Before this building in Thornbury became the Cossham Hall in Chapel Street it was once a Wesleyan chapel.
We do not know where exactly the supporters of John Wesley preached their sermons before the chapel was built in Thornbury. It seems they initially used a table rather than a chapel. At least that is how George Whitfield described it when he wrote to John Wesley;
“April 3, 1739. HONOURED SIR,— Yesterday I began to play the madman in Gloucestershire, by preaching on a table in Thornbury Street. Today I have exhorted twice; and by-and-by shall begin a third time; nothing like doing good by the way. ”
John Wesley may have preached at St Mary’s Parish church because in April 1739 when he made a return visit to Thornbury (“where I was appointed to preach on this day as when I was there last”) he met with a less than enthusiastic greeting from the minister, who ” was offended by my doctrines and therefore would not lend me the pulpit again.” The people of Thornbury were more welcoming and Wesley’s journal indicates there were bout 100 people waiting to hear him speak.
In September 1781 the diary of John Wesley recorded
“Friday 21st I preached at Thornbury, where I had not been before for nearly forty years. It seems as if good might at length be done here also; as an entire new generation is now come up, in the room of the dry stupid stocks that were there before.”
Perhaps John Wesley’s sermon bore fruit or perhaps the new generation had indeed “come up” as a new chapel was built in Thornbury but it took them nine years to achieve it.
The earliest document in the collection held by Thornbury Town Council in respect of what became the Wesleyan Chapel in Chapel Street in Thornbury is dated 26th June 1789. It says that the property was being transferred from Ralph Grove, an apothecary who also owned the garden to the west. Click here to read more about Ralph Grove.
The indenture represents the purchase of “all that piece or parcel of ground containing by measurement 52 feet in length and 31 feet in breadth and also all that lately erected house or tenement thereon.”
It would seem from this document that there was already a newly built house on the ground when it was purchased by the Wesleyans in 1789 and this building may have been used as a chapel until it was extended which appears to have taken place in 1835. In the speech Handel Cossham made in 1888 handing over the chapel as a hall for the people of Thornbury he said the chapel was built in 1789 which is the year in which it was bought.
The document names William Hobby (gentleman), Richard Martin (shopkeeper), Obed Thurston (gentleman), Edward Thurston (gentleman), John Salmon, James Higgs (blacksmith), John Crowther (gentleman), Henry Hignell (gentleman), Edward Dunn (butcher) and John Freem (carpenter). It says they are buying the property for the sum of five shillings (presumably a nominal amount for legal purposes) with the “intent that they and the survivors of them and the Trustees for the time being do and shall permit John Wesley of the City Road London, Clerk and such other persons as he shall from to time appoint …may therein preach and expound God’s Holy Word.”
Handel Cossham said that he believed that John Wesley preached in the chapel at its opening ceremony. We appear to have confirmation at least that Wesley preached there in the year it was built and not many weeks after its purchase. In his journal for Thursday 10th September 1789 Wesley wrote
“I went over to Thornbury where we preached nearly 50 years and hardly saw any fruit…. Now at length it seems God’s time has come. A few men of substance in the town have built a neat and commodious preaching house. It was filled within and without with serious hearers and they did not hear in vain.”
It seems that the congregation must have steadily increased in number because in 1835 it was felt necessary to build a gallery. This is surprising in light of a history of Methodism in Thornbury which says that membership levels “in the 1840 – 1900 period varied from peak of 49 in 1843 to the worst at 24, running in general in the lower 30s,”
We are not sure exactly when the new Methodist Chapel was built in the High Street. We have a copy in a scrap book in the Gloucester Records Office which suggests it was built in 1877. Click here to read about the new Methodist Chapel
The original chapel continued to be owned by the Wesleyans for a while after the new chapel was opened. After the building of the new Chapel in 1879 the old Chapel was rented out as a Salvation Army Barracks from about 1880/1.
From the notes of FH Burchell about his memories of Thornbury in the early 1880s we are able to get a glimpse of the impact the Salvation Army made when it set up a Barracks in the Chapel.
“I can also remember the Wesley Chapel being built and that took the place of a chapel which is now the Cossham Hall. When the Wesleyans relinquished their use of the Cossham Hall, as it is now called, it was taken over by the Salvation Army and used as a Salvation Army barracks. It was new move in Thornbury, this Salvation Army business, and it met with great deal of opposition from various sources. I remember that near the opening of their activities in Thornbury they organised a big ‘Day’ and the had contingents from Bristol and other districts and headed by a brass ban they paraded the town. At that time a lot of young bloods in Thornbury organised an attack on the procession and pelted them with rotten eggs and kinds of things. Their drum was slashed and an attack was made upon the barracks and every window in the front of the building was smashed. Eventually opposition to the Salvation Army eased.”
The Bristol Mercury and Post of 17th December 1881 seemed to pin the blame for the coming of the Salvation Army to Thornbury on Joseph Mustoe who had come to live at what became 12 Rock Street.
“This town has for the past month been visited by a number of revival preachers, male and female. The originator of the movement was Joseph Mustoe, a porter at the railway station. At the first he received no encouragement from the religious bodies, but being determined to accomplish the work, he hired the old Wesleyan Chapel, a disused building, situate near the entrance to the town from Bristol. Here services have been nightly held for the past month, preceded by processions through the town, singing the hymns of the Salvation Army. Mr and Mrs Sperrin (of Bristol) conduct the services. Some of the worst characters of the neighbourhood have, it is said, been reclaimed.”
The problems caused by the Salvation Army’s presence in the town are quite startling today but strangely similar to more recent clashes between extreme political groups elsewhere in the country. The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post of 10th May 1883 seemed to indicate that there was danger of the old chapel being severely damaged in these riots when it reported;
“Disgraceful Riot – On Tuesday evening the Salvation Army here had a very warm reception. For some time past the tactics of ‘Captain’ Weale, in command of the detachment here, in marching through the town with drum, tambourines and cornet, and in preaching in the open air, have caused great annoyance to the townspeople. A few days ago, in consequence of the ill-feeling manifested towards the Salvationists by the people, ‘Captain’ Weale sought police protection, and it was generally rumoured that the ‘Captain’ had promised Mr E S Howard, MP, that he would not use the drum in future in the processions, and for several processions the instrument was conspicuous by its absence on the march out. On Tuesday evening the beating of the drum announced to the people that it had again taken its accustomed place, and a row was anticipated. On arriving on the Plain, which is in the centre of the town, the ‘enemy’ began throwing eggs at the processionists, who, however, stuck together playing and singing as usual on their march. They had gone only a few yards when the head of the drum was smashed in, whereupon there was a general cheer from the mob. The Salvationists reached their barracks as quickly as possible, and the doors were closed, but a crowd of persons remained outside for the close of the meeting. In about half an hour the sound of window smashing was heard, and it was soon apparent that some mischievous persons had gained access to the rear of the building, and were wrecking the place. One of the female members was so overcome that she fell down in a fit, and remained insensible for some time. The others sought shelter in a part of the room where the falling stones could not hurt them. So panic-stricken were the Salvationists that they left the building one by one at intervals. The captain was not recognised till he had got some distance from the barracks, when the hue and cry was raised, and he was chased down the Front Street, but in the darkness his pursuers missed him, and rushing into the Porter Stores he secreted himself in the staircase, and was in the act of tearing off all the emblems of his office from his clothing in order to disguise himself when the police found him and took him to a place of safety.”
It is noticeable that the newspaper whilst reporting the disgraceful rioting was also keen to point out what it obviously regarded as a cowardly reaction from the Salvationists in not wanting to confront a large and violent mob.
Meg Wise from Thornbury Museum has researched the background to what seems like religious intolerance in Thornbury and tells us that the problem was a widespread one and that:
“The Salvation Army had been founded in 1865 by London minister William Booth. Many people condemned Booth’s methods, concerned about the rough criminal characters who, when reformed, became staunch supporters of the new movement. They strongly disapproved of these ‘ruffians’ attending church and Booth was hated by many because of his unfamiliar ways. The Salvationists worked on the principle that if the sinful did not come to them then they must take the gospel message into the streets. Many towns and villages were soon aware of the Army’s presence when Salvationists marched out in procession with bands and drums, with flags and banners waving. The sight often incited anger and people took the opportunity for violent attack. All over the country Salvationists were faced with angry mobs which used ammunition in the form of dead rats and cats, tar, rocks, eggs, rotten vegetables and even burning coals and sulphur to show their hatred of the movement. In one year alone (1882) 669 Salvationists were brutally attacked. The police, in many cases, did very little to help. The policy of “peace at any price” issued by the Home Office meant the police intervened as little as possible. The processions were not illegal, they were told, but if the peace of the town was endangered then they should try to prevent disturbances. Many Salvationists found themselves in prison on trumped-up charges made by vindictive police and magistrates. ”
We are grateful to ‘SAWiki’ the online encyclopedia of the Salvation Army for information about the officers stationed at the former Independent Chapel. From this source we have learned that in 1882 Captain Isaac Atkinson was stationed there followed by Captain J Partridge in 1883, Captain Waddington and Lieutenant Dudley (from Kingswood) in March 1884, and in July 1884 Captain Bessie Fisher and Lieutenant Horseman. Sadly we have found no further record of these officers.
We have not traced any further reports of the activities of the Salvation Army in Thornbury or any reports whatsoever of people being brought before the courts as a result of their actions against the Salvationists.
By an indenture of 13th April 1885 the property was bought by Thomas Bradfield Westcombe for £110. He raised the money for this with a mortgage dated 14th April 1885 for £84 from the Bristol and District Permanent Economic Building Society. The hall was still described as “formerly of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and now of the Salvation Army Barracks.”
We do not know exactly when the Salvationists stopped using the chapel. However the 1885 Rate Book says the building in Chapel Street was owned by the Trustees of Wesleyan Chapel and occupied by Thomas Morgan. Thomas was a plumber and glazier who lived in the neighbouring 2 Chapel Street and we assume he was using the old chapel as business premises.
In the Bristol Mercury of 5th and 6th July 1888 it was announced that Handel Cossham had purchased the hall for £150.