Methodist Church

The Methodist Church or Wesleyan Chapel in Highbridge was originally opened for services in 1865 owing its origins to two men. Thomas Hicks, a gentleman, and John Buskin a saddler, were named in the church deeds.  Both men lived in Highbridge, Thomas Hicks, of about seventy years of age and worshipped in Burnham; John Buskin, who was about forty-five years old worshipped, with his wife Ann, at West Huntspill.  John was the Sunday school attendant and continued in this position until Highbridge opened its Sunday school.

Although Highbridge and Burnham are but a few miles apart, they were grouped by the Methodist Church as being in different circuits; Highbridge is in the Bridgwater circuit and Plymouth District. But Burnham is in the Weston-super-Mare circuit and Bristol District. Thomas Hicks therefore approached the Bridgwater circuit with his offer of land on which to build a chapel and received a favourable response, the chapel becoming the second largest in the circuit.

In 1864, on the 23rd April, Mr. Hicks conveyanced the plot on land on which the church and schoolroom stood, to the trustees for the sum of £80.  Immediately after the conveyance the land was cleared and a meeting held to consider the cost of building the church, £600 was immediately made available.  A diary entry of Robert Daunton states “Highbridge July 11th 1864 Thomas Hicks Esq. Laid the foundation stone of the Wesleyan Chapel, before a crowd of nearly 600 persons and a tea party was held in the Market House to mark the occasion. Mr F.J.Payne records that it was pouring with rain and this gave the caterers an anxious time finding sufficient food. Mr G Wilton of Bridgwater had brought 100 men from his brickyard as guests. The superintendent was a Rev J Aldis and the Rev Punshon preached in a large tent erected for the occasion. It was soon apparent that the plot of land was not large enough for the chapel, there was a road on one side of the site and Mr Hicks had sold to Mr Buskin the plot of land on the other side. Mr Buskin came to the rescue by selling to the trustees the required plot of land.  The chapel was eventually opened on 25th May 1865 the preacher being the Rev Marmaduke Osborne. There is no record of any other events that day.

The first baptism took place a fortnight later but three years past before the first wedding since the church although registered as a place of worship on 5th May 1865 was not registered for the solemnisation of marriages until 15 January 1869. A ‘new’ Act in October 1964 made the presence of a registrar unnecessary. The need for Sunday school premises was soon apparent and at a quarterly meeting held on March 22nd 1870 it was recommended a schoolroom be erected at Highbridge, the cost being £140, this would leave a debt of £40. It was built at a cost of £161 and later extended as membership grew. The Society was growing quickly and in April 1887 an application was made for the Chapel to be enlarged at a cost of £298. The initial application was turned down, but the work eventually approved. When the work was completed the opening took place on a wild day the celebrations being held in June 1888 – and it snowed! Not much happened until about 1926 when the chapel was lit with the new gas lamps and it was claimed to be the best-lit church on the circuit. The building was also plastered and decorated, all for £100. Around this time the choir members started an organ fund and in 1931 it was installed, the electric blower came later. The earliest attempt to obtain an organ had been in 1877 again in 1897. Electric light replaced the gas in 1942.

Major changes in 1948/49 were the first for 60 years, the church roof was retiled, the organ cleaned and moved to the centre of the church. Both school and church were redecorated and a new boiler was fitted. The Church progressed over the years and its work was celebrated in 1965 with the Centenary of the Church. A project was laid down to provide more accommodation for youth work and provision for the Sunday school. Much work was carried out to the building and for the comfort of the congregation; a new electronic organ was also installed. The Centenary celebrations began on 9th October 1965 with a visit from the MAYC President and he led the services on the Saturday and Sunday. The main celebrations began at a service led by Rev. Michael S.R. Meech a former Minister and the Rev. J. Russell Pope, Chairman of the Plymouth and Exeter District. Celebrations continued until the 14th November when the Rev Frederic O. Le Sueur the Minister in Charge led the service. Whilst a new pulpit, reed organ and suspended ceiling plus carpets were installed in 1966 services were held at the Hope Baptist Church nearby.

Sadly the Methodist cause in Highbridge declined over the following years until it was not practicable to maintain the premises and a decision was made in 1987 to close. Chris Esgate, the pastoral assistant took the last service; it included Holy Communion.

The building was put up for public auction on Wednesday 1st June 1988 at the

Highbridge Hotel and the site sold to Somervale Builders, Wedmore and converted in to six flats.

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