Polesworth in 1800 was dominated by the Parish Church of St. Editha, but by 1860 had three thriving nonconformist churches or chapels. The first denomination to make a move into Polesworth was the Baptists. The preacher from Packington, Mr. Goadby, felt it was his mission to take the faith into the ‘dark villages’ around Austrey and he was successful in Polesworth. Between 1802 and 1815 a congregation was established here and Harvey’s barn, which stood on the corner of Common Lane and Potters Lane was used for meetings. The first baptisms took place in the river Anker when four women walked into the river by the sluice gates in the upper river behind the now demolished water mill. The congregation walked up to the barn after the event.
One of the congregation was a tailor named Richard Aspbury who purchased a plot of land on 14 May 1827 at the side of the road now called ‘The Gullet’ but called ‘The Lane’ at the time. His intention was to build a Baptist church near the road, together with a graveyard behind, with a wide drive at the side which would lead to a large house he built for himself at the rear. The church was built in 1828 and the freehold purchased from Aspbury in 1829. Aspbury died 3 January 1832 and his gravestone can still be seen in the graveyard at the rear of the church. The records of the congregation from this early time were destroyed by a church official early last century.
The first evidence of an Independent presence in the village comes from a 99 year lease dated 19 July 1828. The premises leased were part demolished and a chapel built in its place in a space of a few months. There was no congregation in the village before then. Their move into the village may have been prompted by the purchase of land by the Baptists. They certainly built their church in the same year as the Baptist church was built. This may be evidence of what is called a ‘planted church’, where a minister from another village takes a few of his congregation each week to worship elsewhere in the hope of attracting others from that place to set up a church there. They took no time in gaining a licence to operate as a church as the ‘certificate of registration’ granted by the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry is dated 7 April 1829. There are records surviving for the church which show a thriving church community drawn from the village and its surrounds
The Methodist church foundation came later than the other two. In 1850 men came to the village to preach and sing. It is most likely these were from the Tamworth congregation whilst their church was being rebuilt. Many young people seem to have been impressed by what they heard and soon a congregation was formed. At first they met in a blacksmiths, but this was demolished and a small Methodist church built in 1857. The congregation was caught up in the great unrest that shook Weslyan Methodism in the early part of the 19th century at the very time the Polesworth congregation was forming; this culminated in Polesworth joining others in becoming part of the Weslyan Reform church in 1851 and then the United Free Methodists in 1857, the same year the church was built. A larger church was built onto the front of the old one in the early 20th century to accommodate the growing numbers of worshippers.
All three churches flourished in the village and had large congregations and Sunday schools, but that was not to last. The Methodist Church closed first and the premises were sold and extended and used for commercial purposes. The original church can still be seen at the back of the current extension. The Independent or Congregational chapel closed recently and stands rather forlornly in the High Street. The only one still to survive with its original purpose is the Baptist church. So the dream of Mr. Goadby in the early 19th century still lives on.
By Margaret Henley
Chair, Polesworth History Project Group
This article is a snapshot of an article published in Warwickshire History, the journal of the Warwickshire Local History Society, volume XVII, Number 6, Winter 2019/20 pages 263-282, by Margaret Henley, which is in itself a condensed version of her Masters Degree dissertation.