to take place. This was intended to be an occasion not to be forgotten, no less than sixteen stones were to be placed. On Thursday 19 May, in perfectly delightful weather, friends from all around the circuit gathered to watch the day’s proceedings. A temporary platform was erected at one end within the rising walls of the building, covered over with an awning in case the weather turned inclement, but which happily was not necessary.

The sixteen stones were laid by:- Mrs. Walter Taylor, of the Manor House, Teddington; Mrs. Corbett, of Imber Court; Mrs. Adams and Miss Pearmund, of Richmond; Mr. W. Sykes, of Richmond; Mrs. G. Thorn, of Teddington; Miss Cunnington, of the Orphanage, Sunbury, on behalf of the Rev. J.S. Haworth, of the Manse, Teddington; Miss Hart, of Teddington; Rev. J.S. Kirtlan, superintendent minister of the Richmond circuit; Mrs. Moss, wife of David Moss; Mrs. Herbert Thompson, of Bridge Road; Mr. John Nunn; Mr. E.E. Burgess, secretary of the Sunday school, on behalf of the teachers; Mr. R.T. Craggs, of Walton Road, superintendent of the Sunday school, on behalf of the scholars; Mr. Edgar Moss and Mr. Herbert Thompson, on behalf of the local society; Mr. W. Yeo, of Bridge Road, on behalf of the mission drum and fife band; and Mr. William Burgess, of the Priory, West Molesey, on behalf of the chapel choir. Each of the persons laying a stone was presented with a silver trowel suitably engraved with their names upon it. The trowels being supplied by Mr. W. Johnson, watchmaker and silversmith, of Bridge Road. The stones, some of which now grace the front wall by the side of the chapel, were cut and inscribed by Mr. J.W. Sumner, stonemason and shopkeeper, of Walton Road, a man whose kindheartedness and outspoken comments on the condition of the working class in Victorian Molesey made his name one of the most revered among the villagers.

The report of the proceedings which appeared in the following Saturday’s Surrey Comet stated: "It is our pleasing duty to record this as one of the most successful gatherings of the kind we have ever attended". The Rev. J. Kirtlan, in the course of a brief speech spoke of the small beginnings of Wesleyanism in Molesey, in the house of the late Mr. Thomas, and in a reference to his widow and daughter who were present, said "It was gratifying that they had present some of the representatives of the first friends of the Methodist cause in East Molesey, so that there was a link between the earliest beginnings of work in that place and the work they were undertaking to-day" [51].

Mr. Bell, the architect, addressing the audience, said that the building was going on extremely well, the builders doing their work excellently. He hoped that by next October they would be able to meet in the completed structure.

True to this prediction, the school was completed, and on Wednesday 28 October it was opened by a whole day’s celebrations. Starting at seven o’clock in the morning with a prayer meeting, followed by luncheon at one, a concert by the band at three, a tea at five, and concluding with a public meeting in the evening. All of which were well attended, and, as the speeches which, were made expressed, and the Methodist Recorder echoed, this day "was a red-letter day in the history of the Wesleyan church at East Molesey, marking as it did the opening of a building which is destined to play an important part in the work of the society" [52].

As it turned out the building was in fact due to perform a much wider role in the lives of the people of Molesey as a whole. For many years later on it was used during week days by the education authority as the school clinic. The individual schoolrooms being well suited for use as consulting rooms by the doctors and dentists. The present author has vivid and painful memories of loosing a number of his early teeth at the hands of dentists in these very rooms.

Since the palmy days of Queen Victoria’s reign Wesleyanism has seen and survived many changes, including an alteration of name arising from the merger of a number of divisions in 1932 to form the Methodist Union. Locally the most important change was the modernising and extension of the buildings during 1969/70. The school hall was adapted by the removal of the old small classrooms, so much admired in the different conditions of 1885, turning the central hall into a much more spacious auditorium; and by the erection of a stage and dressing rooms, and the provision of a kitchen and servery. This was opened by Mrs. Harold Moss in May 1970 [53], when it was announced that in future it would be known as "The Moss Hall" in recognition of her late husband’s work for the cause and the close connection of his family with the movement going back to 1853 when Mr. David Moss first came to live in Molesey and joined the local society.

In the grounds between the chapel and Tor House there was raised a brand new community hall, in place of a wooden hut put up in the 1930s, and a car park was laid. At the same time the porch arches of the chapel were closed in by the erection of wooden doors to form an entrance vestibule.

It is interesting to ponder that in the last century all of the buildings - the temporary chapel, the permanent chapel, and the Sunday school - were all constructed for a little over £3,000; in 1970 the additions and adaptations alone ran to something like £17,000. Still the main thing is that in both centuries there were people who were willing to work to raise the money, and people willing to give it.

Community Hall on left, opened in 1970.


  1. Weather – The Times, 22 May 1877; Floods - Surrey Comet, 13 January 1877.
  2. Surrey Comet, 26 May 1877
  3. F.M. Jackson, Itinerary of the Rev. John Wesley’s Journeys 1735-1790 (1907).
  4. W.W. Pocock, A History of Methodism in some of the Southern Counties of England (1885).
  5. Surrey Comet, 26 May 1877.
  6. Public Record Office, HO 107/1604/43/3, Census Returns 31 March 1851.
  7. Public Record Office, HO 129/47/3/6/9, Ecclesiastical Census 30 March 1851.
  8. Number 840 in "A Return made by the Registrar of the Commissary Court of Surrey to the Registrar General, pursuant to the Act of 16 Victoria, cap. 36, of all Places of Public Worship which have been certified to and registered in the Court of Commissary aforesaid from the year 1688 upto the 29th day of June 1852", in the General Registry Office, Kingsway, W.C.2.
  9. As note 4 above.
  10. Public Record Office, C54/16705, Close Rolls from the Court of Chancery, 1867, pt.66, No.22.
  11. Dictionary of National Biography; Tom Pocock, Remember Nelson: the life of Captain Sir William Hoste (1977).
  12. James Williams, A History of Education in East and West Molesey (St. Mary’s Church Magazine 1953).
  13. Surrey Comet, 22 December 1860.
  14. Ibid, 26 May 1877.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Public Record Office, RG9/457, Census Returns 7 April 1861; Surrey Comet, May 1877.
  17. Registrar General, St. Catherine’s House, Kingsway, W.C.2, Register of deaths, Jan/Mar 1866, Kingston District, 2a, 177.
  18. Sir George Chubb and W.G. Church, The House of Chubb 1818 - 1918 (1919); Information kindly supplied by Mr. R.G.R. Tarling, archivist Chubb and Sons Lock and Safe Co. Ltd.
  19. The Field, 31 August 1861.
  20. As note 10 above.
  21. E. Welch, Nonconformist Trust Deeds, in Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol.iii, pp.397-403 (1968); E.B. Perkins, Methodist Preaching Houses and the Law, Wesleyan Historical Society (1952).
  22. S.T. Gascoyne, Recollections of Richmond (1898).
  23. The biographies of Mr. Moss and Mr. Peacock are based on various census returns, local directories, and entries in the Surrey Comet.
  24. David C. Taylor, Methodism in Cobham in the Nineteenth Century, in News and Advertiser, 30 April 1970.
  25. T.A. Guthrie (1856-1934) Autobiography.
  26. The Methodist Recorder, 18 January 1867.
  27. Surrey Comet, 10 August 1867.
  28. Ibid, 23 May 1885.
  29. The Watchman, 2 October 1867.
  30. The Methodist Recorder, 9 June 1876.
  31. J.G. Hayman, History of Methodism in North Devon (1871); E. Lloyd Thomas, Victorian Art Pottery(1974); Information kindly supplied by Mr. K. Hunt, Area Librarian, Barnstaple, Devon; Barnstaple Street Directories.
  32. A.R.N. Roberts, W.S. Lethaby and the London College of Arts and Crafts (1957).
  33. Surrey Comet, 5 August 1876.
  34. Inscriptions on foundation stones.
  35. The Methodist Recorder, 25 August 1876.
  36. T.H. McCulloch, Sir William M’Arthur (1891); Dictionary of National Biography, xxxiv, 404.
  37. T.W. Pocock, op. cit.; The Times, 20 September 1899.
  38. Surrey Comet, 5 August 1876.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Ibid, 21 April 1877.
  41. Ibid, 26 May 1877.
  42. Ibid, 7 June 1879.
  43. Ibid, 17 January 1885.
  44. Parliamentary Papers, 1894, Ixiii, 626.
  45. London Gazette, 15 November 1878.
  46. Surrey Comet, 7 December 1878.
  47. Ibid, 23 May 1885.
  48. Ibid, 17 January 1885.
  49. Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 3rd series, vol.iv, (3 June 1899), p.434.
  50. Surrey Comet, 23 May 1885.
  51. Ibid, 31 October 1885.
  52. Molesey News, 21 May 1970; Surrey Herald, 22 May 1970.

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