A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 5, Bledisloe Hundred, St. Briavels Hundred, the Forest of Dean. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
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Evidence for the religious affiliations of early Foresters is fragmentary. The Baptist church in the Forest area in 1653 was evidently in Weston under Penyard (Herefs.) (fn. 1) and the Quaker meeting attended by George Fox in 1668 (fn. 2) was presumably at Aylburton. (fn. 3) Baptist and possibly Methodist preachers made occasional forays into the Forest before the late 18th century, when more sustained missionary work began. Itinerant Baptist and Independent preachers attracted congregations and some Foresters belonged to a Methodist society in Coleford. (fn. 4)
The growth of industrial settlement and the absence until the early 19th century of the established church favoured the spread of religious nonconformity and fundamentalism in the Forest. Early progress was slow but chapels were eventually opened in almost every community. Most belonged to one or other of the Methodist churches, principally the more fundamentalist Bible Christian and Primitive Methodist sects which began work in the Forest in 1823. In 1822 the evangelical minister Rowland Hill visited the area and Isaac Bridgman, the curate of Holy Trinity church, was suspended by the ecclesiastical authorities after receiving him. Bridgman continued to preach in the area and his missionary effort came to be directed from a dissenting chapel just outside the Forest at Brain's Green, in Awre parish. (fn. 5) His congregations included the ironmaster James Russell at Lydbrook and the carpenter and foundry owner Samuel Hewlett at Bradley. (fn. 6) In the later 19th century the most successful denominations were the Baptists and Primitive Methodists and there were some thriving congregations of Wesleyan Methodists and Independents or Congregationalists. Cinderford had several particularly large meetings. The power of the chapels was revealed in 1875 in the first elections to the Forest school board in which nonconformist candidates received two thirds of the votes cast and two Anglican clergymen failed to win seats. (fn. 7) In the later 19th century and the early 20th some other denominations, mostly newer fundamentalist sects, gained adherents in the Forest.
Nonconformist chapels remained at the centre of Foresters' religious, social, political, and intellectual life until well into the 20th century. The Methodist Church, created by the union of Primitive, United, and Wesleyan Methodists in 1932, (fn. 8) began with 29 chapels in Dean. Membership of many meetings was falling by the 1950s, when an acceleration in social change allied to the gradual disappearance of traditional Forest industries led to a rapid decline in the chapels' importance within their communities. (fn. 9) Many were closed and others reduced to a handful of members. At the end of 1992 the Methodist Church retained 12 chapels and the Baptists and the United Reformed Church, which the Congregational meetings had joined, 6 and 3 chapels respectively.
Baptist teachings were introduced to the Forest of Dean by preachers visiting the Coleford church in the 18th century. One conducted baptisms in Cannop brook in 1722 and another entered the Forest c. 1780 to evangelize coal miners. William Bradley, a miner who was to become minister of the Coleford Baptists, preached throughout the Forest (fn. 10) and in 1797 had a congregation at Littledean Hill in the east. (fn. 11) In the mid 1790s a Coleford Baptist preached many times in a public house in Yorkley. (fn. 12) The Coleford Baptists, whose church was behind the registration in 1818 and 1820 of houses at Five Acres and in the Lane End district for services, (fn. 13) established mission stations at Mitcheldean Lane End, Milkwall, and Little Drybrook. In 1851 those missions attracted small congregations and the Mitcheldean Lane End chapel, which 40 persons attended, also served as a schoolroom. (fn. 14) It was used in the 1880s by an Anglican mission from Coleford. (fn. 15)
The Baptist presence in Lydbrook probably began with a mission from the Ryeford church in Weston under Penyard (Herefs.), for which a house in English Bicknor was licensed in 1823. (fn. 16) The same year Thomas Wright, a minister, built a small Baptist chapel at Lower Lydbrook (fn. 17) with help from Edward Goffs charity, founded to provide free schools in Herefordshire and adjoining counties and used to establish Baptist missions. Wright remained in charge of the chapel and its Sunday school in the 1830s (fn. 18) and there were morning and evening congregations of 30 and 100 at services in 1851. (fn. 19) Following the loss of support from Goffs charity the chapel was dependent on the Baptist church at Leys Hill in Walford (Herefs.) until 1857 when it became a separate church with 12 members. The Lydbrook church had its own minister from 1863 and moved to a new chapel further up the valley in 1864. (fn. 20) The old chapel was sold and fitted as a public reading room, opened in 1868. (fn. 21) In 1875 galleries were erected in the new chapel, and a schoolroom next to it, under construction from 1872, was in use. (fn. 22) The church's fortunes in the late 19th century mirrored those of the nearby Lydbrook tinplate works and its membership in 1881 was 102. A. W. Latham held open-air services outside the village at the start of a pastorate lasting from 1883 to 1899. (fn. 23) By the mid 1980s the chapel shared a minister with the Ross-on-Wye Baptist church (Herefs.), and in 1992, when it was without a minister, it had average attendances of 25 and 15 on Sunday mornings and evenings respectively. (fn. 24)
Baptist missions to Cinderford were attempted before 1842 (fn. 25) when, with help from Gloucester, services were held in the house of W. F. Rhodes, a grocer and a member of the Coleford church. The following year the Cinderford meeting became a separate church with 10 members and it built a chapel in the later Commercial Street. The church, which had its own minister from 1845, became by far the largest Baptist meeting in the Forest and supported missionary work in several places. The chapel, in which a gallery was erected in 1847, (fn. 26) attracted morning and evening congregations of 170 and 280 and taught 170 children in its Sunday school in 1851. (fn. 27) It was pulled down following its replacement in 1860 by a larger building immediately to the south. The new chapel had a pedimented street front and an end gallery, and its sloping site afforded accommodation for a schoolroom under it. (fn. 28) In 1862 a Strict or Particular Baptist church also met in Cinderford and its minister Richard Snaith (fn. 29) conducted baptisms in St. Anthony's well near Gunn's Mills in 1864. (fn. 30) The meeting had a chapel in Flaxley Meend and has not been traced after 1879. (fn. 31) Under Cornelius Griffiths, minister 1873-81, the Commercial Street church saw its membership double to nearly 400 and it sent missions to places nearby and to Newnham. Its chapel had side galleries from 1875 and new rooms, opened in 1887 and 1903, were added at the rear for the Sunday school, which in 1901 taught 1,208 children and young adults. (fn. 32) The church, which in 1907 opened an institute in Belle Vue Road (fn. 33) and at the end of the First World War held open-air services at Mousell barn just outside Cinderford, was in decline by the later 1920s. It had 46 members in 1992. (fn. 34)
The extension of Baptist preaching to other parts of the Forest in the later 19th century led to the building of six or seven more chapels. The first, opened in 1854, was at Ruardean Hill, where Joseph Mountjoy, a Cinderford butcher, had started a mission in 1852. The meeting, with Mountjoy as pastor until his death in 1879, separated from the Cinderford church in 1855 (fn. 35) and had 40 members in 1868. (fn. 36) In 1898 two cottages were converted as a manse, which was sold when a new manse was built in the mid 1920s. The chapel fittings including a gallery and an organ installed in 1907 were rearranged several times in the 20th century, and its choir became a focal point in church life. (fn. 37) By 1992 the church had ceased to have its own minister and the average congregation numbered 33. (fn. 38)
At Viney Hill, where a Baptist minister active in Blakeney and Lydney lived in 1841, (fn. 39) a Primitive Methodist chapel was used for a Baptist school anniversary in 1856. (fn. 40) A Baptist meeting house at Blakeney Hill had been sold by 1875 to the vicar of Blakeney. (fn. 41) In 1860 Richard Snaith, a Baptist living at Whitecroft, began holding open-air and cottage services at Pillowell and Yorkley Wood and started a Sunday school. In 1862, after Snaith's departure for Cinderford, a room at Pillowell was acquired for services and classes and the meeting, which in 1863 joined the Baptist church at Parkend, continued to organize open-air services in neighbouring communities. In 1864 the meeting moved to a larger room at Yorkley, where a chapel was built for it in 1868. (fn. 42) Ties with the mother church were severed in 1881 when the Parkend meeting ended the ministry of Thomas Nicholson and joined the Coleford church. The Yorkley church, which Nicholson served until 1883, (fn. 43) had 23 members and a Sunday school with 132 children in 1884. In 1887 it engaged as minister S. J. Elsom, (fn. 44) the leader of the free miners, (fn. 45) and through his ministry resumed a connexion with Parkend in 1891. (fn. 46) Following Elsom's death in 1919 the Yorkley church continued to have a shared ministry, usually with the Parkend meeting, and from 1937 it was without a minister. (fn. 47) The chapel closed in 1980 (fn. 48) and was converted as a house.
Parkend Baptist church was established with help from Coleford and Cinderford. Built on land acquired in 1860, it opened in 1862 and incorporated materials from the recently demolished chapel at Cinderford. It was enlarged in 1865, schoolrooms being among the additions. (fn. 49) The church, which in 1868 had 46 members, including those attending its daughter meeting at Yorkley, (fn. 50) was often without a pastor. For a time it employed Thomas Nicholson, a former colliery owner at Parkend who became a champion of the Foresters' customary rights, (fn. 51) but in 1881 it dispensed with his services and joined the Coleford church. That union had ended by 1886 and Parkend later shared a minister with one or other of the Baptist churches at Yorkley, Lydney, and Blakeney. From 1958 the pastorate was unfilled and in 1992 the chapel had 7 members. (fn. 52)
Small chapels in use at Green Bottom and Steam Mills in 1992 were built for missions of the Cinderford Baptist church begun in the mid 1870s. Beulah at Green Bottom opened in 1877 and Bethel at Steam Mills in 1880. In the 1890s Bethel was enlarged and schoolrooms were added to both chapels. (fn. 53) In the mid or late 1870s a small Baptist cause at Edge End affiliated to the Lydbrook church. (fn. 54) It has not been traced later and a congregation meeting at Drybrook under the minister of the Ruardean Hill church in 1885 disbanded a few years later. (fn. 55) In 1886 Baptists built a small chapel at Joyford. Known as Bethel, (fn. 56) it joined the Coleford church in 1902. (fn. 57) It closed c. 1960 and was converted as a house a few years later. (fn. 58)
BIBLE CHRISTIANS AND UNITED METHODISTS.
The Bible Christian movement apparently reached the Forest at Drybrook from Monmouth in 1823 and was introduced to many communities by a mission established in 1826. The mission, conducted by two preachers holding open-air and cottage services, gained early converts in and around Drybrook and also spread beyond the Forest. Its first chapel within the Forest was Bethel, built at Drybrook in 1836 and opened in 1837. (fn. 59) Later that year Bible Christian societies at Drybrook, Edge Hills, Soudley, and High Beech had memberships of 17, 15, 6, and 3 respectively. The High Beech meeting lapsed soon afterwards but that at Soudley grew (fn. 60) and in 1846 it built a small chapel on Bradley hill near Upper Soudley. The chapel, a square stone building, was called Zion. (fn. 61) The Edge Hills society dwindled in the later 1840s and lapsed before 1856. (fn. 62) It was represented in 1851 by a congregation of c. 14 attending morning services on Quarry hill near Drybrook. (fn. 63) At that time Bethel had afternoon and evening congregations of up to c. 110 and Zion morning and evening congregations of c. 60 and their respective Sunday schools taught more than 50 and 30 children. (fn. 64)
By 1850 the mission had visited many places on the eastern and southern sides of the Forest and had established small societies at Bream, Lea Bailey, and Yorkley Slade. Services were held at Bream from 1841 (fn. 65) and the society, led by Henry Jones, built a chapel on the Parkend road at Bream's Eaves in 1851. (fn. 66) At Ruspidge, where the mission resumed its work in 1856, (fn. 67) a small chapel was built in 1857. (fn. 68) Such successes enabled the mission to become a separate circuit in 1858. (fn. 69) The following year the Bream's Eaves chapel was rebuilt to include a schoolroom, (fn. 70) the new building being retained as a schoolroom in 1906 when another chapel was built alongside it. (fn. 71) Also in 1859 the Drybrook society built a larger chapel on a site some way south-east of Bethel. Called Providence, it opened in 1860 (fn. 72) and housed a schoolroom on its lower floor. New schoolrooms were built next to it in 1899. (fn. 73) Bethel was converted as a house. (fn. 74)
In the later 19th century Bible Christians opened chapels in five more places within the Forest. At Yorkley Slade, where the cause was revived by Henry Jones in 1858, a chapel was built in 1862. (fn. 75) It became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 and a large schoolroom was added to it in 1955. (fn. 76) It closed in 1992. At Lea Bailey, which the mission reached in 1847, (fn. 77) open-air meetings were held at the Dancing green. Later, services at Red House, just within Weston under Penyard (Herefs.), drew a congregation from the north of the Forest and adjoining parts of Herefordshire and continued intermittently for some time after 1869, when a chapel called Bethel was built to the south-east at Bailey Lane End. (fn. 78) The chapel was rebuilt in 1930 (fn. 79) and became part of the Methodist Church in 1932. In 1869 also a small chapel was built on the south-western side of the Forest at Clements End, (fn. 80) where preaching had begun in 1856. (fn. 81) Apart from their chapels the Bible Christians had several preaching stations in the Forest in the 1860s but only one, at Ruardean Woodside, in 1875. In that year the total membership of their eight chapels, including one newly opened at Cinderford, was 166, with Drybrook (44) and Bream's Eaves (43) attracting the largest numbers. (fn. 82) The Cinderford chapel, at Flaxley Meend, (fn. 83) closed in 1879 but the society was revived in 1884. It held services and a Sunday school at Zion, the Wesleyan Methodists' chapel in lower High Street, which it purchased the following year. The Bible Christians had little success in Cinderford and in 1917 their successors, the United Methodists, sold Zion to the Y.M.C.A. (fn. 84) The Bible Christian cause at Ruardean Woodside was renewed several times before 1881, when a handful of people built a chapel at Knights Hill, to the west. The chapel, called Zion, became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 but closed in 1973 (fn. 85) and was a house in 1992.
The fortunes of the Forest's Bible Christians fluctuated considerably and several missions were organized to reverse a decline in congregations. Most chapels continued to attract small congregations and underwent little change but the larger societies increased their accommodation. (fn. 86) In one advance after 1907 when the Bible Christians joined with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church, (fn. 87) a small iron chapel was built at Plump Hill in 1913. (fn. 88) It became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 but closed in 1972 (fn. 89) and was used as a store in 1992. Of the Forest's eight Bible Christian chapels which passed to the Methodist Church formed in 1932. (fn. 90) that on Bradley hill, to which a brick schoolroom had been added in 1914, (fn. 91) closed c. 1988 (fn. 92) and became part of the Dean Heritage museum in the early 1990s. After the closure of the Ruspidge chapel in 1992 only the chapels at Bailey Lane End, Bream's Eaves (Parkend Road), Clements End, and Drybrook were in use. (fn. 93)
CONGREGATIONALISTS AND INDEPENDENTS.
In 1783 the preacher Richard Stiff, an Independent, moved from Dursley to Blakeney and began to hold open-air Sunday services in the Forest. (fn. 94) Among his congregations may have been the Independents who in 1787 registered a house at Whitecroft for worship. (fn. 95) Stiff's work was bolstered by a missionary society formed c. 1795 by Gloucestershire ministers (fn. 96) such as Robert McCall of the Countess of Huntingdon's chapel in Gloucester, (fn. 97) and in 1797 and 1802 houses at Littledean Hill and Yorkley were licensed for use by Stiff's followers. (fn. 98) The Littledean Hill meeting, established after a mission to Newnham had encountered hostility, moved in 1805 to Littledean, (fn. 99) from where it supported missionary work in the Forest. Its members registered houses at Cinderford in 1819, Soudley in 1821 (fn. 100) and 1822, and Pope's Hill in 1822, (fn. 101) and David Prain, its minister from 1826, preached in the surrounding area. (fn. 102) In 1833 an Independent Sunday school, started in 1827 possibly at Cinderford, taught 35 children and another in the Drybrook or Ruardean Hill area had c. 70 pupils. (fn. 103) The longest mission from Littledean was to Pope's Hill, where a chapel built in 1844 had a congregation of 70 and a Sunday school in 1851. (fn. 104) It was enlarged c. 1870 and it remained a mission station of the Littledean church (fn. 105) until falling attendances forced its closure in 1970. (fn. 106) The building had been converted as a house by 1990.
A mission to the Drybrook area supervised from Littledean by the Revd. Benjamin Jenkyn held cottage services at Hawthorns in the mid 1840s (fn. 107) and at Harrow Hill in 1851. (fn. 108) A chapel east of the Nailbridge road, begun by Jenkyn in the early 1850s, was opened in 1857 (fn. 109) and enlarged in 1858 with the help of the mine owner Cornelius Brain. (fn. 110) The meeting, which established itself as a separate Independent church with 9 members in 1859 and became the largest Congregational church in the Forest, employed its own minister from 1870. In the early 1870s the chapel, known as Rehoboth, was freed from debt by Cornelius Brain's executors (fn. 111) and was given a gabled street front with pilasters and round-headed windows as part of alterations completed by his sons in 1872. (fn. 112) A schoolroom was added to the building in 1874 and a block of schoolrooms was built to the north in 1888. From 1893 a manse was provided for the minister. In 1908 the church had 205 members, including those attending two daughter meetings, (fn. 113) and in 1924 it had 109 members. (fn. 114) From 1932 the chapel shared a minister with the Littledean church and later, as membership continued to decline, the pastorate was shared with other Congregational churches. The manse was sold in 1964 and the schoolrooms were abandoned in the mid 1980s. In 1992 the chapel, which had joined the United Reformed Church, had a congregation of 20, swelled on special occasions to c. 65. (fn. 115)
In its heyday the Drybrook church undertook missions to Brierley and Cinderford. At Brierley, where services began in the early 1880s, (fn. 116) a small chapel was built in 1884. (fn. 117) It later became a separate church (fn. 118) and, having joined the United Reformed Church, was used by a small congregation in 1992. Independents had organized meetings in Cinderford before 1830 (fn. 119) and the Drybrook church began a mission there in, or just before, 1904. A house at the corner of Forest Road and Woodside Street was converted as a mission church. (fn. 120) It was sold c. 1958 (fn. 121) and was later used by Jehovah's Witnesses. (fn. 122)
Independents led by a Gloucester minister held cottage services at Viney Hill in 1849. (fn. 123) Coleford's Independents also sent missionaries into the Forest. In 1860 they were holding services at Berry Hill and Coalway Lane End (fn. 124) and in 1865 they had a small congregation at Moseley Green. (fn. 125) That congregation, worshipping in a room at an abandoned colliery, included Mary Young, keeper of the Yorkley turnpike gate, with whose assistance Samuel Ford of Blakeney built a chapel at Moseley Green. (fn. 126) The chapel, opened in 1866, (fn. 127) was called Bethlehem (fn. 128) and was sold to the Primitive Methodists in 1894. (fn. 129) Longer lasting was a Congregational church at Worrall Hill established with help from the Coleford meeting. Services were held in cottages and a schoolroom before 1884 when a small chapel was built. The chapel was enlarged in 1888 and had 18 members in 1908. (fn. 130) In 1992 it was used by a small congregation of the United Reformed Church.
The spread of Primitive Methodism in the Forest, where it gained a foothold in the mid 1820s, was slow and unspectacular. Despite frequent setbacks many chapels were built and, with over a dozen, often small, meeting places scattered throughout the Forest in the late 1860s, Primitive Methodism became the most prevalent sect there. It sustained that position until after the First World War.
Primitive Methodism was probably brought to Lydbrook by a Gloucester man in 1823. (fn. 131) The following year James Roles, a preacher from the Oakengates circuit in Shropshire, arrived in Pillowell to evangelize the mining communities of west Gloucestershire. Cottage services were held in several places, including Lydbrook and Yorkley, and the mission became a separate circuit in 1826 or soon after. (fn. 132) The first circuit chapel was built at Upper Lydbrook in 1828 (fn. 133) and the mission gradually extended far beyond the Forest. The resident minister moved to Monmouth in the mid 1830s and circuits based on Hereford, Monmouth and Lydbrook, and Lydney were carved out of the Pillowell circuit in 1850, 1868, and 1879 respectively. (fn. 134)
Within the Forest the Primitive Methodists built a chapel between Pillowell and Yorkley in 1835 (fn. 135) and another at Ellwood in 1841 (fn. 136) and registered a house at the Lonk near Joyford for worship in 1846. (fn. 137) In 1850 they had small societies with less than ten members each at Joyford and in the Lane End district in the north-west, at Viney Hill and Oldcroft in the south-east, and at Littledean Hill in the north-east. Their three chapels attracted larger numbers of people (fn. 138) and in 1851 congregations at Pillowell and Ellwood averaged well over 100 and 60 respectively and included many children attending their Sunday schools. (fn. 139) The Lydbrook chapel, which at that time had an average attendance of c. 57, (fn. 140) was rebuilt in 1852 (fn. 141) and took the name Ebenezer. (fn. 142) Later a gallery was erected in it and a schoolroom was added, and in 1868 the chapel became the joint head of a circuit including Monmouth. (fn. 143) It was replaced in 1912 by a larger building with a schoolroom on its lower floor. (fn. 144) That chapel, which became part of the Methodist Church in 1932, closed in 1991. The Pillowell chapel was altered in 1856 (fn. 145) and a new meeting house incorporating a schoolroom under the chapel was built on another site to the southwest in 1885. (fn. 146) The original building, known as Jubilee chapel, (fn. 147) was sold in 1892 to the Pillowell and Yorkley co-operative society (fn. 148) and was used in 1990 as dwellings. The Ellwood chapel was retained as a schoolroom in 1876 when a newchapel was opened to the west. Services in the new building, known as Providence, were attended by 230 people in 1879. (fn. 149)
Of the smaller meetings in 1850 two built their own chapels. Zion at Five Acres, erected by the Joyford society in 1851, was enlarged in 1869. (fn. 150) It became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 and was closed in 1991. Mount Pleasant at Viney Hill dated from 1856 and had a schoolroom added to it in 1887. (fn. 151) It became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 but was closed in 1969 and was a house in 1992. (fn. 152) A society formed at Bream's Eaves in 1851 built a chapel there in 1858. Known as Mount Sion, (fn. 153) it attracted people from Whitecroft village, where Primitive Methodists had held cottage meetings, (fn. 154) and had a congregation of 150 in 1879. (fn. 155) A new schoolroom was added during alterations in 1903. (fn. 156) The chapel, which was part of the Methodist Church from 1932, closed in 1991. After several attempts the Primitive Methodists revived their mission to the Lane End district in 1857 and built a chapel called Pisgah at Coalway in 1861, (fn. 157) The following year they established a meeting at Reddings, near Lydbrook, and built a small chapel called Mount Tabor there. (fn. 158) A schoolroom was erected alongside it probably in the late 1880s. (fn. 159) The chapel became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 but after services ended in 1961 (fn. 160) it was used as a builder's store. (fn. 161) From the mid 1850s preachers also visited the Drybrook and Cinderford areas and in 1861 a small chapel was built north-west of Nailbridge on Morse Road, below Ruardean hill. (fn. 162) The chapel, part of the Methodist Church from 1932, closed in 1989. (fn. 163) Cinderford's Primitive Methodists met in a rented room in 1859 and built a chapel in 1864 in what was to become Church Road. Soon afterwards they opened a Sunday school in rooms under the chapel (fn. 164) and in 1908 they built more schoolrooms behind it. (fn. 165) The Primitives also continued to evangelize Littledean Hill near Cinderford (fn. 166) and in 1877 they had a mission to the Cinderford ironworks which regularly drew attendances of 45. (fn. 167) Their membership at Littledean Hill, where they bought Dockham chapel in 1879, remained small and, having failed to clear its debt, turned the chapel over to the Anglicans in or just before 1901. (fn. 168)
In the centre of the Forest Primitive Methodist services held at Moseley Green from 1859 were discontinued in 1864 for want of a congregation. They were resumed in 1867 (fn. 169) and a chapel called Providence, standing north-east of the Barracks, was registered in 1879. (fn. 170) In 1894 the meeting moved to the Independent chapel some way south but in 1898 it returned to its former home. The return led to a drop in support and in 1907 a new chapel was built on the Blakeney-Parkend road to the south. (fn. 171) That chapel, which was abandoned in the mid 1950s, (fn. 172) fell into ruin (fn. 173) but in the late 1980s it was rebuilt as part of a new house. In 1868 the Primitive Methodists had 13 meetings and 339 members in the Forest. Most of the chapels were well supported, particularly those at Coalway Lane End (42), Pillowell (38), Ellwood (36), Viney Hill (33), and Bream's Eaves (32). (fn. 174) The Primitive Methodists failed to win many adherents at Parkend, where they soon disbanded a society formed in 1870, (fn. 175) but in the mid 1870s they provided two more small chapels in the south-east of the Forest. Fairview near the top of Blakeney Hill, where a society met from 1861, was built in 1874. (fn. 176) The chapel, which became part of the Methodist Church in 1932, closed in 1990. Bethesda at Oldcroft, where the Primitives revived their cause in 1873, (fn. 177) opened in 1876 (fn. 178) and closed, following storm damage, in 1929. (fn. 179) Members of the congregation later reopened it as an independent church, (fn. 180) which closed in the early 1960s, and from 1975 until 1991 the building was an electrical engineer's workshop. (fn. 181)
The Primitives erected two more chapels in the north-west of the Forest, an area visited by their missionaries in the 1850s. (fn. 182) Edge End's iron chapel was built in 1892 (fn. 183) and Mount Hermon at Mile End in 1904. (fn. 184) From that time there were 15 Primitive Methodist chapels in the Forest. Those at Cinderford, Pillowell, Bream's Eaves, Lydbrook, and Five Acres had the largest congregations and each retained over 40 members in 1932. At that time the Mile End chapel, with over 30 members, was also well attended and the cause was weakest at Viney Hill and at Oldcroft, (fn. 185) where the chapel had been closed. Of the fourteen chapels that became part of the Methodist Church in 1932, (fn. 186) only those at Cinderford (Church Road), Coalway Lane End, Edge End, Ellwood, Mile End, and Pillowell were in use in 1992. (fn. 187)
Methodism had gained at least one Lydbrook family as converts by 1751 (fn. 188) but was not properly introduced to the Forest until 1808 or 1809, when two ministers of the Monmouth Wesleyan circuit holding open-air services were attacked and driven off. (fn. 189) Later their reception was more peaceable and William Woodall, one of the first to visit the area regularly, registered a chapel at Lower Lydbrook and a room at Clay Lane, near Clearwell Meend, in 1813 (fn. 190) and established a meeting at Ellwood, (fn. 191) where a house was licensed for worship in 1821. Wesleyan meetings were also begun at Pillowell and Viney Hill, where houses were registered in 1816 and 1817 respectively, (fn. 192) and at Joyford, where preaching began in 1820 (fn. 193) and cottages were registered in 1822 and 1824. (fn. 194)
Several small chapels were built as Wesleyan Methodism made progress on the fringes of the Forest. A mission to the colliers of Littledean Hill undertaken by George Robinson in 1821 proved successful and within three months a society was formed there. Robert Meredith's house was registered for the mission but a barn was used for services attended by several hundred people. Following Robinson's departure the Ledbury circuit supplied occasional preachers until the Wesleyan Conference, in response to Meredith's petition on the society's behalf, sent a missionary to the area. (fn. 195) Soon afterwards, in 1824, a chapel was built at Littledean Hill; (fn. 196) it had a gallery under which a Sunday school was held. (fn. 197) In the following months the missionary, Isaac Denison, also preached at Cinderford, Drybrook, Lydbrook, and Parkend and outside the Forest. He also took his mission to Lea Bailey (fn. 198) and a chapel was built there in 1836. (fn. 199) In 1824 a small square chapel, the first to be built by the Wesleyans in the Forest proper, was opened on a hillside between Whitecroft and Pillowell. Its congregation included members who earlier had attended services at Redbrook (fn. 200) and in 1834 its minister was the collier Edward Kear, known locally as 'Clergy Ned'. (fn. 201) A chapel built at Joyford in 1825 (fn. 202) was attended by Thomas James, a Coleford solicitor, (fn. 203) and had c. 14 members in the early 1830s. At that time the Ellwood society had c. 11 members and the Wesleyan cause at Lydbrook was very low. (fn. 204) By 1833 Wesleyans were holding cottage services at Bream's Eaves. (fn. 205)
The course of Wesleyan Methodism in the Forest owed much to Aaron Goold, a colliery agent and later a colliery owner. (fn. 206) Goold, with whose assistance the Littledean Hill and Whitecroft chapels were built, (fn. 207) was particularly influential in Cinderford, where a mission room for use by Baptists, Independents, and Methodists was opened with his help in 1829. (fn. 208) In 1841, when they had a meeting house at Cinderford bridge, (fn. 209) the Wesleyans built a chapel at the Cinderford ironworks, (fn. 210) and in 1850 their circuit plan for Ledbury and the Forest also included Wesley, (fn. 211) a large chapel in Belle Vue Road built by Goold in a 14th-century style. Opened in 1850, Wesley replaced the Littledean Hill chapel, (fn. 212) but with Goold's active espousal of the reform movement within the Wesleyan Methodist Church those loyal to the Wesleyan Conference reopened the older chapel and late in 1850 moved to a cottage in the Mousell Lane area. (fn. 213) Goold appointed Wesleyan Reformers to supply the pulpit at Wesley (fn. 214) and in 1851 his minister claimed congregations of up to 500. The ironworks' chapel, which also sided with the Reformers, had congregations of up to 150. (fn. 215) The Reformers, who also used the Littledean Hill chapel, were part of the United Methodist Free Churches in 1860. (fn. 216) Services continued at Wesley after Goold's death in 1862 and the chapel, which the United Methodist Free Churches retained together with a meeting place at Soudley in 1867, was closed in 1873. (fn. 217) The Littledean Hill chapel was converted as a house before 1895. (fn. 218)
The Wesleyan loyalists, who following the schism of 1850 numbered c. 20, (fn. 219) had several meeting places in Cinderford before 1860 when they opened a new chapel called Zion in lower High Street. (fn. 220) In 1875 the chapel became the head of a new circuit taken out of the Ross circuit and covering Coleford and Lydney besides much of the Forest. (fn. 221) Zion's congregation, which included colliery owners and managers, outgrew the accommodation and in 1880, with the help of the industrialist Jacob Chivers, it took over Wesley chapel. Zion, which it finally left in 1881, (fn. 222) was later used by the Bible Christians. (fn. 223) At Wesley the Wesleyans, who increased their membership to well over 100 by the end of the century, (fn. 224) built a block of classrooms behind the chapel in 1893 and a hall in 1905. (fn. 225)
Among the Forest's other Wesleyan societies the reform controversy of 1849 and 1850 had most impact at Whitecroft. There half of the 102 members left the chapel and, with the support of Aaron Goold, held services nearby in 1859. (fn. 226) The chapel's congregation, which averaged c. 50 in 1851, (fn. 227) was later boosted by the return of many of the seceders and in 1874 a larger chapel was built. The original chapel, which it adjoined, was retained as a schoolroom. Other additions to the building included, in 1905, a block containing a schoolroom and a meeting room on separate floors. (fn. 228)
In the later 19th century the Wesleyans were not successful in all parts of the Forest and many of their attempts to secure footholds failed. The cause at Lea Bailey, where the congregation in 1851 rarely surpassed 50, (fn. 229) was probably always small and the chapel, which was derelict in 1990, was converted as a house soon afterwards. At Lydbrook a similarly sized congregation (fn. 230) moved to a new chapel at Lower Lydbrook in 1864, (fn. 231) but the cause was overshadowed by other nonconformist churches. The chapel, which became part of the Methodist Church in 1932, closed in 1956 (fn. 232) and, after being used as a store, (fn. 233) was demolished. The Joyford chapel, for which an average attendance of 120 was claimed in 1851, (fn. 234) closed in the 1860s or 1870s. (fn. 235) The Wesleyan congregation at Bream's Eaves averaged 100 in 1851 (fn. 236) and moved to a new chapel at Bream Woodside in 1860. Later a rear block was added to the building. (fn. 237) The chapel, which became part of the Methodist Church in 1932, closed in 1959 (fn. 238) and was used by a pentecostalist church in 1992. (fn. 239) A Wesleyan meeting at Parkend, established by 1862, (fn. 240) was disbanded in 1876. (fn. 241) At Cinderford bridge, where they resumed preaching in 1864, (fn. 242) Wesleyans built a large chapel with a schoolroom under it in 1869. (fn. 243) They also founded a church at Ruardean Woodside, where they began services in a workshop at East Slade colliery in 1878 and built a chapel called Ebenezer in 1885. (fn. 244) A schoolroom added to the chapel in 1901 was enlarged in 1926. (fn. 245) The chapel became part of the Methodist Church in 1932 but closed c. 1981 (fn. 246) and was a house in 1992. The last attempt by Wesleyans to break new ground in the Forest, at Cannop where they furnished a room at a disused factory for services in 1915, was abandoned in 1916. (fn. 247) In 1932, when they helped to form the Methodist Church, (fn. 248) the Wesleyans had six chapels in the Forest and Lydbrook with 327 members, and Cinderford and Whitecroft remained their principal meetings. (fn. 249) The chapels at Lower Lydbrook and Bream Woodside, in villages where the Methodists inherited several meeting places, were closed in the 1950s (fn. 250) and that at Cinderford bridge in 1992. The chapels at Cinderford (Wesley) and Whitecroft remained open. (fn. 251)
OTHER CHURCHES AND MISSIONS.
A chapel at Ruardean Hill in 1856 was possibly opened by John Herbert, a dissenting minister. (fn. 252) No later record of the meeting has been found. Christadelphians, who apparently had a short lived meeting in Cinderford in 1870, met at the Pludds, near Ruardean, from 1890 until 1914. They held services elsewhere in the Forest, including Ellwood where they formed a congregation in 1916. That group worshipped at Fetter Hill from 1919 and moved in 1928 to a new iron and stone hall at Ellwood, (fn. 253) which was in use in 1992. Plymouth Brethren met in Cinderford, in a small chapel at Flaxley Meend, by 1879. The chapel, in Abbey Street, (fn. 254) was used by a pentecostal church in the mid 1960s (fn. 255) and had closed by the early 1990s. Also in Cinderford a mission hall in the later Station Street, an iron building which became known as the Ark, was registered in 1886 by a group called the Blue Ribbon Gospel Army. (fn. 256) The mission, which the 'Forward Movement' of the South Wales Presbyterian Church revived in 1901, was undenominational and under A. H. Hirst, its pastor for much of its life before 1938, it had over 30 members. (fn. 257) In 1973, the mission having been abandoned, the Ark was sold to Cinderford Town band for musical activities (fn. 258) and later it was pulled down. Another mission hall in Station Street, occupied from 1921 by a group of Brethren, (fn. 259) remained in use in 1992. The Brethren, who gained adherents outside Cinderford in the 1890s, opened other meeting places. (fn. 260) One at Yorkley Slade, in use in 1920, (fn. 261) was sold in 1957 to the parish of All Saints, Viney Hill, for use as a church hall (fn. 262) and another at Plump Hill was abandoned after 1965. (fn. 263) Lydbrook had a free mission hall in 1881, (fn. 264) and at Lower Lydbrook a mission hall built alongside an abandoned tramroad in 1889 (fn. 265) was disused in 1990. A mission room at Blind Meend near Clements End was recorded only in 1900. (fn. 266) Salem at Berry Hill, a small stone chapel built for a free church in 1900, (fn. 267) remained open in 1992.
The Salvation Army held meetings in Cinderford town hall in 1886 (fn. 268) and had its own place of worship nearby in Woodside Street c. 1930. (fn. 269) Jehovah's Witnesses, who were active in the town in the early 1920s, registered Kingdom Hall, formerly a Congregational chapel at the corner of Forest Road and Woodside Street, in 1964 (fn. 270) and remained there in 1992. Jehovah's Witnesses registered a meeting place at Brockhollands in 1971 (fn. 271) and their Lydney congregation built a church at Parkend in the early 1990s. (fn. 272) Friends or Quakers had a wooden meeting house in Station Street, Cinderford, in 1931. (fn. 273) It was dismantled in the early 1970s. (fn. 274) A Quaker meeting house at Ruardean Hill, built in 1934, closed in 1960. (fn. 275) A Christian Spiritualist church meeting at Lydbrook by 1934 was disbanded before 1964. (fn. 276) Pentecostalists meeting in Bream (fn. 277) registered the former Methodist chapel at Bream Woodside in 1964 (fn. 278) and held services there in 1992. In 1958 a congregation of the Assemblies of God had a chapel at Oldcroft, demolished by 1975. (fn. 279) In 1976 Latter Day Saints registered a new church in the Lane End district at Wynols Hill, just within Coleford between Coalway and Broadwell. (fn. 280)