Calne: Protestant nonconformity

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 17, Calne. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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, 'Calne: Protestant nonconformity', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 17, Calne, (London, 2002) pp. 109-111. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

. "Calne: Protestant nonconformity", in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 17, Calne, (London, 2002) 109-111. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

. "Calne: Protestant nonconformity", A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 17, Calne, (London, 2002). 109-111. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,


In the 1660s Nathaniel Webb, formerly rector of Yatesbury, and Thomas Rutty, formerly rector of Milston, were among ejected ministers who preached at Calne, and in 1669 it was said that 200-400 people attended a Presbyterian conventicle held by Webb and Rutty. (fn. 1) In 1672 a house was licensed for meetings of Presbyterians, and another, in Church Street, was licensed c. 1695. Also c. 1695 a Presbyterian chapel was built in Back Road, (fn. 2) and in 1717 John Melhuish was the pastor of a congregation which numbered c. 250. (fn. 3) Unitarianism appeared in the congregation after 1770, perhaps partly because of the influence of Joseph Priestley, the librarian at Bowood House 1772-80, who lived at Calne and preached at the chapel. The congregation declined in number in the late 18th century and early 19th (fn. 4) and numbered only 30 in 1829. It was considered Unitarian in the 1830s. (fn. 5) The chapel had been closed by the late 1830s and was re-used by Primitive Methodists and later by the Salvation Army. (fn. 6) It was a rectangular building of four bays with a hipped roof and was demolished c. 1960. (fn. 7)

There is a tradition that Baptists worshipped at Calne before 1660 and held meetings at Moss's mill west of the town. (fn. 8) A house at which a Baptist conventicle attended by 20-30 people met in 1669 (fn. 9) was probably in the town, and a chapel was built near the back of Castle House in Castle Street. In 1703 the chapel was destroyed by a high wind, and in 1704 a new chapel was built on the same site. In the earlier 18th century a baptistry was built on a stream not far from Lickhill Farm and possibly on Fisher's brook. Only part of it survived in 1776. Isaac Taylor, pastor from 1776 to 1810 and the first resident pastor, lived in a house at Ratford. Until 1787 he baptized at Ratford where, immediately below Ratford bridge and the confluence of Cowage brook and Fisher's brook, large walls to retain the course of the combined stream survive. A baptistry was built in the chapel in Castle Street in 1788. (fn. 10) The chapel was rebuilt on the same site in 1817; (fn. 11) a vestry was added in 1832, a schoolroom was added on the east side c. 1858, and the main north front of the chapel was rebuilt in Decorated style with three spheric triangle windows c. 1865. (fn. 12) On Census Sunday in 1851 morning service was attended by 100, evening service by 160. (fn. 13) The chapel remained open in 1996. From 1887 a cottage at Ratford was used as a mission room and in 1900 a separate corrugated-iron room was built there. (fn. 14) The room was closed c. 1970. (fn. 15)

In 1813 a group seceded from the Castle Street Baptist congregation, formed a new congregation, and received Particular Baptist teaching. The new congregation met in a converted cottage near the Castle Street chapel, in 1824 converted a warehouse in High Street to the Zion chapel, and in 1836 built a new Zion chapel in what was then called Pippin Road. (fn. 16) On Census Sunday in 1851 three services were held with an average congregation of c. 85. (fn. 17) Services were still held in the chapel in 1996.

Quakers were said to have had a meeting house at Calne in 1660 (fn. 18) and were numerous in the town in the late 17th century. (fn. 19) In 1672 they bought from their leader, Israel Noyes, a plot of land in Wood Street, and between then and 1696, presumably soon after 1672, built a meeting house on it; the land behind the meeting house was used as a burial ground. (fn. 20) In 1838 the meeting house was rebuilt. On Census Sunday in 1851 a morning meeting there was attended by 12 people and an afternoon one by 11. (fn. 21) Meetings ceased in the early 20th century; (fn. 22) the meeting house was leased before 1921 and sold in 1962. (fn. 23)

Methodists met in Calne from c. 1808 and built a chapel in Back Road in 1811. The chapel was enlarged in 1815 and 1828. On Census Sunday in 1851 three services were held with an average congregation of c. 134. (fn. 24) A much larger chapel, a towerless rectangle in Decorated style, clad in rock-faced rubble, and with prominent buttresses, was built in Silver Street in 1876-7; (fn. 25) it remained open in 1996.

A Primitive Methodist society was formed in Calne in 1830, and in 1832 certified a cottage in or near Back Road as a meeting house. In the late 1830s services were held in the former Unitarian chapel in Back Road, afterwards again in the cottage, and from 1846 again in the chapel. (fn. 26) On Census Sunday in 1851 two services were held: 72 people attended in the afternoon, 148 in the evening. (fn. 27) The congregation bought the former Wesleyan chapel in Back Road in 1886 and held services in it from 1887. (fn. 28) In 1965 that chapel was closed and the congregation was merged with that of the Wesleyan chapel in Silver Street. (fn. 29) The chapel in Back Road was afterwards demolished.

Plymouth Brethren met in Calne from c. 1848. (fn. 30) They may have been the dissenters who met in a room in Wood Street from 1849 and held two services on Census Sunday in 1851, when they refused to denominate their assembly on the census return; seven people attended each service. (fn. 31) Plymouth Brethren met in Wood Street in the late 19th century, and from c. 1899 Close Brethren met in a new building called Stanley Home off the west side of North Street. (fn. 32) From the 1950s, and probably from the 1930s, Stanley Home was used only by Exclusive Brethren, whose meetings there continued until the 1970s. (fn. 33) The Oxford Hall was built in Oxford Road in the early 1930s, (fn. 34) was later rebuilt, and was called the Gospel Hall in 1999. Probably from when it was built, certainly from the 1950s, it was used by Open Brethren, who held Sunday and weekday services there in the late 1990s. (fn. 35)

In 1866, led by members of the Harris family, 89 or more parishioners left Calne parish church because they found the high-church ministry of John Duncan, vicar from 1865, unacceptable. They held services in the town hall until, in 1867-8, a new church, later called Calne Free Church, was built. The church, of rock-faced stone, in Geometrical style, with a north-west tower, and to designs by W. J. Stent of Warminster, stands in the part of Church Street formerly called Butcher Row. Services in it were at first conducted according to the Anglican liturgy; that was gradually given up, from the late 1940s some services were nonliturgical, and in the 1950s no liturgy was used for any service and believers' baptism was introduced. (fn. 36) The church was still open in 1996.

In 1899 the Salvation Army was using the former Unitarian chapel in Back Road as a barracks. (fn. 37) It continued to do so until the Second World War. (fn. 38)

A cemetery for nonconformists was opened in Curzon Street in 1867, and a mortuary chapel and a lodge were built in that year. The cemetery was given to Calne borough council in 1955. (fn. 39)

At Derry Hill the Little Zoar chapel, small and of stone, was built in 1814 for Baptists. Although in 1847 members of the congregation seceded and joined the Baptist congregation at Sandy Lane, (fn. 40) in 1851 services at Derry Hill on Census Sunday were attended by 100 people in the morning, 100 in the afternoon, and 40 in the evening. (fn. 41) Strict Baptist services were held in the chapel in 1996.

East of Quemerford the Zoar chapel was built in 1832 beside Marsh Lane near Cherhill village for Methodists. On Census Sunday in 1851 there were morning and evening services, each with a congregation of 50. (fn. 42) The chapel was apparently open in 1899, but had been closed by 1922. (fn. 43) A meeting house for Plymouth Brethren was built in 1860 beside the London road east of Quemerford bridge. (fn. 44) It was open until 1939 or later. (fn. 45) In the 1970s it was converted to a private house. (fn. 46)

At Sandy Lane meetings of nonconformists were held from c. 1790, (fn. 47) and in 1811 a meeting house there was said to be old and in poor repair. (fn. 48) A Baptist congregation was formed in 1810 and a chapel, of ironstone with ashlar dressings and called Providence, was built in 1817. A schoolroom was added to the chapel in 1825. The congregation was supplemented in 1847 by those leaving Derry Hill chapel. (fn. 49) On Census Sunday in 1851 there were three services at Providence chapel with an average attendance of 45. (fn. 50) Services were held twice each Sunday until c. 1910, once each Sunday until c. 1956, occasionally thereafter. (fn. 51) The chapel was a private house in 1996.

At Stockley a Primitive Methodist chapel was built in 1841. On Census Sunday in 1851 two services were held, each with a congregation of c. 50. (fn. 52) The chapel was closed apparently after 1966. (fn. 53)

At Studley a meeting house for dissenters was licensed in 1798. Methodists certified a meeting house in 1826 (fn. 54) and built a small redbrick chapel in 1855; a schoolroom was added to the chapel in 1896. (fn. 55) Methodist services were still held in the chapel in 1996.

There is a tradition that Baptists held openair meetings at Whitley in the 1660s. (fn. 56)


  • 1. Orig. Rec. ed. G. L. Turner, i. 109, 126; Calamy Revised, ed. Matthews, 302, 418, 421, 516.
  • 2. Meeting Ho. Certs. (W.R.S. xl), pp. 5, 173; cf. P. Q. Treloar, Around Calne in Old Photographs, 38.
  • 3. Dr. Williams's Libr., Wilson MSS., F i, p. 167.
  • 4. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 125-6; D.N.B.
  • 5. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 135; Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831), i. 334.
  • 6. Marsh, Hist. Calne, 177-8; below, this section.
  • 7. Treloar, Around Calne, 38; W.R.O., G 18/742/16.
  • 8. W.R.O. 2225/1.
  • 9. Orig. Rec. ed Turner, i. 110.
  • 10. W.R.O. 2225/1.
  • 11. Ibid. 2225/59.
  • 12. Ibid. 2225/61.
  • 13. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/9.
  • 14. W.R.O. 2225/13.
  • 15. Ibid. 2225/15.
  • 16. R. W. Oliver, Strict Bapt. Chapels Eng. (Strict Bapt. Hist. Soc.), v. 48; Meeting Ho. Certs. (W.R.S. xl), p. 106; W.R.O. 1418/11; 2225/59; date on bldg.
  • 17. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/7.
  • 18. Marsh, Hist. Calne, 173.
  • 19. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 116.
  • 20. W.R.O. 2269/43.
  • 21. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/17.
  • 22. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 136; Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1903 and later edns.).
  • 23. W.R.O. 1798/4; 1798/8.
  • 24. Ibid. 2225/60; P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/11.
  • 25. Marsh, Hist. Calne, 177; W.R.O. 2225/60.
  • 26. Meeting Ho. Certs. (W.R.S. xl), p. 131; W.R.O. 2225/ 60.
  • 27. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/10.
  • 28. W.R.O. 2225/60.
  • 29. Inf. from Mr. P. Q. Treloar, 10 the Green.
  • 30. Marsh, Hist. Calne, 178.
  • 31. Meeting Ho. Certs. (W.R.S. xl), p. 166; P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/8.
  • 32. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1899 and later edns.); 'Calne in my Memory, 1839 to 1899' (MS.: copy in possession of Mr. P. Q. Treloar, 10 the Green), 27; W.R.O. 1409, box 8, deed, Lansdowne to Vallis, 1888; Plymouth Brethren also met at Quemerford: below, this section.
  • 33. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1935); Calne: Official Guide [c. 1959], 21; [c. 1971], 27.
  • 34. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1931, 1935); cf. O.S. Maps 1/ 2,500, Wilts. XXVII. 5 (1923, 1936 edns.).
  • 35. Calne: Official Guide [c. 1954], 15; (1997/8), 23.
  • 36. W.A.M. xxxvi. 145; Pevsner, Wilts. (2nd edn.), 155; 100 Years of Gospel Witness: Calne Free Church 1868-1968 (copy in Wilts. local studies libr., Trowbridge), 14, 20-1; Bowood Mun., Lab 3/3/17, file, Calne church, 1862-94; W.R.O. 2586/77.
  • 37. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Wilts. XXVII. 5 (1900 edn.).
  • 38. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1939); Treloar, Around Calne, 38.
  • 39. W.R.O., G 18/990/13.
  • 40. Oliver, Strict Bapt. Chapels Eng. (Strict Bapt. Hist. Soc.), v. 41, 52; date on bldg.
  • 41. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/16.
  • 42. Ibid. HO 129/254/1/2/12; date on bldg.
  • 43. O.S. Maps 1/2,500, Wilts. XXVII. 6 (1900, 1924 edns.).
  • 44. Marsh, Hist. Calne, 179; Plymouth Brethren also met at Calne: above, this section.
  • 45. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1939).
  • 46. Treloar, Around Calne, 39.
  • 47. Oliver, Strict Bapt. Chapels Eng. (Strict Bapt. Hist. Soc.), v. 51.
  • 48. Bowood Mun., Lab 3/3/9, pet. for Sandy Lane chapel, 1811.
  • 49. Oliver, op. cit. v. 51-2; date on bldg.
  • 50. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/14.
  • 51. Oliver, op. cit. 52-3.
  • 52. P.R.O., HO 129/254/1/2/15.
  • 53. Calne: Official Guide [c. 1967], 23.
  • 54. Meeting Ho. Certs. (W.R.S. xl), pp. 52, 112.
  • 55. Dates on bldg.
  • 56. W.R.O. 2225/1.