What is Congregationalism? – The Tradition and History

The Chapel tradition began with men and women taking religion both seriously and with conviction.
The seriousness is seen by the actions of Francis Holcroft, Fellow of Clare college, who seeing that the preacher to Litlington was so often too drunk to take the services on Sunday morning, rode out himself from Cambridge to Litlington parish church. Later Holcroft became vicar of Bassingbourn, but in 1662 under the Act of Uniformity, he refused to be hold exclusively to the Book of Common Prayer and holding to his convictions was ejected from the living.

Ejected Clergy from some local Parish Churches between 1660-1662

Abington Pigotts Isaac King; Litlington Henry Townley; John Crow at b>Ashwell; Nat. Ball at Barley & Royston; Meldreth Joseph Oddy; Sutton Wm Hunt; Therfield Marmaduke Tenant; Bassingbourn Francis Holcroft;
Also, nearby: Tempsford Edward Holt; Woburn Wm Blagrave; Barrington Thos Prestner; Arlesey James Ashurst; Over Robt Wilson; Croydon Mr King; Fowlmere Hezekiah King; East Hatley Rich. Kennett; Hitchin Thos Kidner; and James Mabbington at Roxton Beds.

Francis Holcroft and Joseph Oddy

Francis Holcroft & Joseph Oddy formed Cambridge churches and were largely responsible for the chapel tradition in Cambridgeshire. It was said, after Holcroft’s death that there was scarcely a barn in the county where he had not preached. The other influence was of John Bunyan from Bedford who helped form and run the church at Gamlingay.

Guilden Morden

In Guilden Morden the first record of a dissenting meeting was in 1700 when Thos Meade applied to the Bishop’s Court to register his house as a Meeting House for Presbyterians. John Curtis remarks hat the choice of denomination is strange as Presbyterianism had not been seen since 1660.
This man, Meade, was probably the same Thos Meade who was fined, with his wife, for keeping a child unbaptised in 1686. The 1674 Hearth Tax lists only a John Meade (with one hearth) in Guilden Morden, possibly the father.

The Episcopal Returns of 1669 in fact note no dissenters in Guilden Morden, indeed none in the Shingay Deanery – but how true this was is difficult to say. In Wendy the comment was “None -though some by affected to it – Yet Sr Thomes Wendy’s care restraines yem”.

However in nearby Edworth of the 9 householders listed under the same Hearth Tax, 5 were dissenters making a total of 20 dissenters in Edworth – of the "meanest sort". They were Independents that is either Baptists or Congregationalists and obviously influenced by John Bunyan who used to stop by on his way to Gamlingay. They were described as Anabaptists at Edworth and one -Vaux was "a prisonr in Hertf. goale" for his pains.

The truth might lie in between. The nice people of Wendy might have had a sneaky conventicle or two while Sir Thos was out hunting and the poor people of Edworth might have just been ordinary village Anglicans merely wanting a livelier service.

The Compton Census of 1676 lists Guilden Morden with 5 dissenters which according to J Curtis was 2.3% of the village population. (Melbourn and Meldreth had 18% and Bassingbourn 6.5%.) So the dissenting tradition was not strong.

The present Chapel has a the date of 1870 in brick work, but this is merely the date of the frontage, The Chapel was built 1840 on land given by a Mr Leete, then living in the Avenells and called its first minister Joseph Stockbridge in 1840/1, from Homerton College. A Communion Table presented in 1900 by the Reavell family honours their parents who it was said formed the church from "a small band of Christians in about 1832".

During the 19th cent both church and chapel flourished. Both took an active interest in education for children and adults and both provided schools, the British and National schools respectively, until the 1870 Education Act laid the responsibility on the parish and county councils.

Joseph Stockbridge
Joseph Stockbridge ministered all his life in Guilden Morden, dying in 1892. He is listed as a gentleman in the Kelly’s directories and eventually supplied his own house (and possibly stipend). Later in life he was forced to sell his house to the chapel for £400. The house then became the manse until this to was sold by the Chapel in 1987. Since then a new manse has been built on the chapel site and the old schoolroom (built 1900) extensively renovated.

In 1972, the churches in the Congregational Union of England and Wales and the English Prebyterian Church were asked to form a new Church, the United Reformed Church. The main practical difference in this union being that the chapel and manse properties would no longer be legally held by the local congregation but by the URC who would also have authority to close and sell the church buildings as well as to appoint ministers. This led to Guilden Morden Congregational Church (and Litlington) declining to join and to remain unaffiliated. Both are now member churches of the Congregational Federation, (of continuing congregational churches).

The Buildings
The main Chapel was built in 1840/1. A teaching areas and vestry were soon added. The frontage of the Chapel was added in 1870 (and dated). The Hall (called The Schoolroom) was built in 1900. One of the foundation stones was laid by Principal Horobin of Homerton New College, now re-located in Cambridge.
The Manse was completed in 1989, after the Old Manse in the High St was sold.

The Ministers

Rev Joseph Stockbridge 1840-1892 educated at Homerton College
Rev Wm de Bruen Brewin 1893-1897  
Rev George Snashall BA 1898-1901  
Rev Robert W Jackson MA 1902-1907  
Mr W Harris 1909-1921  

1921-24 served by students from Chesthunt College, Cambridge

Rev W Hosier 1924-1931  
Rev George Kirby 1931-1939 "rode a trike"
Rev Harold F Hawkes 1940-1954 "an academic minister"
Pastor E W Thorne 1954-1958 "retired fruit farmer"
Mr Kenneth Ransom 1960-1975 "also village postman"
Pastor David Beale 1975-1985 "heating engineer & pastor"
Mr Peter Combes 1986-1987
Rev Clifford Mountford BA 1988-1990 New College graduate
Rev Colin Price BA MPhil SOSc 1992- Parish Webmaster
Colin PriceColin Price 1992 –