Religion

The arrival of the Quakers ca. 1717 probably provided the first protestant dissent from the established church in 18th century Madeley because the local Methodists did not separate from it until the 19th century and the Baptists seem not to have been permanently established until 1852 and Congregational worship only began in 1872. Locally, the strength of the Quakers lay in their links with leading families such as the Darbys and the Reynoldses and many of their senior employees and associates. However, unlike many other major industrialists of the 18th and 19th centuries in the Coalbrookdale coalfield, the Anstice family were not Quakers but of the established church although with some leanings towards Methodism.

 

Among the mining community in general chapels and churches played an important part in peoples’ lives. Many chartermasters and mine workers were non-conformists and the Fletcher Methodist Chapel in Court Street was often referred to as ‘the Chartermasters Chapel’. Of the remainder, a number were adherents of the Church of England and rather smaller number Roman Catholics. Few admitted to being ‘godless’ even if their practice of religion was limited.

In 1759 the charismatic and zealous Reverend John Fletcher became Vicar of Madeley. He was a supporter of John Wesley and generally accepted as one of the founding fathers of Methodism. However, he believed that the Methodist model functioned best within the existing Church of England parochial system and remained an Anglican vicar until his death in 1785.

By 1762 some Methodists were meeting at the ‘Rock’ church, a widow’s house in Madeley Green (now Nos. 52-53 Newbridge Road) and, in 1777, Fletcher himself, with assistance from some of his supporters, financed a Meeting House-cum-Sunday School on Jockey Bank. His friend, John Wesley, preached in Madeley (at St. Michael’s Church) in 1764 and 1771. Two years later Wesley preached in the open air at Madeley Wood and again in the following year. In 1779 Wesley preached to the congregation in Fletcher’s Jockey Bank Meeting House. John Fletcher was abroad at the time recovering from a severe respiratory disorder (probably tuberculosis) and Wesley is reported to have felt that discipline among the local Methodist community had broken down during Fletcher’s absence. After Fletcher’s return, in 1781, John Wesley helped the Fletchers to re-establish their authority and revive the various local Methodist groups.

 

A number of chapels held evening services during the working week but we do not have attendance figures. Our information about Sunday practices is rather fuller. Most miners respected the Sabbath, refraining from excess drinking on that day and aiming to spend it with their families enjoying a Sunday lunch together interspersed with church services. At the Methodist chapel on Madeley Hill (built in 1837 to replace John Fletcher’s Meeting House) there was a 9am Sunday School for children followed by divine services for adults at 11am then a break for lunch and a further Sunday School which convened at 2pm. After tea on Sundays there was often another church service.

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