Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel

on Wednesday, 06 February 2019. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

Late last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to look at Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel. Now lying empty, this was the first of two Baptist chapels to be established in Westbury Leigh, an ancient village now within the town boundaries of Westbury. As there was no Anglican church until 1880, the Baptist church was the established church in the village, having a strong nonconformist tradition encouraged by the Baptist stronghold in Southwick.

Stephen Self, a clothier, allowed the use of a barn, called ‘Self’s Barn’ near his dwelling house in Leigh as a meeting place for Baptists after 1693. According to William Doel in his book, ‘Twenty Golden Candlesticks!' they continued to worship until 1714, when Mr Self converted the barn into a chapel, fitting it up with seats, galleries & c. This barn stood on part of the site of the present chapel, the freehold of which belonged to Granville Wheeler Esq.

By 1796 the congregation had so increased as to make it necessary to build a new Chapel. A meeting was held and a resolution passed to undertake the work, which was carried out at a total cost of £1,361. The new chapel was able to accommodate five hundred people, which gives an idea of the many devout souls in Westbury Leigh alone, not counting those in the main town of Westbury!

The interior was equally impressive, with ranks of dark wood pews on the ground and first floor gallery, with a grand organ and pipes over the entrance. In front of the raised minister’s desk was in effect, a small swimming pool designed for total immersion baptisms – I only hope the water was warm! Each pew had a small metal bracket which puzzled me until one of our recording team informed me that the congregation would all swig back a small glass of wine at the same time at a certain point in the proceedings.

In all this faded grandeur was a very human touch – a pew-back covered in the graffiti of small boys whose duty was to pump the organ handle until the introduction of electricity for this purpose in 1956.

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Comments (2)

  • Mark Balkham-smith

    Mark Balkham-smith

    29 October 2019 at 12:34 |
    My Grandparents were congregation members of this chapel, and are both buried in the cemetary.

    Do you know or can you point me in the direction of someone who can answer questions about the status of burials there, my mother is potentially looking at being interred with her Parents.

    many thanks


    • Naomi Sackett

      Naomi Sackett

      05 November 2019 at 14:41 |
      Dear Mark
      Thank you for your comment. I have spoken to Dorothy who wrote the above blog, and she says that Wiltshire Buildings Record were asked to undertake their survey in advance of a private development of the chapel. So I'm afraid it is no longer operational as a chapel. There is no current planning application in process however. They seem to have a relationship with Storemore Chapel in Dilton Marsh so you could try contacting them to see if they know more about the current situation. The email address given on their website is stormorechapel@gmail.com Best wishes, Naomi


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