A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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There were no protestant dissenters in the parish in 1676 (fn. 1) and probably none before the Quakers arrived. Their small meeting, started c. 1717, provided the only sustained protestant dissent from the church in the 18th century, for local Methodists did not separate from it until the 19th century, and the Baptists seem not to have been permanently established until 1857. Congregational worship began only in 1872.
In later 19th-century Madeley denominational loyalties did not divide the nonconformists. (fn. 2) Primitive Methodists might happily attend a Baptist tea meeting (fn. 3) or Independent and Wesleyan ministers a Baptist minister's lecture. (fn. 4) In 1885 Wesleyans lent their chapel to Baptist 'friends' when Spurgeon came to preach. (fn. 5) Shared social conditions did more than sectarian theologies to form local nonconformist culture, (fn. 6) and even distinctions between church and chapel were blurred by the Methodist and Evangelical traditions of Madeley parish church. (fn. 7)
Unsectarian prayer meetings held at Ironbridge c. 1880 (fn. 8) may be the Baptist and Congregational meetings, probably joint, held in Ironbridge assembly rooms, probably at the Wharfage, from c. 1885 to c. 1922; (fn. 9) the Congregationalists who helped to begin the meetings may have done so after a short-lived attempt to found a chapel in Ironbridge. (fn. 10) In 1883 the Gospel Army Mission began to use the Malthouse in Park Street, Madeley, but soon ceased to do so. (fn. 11) About 1895 there was a mission hall in Waterloo Street, Ironbridge. (fn. 12) The Central Cinema, Waterloo Street, was sometimes called the Central Hall, and Wesleyan-sponsored recitals were occasionally given there. (fn. 13) The Salvation Army used Ironbridge assembly rooms from 1894 to c. 1903. (fn. 14) It had premises in Park Street, Madeley, in 1909 (fn. 15) and in 1910 occupied the former Zion chapel, Ironbridge, (fn. 16) which it used during the First World War. (fn. 17) In 1935 the Army opened a hall in Waterloo Street, Ironbridge, (fn. 18) but it soon closed. (fn. 19) Jehovah's Witnesses used the former Central Cinema in Waterloo Street, Ironbridge, 1972-80; in 1980 they opened a newly built Kingdom Hall in Queen Street, Madeley. (fn. 20)
Abraham Darby (I) was involved in the affairs of the Broseley Quaker meeting by 1706. (fn. 21) There were eight Quaker families in Madeley parish in 1716 but no meeting (fn. 22) until 1717 when Darby's new house in Coalbrookdale was licensed for meetings. (fn. 23) There were c. 20 Quakers in the parish in 1719, (fn. 24) and meetings in Coalbrookdale, attended by 'persons of account', continued after Darby's death. After Abraham (II) built a meeting house in 1741 the Broseley and Coalbrookdale meetings merged. (fn. 25) By the late 1740s there were Sunday and Wednesday meetings in the meeting house, Friday meetings at Sunniside, and other meetings, perhaps occasional, at the works. (fn. 26) In 1763 Abraham (II) left provision for the enlargement of the meeting house and the enclosure of a burial ground. His own burial was the first, (fn. 27) and by 1770 the meeting house had been enlarged. (fn. 28)
The Coalbrookdale meeting was probably always small. In the late 18th century it evidently consisted of the Darbys, the Reynoldses, their households, and some of their senior employees, (fn. 29) men like the Luckocks. (fn. 30) There were 66 members in 1798, (fn. 31) when Elizabeth Gurney (later Fry), the future prison reformer, (fn. 32) stayed in Coalbrookdale and decided to become a Quaker. (fn. 33)
By 1808 the meeting house by Tea Kettle Row (fn. 34) had become 'inconvenient', and Richard Reynolds paid for a new one on a better site (fn. 35) acquired from Francis Darby. (fn. 36) Numbers probably declined when the Reynoldses left the area in the early 19th century and some of the Darbys joined the established church in the late 1840s. Newdale meeting united with Coalbrookdale in 1843, (fn. 37) but on Census Sunday 1851, in a meeting house accommodating 260, only 25 attended in the morning, 16 in the afternoon. (fn. 38)
Informal links between the Coalbrookdale meeting, the Darbys, and the Coalbrookdale Co. persisted. Mrs. Adelaide Anna Whitmore (née Darby) gave land to enlarge the burial ground in 1851. (fn. 39) W. G. Norris (d. 1911), whose mother was a Luckock and who was a leading member of the meeting, was also managing partner in the works. (fn. 40) Later the Simpsons, who ran the Horsehay works (at first for the Coalbrookdale Co.), attended the meeting. By 1860, when membership of the Shropshire monthly meeting was 23, Coalbrookdale was the only particular meeting in the county, and so it remained until 1931. By 1940 only two families attended the meeting which, in its last years, 1940-c. 1947, was held in a private house at Woodside. (fn. 41) The meeting house, closed in 1940, (fn. 42) was demolished in 1961, but the burial ground was maintained by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust from 1975. (fn. 43)
Methodism in Madeley began when J. W. Fletcher came as vicar in 1760. (fn. 44) In 1761 he fostered societies at Madeley Wood and Coalbrookdale, each about twenty strong. (fn. 45) He and his curate served them on alternate Sundays. From 1765 John Wesley's preachers from the Shrewsbury circuit also served them. (fn. 46) By 1762 the Madeley Wood Methodists met at the 'Rock church', a widow's house near Madeley Green, (fn. 47) and in 1764 the Coalbrookdale society met at the Bank. (fn. 48) In 1776 Fletcher undertook the building of a meeting house near the Rock church, eventually completed only at great expense to him. It was to be used to teach children reading and writing during the day and for worship and the religious instruction of adults in the evening. (fn. 49) A second meeting house in the parish was built in Coalbrookdale in 1785; it was enlarged in 1789 and rebuilt 1828. (fn. 50)
John Wesley made the first of many visits (fn. 51) to Madeley in 1764, but the parish church could not contain his hearers and a window near the pulpit had to be taken out for the sake of those in the churchyard. (fn. 52) That happened again in 1771. (fn. 53) In 1773 and 1774 Wesley preached in the open air at Madeley Wood to many colliers. In 1779, when he used the new Madeley Wood meeting house, he found that Methodist discipline had broken down during Fletcher's absence abroad, and in 1782 he helped the Fletchers to revive the local societies and classes. (fn. 54)
After her husband's death in 1785 Mary Fletcher remained in the vicarage and fitted up its barn as a preaching house. Wesley used it in 1789. (fn. 55) In 1800 her adopted daughter Sarah Lawrance opened a meeting house at Coalport. For most of Samuel Walter's curacy (1792-1815) there were thus four Methodist meetings, in the vicarage barn and in the Madeley Wood, Coalbrookdale, and Coalport meeting houses. (fn. 56) Others may have been short-lived. Mary Fletcher was intent on reviving one in the low town in 1790, (fn. 57) and by 1811 there was a house meeting in Madeley Lane, (fn. 58) perhaps the same as her Rough Park meeting. (fn. 59)
For its first half-century Madeley Methodism was bound to the parish church by strong ties of conviction and loyalty. The Fletchers never contemplated schism. Methodist meetings were timed not to conflict with church services, (fn. 60) and Mary Fletcher chose the curates 1785-1815. (fn. 61) The Cranages, especially William (d. 1823 aged 63), long represented Wesleyans 'of the true type', worshipping regularly in chapel but always taking communion in church on sacrament Sundays. (fn. 62)
When Mary Fletcher died in 1815 the situation began to change, albeit slowly. Her adopted daughter Mary Tooth left the vicarage but was allowed to continue her meetings in the barn, and in 1816 the Wesleyans decided not to build a chapel in Madeley. (fn. 63) Madeley, however, became the centre of a large Wesleyan circuit (at first known as Broseley circuit) which included places where relations with the church were bad. (fn. 64) In the 1820s moreover Revivalist missionaries arrived: (fn. 65) less solicitous for the church than the Wesleyans, they were nevertheless welcomed by many Wesleyans, and their acceptance as an established sect (from 1829 the New Connexion) (fn. 66) developed denominational awareness among the Methodists. In 1831 the vicarage barn was demolished, and in 1833 the Wesleyans opened a chapel in Madeley. (fn. 67) Mary Tooth's Madeley class and Coalport society seemed increasingly anomalous: the rump of Mary Fletcher's unofficial sub-circuit, (fn. 68) the two groups of 'old believers' continued strong in numbers (fn. 69) but their relations with the Wesleyan circuit were uneasy. The Wesleyan ministry barely accepted Coalport as a Wesleyan chapel (fn. 70) and regarded the Madeley church Methodists as only 'half and half'. (fn. 71) Until Mary Tooth's death in 1843 the Madeley class met at her house, in an upper room fondly remembered by one former member but recalled by a Wesleyan minister as 'an old ricketty garret'. (fn. 72)
The mid 19th century was a time of prosperity for the Madeley Wesleyans, largely unaffected by controversies which split Wesleyans in the northern coalfield parishes. (fn. 73) In 1837-8 they built a large new chapel at Madeley Wood to replace Fletcher's old meeting house, which had been enlarged in 1821; (fn. 74) in Madeley the imposing chapel in Court Street was built 1841-2 (fn. 75) to replace the modest one of 1833; (fn. 76) and in 1849 a new chapel was opened on the Wharfage at Ironbridge. The three new buildings provided c. 1,610 sittings (900 free) besides those in the older buildings at Coalbrookdale and Coalport. In 1851 Sunday morning or afternoon attendance at the three chapels was said to average 600 adults and over 480 children. Madeley Wood chapel, with places for 800 (450 free), drew as many adults and children as the other two together and its evening congregation averaged 550-600. (fn. 77)
The Madeley Wesleyans, like Methodists throughout the coalfield, thrived on revival, but the last great revival in the coalfield was in 1862. (fn. 78) Thereafter membership declined: in 1865 there were 401 members of the five Wesleyan chapels in the parish, in 1880 only 230. (fn. 79) Nevertheless congregations remained large, perhaps totalling 1,500 c. 1880, (fn. 80) and there were Wesleyan day schools. (fn. 81) There was a small-scale Methodist revival throughout east Shropshire in the early 1880s, (fn. 82) and in Madeley a new Wesleyan society of six members began in Park Lane in 1881 (fn. 83) and the old chapel (fn. 84) in Coalbrookdale was ambitiously rebuilt in an Italianate style in 1885. (fn. 85) Membership, however, continued to fall. The Wharfage chapel closed in 1889. The Park Lane society ceased in 1890. By 1905 the four chapels had only 142 members. (fn. 86) The Coalport chapel had 10 members in 1907; its lease had run out, the landlord was unsympathetic, and so it closed. (fn. 87) It had long been clear that Madeley had failed to keep the position Fletcher had given it as a Methodist 'stronghold'. (fn. 88) Madeley Wesleyan circuit was abolished in 1908, its Madeley chapels going to Wellington circuit. (fn. 89)
New Connexion Methodists arrived in the parish in the 1820s, Primitive Methodists in the 1840s. By the 1840s Wesleyans and the New Connexion, though not the Primitives, were probably just past the zenith of their fortunes. Nevertheless the Methodists may have remained the largest group of Christians in the parish in 1851, (fn. 90) and common traditions fostered good relations. (fn. 91) Doctrinal lectures by a New Connexion minister c. 1830 were well attended by other denominations. (fn. 92) In 1859 a New Connexion chapel was opened to 'assist' rather than 'rob' the other churches, and by the end of the 19th century Methodist local preachers took appointments regardless of denomination. (fn. 93) Declining membership, common to all, doubtless helped to produce such effects. Hardest hit was the New Connexion.
In 1822 meetings began in a cordwainer's house in Madeley Lane and a moulder's house at Madeley Green. They were probably the first fruits in Madeley of the great revival which followed the Cinderhill riots of 1821. In 1823 two Revivalist preachers, Winfieldite missionaries, began to use a room in Hodgebower. The meeting was included in a Revivalist circuit formed in Dawley, and in 1827 the congregation opened Zion chapel (fn. 94) near Madeley Green; (fn. 95) all 80 sittings were free. When the Revivalists joined the New Connexion in 1829 Zion was included in the new Dawley Green circuit. In 1851 attendances were said to average 80 adults and 30 children in the morning, 30 adults and 35 children in the afternoon, and 120 adults in the evening, and there was a Sunday school. (fn. 96)
Dawley Green circuit had a resident minister. The first, William Cooke, was to be one of the New Connexion's most distinguished leaders and theologians. He started a cottage meeting in Coalbrookdale which flourished, with another in Park Lane, Madeley, in the 1830s. Later, in the 1860s, Aqueduct was one of the connexion's most solidly established cottage meetings. Cooke's successors, however, were often inexperienced young ministers, and the prominent laymen who were influential preferred organs, choirs, and new chapel building to revival. The opening of Bethesda, Park Lane, in 1860 was the fruit of such a policy. Built to accommodate c. 200 by a society formed in 1855, Bethesda, despite the éclat of its opening, eventually weakened the connexion in the area: in the later 19th century, when Madeley's population was declining, it failed to compete with the town's other churches and diverted New Connexion resources from Zion. About the time it was rebuilt, in 1876, Zion opened a branch chapel at the Lloyds which lasted a dozen or more years. (fn. 97) The rebuilding, however, introduced pew rents, and after 1870 decline was swift. Bethesda was 'dirty and dilapidated' in the mid 1870s, and c. 1880 attendance at Zion averaged 70, fewer than in 1851; attendance at Bethesda averaged 60, and the two memberships totalled only 38. Both chapels closed c. 1901. Bethesda reopened c. 1902 but closed again in 1906 or 1907.
Primitive Methodist meetings in Madeley date from the 1840s. For twenty or more years after the great revival of 1821 the area had been left to the New Connexion, (fn. 98) but by 1851 there were three Primitive meetings in the parish. A schoolroom in Ironbridge accommodating 85 was used from c. 1846 and a 'preaching room' in Madeley High Street, with 70 sittings, probably from about then; Aqueduct chapel was registered in 1850. On Census Sunday 1851 the Ironbridge and Madeley evening services were attended by 23 (about half the average) and 65 respectively. (fn. 99)
The Primitives, expanding more cautiously than the New Connexion, fared better in the later 19th century. (fn. 100) They worked hard throughout the parish, (fn. 101) trying repeatedly in the 1850s and 1860s to establish cottage or schoolroom meetings at the Lloyds and Blists Hill and in Coalbrookdale. (fn. 102) The room in Madeley High Street was replaced by a small chapel in Prince Street, that in turn by Mount Zion, a larger building of 1865 on the corner of High Street and Station Road. (fn. 103) Mount Zion and a chapel opened in Ironbridge in 1860 (fn. 104) flourished in the 1880s. Their membership was 90 c. 1880, over twice that of the New Connexion chapels. Since 1851 moreover attendance at the two Primitive chapels had quadrupled while attendances at Zion (New Connexion) had fallen. (fn. 105) The Ironbridge Primitive chapel was rebuilt, as Providence, in 1883. (fn. 106) Madeley Primitive circuit existed from 1881 to 1906 when the Madeley chapels were reunited to the Dawley (thenceforth Dawley and Madeley) circuit. (fn. 107)
Aqueduct chapel closed in 1917 when there were only three members. (fn. 108) Mount Zion was in financial difficulty at the turn of the century, by which time there were pew rents. The chapel debt, however, was paid off in 1903 by the sale of a house, (fn. 109) and in 1932 the Primitives were able to contribute two of their three chapels in Madeley to the reunited Methodist church. Three of the Fletchers' four Wesleyan chapels had also survived, and for almost a decade there were five Methodist chapels in the parish, with seating for 1,860: two in Madeley and others at Madeley Wood, Ironbridge, and Coalbrookdale. (fn. 110) Providence closed in 1941, (fn. 111) and in 1951 the four other chapels, which had remained in their old circuits (connexionally separate before 1932), (fn. 112) were placed in one circuit; (fn. 113) the change facilitated closures resulting from declining membership in the late 1960s. Coalbrookdale chapel closed in 1970, Mount Zion in 1977. (fn. 114)
In the 1970s one minister (fn. 115) was responsible for the two surviving chapels and, with the clergy of Central Telford parish, for a congregation worshipping at the Methodist-owned Brookside pastoral centre, opened in 1972 and shared with the Anglicans from 1974; (fn. 116) the Brookside congregation, whose members, 69 in 1980, enjoyed local reciprocal membership of the Anglican and Methodist churches, was the most ecumenically advanced in the ancient parish. Methodist membership at Madeley Wood was small, average congregations were even smaller; membership declined in the 1970s. (fn. 117) At Madeley, however, membership almost doubled, (fn. 118) and in 1974-5 the former day school buildings were linked to the chapel and vestry to provide a minister's office, with a kitchen, coffee bar, and other rooms.
In 1748 and 1773 a collier's house in Coalbrookdale (fn. 119) and a clockmaker's in Madeley (fn. 120) were licensed for dissenting worship, perhaps for Baptist worship since, except for Quakers and Methodists, the only protestant dissenters' meeting recorded in 18th-century Madeley was a Baptist one mentioned in 1760. (fn. 121) From 1818 a former club room on Lincoln Hill was used by a congregation which was probably an offshoot of the Broseley Old Baptists. (fn. 122) Almost forty years later thirteen founding members formed the Particular Baptist church in Madeley. (fn. 123) A room in Park Lane and the old court room were used for worship 1857-8. In 1858 Ænon chapel, High Street, was opened with accommodation for 250. A Sunday school was formed in the mid 1870s, and c. 1880 there were 30 church members and congregations averaged 100. The church did not always have a pastor and during the longest such period (1878- 1900), and later, there were pastoral links with Broseley chapel; a united pastorate with Donnington and Shifnal was tried in 1885. During the longest pastorate (1929-38) membership grew, and in 1931 the Sunday school was provided with its own building next to the chapel. R. N. Moore (1880-1953), a leading member of the church throughout the earlier 20th century, was widely known and much loved for his work for old people. (fn. 124)
A Baptist pastoral centre built on Woodside estate 1968-9 was at first the responsibility of the Ænon pastor. In the later 1970s, however, Ænon and Woodside had no pastor, and in 1980 the thriving Bridgnorth Baptist church appointed a full-time pastoral worker to take charge of Woodside. (fn. 125)
Services began early in 1872. At first they were in private houses but in November, when a church was formed, a room in Park Lane was provided. A church, designed to hold c. 300, and Sunday school were built 1874-5 at the corner of Park and Church streets. (fn. 126) Congregations averaged 50 in the morning and 100 in the evening c. 1880, and there was an 80-strong Sunday school. (fn. 127) By 1980 there were 21 members but apparently no Sunday school. (fn. 128)