Methodist Architecture and its Protection
|Heptonstall Methodist Church, West Yorkshire, 1764 (photo provided by the local managing trustees)
Methodism has long
had an interest in buildings. Indeed, John Wesley’s preference for an
octagonal shape is well known: the legacy can be seen at Yarm, Heptonstall
(right) and St John’s, Arbroath. But buildings were then
seen essentially as tools for preaching and mission, not as objects for
veneration in their own right. Pure functionality was the original driving
force for their design, and this is the main pattern that has continued.
There is evidence that, as Methodism became more established, there was
increasing awareness of architectural dignity and proportion. As a consequence,
the simple vernacular forms gave way to buildings in the classical tradition,
especially in urban areas. Such an example is Walcot, Bath (illustrated further down this page) designed by
the Revd William Jenkins and which opened in 1815.
Towards the middle
of the 19th century the issue of an appropriate style for Methodist architecture
arose. In a series of papers advocating a preference for the Gothic style,
the Revd Frederick Jobson (who trained as an architect) argued for beauty
and perfection in design and execution without unnecessary adornment (see
Recommended Reading below). His papers were presented to and adopted by the Methodist
Conference, the governing body of Methodism. The influence of his writings
was such that Gothic became the predominant style, particularly within
Wesleyan Methodism. A typical building of this era is Altarnun, Cornwall,
The legacy of this
development is a stock of about 700 chapels listed as being of architectural
or historic interest. The concern over such buildings, however, stretches
back well before the introduction of the current ecclesiastical legislation.
In 1976 Listed Church Buildings was published by the then Methodist Division
of Property (the department responsible for all building matters nationwide),
primarily as a response to European Architectural Heritage Year, 1975.
Written largely by the Revd George Dolbey, who was General Secretary of
the Division and an architect and planner, the report reminded everyone
that 'the careful preservation of such listed buildings as the Church
possesses is part of the Church’s contribution to the culture of our generation
and should be encouraged, providing the buildings subserve the work'.
Just before this report
was published, the House of Lords reached a verdict in the case of the
Howard Memorial United Reformed Church in Bedford which clarified that
ecclesiastical exemption from listed building consent applied to all ecclesiastical
buildings in use and not just those of the Church of England. In following
years, the wholesale destruction of many important interiors led to a
growing clamour for the exemption to be withdrawn.
|Altarnun, Cornwall, 1854
(photo: Ian Serjeant)
During this period
the Methodist Church recognised that it had to establish clear policies
relating to listed buildings for the guidance of the managing trustees
of such buildings. A working party was set up and its report was contained
within the publication A Charge to Keep? – a Methodist Response to Listed
Buildings and Conservation, written by the head of the Property Division
and his deputy. The Methodist Conference accepted the report and adopted
a series of resolutions recognising the tensions between the demands of
conservation and the need to adapt buildings for mission purposes. A Charge
to Keep? examined how the Methodist Church should respond to the impact
of conservation legislation. It also set out procedures for schemes of
alteration to listed buildings.
While these issues
were being debated within the Methodist Church there was ongoing debate
with the Department of the Environment on the consultation paper Ecclesiastical
Exemption from Listed Building Control which was published in 1989. When
the resulting Code of Practice was issued in 1992 the formal response
of the Methodist Church was that it wished to retain the exemption.
The Methodist Conference
of 1993 therefore asked the Property Division to:
- Introduce procedures
in conformity with the Government’s suggested Code of Practice
- Propose such changes
to Methodist Standing Orders as were necessary, and
- Administer the
code through the appointment of an Assistant Secretary (now titled Conservation
A financial allocation
was made to cover the cost of implementing this system. At the 1994 Conference
the necessary changes and additions to the Standing Orders were made to
bring procedures in line with the Code of Practice. The most significant
addition was a section in Standing Orders which established the necessary
process before the Methodist Connexional Property Committee could approve
a scheme for ‘listed building works’.
By the time The Ecclesiastical
Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Order 1994 came into
force, the Methodist Church was fully prepared and its system (as described
below) became operational. The full story can be found in Heritage and
Mission (see Recommended Reading).
THE OPERATION OF THE EXEMPTION
Incoming schemes affecting
listed Methodist church buildings are divided into four categories by
the conservation officer:>
- Minor schemes where
the impact on the building is insignificant
- Schemes of alteration
where formal consultation is necessary
- Possible controversial
schemes where an informal consultation is carried out on the emerging
- Major schemes to
be referred to the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee (LBAC).
The LBAC is a body
appointed by the Methodist Church to give advice on listed building matters.
It consists of 11 people chosen for their expertise in relation to the
wide range of disciplines involved in the conservation of historic chapels.
They are not necessarily Methodists; neither are they the nominees of
any particular body. They are, however, subject to annual re-appointment.
The consultees are
sent a copy of the list description, scheme drawings and photocopies of
photographs, together with a written description of the proposed work.
Where schemes of any significance are proposed, the applicant church is
required to submit a Statement of Significance and a Statement of Need.
Consultees have 28 days to respond.
The comments of the
consultees and of the LBAC are then reviewed by the conservation officer,
who then prepares a report which describes the proposal, summarises the
views of the consultees and makes a recommendation to the Connexional
Property Secretary who acts under delegated powers from the Methodist
Connexional Property Committee. The scheme is then either approved, approved
conditionally or refused. The applicant church and the consultees are
then notified of the decision and a copy of the report is sent to them.
Alterations are often
required by congregations to make their buildings more welcoming or more
useful. These often include alterations to the entrance, steps and other
access-related features, seating arrangements, and the introduction or
improvement of facilities such as toilets. As around ten listed chapels
close each year, the pressure for their retention often means that local
authorities will allow significant internal change if the external form
can be kept.
Alterations to entrance
areas are generally acceptable, particularly when they are sited under
galleries. This is partly because chapels were generally designed to be
seen when seated and looking forward, mitigating the affects of such alterations
on the interior character.
The total removal
of all pews (or all ground floor pews) usually results in some objections,
particularly when the pews are of an early date. The removal of later
pews is often regretted because of their contribution to the character
of the interior, but seldom results in a strong objection, particularly
when representative examples are retained.
Accessibility is an
issue of continuing significance. Many older chapels were badly designed
in terms of providing access for all, and finding ways of overcoming shortcomings
may not be straightforward.
THE STRENGTHS OF THE SYSTEM
The greatest strength
of the Methodist system is its consistency. The same criteria are used
from the Shetland Islands to the Channel Islands. This is especially important
given the nature of the ordained ministry in Methodism where ministers
usually move to a new church every three to five years. Such consistency
is not found in the secular system which, in many authorities, is operated
by staff with no qualifications or experience relevant to conservation.
The dual nature of the system whereby external alterations require planning
permission from the local authority and the equivalent of listed building
consent under the ecclesiastical exemption process can cause problems.
On many occasions we have required changes to schemes that have received
planning permission but failed, in our opinion, to meet a satisfactory
standard for external alteration to a listed building.
The value of a national
system is reffected in the establishment of the single advisory committee.
The LBAC is of the highest calibre and contains considerable expertise
across a range of relevant topics. Such expertise could not be reproduced
at local or even regional level if a different system were to be introduced.
The Methodist system
also gives control over the alteration of high quality interiors in unlisted
chapels in conservation areas, something that the secular system could
not do. There is also a policy precluding the use of PVCu windows in conservation
areas. In two cases, PVCu windows, installed without consent, have had
to be replaced with timber windows to the original pattern.
Two cases where the
listed building enforcement procedures have been used are in the removal
of aluminium windows at Reading and the removal of PVCu rainwater goods
and their replacement with cast iron at Scarborough. An appeals system
is now in force. The first hearing was held recently where a church applied
for retrospective consent to retain window guards erected without permission.
The scheme was refused and the appeal dismissed.
When the first review
of ecclesiastical exemption was carried out by John Newman in 1997, the
Methodist Church was found to have ‘a control system which is comparable
with the secular system and is efficiently administered…'. In the most
recent review of the exemption, the Department for Culture, Media and
Sport also acknowledged the strengths of the systems built up by the exempt
denominations. With the continuing refinement of our systems we believe
that John Newman’s comments are as valid today as ever. The system works
well, ensuring that the contribution made by Methodist church architecture
to the heritage of this country will be maintained for future generations
- G Dolbey, The Architectural Expression of Methodism, Epworth Press,
- G Dolbey and P Kerridge, Listed Church Buildings, Richmond Press Ltd, Wilmslow,
- F J Jobson,
Chapel and School Architecture, WHMS Publications, 1850: facsimile
reprint by Methodist Publishing House, Peterborough, 1991
- K E Street and I Serjeant, Heritage and Mission, Methodist Publishing House,
- K E Street and I D Johnson, A Charge to Keep? – a Methodist Response to Listed
Buildings and Conservation, Methodist Church Property Division, Manchester,
 'Division of Property',
'Property Division' and 'Connexional Property Committee' are the successive
names by which this body has been known in recent years.
article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2004
IAN SERJEANT Dip TP MA (UD) MRTPI IHBC
has been the Conservation Officer for the Methodist Church since 1996.
He has worked for a number of authorities, mainly in design and conservation,
including one appointment as conservation officer for a borough council.
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