Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Longframlington: Birthplace of English Presbyterianism? (NU127015)

Amidst the complex web that is the history of British religious nonconformity lies that curious creature known as Presbyterianism. Put simply, it is essentially a Scottish creation – or it at least took root there - before spreading south and, to a certain extent, worldwide from the 16th century onwards.

In 1662, nearly two thousand ‘dissenting’ clergymen were thrown out of the Church of England, leading to the establishment of ‘proper’ dissenting places of worship – or at least gatherings or ‘congregations’ who met in private houses. One of these little assemblies had been meeting somewhat informally at Swarland Old Hall since around 1640 under the guidance of a Mr William Hesilrigge, and immediately following the ‘Great Ejectment’ of 1662 the establishment of the ‘Longframlington Presbyterian Church’ was officially announced by Hesilrigge and his followers. And it was pretty quick off the mark, too, with the construction of England’s very first Presbyterian chapel or meeting house five years later at the village’s Hole House Farm.

The Longframlington Presbyterian Meeting House, established in 1667 and probably the first of its kind in England, held regular services until a new chapel was built at the North End of the village in 1739, complete with accommodation for the presiding minister. The final (and present) incarnation – on the same site and pictured below – dates from 1854.

It is worth mentioning that after the 1689 Act of Toleration life for practising dissenters became a good deal easier. However, permanent bases for worship were rare before this date, so the original, purpose-built Longframlington meeting house, dating from the 1660s, really is an early call and a notable ‘first’ for Northumberland.

The present chapel became a United Reformed Church in 1972 when the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches united.

The present URC Church, built 1854
© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse 

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