At the sign of the Barking lion...

United Reformed Church, Wattisfield

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Wattisfield Chapel

Wattisfield Congregational Wattisfield chapel

    Wattisfield is that successful combination: a pretty place which is also a working village, and which has a sense that the people who live in it have some allegiance to it. We are not far here from the Norfolk border, and the area has long been a bastion of Congregationalism. The fierceness of their independence has mellowed in recent decades, and Wattisfield Congregational Chapel is now part of the United Reformed Church, created in the 1970s to bring the various strands of English Presbyterianism and Congregationalism together.

The current Wattisfield chapel is at least the third on the present site, and dates itself back to the founders' covenant of 1654, during the English Commonwealth, a time when the Church of England had been suppressed, and the Congregationalists had probably taken over St Margaret's church in the village. At the Restoration, they would have been expelled, but the Act of Religious Toleration of a few years later would have enabled them to build their first proper chapel. An etching of it survives in the modern church, and you can see it below. Also surviving is the original covenant, which records that it was adopted on the 14th of the 7th Month of the Year 1654, and goes on to proclaim that Wee doe Covenant or Agree in the Presence of God, through the Assistance of his Holy Spirt, to walke together in all the Ordinances of our Lord Jesus, so far as the same are made clear to us: indeavouring the Advancement of ye Glory of our Father, the Subjection of Our Wills to the Will of our Redeemer, and the mutual Edification each of other in his most holy Faith and Fear.

The earlier chapel was replaced by a grand building in red and yellow brick, full of late 19th Century confidence. This had obviously become too big and drafty for the congregation here by the 1980s, and is now converted into three private houses. The current church is in the extension to the Victorian chapel, presumably built as a social hall, and you reach it across the old graveyard. This building has been completely converted inside, and has all the conveniences a modern congregation could require. The worship space is simple and seemly, retaining some old furinshings from the chapel next door, but otherwise clean and modern.

Wattisfield chapel is served by the United Reformed Church in Diss, and I was of course delighted to discover that the recently retired minister was the splendidly named Reverend Robin Pagan.


Simon Knott, December 2008

holy table modern the original church

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