At the sign of the Barking lion...

Baptist chapel, Tunstall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Tunstall Baptist Church


    Here, the woods and heaths are dramatic, and we are east of the village of Tunstall on the edge of the old American air base. The chapel is at a bend in the road, and cottages huddle it, as if the 19th Century non-conformists of the parish had set themselves adrift in a lifeboat. The chapel dates from 1805, but in recent years the windows have been replaced with utilitarian ones that look as if they might have been a job lot from a DIY warehouse. I couldn't help thinking that we are awfully remote from the nearest planning inspector's office here.
To the north of the chapel is a small graveyard, largely cleared, but containing several graves to holders of that most evocative of Suffolk family names, the Catchpoles. The forecourt of the chapel is again as utilitarian and functional as the denomination it serves.

They seem to have been an enthusiastically church- and chapel-going lot in 19th century Tunstall. At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, the population of the parish was 676, and yet in the afternoon this chapel could claim an attendance of about 500, while the Anglican church half a mile away recorded 239 plus 48 scholars. No doubt both totals were exaggerated, and certainly many of the chapel attenders would have come to Tunstall from neighbouring parishes; but the combined total is way above the average for Suffolk. William Whiteband, the Baptist chapel Deacon, could proudly claim (and one imagines him saying this in a rather gruff voice) that this cause is supported by public collections and voluntary contributions, and not by pew rents.

Today, little remains of the atmosphere of the 19th Century community here, but the Baptist movement is still a strong one in Suffolk, and the most popular of all non-conformist denominations in the county.


Simon Knott, September 2008

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