St Bartholomew’s in Corsham is a beautiful Grade I listed building with a rich heritage and architecture dating from its Saxon origins through development by the Normans and in the 12th, 15th and 19th centuries.
Shortly after the Act of Uniformity and the ejection of 2,000 dissenting clergy from the Church of England, Parliament also passed the Five Mile Act which forbade any clergy to come within 5 miles of any town.
This chapel was built by Quakers, funded by Lady Hungerford, five miles from the Bough town of Chippenham. The chapel was often under siege and was built from small stones making them difficult to climb. T
The high pulpit had good view through the ‘eyebrow window’ over the door of the surrounding countryside and the preacher could warn of looming trouble. There was access from the gallery to a mechanism in the chapel to close the shutters over the window if an angry mob arrived. Indeed all the external shutters over the windows could be closed from the inside.
There was probably also an escape route through a covered ditch if things looked likely to be really dangerous.
When the Act of Toleration was passed in 1689, the Independents came into possession of Monks Chapel and became part of the United Reformed Church in the 20th century.
The interior of the chapel is whitewashed and the ceiling bears an image of a boy’s face, said to be there to interest children bored by the proceedings. There is a gallery, added in 1690 which has enclosed choir seats and housed the first organ.
In the early years there was a fireplace, now closed in with only the chimney to be seen. As well as heating the chapel it provided a place for those who had travelled in for the day to heat their lunches, which would have been eaten in the box pews. A walled field on the west side probably provided a paddock for the horses who had transported their owners to Sunday worship.