The opening of the chapel in 1818 was marked by protest and violence.  Click here for a full account.

A Methodist Society?

The local church group was called a society, with smaller groups known as classes.  These phrases reflect the sense of community and learning that have been a feature of Methodism from the very earliest days.

John Wesley never intended to establish a  national church, but considered Methodism to be a movement that could work within the Church of England. Eventually the split from the national church become inevitable, and a national church emerged, although it was not fully unified until 1932.

the original Methodist building in Tolpuddle
Water colour of the original martyr's chapel

 In 1818 a new Chapel was opened on a plot of land adjacent to the Standfield's family cottage (now known as the Martyr's Cottage).  For the previous eight years the local society had met in the Loveless family home, which was licensed for the purpose

It was the first Wesleyan chapel to be built in the area, to be followed some ten years later by the chapel at Bere Regis in 1828, both to a very similar basic design, built of cob walls under a thatched roof.

Two services were held there each Sunday, with George and James Loveless among the regular preachers and probably members of the Standfield family too.  Additional meetings would have been held through the week including Bible Study and social gatherings: it is also probable that some education and training was provided for children and adults.  Some of the Martyr's union meetings may have been held there.

The picture above is a watercolour by Peter Smith, painted in 1984, showing the original “Martyrs' Chapel” as it was then. The building is thought to be little altered from how it looked in the 1830’s, although it may have had a thatched roof at that time and some of the doors have been moved.

The original building fell out of use when the lease on the land expired around 1844 and it reverted to the original owner, William Morton Pitt of Kingston Maurward, who used it for agricultural purposes. It is still standing, although in rather poor condition, and can be found on the other side of the road from the present chapel, nearer the village centre.

Restoration is underway In 2015 the chapel was purchased by The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust, and renovation is now under way. Visit their website,  for information about thier progress and the vision.

The land that the chapel was built on was held on a "Lifehold Tenure" by Robert Standfield, father of Thomas and John.

"Lifehold tenure" gives secure use of the building or land until the last of those named on the lease dies, at which point it returns to the real owner, the ground -landlord.

While surviving records are incomplete, it is probable that the lease "fell in" on the death of Ann Fitzherbert on 8th September 1844, being the last of those named on the lease.  The building reverted to the original owner.