The first signs of nonconformity having arrived in Fovant occurred in 1815, when a group of local people began meeting for prayer and worship in The Cottage, one of their own houses. Following the practices of a sect known as ‘Dissenters’, they wished to express their religious beliefs differently from the Established Church.
According to the opening entry in the first of the two small books in which they kept their records:
‘Those whose names are mentioned below have assembled together on the 2nd August 1815 at Fovant with one accord and free consent to be affectionately united together in Church fellowship for the purpose of receiving the ordinance and of attending to mutual subjection and church discipline according to the laws of Christ to bear reproof with affection and to give reproof (when requisite) in the spirit of weakness considering themselves lest they also be tempted.
On this solemn occasion an address was delivered by Samuel Hannaford Pastor of the united church of Broad Chalk and Ebbesborne who was also a witness to our union together in the Name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost And may the Lord add unto our number daily such as shall be saved Amen.
Thos Best Junr. Teacher
Ann Scamel Sen
Ann Scamel Jun
(extracted from Book 1 of the Chapel Records).
As membership numbers proliferated, the necessity of acquiring premises suitable to accommodate their growing congregation became patently obvious. They obtained a site in the High Street opposite The Cottage, the venue for their earlier prayer meetings, and began building a new place of worship. With a minimal budget at their disposal and using largely their own labour, the building was officially opened in November 1820 by Thomas Jay of Bath.
The Reverend William, born at nearby Tisbury, the only son of a stonemason, initially followed his father’s trade. However, after training for the Ministry he concentrated on practical evangelism with such success that he became a national figure in the field. It is tempting to suppose a relationship between the Reverend William Jay, of Bath, who opened the Chapel and Francis and William Jay who built it. Future research may prove a connection, but at the moment we can only conjecture that this was so.
Known at its inception as The Congregational Chapel, its title implies that it followed Congregationalism, an ecclesiastical organisation that left legislative, disciplinary and judicial functions to the individual church and congregation. With such independence firmly in place, the Chapel flourished as membership continued to increase.
Thomas Best, appointed the first Minister of the Chapel in 1815, when it still met in The Cottage, was often assisted by visiting Ministers from nearby Chapels. Whole families, from the eldest to the youngest, started to worship together. Familiar Fovant names, such as Jay, Jarvis, Goodfellow, Strong, Lever, Coombes and Foyle, all feature in the early records of baptisms, weddings or burials that took place there, listed in two old, inexpensive exercise books. Today descendants of some of these families continue to attend services in the Chapel. Merged with the United Reformed Church in 1972, it is still known simply as Fovant Chapel and coexists very amicably with St. George’s Church at the other end of the village, although the church may not always have been ‘at the other end of the village.’ There are rumours that houses near to the present church may have been abandoned in the Middle Ages. As the village has developed and grown, it has moved away from the church. The reasons for this are unknown and provide a topic for further research.
The present Chapel
The Chapel was officially opened in November 1820 by the Rev. Wm. Jay of Bath, having been founded in 1815 by a group of local people known as ‘Dissenters’, who began meeting for prayer and worship in Vine Cottage, a house on the opposite side of the High Street to the present building.
Construction of the Chapel is of local stone with a roof of Welsh slate. Originally the floor area was of bricks laid directly on to Greensand. Downstairs seated about 60 people, with a balcony on the rear and side walls seating another 50. During the 1870s the side balconies were removed and a new wooden floor placed over the original bricks.
In more recent years a small kitchen and toilet have been provided and the original pews have been replaced by a mixture of pews and chairs.