Bardon Park Chapel is a 300 year old Christian meetinghouse at Bardon Hill in Leicestershire, England. It stands back from the A511 road, between Coalville and Markfield, about 1.25 miles west of the M1 junction number 22.
The chapel is a Grade II Listed building on the Secretary of State's list of buildings of special historical or architectural interest.
Meetings for worship were first held in the old Bardon Hall, a moated house in the centre of Bardon Park, during the time in the 17th century when it was unlawful to meet for worship other than according to the rites and canons of the Church of England.
Shortly after the "Glorious Revolution" (1688) when William and Mary took the throne of England, and an "Act of Toleration" was passed through Parliament (1689), the squire of Bardon Hall, John Hood built the meetinghouse at the gate of his estate, and engaged the services of a Presbyterian minister the Reverend Michael Matthews.
It is said that meetings for worship were held in the Bardon Hall from 1662 (the year of the "Great Ejection") onwards. This may or may not be so. The evidence for this is scant.
Michael Matthews also ministered at Mountsorrel (or Mount Soar Hill) and his gravestone is inside the parish church at Swithland. His son-in-law James Watson also ministered at Mountsorrel and Bardon, and eventually James took the pastorate at the prestigious Great Meeting in Leicester.
In the first part of the 18th century, a Dr John Evans compiled a list of Dissenting congregations throughout the country. Dr Evans's list indicates that Bardon Park was the largest rural congregation in Leicestershire.
A Sunday school operated at Bardon Park from 1820 onwards. There was also a day-school, prior to the Elementary Education Act 1870. This day-school formed part of the "British Schools" movement (i.e. schools run under the auspices of the British and Foreign School Society).
The chapel buildings
The chapel is square, with high pulpit on the north wall and two large round-topped windows behind the pulpit, in typical style of the times. The pulpit probably dated from the mid-18th century, though it has been badly altered. Behind the pulpit are two slate memorials, one dating from the end of the late 18th century and the other from the early 19th century. The chapel is galleried on three sides. The present galleries date from 1905 but they replace earlier galleries.
In 1877, the exterior appearance of the chapel was much altered as part of a re-modelling, and the "1877" datestone above the doorway indicates the date of re-modelling, the actual structure of the building being much older, and said to be 300 years old. The present gabled roof dates from 1877 and replaces earlier hipped roofs.
An interesting feature of the chapel is that a casement window opens to allow coffins to be admitted.
To the rear of the chapel is a 19th century schoolrooms building. This retains a painted alphabet board dated 1848, high on the classroom wall, as a model for scholars to copy their letters.
The buildings stand well back from the road, and they are surrounded by a sizeable burial ground.
The whole retains a certain old world charm, and is attractively situated at the edge of Bardon Park (formerly an ancient deer park), with views across the parkland and to the Bardon Hall and the Bardon Hill summit beyond.
The life of the chapel
In the 18th century, "Bardon Meeting" was resorted to by local gentry and squirearchy. In the 19th century, the chapel took on a new life as a place of worship for local farm workers, colliers and quarryworkers. Today, the chapel is the home of a small but enthusiastic group of Christians.
History of denominational allegiance
The early ministers at Bardon Park were Presbyterian. The wider or more general term "Protestant Dissenters" was also used and, in 1765, when the then head of the Hood family vested the Bardon Park Chapel in trustees, his Trust Deed did not identify any particular denomination. The 1765 Deed says simply that the building is to be used for "Protestant Dissenters" to worship in.
A national Congregational Union came into existence in the 1830s. During the 1960s the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Union held discussions which led to the formation in 1972 of a united church with the name the United Reformed Church. The Bardon Park congregation affiliated to the Congregational Union during the first half of the 19th century and in 1972 joined in the formation of the United Reformed Church.
At the time of writing (2010), the Bardon Park Chapel is the home of a local church of the United Reformed Church and also of the Bardon Park Chapel Christian Fellowship.
During its long history as a Christian meetinghouse in the "Free Church" tradition, the Bardon Park Chapel has been a place of worship used by Presbyterians, by Congregationalists and by Christians of no particular denomonational persuasion.
- Information about Bardon Hall and Bardon Park is given in Wikipedia article titled "Bardon Hill".
- For detailed information about the origins and early days of the Chapel, refer to a paper by Dr David Wykes titled "Bardon Park Meeting-House: the registration of Nonconformist places of worship under the Act of Toleration (1689) in Volume 64 (1990) of the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society. Dr Wykes's paper may be downloaded by visiting the Society's section on the website of Leicester University. There is also relevant information in a paper on the history of the Bardon Hill Quarry written by the late Reverend Dr Roy Fenn. Dr Fenn's paper may be downloaded by visiting the website of Aggregate Industries and clicking on the history section.
- More information about the Great Ejection, is given in Wikipedia article titled "Puritans" (in the sub-section "Great Ejection and Dissenters"). Also, see Wikipedia article titled "History of the Puritans from 1649".
- Information about Great Meeting, Leicester and its history may be seen on the website of the Leicester Unitarians.
- Dr John Evans's list is in the care of Dr Williams's Library, London.