History of denominations/ list of Nonconformist chapel licences

A Brief Summary of the Various Denominations:


Methodism dates from 1729, when a group of students at the University of Oxford, England, began meeting for worship, study, and Christian service. They were named the Holy Club and "methodists" by fellow students, "methodists" being a derisory reference to the methodical manner in which they performed their various practices of Christian duty and church ritual.

John Wesley, considered the founder of Methodism, and his brother Charles, the sons of an Anglican rector, were among the group. John preached, and Charles wrote hymns. Together they brought about a spiritual revolution which some historians believe diverted England from political revolution in the late 18th century. The formal established Church of England had little appeal to the working classes, so John Wesley quickly won an enthusiastic following among them with his preaching of the doctrines of Christian perfection and personal salvation through faith.

There was opposition by the English clergy, who saw Methodist preachers as a threat, which prevented the Wesleys from speaking in parish churches, so John and Charles Wesley commenced 'field preaching' in 1739, travelling the country and preaching in Meeting Houses and in the open air. Such meetings led to a revival of religious fervour throughout England, especially among the poor. John Wesley's message, as well as his personal activities among the poor, encouraged a social consciousness that was retained by his followers and has become a hallmark of the Methodist tradition. Their belief was of 'Grace for all'. (John Wesley's Sermons can be found here.) Methodist societies sprang up, and in 1744 the first conference of Methodist workers was held. Wesley formed each Society into groups of about a dozen people with a leader (the 'class' system). They still attended their local parish church for communion until the split witht he Church of England in 1791, after which time they had to show their class 'ticket' to receive communion.

Locally, both John and Charles preached in Tavistock on their way to and from Cornwall - where Methodism was growing by leaps and bounds. Charles' first visit was on Saturday 14th June 1746; the second on Wednesday 13th August in the same year, when he wrote: "I preached to a congregation so unresponsive that I dismissed it after a quarter of an hour." Let's hope that no Bere Alston or Bere Ferrers inhabitants had travelled in on that occasion to be thus described! Charles' last visit was the following Wednesday, when he restricted his talk to Society members.

John came to Tavistock on five occasions, the first on Saturday 17th September 1746, when he preached in a meadow (could this have been what is now The Meadows?). His last visit was on Saturday 29th August 1789, when he reported: "Going through Tavistock a poor amn asked me to preach. I began in a quarter of an hour, the preaching house being full, but with so poor a congregation as I had not seen before, for twice seven years."

Wesley never renounced his ties with the Church of England, but he provided for the incorporation and legal continuation of the new movement. By decreeing that Conference should be the authority after his death he made the split from the Church of England inevitable, and this took place in 1791 when Wesleyan Methodists became a separate church.

Soon after John Wesley's death in 1791, his followers began to divide into separate church bodies.

1797 The Methodist New Connexion was founded by Alexander Kilham, who believed in more lay involvement.

1806 Independent Methodists were founded, who believed in the freedom and independence of local churches, authority being vested in their members. This was basically similar to the Congregational idea, and some Independent Methodists still survive in Bristol and the north-west of England.

1811 Primitive Methodist founded by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes. This branch grew out of 'camp meetings' - the forerunners of gatherings such as Spring Harvest today - which were frowned on by those in authority and considered to be highly improper. The two founders were therefore expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists. The Primitives wanted freedom to experiment in worship, with an enmphasis on lay involvement.

1815 The Bible Christians were founded out of a desire for more freedom. The name comes from their belief that all problems should be solved by recourse to the Bible. The founder was William O'Bryan form Cornwall, who worked with Samuel Thorne at Shebbear in Devon. It was at Lake Farm that the movement had its roots. They admitted women as lay preachers in 1819 for the first time in Methodism and took a leading role in the rise of the Temperance Movement.

1827 The Protestant Methodist cam einto being. They objected to Conference's decision to impose the installation of an organ at Leeds chapel against the wishes of both the preachers and congregation.

1831 The Arminian Methodists were founded by Henry Breedon, who was expelled by the Wesleyans.

1835 The Wesleyan Methodist Association was founded by Samuel Warren who opposed the setting-up of a theological college.

1837 The Protestant Methodists, Arminian Methodists and Wesleyan Methodist Association joined together and kept the name Wesleyan Methodist Association.

1849 The Wesleyan Reform came into being, splitting away from the Wesleyans over a dispute over the authority of Conference and ministerial domination.

1857 The United Free Methodist Church was formed by the joining together of the Wesleyan Reform and the Wesleyan Methodist Association

1859 Those chapels that did not wish to join the United Free Methodist Church in 1857 formed the Wesley Reform Union.

1907 The United Methodist Church was formed by the joining together of the United Free Methodist, the Methodist Connexion and the Bible Christians

1932 The Methodist Church was formed by the joining together of the United Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodists and the Wesleyans


This denomination derived from the Puritan movement of the English Reformation. The name 'Independents' came firstly from the Westminster Assembly of Divines in 1643, which was formed to carry through 'a necessary reformation of the Government and Liturgy of the Church'. Among its emmbers were five 'dissenting brethren', who received the name 'Independents', since, in oppostion to the Presbyterian system, they maintained the right of every congregation to govern itself (hence, also, Congregationalists. Congregationalists believe that Christ rules in his church through the local congregation, not through the Pope, bishops, clergy, etc.).

Richard Fitz was the pioneer of Congregationalism, but it was in the work fo Robert Browne that the idea fully developed. He was born in 1550 and was a graduate of Cambridge University. He took Anglican orders, but was imprisoned 32 times for the beliefs which he preached - which were the basics of Congregationalism. His followers were called 'Brownists' and most of the leaders went to Holland after his death, which is where Congregational policy was nurtured.

The Act of Uniformity in 1662 is seen by many as the beginning of Nonconformity. It insisted on the necessity of episcopal ordination and it restored the Anglican Prayer Book and ejected from their livings any clergy who woudl not give their 'unfeigned consent and assent' to everything the book contained. Some 2000 clergy suffered accordingly. of which some 400 were Independents (or Congregationalists) who, under Cromwell, had secured appointment.

The Toleration Act of 1689, following the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9, brought to an end the active persecution of Dissenters and accepted them them as an element likely to be permanent adn entitled to some recognition. Licences were to be required to Meeting Houses and they were subject to a number of restrictions. Within twenty years nearly 1000 chapels were built, the majority for Presbyterians, then Baptists, with Independents a good third.

Jumping ahead many years, it was in 1972 that the United Reformed Church was formed by the union of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England. The URC has continued to express its deep commitment to the visible unity of the whole Church by its subsequent union in 1981 with the Re-formed Churches of Christ, and through continuing talks with other traditions and in more than 400 local churches united with other denominations (including our own!).

A List of the Non-Conformist Chapels in Bere Alston and Licences recorded

1794 Methodist licence

1807 Wesleyan licence, Fore Street

1811 Independent (Congregational) licence. Dedication of chapel

1816 Licence for William Ford's house

1841 Mount Zion Wesleyan Chapel opened. No apparent licence until 1844!

1849/50 Wesleyan Reform or Wesleyan Methodist Association Chapel opened

1850 Ebenezer Bible Christian Chapel opened, Station Road. Licence 1845

1859 Wesleyan Licence at Cotts

1876 United Free Methodist Church opened, Fore Street

Ann Parsons