Poverty is fertile ground for Nonconformism. 1788, Andrew Lewis Boisdaune, vicar of Eastmeon ‘with the chapels of Froxfield and Steep annexed’, had submitted an official Visitation Report. Under ‘Dissenters’ he wrote: “There is nothing of the kind in any of the parishes”. When the Ordnance Survey produced its first map of East Meon in 1869, three dissenting chapels had been built in the village and two others served the neighbouring tithings of Ramsdean, Langrish and Stroud.
Three sects established chapels in East Meon village: Calvinists, who erected a chapel in Halley Street in 1831 (opposite where today’s primary school stands), Baptists, whose congregation was founded in 1833, and who built a ‘Zoar’ chapel in 1864 on what is today Temple Lane, and Primitive Methodists who built their chapel to the south of today’s High Street in 1867, the same year as the Stroud chapel.
The congregations met in private dwellings until they raised the money for a permanent place of worship. The Primitive Methodists, for instance, were meeting in members’ homes long before their Chapel was built in 1867. A Dissenters’ Meeting Certificate was issued in 1828, entitled: ‘Certificate of a House in the occupation of Jas Pink situate in the Parish of West (sic) Meon to be used as a meeting house for Dissenters’. It reads: ‘William Edwards Wesleyan Minister of Winchester does hereby certify that a House now occupied by James Pink situated in the Parish of East Meon be used for a congregation of Protestants.’
The names of the sects changed from time to time, and congregations merged; the fluidity of congregations and their members is illustrated by John Nathaniel Atkins, a prosperous East Meon shopkeeper who had bought what is now Glenthorne House in 1837 and developed a grocery, post office, and drapery business. Inthe 1869 Ordnance Survey Map (map 69) the Calvinist chapel is named ‘Providence’ and the Baptist ‘Zoar’. Kelly’s Directory of 1875 states “Here are Calvinistic, Congregational and Primitive Methodist Chapels.”
In 1851 the Primitive Methodist congregation met in Glenthorne House, as indicated in the registration on behalf of the Diocese of Winchester by “Charles Wooldridge, deputy registrar, on behalf of John Nathaniel Atkins …. certifying that the Dwellinghouse and Premises situate at East Meon in the said county and now in the occupation or holding of the Primitive Methodists and intended to be used as a place of Religious Worship by an assembly or congregation of Protestants …’. However, Atkins is not listed in the Indenture of 1868 for the newly built Primitive Methodist chapel, and his will in 1871 shows that he had transferred his loyalty to the Baptist (Zoar) chapel:“I give to the Deacons of the Baptist and Congregational Church at Eastmeon the sum of Ten pounds Sterling to be paid out of such part of my personal Estate as can legally be applied for the purpose towards the liquidation of the Building debt of the same Church Direct that the right of Footway from my own Garden to the Church shall at my decease cease and the doorway shall be bricked up as it was originally.” A codicil written in 1875 revokes this bequest: ‘l I revoke the bequest of Ten pounds by my Will given to the Deacons of the Baptist and Congregational Church at Eastmeon for the purposes therein mentioned that Church having been sold and passed into other hands. Sects came and went …
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