North Nibley Chapel – a brief history
As far as can be ascertained, there has never been a formal history written of the Chapel’s history, but in an attempt to pen something of the progress of the chapel since its inception in 1815, Nona Rushton sorted through piles of records recently uncovered and she wrote:-
As we approach the 200th anniversary of the Chapel it has been fascinating to take a brief look at the history of North Nibley Tabernacle over this time. Hindered slightly by the fact that the history has had to be deciphered from a range of faded eloquent pen-strokes on fragile fragments of paper, and has had to be dug for through the vast quantity of 200 years worth of receipts for everything from cake to candles, it is clear that the congregation has held a key position in the community of the village and that they have been fastidious in preserving every element of the history of their place of worship.
According to an article in an aged (but of unknown date) article from the Dursley Gazette, the congregation had met in the current building since 1833, prior to which they had met in a smaller place of worship on the same site, having had the ground leased to the congregation in May 1815. The first recorded appointment of trustees was in May 1915, after which the next long-overdue appointment of trustees was on the 4th April 1854.
Of the many Ministers appointed over the generations, it was a preacher called ‘ Edward Paxton Hood’ who went on from his first appointment as a congregational minister at North Nibley in 1857 to the greatest notoriety, becoming a celebrated London Preacher, before travelling the world preaching and writing many books, including one about his time in North Nibley!
Not content with being simply a place for Sunday worship, the Chapel set up the “Tabernacle Day School in 1858 in a building built in 1851 on site. Apparently the school could accommodate – if required - up to 120 children in the school, although according to the first report sent to the educational commission, the 1 employed school mistress only had at most 19 boys and 25 girls aged from 3 – 15 years old. Children paid 1 penny each 1st week of the month to reading, writing and arithmetic during the week and the Sunday school held on Sunday had an additional 20 or so children who had attended the day school at various points.
Education was very important to the congregation of the Chapel, as the Will & Testament of member Mr William Hooper proved; He had a charity (“William Hooper’s Educational Foundation”) set up for the Chapel in 1889 to ensure that the Chapel continued to place children - & their education – at the heart of the work of the Chapel.
A number of other generous benefactors to the Chapel also set up Trust Funds, (including Mrs Anne Cook, George Long and several others) ensuring the Tabernacle’s future and enabling various periods of extensive renovation to accommodate the needs of the congregation at those times. Notable renovations at various times included the changing of windows from square to rounded tops, the installation of the “coffin hatch” in the wall directly opposite the front door (as there was not enough room at the doors at either end of the wall to carry a coffin directly into the chapel), the removal of the stable at the back of the building, several new heating systems and regular repairs to the organ which is still in use today.
Each of these periods of renovation demonstrate the long history that the Chapel has with being willing to “change with the times” to ensure they met with what was needed to remain relevant and serving the needs of others; this was done both practically, and financially: along with records showing generous donations to various missionary organisations, and even a letter from the Prince of Wales thanking the congregation for their monetary contribution to the war effort in 1914, even right back in the first pages of the congregation’s first committee book in April 1822, it was agreed that the sacramental offerings should be given weekly to the poorest members of the congregation, proving the Chapel’s long history of looking to demonstrate Christian principles, through worship not only through prayer and study, but through practicality – through caring for the poor and being accommodating to the changing needs of the community that it serves.