Westbury: Protestant nonconformity

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.

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'Westbury: Protestant nonconformity', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965), pp. 181-185. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/pp181-185 [accessed 24 June 2024].

. "Westbury: Protestant nonconformity", in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965) 181-185. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/pp181-185.

. "Westbury: Protestant nonconformity", A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965). 181-185. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/pp181-185.


Westbury lies in that area along the Wiltshire-Somerset border in which, during the later 17th and very early 18th century, dissenting influences were particularly active. (fn. 1) Conventicles met during this period in private houses or barns, usually in out-ofthe-way places. In 1669 a number of Anabaptists met at the house of Roger Cutter (Cator or Cater), their preacher, and a group calling themselves Quakers met at the house of John Gowen with Philip Hunton as their preacher. (fn. 2) Hunton, ejected from the living of Westbury in 1662, was licensed to preach in 1672 as a Congregationalist in his own house in the town. (fn. 3) A barn and house belonging to Thomas Edwards of Westbury were also licensed that year as Presbyterian meeting places. (fn. 4) At Chapmanslade in 1699 a barn belonging to Robert Hopkins and at Westbury in 1700 a house belonging to John Oatbridge were likewise licensed for use by dissenters. (fn. 5) In the following year a barn at Bratton belonging to John Hodges of Warminster was licensed for use by Quakers, (fn. 6) and in 1702 a dissenters' meeting place was licensed in the house of William Green at Hawkeridge. (fn. 7) Between 1713 and 1734 three houses in Westbury and a barn at Penleigh were all similarly licensed. (fn. 8)

The Anabaptists, who met in the house of Roger Cutter in 1669, were a congregation which had been founded in 1662 (fn. 9) as an offshoot of the Old Baptist chapel at Southwick. (fn. 10) Cutter remained as their pastor until his death in 1693, and in 1689 he represented his congregation at the first Baptist Assembly in London. (fn. 11) By 1694 this congregation belonged to the Western Association. Meetings were held at various places in the neighbourhood of Westbury Leigh, and frequently at Clay Close House, belonging to members of the family of Phipps. After 1693 the congregation moved to a barn belonging to Stephen Self, a clothier, standing on the site of the present Baptist chapel at Westbury Leigh, and in 1714 Self converted his barn into a chapel. In 1724 when William Wilkins was pastor (1724-45), John Watts, an elder of the church, with 29 followers left the Westbury Leigh chapel and formed a new congregation in a barn at Westbury called Mallox. Watts, however, soon left Westbury to devote himself to his work as pastor of a Baptist church at Erlestoke, (fn. 12) and the congregation returned to the Westbury Leigh chapel. In 1796-7, when Robert Marshman (1763-1806) was pastor, a new and larger chapel was built on the same site. The foundation stone was laid in 1796 and almost the whole cost of the building, which was about £1,300, was raised by the congregation, which numbered 116. During his ministry Marshman helped to form a church at Chapmanslade (see below). Marshman was succeeded by George Phillips, who was, however, suspected by some of the congregation of Wesleyan leanings. After some dispute Phillips and his followers left the Westbury Leigh chapel to found a new chapel at Penknap (see below). Westbury Leigh was without a pastor for five years, but during this time a Sunday school was formed. Between 1847 and 1871 the Westbury Leigh congregation raised money for many improvements to their chapel. It is a large red-brick building with stone window-dressings and roundheaded windows at ground- and first-floor levels.

The Baptist chapel at Westbury Leigh benefited from several bequests. John Wilkins, a clothier, by his will, dated 1729, directed that £20 a year from his farm of Honeybridge, North Bradley, should be divided equally between the minister and poor of the congregation. The £10 for the poor was to be spent on coats, bearing the testator's cloth-mark upon the sleeve. In 1834 a scheme was made for this charity, providing for the maintenance of the farm and investment of surplus income. In 1833 the farm (about 63 a.) was sold and just over £3,000 invested. By a scheme of 1920 the funds of this charity were divided into three equal parts: one for the benefit of the minister of Westbury Leigh Baptist church; the second for the poor of the congregation of that chapel, and the third for the poor of the Anglican congregations of Holy Trinity, Dilton Marsh, and St. Saviour, Westbury Leigh. In 1950 the payments due to the poor were made mainly in contributions to a clothing club. (fn. 13) Another charity for the benefit of both the minister and the poor of the Westbury Leigh Baptist congregation was that established by a bequest in the will of Robert Haynes, dated 1851. Some hundred years later the minister received about £10 annually from this charity, and about £5 were distributed to deserving cases among the congregation. (fn. 14) Charities for the benefit of the minister only were established by bequests in the wills of Sarah Cockel (dated 1746), Richard Haynes (dated 1767), and John Turner (dated 1804), and the minister was still receiving small sums from these bequests in the mid-20th century. (fn. 15) James Humphries by his will, dated 1805, bequeathed £100 for the benefit of the poor of the congregation. This money was subsequently used to buy a site for a manse, but house and land were sold in 1949 and the money reinvested for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 16) The Westbury Leigh Baptist congregation also benefited under the will of Charlotte Laverton (see below).

After his withdrawal from Westbury Leigh in 1810, George Phillips held his first service in the open air at Upton Lovell. (fn. 17) For about six months he continued to preach in a farmyard at Dilton Marsh because no house or barn big enough to hold the congregation could be found. The site for a chapel at Penknap was given by Stephen Applegate, a member of the congregation. The first service was held in the chapel, which was called Providence Chapel, in the autumn of 1810. Phillips was chosen as minister and some 30 followers formed themselves into a church. The differences with the chapel at Westbury Leigh were settled and some financial compensation made to Phillips. At the time of Phillips's death in 1833 the Penknap congregation numbered 175. At about this date a stream near Boyer's Mill was used for baptisms, later a stream at Stormore was used. In 1859 some members of the Penknap congregation complaining that the minister, Joseph Hurlestone, preached Arminianism, left the church. One member then opened his own house for services, and later the upper part of a house in Slob Lane was equipped as a chapel, known as Gideon Chapel, but this congregation failed to establish itself. A Sunday school at Penknap was begun in 1810. The chapel was enlarged in 1835. It is a plain red-brick building with pointed windows with y-tracery at ground- and first-floor levels. The chapel benefited under the will of Charlotte Laverton (see below).

The Baptist chapels of Westbury Leigh and Penknap lie within ½ mile of each other on the south-west fringe of Westbury. Early in the 19th century the need for a chapel nearer the centre of the town was felt, and in 1825 about ten people worshipping at Cook's Stile Meeting House formed themselves into a church. (fn. 18) In 1829 the congregation numbered 180 and there were two deacons. Visiting ministers, however, supplied the pulpit until 1839 when the first minister for the new congregation was appointed. A new chapel with seating for 350 was built and opened in West End in 1868. Two bequests have been made for the benefit of the minister. Eliza Deacon, by her will dated 1893, and Anna Deacon, by her will proved in 1896, bequeathed £40 and £28 respectlively for the minister. In 1903 a sum of £70 represented these bequests and in the mid-20th century the interest was being paid annually to the minister. (fn. 19)

The exact date of the formation of a Baptist church at Bratton is not known. (fn. 20) William Gough, a Presbyterian, who was responsible for the establishment of a Baptist church at Erlestoke, (fn. 21) almost certainly also preached at Bratton in c. 1667, and nonconformity in the two places was always closely linked. Members of the Westbury Leigh congregation also preached at Bratton during the ministry of Roger Cutter. The meetings in John Hodges's barn in 1702, said to be of Quakers, may really have been the nucleus of a Baptist church, for no further reference to a Quaker meeting in Bratton has been found. In 1720 John Watts, who left Westbury Leigh and became minister at Erlestoke, undertook to preach once a month at Bratton in the house of Jeffery and Catherine Whitaker. Soon afterwards services were held once a fortnight, then once a week, and the congregation moved to a schoolroom belonging to Jeffery Whitaker. (fn. 22) In 1733 a site was given on which a chapel was built. (fn. 23) The building was paid for by voluntary subscription. In the same year the chapel joined the Western Association. Some time between 1734 and 1747 the congregations of Erlestoke and Bratton were amalgamated. In 1828 the congregation numbered 100, and later in the century Bratton became a centre for village evangelisation in the region.

The Baptist chapel at Bratton is a small red-brick building standing in the middle of its burial ground at the end of a narrow lane. A public road running through the chapel-yard was diverted in c. 1800. Two stone pillars at either end of the original building bear the date 1734. The chapel was enlarged in 1786 by extending it about 12 ft. backward. Thorough restoration took place in 1807 and windows on the east and west sides were opened. A schoolroom was added at the west end in 1818. In 1856 the roof of the chapel was raised 4 ft., much interior restoration carried out, and another schoolroom, a vestry, and a lecture room were added. The schoolroom on the west side was enlarged in 1874, and new windows were inserted in the chapel in 1899.

The chapel benefits from a number of bequests. Jeffery Whitaker, by his will, proved 1775, gave £350 and a house 'lately erected for pious and religious uses at Brown's Plot'. The interest on £100 of this bequest was to be given to the Baptist minister if he preached occasionally in the house, but when the time came for a house to be built for the minister, the £100 were to go towards the cost of this. The interest on £150 of the same bequest was to provide £1 1s. for the minister annually, and the interest on the remaining £100 was to be devoted to the poor and the education of poor children in Bratton. (fn. 24) In 1961 the minister was still benefiting from this charity, and £1 1s. was paid for an annual sermon. (fn. 25) Several other bequests have been made for the benefit of the minister: Joseph Goodenough Blatch, by his will proved 1840, left £500, Thomas Whitaker, by his will dated 1855, bequeathed £100, John Reeves, by his will proved 1892, bequeathed £200, (fn. 26) and Emma Pocock, by her will proved 1932, bequeathed £100. (fn. 27) A bequest for the benefit of the choir was contained in the will of John Griffin, proved 1882. (fn. 28)

In 1777 Daniel Grey was preaching in a friend's house in Chapmanslade. (fn. 29) He was followed by other preachers, calling themselves students of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. Later, preachers came from many neighbouring Baptist chapels, and in 1788 the Revd. Robert Marshman, of Westbury Leigh, baptized 8 people at Chapmanslade. Thenceforth services were held in one of the communal workshops connected with the cloth industry until 1799 when a chapel was built in the village to accommodate about 140 people. The first minister was appointed in 1802. In 1846 some trouble broke out among the congregation and the minister resigned, leaving the chapel in debt. The debt was not cleared until 1864, but five years after this there was enough money among the Chapmanslade Baptists to have the chapel repaired at a cost of over £1,000. At about this time the Baptists were joined by the congregation which withdrew from the Congregational chapel in the village (see below). The Baptist chapel is built of coursed rubble with a tiled hipped roof.

By 1826 Baptists living in and around Stormore (Dilton Marsh), which at that time was the home of many hand-loom weavers, wanted a chapel in their hamlet. (fn. 30) Services that year were being held in one of the cottages, and for a time they were conducted in a loft over a carpenter's shop, but in 1829 a small mission chapel was built and became known as Scott's Meeting. It stood by the stream used by both Penknap and Westbury Leigh Baptists for baptisms. In 1884 it was rebuilt as a mission church of the Westbury Leigh chapel and in 1890 a preaching service was held there every Sunday afternoon. In 1958 the chapel was still a mission church of Westbury Leigh. (fn. 31)

The Old Congregational Chapel in Warminster Road, Westbury, also called the Old Independent Meeting, or Lower Meeting, claims to date from 1662. (fn. 32) It clearly derives from the congregation which gathered round Philip Hunton after he had been ejected from his living in 1662 (see above), although there is no precise record of the formation of a church during Hunton's life time. (fn. 33) His followers met at his house in Westbury where he preached privately. On his death in 1682, Hunton left to the 'Protestant Nonconforming Church' of Westbury a piece of land called the Hop Ground. During the pastorate of Hunton's successor a barn in Lower (now Leigh) Road was converted into a chapel, but this was burnt down in 1711. The Hop Ground was then sold to pay for the building of a new chapel. This chapel was probably built on the site of the present Congregational chapel on the east side of Warminster Road. In c. 1725 the congregation numbered 800. (fn. 34) Among the congregation were some of Westbury's most influential inhabitants and in 1751 there was a certain amount of disagreement with the minister. He was suspected of holding unitarian views and was accused of preaching sermons condemning slavery. Eventually part of the congregation withdrew and a second church, known as the Upper Meeting, was formed. The earlier congregation survived, however, and in 1821 re-built its chapel at a cost of £2,000. It is a red-brick building with stone dressings and a front embellished later in the 19th century. In 1829 the congregation numbered 500. (fn. 35) Between 1763 and 1795 a total of £400 was bequeathed for the support of the minister. The origin of this money is unknown but in 1829 it was invested for the benefit of the minister, together with £200 which were bequeathed that year by Thomas Austin. Austin also left nearly £200 to provide cloaks and clothing for the poor of the congregation, and in the mid-20th century the income from the Austin Charity was distributed as small gifts of money or was spent on buying clothing. (fn. 36) The Old Congregational Chapel also benefited by the will of Miss Charlotte Laverton (see below).

The members of the Old Congregational Chapel who withdrew in 1751 met at first in a barn which lay somewhere between Westbury and Westbury Leigh. (fn. 37) But in 1763 their chapel, which became called the Upper Meeting Chapel, was opened on the west side of Warminster Road. By 1829 the congregation numbered 300. (fn. 38) Throughout the 19th century attempts were made to unite the two congregations. The first invitation to re-unite came from the older congregation in c. 1816, but this like several later attempts came to nothing. (fn. 39) Union was only achieved in 1940 when the two congregations came together to form the Congregational Church of Westbury. (fn. 40) The Upper Chapel was then closed and all services held in the Old Chapel. In 1960 the Upper Chapel, a plain red-brick building, was used as a builder's store.

In the years following its formation the Upper Congregational Chapel benefited by several bequests, made by members of some of Westbury's leading families. Gaisford Gibbs, by his will proved 1790, bequeathed £400. Elizabeth Ludlow, by her will proved 1794, bequeathed £200, and a bequest of £200 was made at an unknown date by William Gaisford. Thomas Matravers, by his will proved 1794, bequeathed £400 to the chapel, but his estate could not meet the bequest. Matravers's nephew, however, made a gift of £100 which was used for building. A bequest of £100 was made by John Crosby, by his will proved 1821. This bequest proved to be void, but Crosby's children made a gift of £100. Jane Fatt, by her will proved 1835, gave £100 for the benefit of the minister, and the minister also benefited under the will, dated 1851, of Robert Haynes, a benefactor of Westbury Leigh Baptist chapel. A bequest to the Upper Chapel was contained in the will of Abraham Ludlow, proved 1807, and for some years £5 were paid annually from this, but nothing is known of it after 1876. (fn. 41) In 1926 a scheme was prepared for the joint administration of the charities of Gaisford Gibbs, Elizabeth Ludlow, William Gaisford, John Crosby, and Jane Fatt. (fn. 42)

The congregation of the Upper Meeting with those of the Old Congregational Chapel, and the Baptist chapels of Westbury Leigh, Penknap, and West End benefited by the will of Charlotte Laverton. By a deed, dated 1887, Charlotte Laverton, in exercise of a power given her by the will of her brother, Abraham Laverton, appointed that after her death the interest on £1,500 should be paid annually to the minister and deacons of the five chapels. The proportion in which the interest was to be divided was left to the decision of the trustees, and the money was to be used for the poor of the respective congregations. (fn. 43) The income of this charity has subsequently been divided equally between the beneficiaries. In 1954, when there were only four chapels concerned, The Upper Meeting having been closed in 1940, about £50 was shared among them for poor members of their congregations. (fn. 44)

A Congregational church was formed at Chapmanslade in 1761. (fn. 45) This is the first nonconformist church known to have existed in Chapmanslade, but in c. 1725 there was a Presbyterian congregation there numbering 300. Their minister, however, lived in East Knoyle, so it is possible that services were held there. (fn. 46) The Chapmanslade Congregationalists met in a barn until 1771 when a chapel was built. (fn. 47) This was enlarged in 1810 and repaired in 1819. (fn. 48) In the middle of the 19th century disagreement between minister and congregation resulted in the withdrawal of the entire congregation, who joined the Chapmanslade Baptist chapel. (fn. 49) The Congregational minister was obliged to resign and the chapel, much dilapidated, was pulled down. (fn. 50) A new chapel to seat 128 was built and opened in 1867. (fn. 51) It is a stone building in Gothic style.

In 1844 a Congregational church was built at Hawkeridge (in the parish of Heywood) as a mission chapel to the Old Congregational Chapel at Westbury. (fn. 52) It is a small rough-cast building.

John Wesley preached in the open air at Westbury in 1748 and recorded that the congregation behaved well, in spite of the town's reputation for roughness. He preached again in Westbury in 1749. (fn. 53) A Methodist chapel was built in c. 1809 at a cost of £400 raised by voluntary subscriptions. (fn. 54) In 1829 the congregation numbered 200. (fn. 55) The original chapel in Warminster Road was used in 1958 as a Masonic Hall. A new chapel in Station Road was opened in 1926. (fn. 56) Until 1869 the Westbury Methodist congregation belonged to the Warminster circuit. It then joined the newly formed Wilts. and Somerset Mission. Between 1910 and 1915 it transferred to the Trowbridge circuit. (fn. 57)

There were 16 Methodists in Bratton in 1829. (fn. 58) A chapel at Stradbrook there was built in 1870, largely at the expense of Nathaniel Snelgrove, who made a bequest of £400 for its maintenance in his will, proved 1874. By 1956 the chapel was closed and the congregation transferred to the Westbury Methodist chapel. (fn. 59)

In the 18th century the Quakers were represented in Westbury by the Matravers family, and the plot outside the south-west corner of the churchyard where they were buried is called the Quakers' burial ground. (fn. 60) A Friends Meeting opened in Westbury in 1943, but moved to Trowbridge in the following year. (fn. 61)

In c. 1820 a congregation, calling themselves 'New Lights', met for worship in the house of a Mr. Hayter of Eden Vale. (fn. 62) Hayter was reputed to have been a former clergyman of the Church of England. (fn. 63) After his departure from Westbury his followers continued to meet in the yard of the Horse and Groom Inn. (fn. 64) One of the congregation then presented a site at Cooks Stile, and in 1823 the foundations of a chapel were laid. The congregation, however, failed to perpetuate itself and the chapel was sold to the trustees of the West End Baptist chapel. (fn. 65)


  • 1. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 109.
  • 2. G. Lyon Turner, Original Records of Early Nonconformity, i. 121. For Cutter, see V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 110; for Hunton, see above, p. 177.
  • 3. Lyon Turner, op. cit. 570.
  • 4. Ibid. 555, 557.
  • 5. W.R.O. Certs. of Dissenters' Meeting Houses.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Baptist church, Westbury Leigh, comes from W. Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 91-99.
  • 10. See p. 230.
  • 11. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 110.
  • 12. Ibid. vii. 85.
  • 13. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), pp. 786, 812; Char. Com. Accts. File 46.
  • 14. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 801; Char. Com. File 13160.
  • 15. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), pp. 823, 824; Char. Com. Accts. File 46.
  • 16. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 823; Char. Com. File 13160.
  • 17. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Baptist church at Penknap comes from Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 161-171.
  • 18. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Baptist church at West End comes from Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 196-9.
  • 19. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 826; Char. Com. Accts. File 46.
  • 20. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Baptist church at Bratton comes from Hugh Anderson, Memorial of the Lord's Dealings with the Baptist Church in Bratton (Frome, undated), and V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 110.
  • 21. V.C.H. Wilts. vii. 85.
  • 22. See p. 145.
  • 23. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 820, for a picture of the chapel see pl. facing p. 181.
  • 24. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), pp. 785, 821.
  • 25. Char. Com. Accts. File 7.
  • 26. Information about all the above benefactions from Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 821.
  • 27. Char. Com. File 115228.
  • 28. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 821.
  • 29. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Baptist church at Chapmanslade comes from Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 172-77.
  • 30. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Baptist church at Stormore comes from Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 181-82.
  • 31. Baptist Handbk. 1959.
  • 32. Congregational Yr. Bk. 1959.
  • 33. Unless otherwise stated, information about the Old Congregational Chapel comes from Hist. Old Congregational Chapel Westbury (printed and published W. Michaels, Westbury, 1875).
  • 34. Dr. Williams's Libr. Evans MS. f. 122.
  • 35. W.R.O. Retns. of Nonconformist Meetings, 1829.
  • 36. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 818; Char. Com. Accts. File 46.
  • 37. Hist. Old Congregational Chapel Westbury, 13.
  • 38. W.R.O. Retns. of Nonconformist Meetings, 1829.
  • 39. Hist. Old Congregational Chapel Westbury, 24.
  • 40. Souvenir Handbk. (Westbury Jubilee Celebrations, 1950).
  • 41. For all the above bequests, see Endowed Char. Wilts. (1904), pp. 38-44.
  • 42. Char. Com. Correspondence File 46.
  • 43. Endowed Char. Wilts. (1908), p. 824.
  • 44. Char. Com. Accts. File 46.
  • 45. A. Antrobus, Hist. Wilts. and E. Som. Congregational Union, 15.
  • 46. Dr. Williams's Libr. Evans MS. f. 122.
  • 47. S.B. Stribling, Wilts. and E. Som. Congregational Union, 30.
  • 48. Ibid.
  • 49. Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 175
  • 50. Ibid.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Stribling, Wilts. and E. Som. Congregational Union, 57
  • 53. Wesley, Jnl. ed. N. Curnock, iii. 381.
  • 54. Hist. Old Congregational Chapel Westbury, 17.
  • 55. W.R.O. Retns. of Nonconformist Meetings, 1829.
  • 56. Souvenir Handbk. (Westbury Jubilee Celebrations 1950).
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. W.R.O. Retns. of Nonconformist Meetings, 1829.
  • 59. Char. Com. File 138208.
  • 60. Ex inf. Mr. R. Tuffin. For Matravers family, see p. 169.
  • 61. Soc. of Friends, List of Members Bristol and Som. Quarterly Meeting, 1944.
  • 62. Doel, Twenty Golden Candlesticks! 198.
  • 63. Ibid.; Hist. of Old Congregational Chapel Westbury, 28.
  • 64. Doel, op cit. 198.
  • 65. Ibid.