Nailsworth: Nonconformity

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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A P Baggs. A R J Jurica. W J Sheils, 'Nailsworth: Nonconformity', A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds, (London, 1976), pp. 216-217. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

A P Baggs. A R J Jurica. W J Sheils. "Nailsworth: Nonconformity", in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds, (London, 1976) 216-217. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Jurica, A R J. Sheils, W J. "Nailsworth: Nonconformity", A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds, (London, 1976). 216-217. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,


The situation of the Nailsworth hamlets, on the borders of three parishes and distant from their parish churches, was conducive to the growth of nonconformity, which had close connections with local industry. Of the three main dissenting communities which established themselves there, the Quakers, who were holding meetings by 1660 (fn. 1) in the houses of members, were the earliest recorded. A meeting-house was built in or shortly before 1680, (fn. 2) and in 1735 170 Quakers were enumerated in Avening and Horsley parishes, evidently members of the meeting. (fn. 3) Nailsworth was also the venue for the monthly meeting for central Gloucestershire, including Cirencester, Painswick, Tetbury, Nailsworth, and Stinchcombe. Nailsworth meeting had a high proportion of poor members and various legacies for their support were left to it. (fn. 4) Repairs to the meeting-house were carried out in 1794 and 1819, (fn. 5) but the membership dwindled, in spite of the support of a prominent local miller, Anthony Fewster, and in 1851 only about 6 people were attending. (fn. 6) There was, however, a recovery in the mid 20th century, (fn. 7) and in 1973 the congregation numbered 25-30 people, drawn from Nailsworth and the surrounding area. (fn. 8) The late-17th-century meeting-house (fn. 9) was possibly converted from farm buildings belonging to the 17th-century house which it adjoins. The interior arrangement, including a gallery which may have been a schoolroom, is original but the seating and panelling were renewed, probably at one of the dates mentioned above.

William Tray, who was ejected from Oddington in 1662 and sought a licence for a house in Horsley parish in 1672, originated the Presbyterian (later Congregational) interest at Nailsworth. (fn. 10) In 1688 various families associated with the cloth industry, including the Yeatses of Minchinhampton and the Smalls, built a chapel at Upper Forestgreen, and Northfields House was acquired as a manse in 1708. (fn. 11) The congregation increased during the ministry of Jeremiah Jones (d. 1724) and it was found necessary to enlarge the chapel c. 1720; (fn. 12) in 1735 150 Presbyterians were recorded in Avening and Horsley. (fn. 13) A later minister, Christopher Paine, was permitted to augment his income from 1814 by teaching a private school, for which a schoolroom was added to Northfields House, (fn. 14) and the school was continued by his successor, Thomas Edkins, in the 1820s. (fn. 15)

In 1821 the community built itself a new chapel at Lower Forestgreen, but some of the members objected to the removal from the historic site and withdrew to form a separate church, building a new chapel near the old one at Upper Forestgreen. The membership at Lower Forestgreen suffered as a result and it was found necessary to dissolve and reform the church in 1844; (fn. 16) in 1851, however, the congregation, described as Congregational or Independent, was said to number over 400 adults. (fn. 17) By 1866 it was again severely reduced, but it recovered strength in the early 1880s and the chapel was restored in 1899. (fn. 18) There were 103 members in 1910. (fn. 19) Upper Forestgreen chapel, described as Independent, was said to attract congregations of up to 160 in 1851; (fn. 20) it continued as a separate church until 1916 when it was reunited with Lower Forestgreen. (fn. 21) The Congregationalists united with the Shortwood Baptist church in 1967, (fn. 22) and both the Forestgreen chapels had been demolished by 1973, when the upper site was marked by the burial ground and the lower site by the Sunday school building.

Shortwood Baptist church, the most successful of the Nailsworth dissenting communities, had its origin c. 1705 when some members of the Forestgreen meeting withdrew as the result of a doctrinal dispute, and began to attend the Baptist chapel at King's Stanley. From 1707 or 1708 the group held services under the King's Stanley minister at a house at Walkleywood in Nailsworth, and in 1715 a chapel was built at Shortwood; (fn. 23) 300 Baptists were enumerated in Horsley parish in 1735. (fn. 24) The chapel was served by visiting ministers until 1737, from which time there was a settled minister with a salary, initially of c. £30. (fn. 25) A manse was built at Tickmorend in Horsley in 1761. Benjamin Francis, who served as minister from 1757 until 1799, was responsible for a large increase in the size and importance of the congregation and several extensions were made to the chapel. (fn. 26) In 1799 the membership was 241, including groups in surrounding parishes. (fn. 27) During the ministry of William Winterbotham, who served from 1804 until his death in 1829, Shortwood was said to be the largest country Baptist meeting in England, and the congregation continued to prosper under T. F. Newman, minister 1832-64. (fn. 28) It had close connections with local trade and included most of the leading industrialists, such as Edward Barnard, Isaac Hillier, Samuel Clissold, and H. J. H. King. (fn. 29) Enoch Francis and A. M. Flint, who had a cloth-manufacturing business at Nailsworth in the mid 19th century, were both sons of former ministers of Shortwood, (fn. 30) and from the same period until the mid 20th century the Newman family of woolmerchants, descendants of T. F. Newman, played a leading role in the church. (fn. 31)

The chapel at Shortwood was rebuilt in 1837 and, in spite of the emigration of over 80 members to Adelaide between 1838 and 1840, (fn. 32) the adult congregation was claimed to number at least 1,000 in 1851. (fn. 33) In 1864 a dispute over the appointment of a new minister led to the secession of some members who built their own chapel, opened in 1868, in Bristol Road in the town; known as the Nailsworth Tabernacle church, the community retained its separate identity until 1910 when it rejoined the original Baptist church. The Shortwood congregation moved in 1881 to a new chapel in Newmarket Road on the west side of the town. (fn. 34) In 1967 it united with the Forestgreen Congregationalists to form a new church called Christ Church, Nailsworth. Services alternated for a few years with the Lower Forestgreen chapel but the chapel on Newmarket Road, after modernization, became the permanent place of worship in 1972. In that year Christ Church became a member of the new United Reformed church, although retaining its links with the Baptist Union. It had a membership of 147 in 1973. (fn. 35)

About 1790 William Biggs, a shopkeeper and leading member of the Forestgreen church, built a preaching room, which was to be open to all denominations; he persuaded the ministers of the local dissenting churches to preach there in turn, (fn. 36) and the hall continued in use for non-denominational activity in the early part of the 19th century. In 1836, however, the Shortwood Baptists bought it for holding evening services for their members living in the town, and they retained it until the removal of their chapel in 1881; (fn. 37) 260-300 people were said to attend for evening service in 1851. (fn. 38)

The centre of Methodist activity in the area was at Downend in Horsley. (fn. 39) In 1911, however, the Wesleyans bought the old Tabernacle chapel in Bristol Road and used it until 1947 when the congregation moved to a hall at Spring Hill (fn. 40) which they still used in 1973. The Plymouth Brethren built a room at Spring Hill in 1841, drawing some of their number from the Baptist church; there were congregations of 40-50 in 1851. (fn. 41) The meeting apparently ceased in the 1930s. (fn. 42)


  • 1. Glos. N. & Q. ii. 37-8.
  • 2. Glos. R.O., D 1340/B 1/M 1.
  • 3. G.D.R., vol. 285B, ff. 17-18.
  • 4. Glos. R.O., D 1340/B 1/M 1-2.
  • 5. Ibid. B 1/M 3-4.
  • 6. H.O. 129/338/7/2/12; cf. Glos. R.O., D 1548, Fewster colln.
  • 7. W.I. hist. of Nailsworth, 60.
  • 8. Ex inf. the caretaker.
  • 9. See plate facing p. 192.
  • 10. Calamy Revised, ed. Matthews, 490-1; Cal. S.P. Dom. May-Sept. 1672, 44; cf. ibid. 200.
  • 11. C. Russell, Brief Hist. of the Independent Church at Forest Green (Nailsworth, c. 1912), 11-13; and for the trust deeds cited there, Glos. R.O., D 1406, Thomas fam.
  • 12. Russell, Ind. Ch. at Forest Green, 15.
  • 13. G.D.R. vol. 285B, ff. 17-18.
  • 14. Russell, Ind. Ch. at Forest Green, 22, 23; Glos. R.O., D 1406, Thomas fam., Forestgreen chapel papers.
  • 15. Glouc. Jnl. 27 June 1829.
  • 16. Russell, Ind. Ch. at Forest Green, 23-5.
  • 17. H.O. 129/338/7/1/4.
  • 18. Russell, Ind. Ch. at Forest Green, 36-8.
  • 19. D. J. G. Kitson, Short Hist. of Forest Green Congregational Church (1962), 10.
  • 20. H.O. 129/338/7/1/6.
  • 21. Kitson, Forest Green Cong. Ch., 9.
  • 22. See below.
  • 23. W. Winterbotham, Hist. of the Baptized Church Meeting at Shortwood (1820), 13-16.
  • 24. G.D.R. vol. 285B, f. 18.
  • 25. Winterbotham, Bapt. Ch. at Shortwood, 23.
  • 26. Ibid. 32-5.
  • 27. Ibid. 40.
  • 28. Newman, Shortwood Bapt. Ch., 4, 6.
  • 29. Ibid. 6-7.
  • 30. Ibid. 3.
  • 31. Ibid. 8-9, 14.
  • 32. Ibid. 6, 1-2.
  • 33. H.O. 129/338/7/2/7.
  • 34. Newman, Shortwood Bapt. Ch., 7; Bapt. Quarterly, xiii, pp. 81-4.
  • 35. Ex inf. the minister, the Revd. P. S. King.
  • 36. Russell, Ind. Ch. at Forest Green, 19-21; for Biggs, cf. Glos. R.O., D 1406, Thomas fam., deeds of minister's house 1697-1825.
  • 37. W.I. hist. of Nailsworth, 60-1.
  • 38. H.O. 129/338/7/2/10.
  • 39. See p. 183.
  • 40. W.I. hist. of Nailsworth, 60.
  • 41. H.O. 129/338/7/15; Glos. R.O., D 2424/7.
  • 42. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1935), 262; (1939), 268.