Horningsham Independent Chapel, the Oldest Free Church in England.

The Congregational Church known as the Old Meeting House was built in 1556. It was used by the Scotsmen employed by Sir John Thynne to help build Longleat House. The claim that this is the oldest Free Church in England is presently unsubstantiated but it is believed to be the oldest Independent Chapel still in use for worship in England.

This picture was copied from an original which hangs in the church. It was taken at the annual grass cutting in June 1951. The Rev Banton is pictured in the centre of the photograph. Click on picture for larger image.This is an extract from 'The Story of England's Oldest Free Church'.

"The second outstanding event was the tri-centenary of the church. It proved to be a notable occasion. Arrangements were made for a Thanksgiving Service in the afternoon and a Commemoration Service in the evening of 31st July 1866. Psalms and Hymns appropriate to the occasion were sung, of which two or three may have been used by the founders of the Church in 1566. The famous Old Hundredth Psalm and Tune, first of all printed in 1566, the twenty third Psalm by Sternhold 1549 and the hymn prefixed to the English Bible at Geneva. 1560. Other hymns sung were,‘To thee in ages past’, ‘Lord while for all mankind we pray’, ’Our Fathers were high minded men’ and Bishop Ken’s ’Evening Hymn’ composed as tradition affirms, at Heavens Gate about 1697.

At the afternoon service the Pastor presided and announced the hymns. Prayers were offered and Lessons of Scripture were read by the Rev. T. Mann of Trowbridge, the Rev E. Edwards of Frome and the Rev. A Bisenti of Stalibridge. The Rev. H Mayo Gunn of Warminster gave a paper on the “History of the oldest Free Church in England.” Several, including Charles Jupe Esq. of Mere and H.O. Wills of Bristol expressed warm appreciation of this and suggested that it be printed. The old Chapel could not contain all who came. Tea was served to over 400 in the schoolroom."

Source: The story of England's oldest free church by the Rev. Albert E. Banton.

Below is an extract from the Tricentenary Memorial.

"The names of subsequent Ministers will be easily recalled, as the Rev. A. Bisenti, who moved to Stalbridge in 1833. The Rev. John Armitage, whose three years of office was abruptly closed by illness, is still recollected with much esteem, and in 1834 he undertook the judicious task of collecting and recording with much care the traditions remembered by old people, and the names of old members, amongst whom those of Barber and Garrett are entered, as well as Trollope, Chapman, and Thorne, and several others.

After four Ministers had remained a brief period, the Rev. William Gething was chosen by the Church to be their pastor in 1848, and this office he held with persevering devotedness until his death, 1858, when he was interred in the graveyard at the end of the Chapel. The Rev. W.B. Homewood’s work was earnest and hopeful, but was soon cut short by premature decline. The present Minister, the Rev, J. Pearce Mansfield, commenced his duties in 1861 and amid inevitable difficulties has had much encouragement in “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” in the co-operation of some earnest workers in the Sunday School, as well as in the valuable Week-day School for educating the young in sound scriptural knowledge; and in the spirit of prayer, with which some praying members implore a continuance of their heavenly Father’s benediction on his house, so long favoured and preserved, some pleasing and striking instances of Divine grace changing the heart and life, show that still “The Lord adds to the church such as should be saved; and, as “we believe in the communion of Saints,” we pray that long may “such as are being saved,” and only such, be added to the church here. To render any aid to him and his Church in preparing for this occasion has been a real pleasure to me.

In anticipation of this interesting and memorable year in its history, a great improvement has been made in a fitting preparation of the oldest Free Church in England for the celebration of its Tricentenary. First of all a new house for the Minister was erected by the help of a generous friend, Mr Charles Jupe, who highly values the Lord’s work in our villages and the teaching of the Gospel in its simple saving truths among our rural population. Then when there was provided a commodious manse, as the Scotch workmen would have called it"

 Scource: Henry Mayo Gunn  Tricentenary Memorial read at Horningsham, Wilts 31st July 1866.

a page from the mansfields family history