Independents & Congregationalists


The 1851 Ecclesiastical census indicates 40 individuals attended the Crafton Independent chapel for evening services, the maximum number of sittings available. It was not a building used exclusively for worship – the remarks on this census tell us that it was connected with the Wingrave chapel and services were only occasionally held in Wing.


Littleworth Union Chapel - photo by Rob Farrow
Littleworth Union Chapel – photo by Rob Farrow

The Congregational Union Chapel in Littleworth is first mentioned in the 1876 Harrods directory, however according to the 1899 Kellys directory it was in fact built in 1854, rebuilt in 1871, and held 140 people. This earlier date comes about because it was originally a Baptist chapel. It reformed as the Burcott Congregational church in April 1871, spearheaded by William HELEY and his adult sons James William HELEY and Thomas Somes HELEY. It later became known as the Wing Union Chapel.

The building was purchased by James William HELEY in October 1870 for £72 10s, and expanded in 1871 by building a second building at the back then knocking down the internal wall between the two. The building committee, for that work in 1871 was made of up J HELEY, T.S. HELEY and William HELEY all of Wing, and Mr JENNINGS and Mr SHARMAN of Leighton Buzzard. The final member was Mr TRUEMAN who’s incorrectly recorded as being of Leighton Buzzard, having come to Wing from London in 1859 as foreman of the newly-opened Littleworth brickyard. The foundation stone was laid 20 April 1871 by William HELEY. Construction costs were around £300 and the first service as held on 21 September 1871. A plot of land next to the chapel was purchased by George TRUEMAN for the chapel in 1880 at a cost of £60.

Burcott – Laying of the Foundation Stone of the Union Chapel

On Wednesday last the foundation stone of the new Union Chapel, at Burcott, was laid by Mr W. Heley, of Wing, there being present a goodly assembly of villagers and other friends. The chapel will not be entirely a new one, but an enlargement of the existing building, which is not found sufficiently large to accommodate the increasing congregation.

The present chapel was originally in the hands of the Baptists, worshipping at Lake Street, Leighton, who built it in 1856. It continued in their possession from that time up until October in last year, at which time, we are informed, the chapel was so badly attended that Mr J.W. Heley bought it, and opened it as a “union place of worship” in which Christians of all denominations might meet, without distinction. From this time the congregation began to increase, and lately the chapel has been filled to overflowing by the people of the place, so that all comers could not be accommodated. With a view to remedying this state of things, Messrs Heley, with other friends of the cause, took into consideration the enlargement of the chapel, and ultimately a contract was entered into with Messrs Dimmock and Hammerton, of Wing, for the erection of an additional building, close to the old one, pulling down the parting wall, and throwing both buildings into one. The two places will be divided at times with a moveable partition, and while the new building will be used as a chapel, the old one will be made to serve as a school-room, there being a large number of school children connected with the chapel. The cost of the alterations will be about £300, towards which sum a considerable amount has already been raised. The size of the new building is to be 26ft by 32ft, and 16ft high, with open roof. The material used in the structure is calculated to hold 140 persons, exclusive of the school-room which may be thrown into it, and which will accommodate 120 more persons.

The ceremony of the laying of the corner-stone, on Thursday, was commenced in the old chapel, the day being very wet. Amongst those present were the Rev. G. Moore of Wingrave, Rev. S. Cowdy of London, Rev. H. Wilkins of Leighton Buzzard, and Rev. P.T. Ouvry of Wing, Messrs. Heley of Wing, and others. The Rev. G. Moore opened the proceedings by giving out a hymn and afterwards reading a portion of scripture, following which the Rev. H. Wilkins offered up an earnest prayer.

Mr J.W. Heley then read letters of apology for non attendance from the Rev. A. Shelley, Rev. J. Cooper, Rev. J.S. Spencer, Mr Sharman, Mr Madder, and others, after which the congregation proceeded to the side of the new building where the stone was to be laid.

Mr. W. Heley (who was almost inaudible to his hearers) there read a short address, stating that by God’s blessing the congregation had so increased that it was found necessary to enlarge the present chapel or add a new building thereto, the latter course being adopted. He also said that the one aim in building the chapel was the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and concluded with the expression of an earnest desire that the Divine blessing might ever rest upon the house to be erected to His glory. He then laid the stone, in the name of the Holy Trinity, and placed upon it several parcels containing money which he had received from different friends of the cause, and expressed hope that when the chapel was finished they might be able to call it their own. He next invited any person present to place money upon the stone or lay bricks.

Mr Green, of Aylesbury, said that he perfectly agreed and fully sympathised with the undertaking and as a token of his good feeling he laid upon the stone two guineas.

A considerable number of contributions followed then, both from ladies and gentlemen, the greater portion of the [coins?] being gold, and then the process of bricklaying was commenced, each person who laid one leaving a piece of money upon it. In this way, something like £50 was collected.

The company then proceeded to tea, which had been provided in a long shed in the brickyard of Mr Trueman, but before commencing a few short addresses were delivered.

Mr Heley first announced that the sum raised that day toward the expenses of the new building was £[unreadable] 15s, which included a contribution of 10s from the Wesleyan congregation at Wingrave and a donation of £5 from the Rev. P.T. Ouvry (Cheers).

The Rev. P.T. Ouvry said that he had heard that the Messrs Heley were interesting themselves for the enlargement of the chapel, and he told them that as vicar of the parish of Wing, where he had been for twenty years, he was always desirous of assisting in any movement which was calculated to be for the good of the people. He understood Mr Heley that this chapel was not be set up in opposition to the church, or with any hostile intention, and he promised to give him any assistance that he could in the matter (Applause). Any work undertaken for the welfare of his parishioners he was always glad to forward, and he believed that it was too much to expect that one man, such as himself, could properly attend to the spiritual condition of the large number of people now living at Wing, and if more persons were engaged in the work of ministering to the wants of the parish, he looked upon them in the light of his assistants, rather than in the spirit of opponents. There were certainly differences of opinion amongst Christians, and there would continue to be, but he was firmly convinced that the Christian faith was one, and that they might see unity in spite of any differences of opinion that might prevail. After a few other remarks, the rev. gentleman concluded amidst loud applause.

The Rev. Mr Cowdy next said a few words, remarking upon the kindness of the vicar in giving them £5, and thanking him for the liberal sentiments expressed by him.

After a short address from the Rev. H Wilkins, and a few words from the Rev. G. Moore, tea was commenced, a large number of persons partaking of that refreshment.

Tea over, grace was sung, and then the congregation adjourned to the chapel where Divine service was held, and an excellent sermon preached by the Rev. S. Cowdy of London.

A collection was made at the close of the service, in aid of the building fund.

The amount realised during the day, including the profits from the tea, was about £110 nett.

We understand that about £100 had been previously collected, thus making the amount of the building fund about £210.

Leighton Buzzard Observer, 25 Apr 1871

The newspaper report above was evidently not contributed by an impartial independent reporter. Rev. Ouvry felt that a key portion of his oration had been omitted, namely his closing: “You must recollect that, although you may attend this chapel, you are all my parishioners, and members of the Church of England. Every one of you can at all times claim my services as the parochial clergyman, and you have a legal right to attend the public worship, and partake of the sacraments of the church, whenever and as often as you please.” He wrote to the editor of the Leighton Buzzard Observer to ensure this bit was subsequently printed – which does somewhat dampen the spirit of togetherness found in the original report.

The opening services in the new Union chapel in this village were held on Thursday 21st September. Two excellent sermons were preached by the Rev. H. Grainger, assistant minister at the Surrey Chapel, London. There were good congregations. The Rev. G. Moore of Wingrave, Rev. H Wilkins of Leighton, and Rev. J. Thorpe of Wendover also took part in the services. Tea was provided, after the afternoon service, in a large shed, kindly lent for the occasion, when about 270 sat down. The collections of the day amounted to £35. On Sunday the 24th ult, special services were held. The Rev. G. Moore preached in the morning, Rev. H. Wilkins in the afternoon, and Rev. J. Cooper, Wesleyan minister, Leighton Buzzard, in the evening. Although the weather was unfavourable in the morning, the services were well attended, and upwards of £30 were contributed at the collections, which cleared off the whole of the debt contracted by the erection of the chapel. The promoters of this small cause have in view the improvement, morally and religiously, of the inhabitants of the hamlets of Littleworth and Burcott, where no place of worship exists.

Leighton Buzzard Observer, 3 Oct 1871

The founding members recorded in the church book were:

  • William Heley, his wife Jane Heley, James William Heley, his wife Catherine Heley, Thomas Somes Heley, his wife Annie Rolls Heley
  • George Trueman, his wife Sarah Trueman, John Jennings, his wife Elizabeth Jennings, Reuben Paxton, Jane Goff Mortimore, John Hammerton (one of the builders responsible for the rebuild in 1871), Samuell Jones (George Trueman’s nephew), Charles Sawyer, Jane Ross

James William HELEY was superintendent of the chapel from 1871 until a few weeks before his death in 1911, and was heavily involved in various unions/federations of Congregational Union chapels. His wife Kate was a Sunday School teacher at the chapel and sought-after speaker both within the wider Congregational cause and in her other areas of interest like temperance. Brother Thomas Somes HELEY focused more on the religious side of things and was known as an evangelist who would occasionally spend time in other counties preaching. There was some falling out between Thomas and the chapel that first arose in 1887 and ended with the resignation of Thomas, his wife and various other members in 1888 but the exact nature of this is not detailed in the church book.

Buckinghamshire Archives holds a number of records for this chapel, including:
* Church book 1871 to 1913 including admissions and baptisms (NC 5/1)
* Notebook of ministers supplied 1873-1897 (NC 5/2)
* Notebook by Kate HELEY dated 1879-1890 “Scraps and Incidents and Notes of the Lord’s Dealings” (NC 5/11)
* various other minute and account books for the 1870 to 1949 period

The damaged foundation stone of the Littleworth chapel Photo © Alex Coles September 2013
The damaged foundation stone of the Littleworth chapel
Photo © Alex Coles Sep 2013

George TRUEMAN bequeathed £200 (approx 1/7th of his estate) under his will proved 21 October 1887. This was for the Chapel to invest in consols (in the names of Arthur Somes HELEY and three other trustees), to be used towards the support of the ministry provided for the Chapel.

Wing As It Was (vol 1) has a photo of the women of the congregation (there’s almost 50 of them), taken in the 1880s.

By 1907, Congregational minister Rev. William HARRISON is listed as living at the Manse in Littleworth (a building owned by James William Heley). Wing As It Was states there were 32 members of the chapel that year. However he’s not listed in subsequent directories, nor is any replacement.

The worshippers here included Joseph Harold RICKARD and Emily Louisa WOOLHEAD, who were married in the chapel on 19 Oct 1915, according to Joseph’s WW1 military record in the WO363 series.

Other members recorded in the church book are as follows:

  • ADAMS Mrs, James
  • BANDY Mrs Frederick
  • BIGGS Catherine Eleanor, Edward
  • BOLLEN Mrs George
  • BOLTON Dynah, Evelina
  • BULL George, Hannah, Robert
  • CARTER Hannah, Thomas
  • CORKETT Frederick, George, Isaac, Mrs Isaac
  • CUTLER Mrs Frederick, Jane Elizabeth, John, Mrs John
  • DICKENS Emily Joseph, Sarah Ann, Thomas, Mrs Thomas
  • DIMMOCK/DYMOCK Ann, Eli, George, Harry, Harriet, Jane, Lucy, Matthew, Sarah, Thomas
  • DOUGLAS Zilpah
  • EBORN Sarah
  • EVANS David & Annie baptised children here but are not mentioned as officially joining
  • FRIAR Mary
  • GIBBS Mrs
  • GREEN Caroline, Martha, Miriam
  • GUESS Mary
  • HENSHALL Mrs & Mrs
  • HOLLIS Mrs
  • HOUNSLOW Henry, Leah
  • JENNINGS Ann, William
  • JONES (unnamed female), Albert, Jane, Sarah Ann
  • KING Catherine
  • MAYNE Ann, Mary, Thomas
  • MORTIMER Alband, Jane
  • MOXON George & Eliz baptised children here but are not mentioned as officially joining
  • OLIVER Mrs
  • PAGE Esther
  • PARKER William
  • PAXTON Mrs
  • PICKFORD William & Eliza baptised children here but are not mentioned as officially joining
  • PITCHFORD Edward, William
  • PRATT Jane, Mr & Mrs G
  • PRENTICE Thomas
  • RANDALL/RANDLE Emma, Eliza, Leah, Thomas
  • RICKARD (unnamed female), Joseph, Levi, Mrs Levi, Lydia
  • ROADNIGHT Martha
  • ROGERS Jane Maria
  • ROSE Charles, Esther, John
  • SAWYER Mrs Charles
  • SHARP Mrs
  • SMITH Jane, Mrs Jane, William
  • STAPLES Emma Elizabeth
  • SYRETT James, Minnie, Sarah
  • THORNE Mrs George
  • TIMSS Ruth
  • VASEY Mrs, Robert
  • WALL Mary
  • WARD Elizabeth
  • WHITE Mrs Daniel
  • WOOLHEAD Caroline, James, Maria, Thomas

An extension to the building was built in April 1921. The building held monuments to the HELEY family and to George TRUEMAN (the latter as directed under George’s will to be erected after the death of his wife Sarah), however the interior is no longer accessible as chapel operations ceased around 2010. It was sold in late 2011/early 2012, its registration under the Marriages Act 1836 was cancelled by the Registrar-General in October 2012, and was converted to a private residence by 2014.

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