History of the Chapel

History of South Petherton Congregational Church in Roundwell Street

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The Information taken from a “Manual of the South Petherton Congregational Church” with an epitomized history written in 1883.

“Epitomized history of the Church”

The Congregational Church in South Petherton owes its human origin to the Act of Uniformity, which came into operation on the 24th
August 1662.  This Act required all Ministers of the Established Church to declare their “unfeigned assent and consent” to every doctrine contained in the then recently published Book of Common Prayer; a book which was not issued till the 6th day of August, and consequently which many of them had never seen.  Bishop Burnett in the “History of his Times” says, “that too many conformed before they had seen the volume.; some parishes receiving it a fortnight after the time prescribed for subscription”.  The enforcement of this Act raised a grievous cry throughout the land.  “Here were many men much valued” says the Bishop, “and distinguished by their abilities and zeal, now cast out ignominiously, reduced to great poverty, provoked by such spiteful usage, and cast upon those popular practices, which both their principles and their circumstances seem to justify, of forming separate congregations”.

When the fatal day arrived, 2,000 Clergymen relinquished their preferments in the Church, and refused to accept of any upon the terms of the Act of Uniformity.  All honour to their names.  They preferred loyalty to conscience with persecution and poverty, to State favor with dishonour; to obey God rather than man, and they have furnished history with an example of self-sacrificing fidelity to conviction, almost without a parallel in the records of the Christian world.

Among the names of this noble 2,000 is that of the Rev. E Bennet, M.A.  Mr Bennet was formerly a clergyman of the Parish Church of South Petherton but in 1654 he removed to Morden in Dorsetshire, whence he was ejected in 1662.  Writing of this, the first Nonconformist Minister in the Parish of Petherton, Mr Calamy says – “In 1663, he returned to his ancient flock at South Petherton, being earnestly invited by the inhabitants of the town, and some of the neighbouring parishes.  There he taught school, and constantly preached . . . Nor did he confine his labours to this place.  Many a weary step did he take to serve his Master. . . On March 25, 1665, being the Lord’s Day, as he was preaching at T.Moor’s Esq., at Spargrave, the foot soldiers came and besieged the house. Two Justices entered.  One of them told him he should come off for £3. But he modestly refused to convict himself and so was committed prisoner to the Marshall, and then delivered over to the Constable of the Hundred.  ON the Tuesday following he went to Wells, and was treated civilly, but committed to Ilchester jail.  There he was imprisoned two months only because of the respect one of the Justices had for him; and he ceased not to preach to his fellow prisoners, till he was released. . . He died of an Apoplectic fit, when he was about to take horse to preach, Nov 8, 1673.  Aged 56”

Under the Conventicle Act, (which limited the number of hearers in places other than the Established Church, to four grown persons) and others of a like restrictive and painful character, it was hardly possible to gather a Church and publicly conduct its services.  The difficulty was evidently felt in Petherton, for not until, but immediately following the Declaration of the Prince of Orange, (1688), granting full liberty to Dissenters, it appears from the “Old Meeting” record, a church was formed, and a minister (Revd. Samuel Bulstrode) elected.

This Church was styled Presbyterian, but, not being connected with a Presbytery, it was essentially Congregational in its principles and government.  For some years, worship was conducted in a temporary building, until in 1705, the Congregation, liberally aided by Mr Edmond Anstice, erected a commodious Chapel – “the Old Meeting,” in Palmer Street.  Here the Church grew and prospered.  Among its supporters appear the names of many gentlemen honourably associated with the Town and neighbourhood.

The following is a list of Ministers with the dates of their Ministry:

Revs. Saml Bulstrode 1688-1725

Henry Rutter 1725 – 1746

James Kirkup 1747 – 1784

David Richards 1786 – 1842

Mr Richards died in 1846.  In 1842 Worship was discontinued and the building has since been pulled down.

During the last Century Unitarian teaching prevailed in many of the western free Churches.  This “tendency to Arianism” had so largely affected the church worshipping in Palmer Street, that many of the members, unable to accept the prevalent doctrine, separated themselves from the Communion.  This was during the Ministry of the Rev. James Kirkup.

Service was conducted in a Malt-house at the head of Palmer Street (the property of Mr Wm Harding) until 1775, at which date the Chapel in Roundwell Street was built.  The site is that on which the School premises now stand.  In the same year the Rev. Richard Herdsman accepted a unanimous invitation to the pastorate.  Mr Herdsman was the first student from the College founded by the Countess of Huntingdon.

In the Church Record, and following the adoption of a Code of Rules, reference is made to the liberality of Contributors to the New Building, specially naming Mr. Jas. Gifford, of Lopen, who had given £500.  Public Worship was first conducted in the Roundwell Street Chapel, Sept 11 1776.  The Church roll numbered 36.  On April 30, 1815, after an acceptable Ministry, extending over 40 years, Mr Herdsman was called to his rest.

During his Pastorate the Chapel was enlarged.  In 1796, the County Union of Congregational Ministers was formed in this town, and Mr Herdsman elected Secretary.  The Jubilee of the Union was celebrated here in 1846.  Mr Herdsman was assisted in his latter years by the Rev. Thos. Griffiths.

On July 23, 1815, the Rev. Jas. Bidlake of Homerton College, and late of Devizes, was requested to undertake the oversight of the Church.  With this he complied and was publicly recognised, Sep 28.  Church Roll, 57.  Mr Bidlake resigned the pastorate in 1819.

The Rev John Sanderson of Old College, Hoxton, and late of Guernsey, undertook the duties of Minister, Feb 28 1819.  The invitation appears to have been far from unanimous, and the relations of Pastor and People were not happy.  Mr Sanderson resigned the Pastorate Dec 25, 1824.  Church Roll 40.

The following note is copied from the Church Book: – “On Jan 11, 1825, after the occasional and stated Services of nearly 2 years as assistant to the Rev J Sanderson, the Church and Congregation gave the Rev. Edward Paltridge, of the Western College, and late of Ilminster, an invitation to undertake the Pastoral charge.”  Mr Paltridge at once entered upon the duties of the Pastoral office, and for 30 years discharged them faithfully and well.  The Church Roll from 40, increased to 82, and the Stations under his Superintendence prospered.  He died in April 1854.  The affection of the Congregation for Mr Paltridge was intense, and their confidence in him unbounded. Never probably did pastor receive more fully the love he so justly merited.  It is interesting to note that during his ministry the two Congregations (Palmer Street & Roundwell Street), frequently united for worship, Mr Paltridge and Mr Richards, alternately conducting the Services.

Mr Paltridge was succeeded by the Rev. V. P. Sells of the Western College, who faithfully discharged the pastoral duties from Nov. 1854 till Dec 1858, at which date he resigned, having accepted a unanimous invitation from the Church at Newnham, Gloucestershire.  Church Roll, 57.

For 12 months the Church was without a Minister.  Early in 1860, a unanimous invitation was given to the Rev W F Revell, of Hackney College, which he accepted, and commenced his stated labours in Feb. Church Roll 61.

In Feb 1863, Mr Revell was seized with a severe illness, which unfitted him for Ministerial work.  Still unable, in Nov, to resume his duties, he tendered his resignation.  This was reluctantly accepted: the Congregation generously providing pulpit supplies, during the whole time he was laid by.

In 1862, the dilapidated state of the old building rendered it necessary either to expend a considerable amount in repairs, or to erect a New Chapel.  The latter alternative was decided on; Mr J P Daniel generously offering to bear one quarter of the whole cost.  The present building was opened free of debt, Sept 24, 1863.  The Revs J Stoughton of Kensington and R W Dale of Birmingham, assisted at the Opening Services.

In April of the same year, the foundation stone of the Mission Chapel at Lopen was laid. This Chapel replaces an old Room in which worship had formerly been conducted, and owes its origin mainly to the efforts of the Rev. Samuel and Mr Simeon Hebditch.  It was opened July 20, 1864.

On April 3, 1864, the Rev W Densham, of the Western College, and late of Chard, in response to a unanimous call, commenced his Ministry, and for nearly 10 years laboured with much acceptance.  A tender regard is still entertained for Mr Densham who has so recently sustained the office of Minister.  Church Roll, 58.

In 1867, a movement was made to build a Minister’s House, and in 1868, the Manse was built at a cost of £850.

In 1874, the Church sought a successor to the Pastorate.  With little delay, and with singular unanimity, it was agreed to call the Rev. E. Watts of the Western College.  Mr Watts commenced his Ministry May 24, 1874, and was publicly ordained in the following September.

In 1875 the debt remaining on the Chapel House, and an outlay incurred by the purchase of a Garden, £355, was cleared.

In 1877, an Organ was built at a cost of £335, and dedicated free of debt.

In 1882, it was found necessary to enlarge the Sunday School Buildings (the Old Chapel) or to erect new.  It was ultimately decided to build, and the present structure has been erected on the old site, at a cost, including the painting and renovation of the Chapel, of £1200.  The School was opened Dec 6 1882, with but a small debt remaining. At the opening, Mr W B Hebditch announced his intention to convey to the Trustees the house occupied by the Chapel Keeper.

The growth of the Church has continued to be steady.  The Membership, which in 1874 was 66, is now, including the Mission Chapel, at Lopen, 120.

Note: A small Endowment, formerly belonging to the “Old Meeting”, Palmer Street, has recently (1882), by order of the Charity commissioners, been vested in Trust for the support of the Ministers of the south Petherton and Lambrook Churches.  The Trustees are: E Amery, J Daniel,  J P Daniel, R G Harding, W H Hebditch, B Stark and J Vaux.


The Rev David Richard’s Pastorate extended over 56 years.  The invitation to become pastor was signed by:

John Weare, Stratton

Mary Peren, Compton

John Toller, South Petherton

William Anstice, Stratton

Joan Hillard, Wigborough

George Tupp, Stratton

John Edmonds, Haysend

Arthur Hood, Palmer Street

Thomas Arden, Lopen

John Anstice, South Petherton

Ann Vaux, South Petherton

John Ostler, Lambrook

Hannah Daniel, South Petherton

William Vaux, South Petherton

Thomas Gundry Ostler, Bridge House

and others – dated March 27th 1781


In the same year the following Trustees were appointed:

Joseph Hutchings, Seavington

William Ostler, Bridge House

William Anstice, Lower Stratton

John Weare, Higher Stratton

William Vaux, South Petherton

Thomas Arden, Lopen

John Edmonds, South Petherton

Robert Hillard, Wigborough

and in 1847, the following:

Thomas Toller, Kettering

Henry Toller, Market Harborough

Samuel Roberts, Llanbrymair

John Nicholetts, South Petherton

J B Edmonds, South Petherton

J W Edmonds, South Petherton

J P Daniel, South Petherton

John Vaux, South Petherton

John Daniel, South Petherton

J T Nicholetts, South Petherton

John Ostler, South Petherton

Officers of the Church:

Minister: Edwin Watts

Deacons: R Amery, J Daniel, J P Daniel, W B Hebditch

Treasurer: J P Daniel

Organist: J Robins

Chapel Keeper: Mrs Taylor



E Amery,

J Daniel,

J P Daniel,

W Denman,

R Hebditch,

R W Hebditch,

S Hebditch,

W B Hebditch,

J McMillan,

R S R Pittard,

D D Richards,

G Vaux,

E Watts


Finance & General Purposes Committee:

Secretary: W H Hebditch

E Amery,

W H Crocker,

J Daniel,

J P Daniel,

R G Harding,

R Hebditch Jnr,

R W Hebditch,

S Hebditch,

W B Hebditch,

W H Hebditch,

D D Richards,

G Vaux,

E Watts


Dorcas Society:

Treasurer:  Mrs Daniel

Secretaries: Mrs Crocker & Mrs S Hebditch


Mrs J Anstice,

Mrs Baker,

Mrs Bacon,

Mrs R Hebditch,

Mrs R W Hebditch,

Mrs Jordan,

Mrs McMillan,

Mrs Maskel,

Mrs Richards,

Mrs Watts,

Miss Daniel,

Miss H Harding,

Miss P Harding,

Miss H Hebditch

Miss J Hebditch


Sunday School

President: E Watts

Superintendent: S Hebditch

Secretary & Librarian: R G Harding

Treasurer: J P Daniel

Number of scholars: 385


W Best,

J P Daniel,

G Fisher,

J T Hebditch,

W B Hebditch,

W H Hebditch,

T Hutchings,

E Masters,

Mrs Bacon,

Mrs Baker,

Mrs Chard,

Mrs Daniel,

Mrs Davis,

Mrs Harding,

Mrs Jordan,

Mrs Maskel,

Mrs Old,

Mrs Studley,

Mrs Taylor

Miss Anstice,

Miss Daniel,

Miss Gifford,

Miss Gould,

Miss Harding,

Miss Hine,

Miss Savage,

Miss Studley,

Miss Vaux,

Miss C Vaux,

Miss Willy