The Tabernacle, Wotton under Edge

Recent Photograph of The Tabernacle (Wotton under Edge)

This chapel, also known as the “Rowland Hill Tabernacle”, was founded between 1771 and 1783, with a break-away group of members of the Old Town Meeting House forming its first congegation. This followed the arrival in Wotton of the charismatic churchman Rowland Hill (1745-1833). “On the evening of 16th June, 1771, he rode into Wotton for the first time and preached to huge crowds under the Market Hall...”.[1] Within a few months, he had returned to Wotton, to build the chapel, and a house for himself to live in.

Revd. Hill himself was a follower of George Whitefield, who along with the Wesleys, inspired the movement that became known as the Methodists. He was a deacon in the established church, and retained his links with the Anglican Church all his life, but (it is said) he was unable to be ordained because of his Calvinist beliefs.

The original building was rather plainer than the one we see now, which owes its 19th century “gothic” appearance to a rebuilding in 1850-1 by two local benefactors.

The Tabernacle was closed for worship in 1970, and the building, with the former Sunday Schoolroom belonging to the Tabernacle, on the opposite side of the road, were bought by a firm of auctioneers in 1973. Since then, they have been in use jointly at auctions.

The Tabernacle's congregation, which eventually became Congregational,[2] joined that of Wotton Methodist Church (now Wotton United Church) in 1970, but the graveyard (and graves) have been preserved, and their inscriptions indexed. These may now be searched, along with those from other churchyards in the town, at the Wotton under Edge Heritage Centre in ‘The Chipping’. The Heritage Centre has a research room, with a wealth of information, including all the accumulated records of the Town Historical Society, and it is open to the public for a modest fee.

Inside the building, on a tablet in the vestibule is the inscription ‘Erected A.D. 1852 on the Site of The Tablernacle built by Revd. Rowland HILL A.D. 1771. Henry MASTERS Architect’, and Monuments to (1) Rev. Rowland HILL A.M. 1833, founder and minister, with bust in low relief, and (2) Rev. Theophilus Jones, 1833.

(Information provided by Glenys Sykes/Rosemary Lockie)

[1] Katharine Lady Berkeley's School Interactive Exercises & eResources - Interactive History Exercises.
[2] Non-Conformist Chapels and Meeting Houses, Gloucestershire (1986)

Image contributed by Alf Beard on 17th June 2004.
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