Primitive Methodist Societies

The former Primitive Methodist country chapels at Burghfield Common, Woodcote, Gallowstree Common, Swallowfield/Riseley and Pangbourne were brought into the new Reading Circuit. Let us now look in more detail at the histories of these and other former Primitive Methodist Societies, beginning with the town churches.

Cumberland Road

This church [Ebenezer Chapel] in east Reading was built in 1871. It must have been a great source of spiritual and material welfare to the people of the Newtown area. In the 1920s there were nearly 200 scholars in the Sunday School and a large Christian Endeavour class which at Christmas time provided breakfast for 150 poor children of the neighbourhood and food parcels for the sick and aged. They also contributed generously to overseas mission funds and to the National Children’s Home. The Women’s Missionary Federation also raised large sums for over the overseas church. Sadly, numbers declined and the church closed in August 1972 and is now a Sikh Temple serving the extensive Asian population in the area.

Friar Street

In 1871 several of the young men of the London Street Society began an open air mission in the West end of the town. This led to the purchase of a site at the end of Friar Street, opposite the Triangle, for a church which carried out a warm and caring witness until the number of members declined, and a move was made to unite with Oxford Road (ex-Wesleyan) Society in 1959. [Site later cleared for building of the Inner Distribution Road.] Meetings were first held on 11th November 1871 in an old workhouse at the corner of Friar Street and Thorn Street and it was known as the Thorn Street Mission. A Sunday School was formed on 3rd December. Later, while the site was cleared and rebuilding took pace, services were held in a small meeting house in nearby Somerset Place. The new church opened on 3rd June 1875 and the debt discharged in 1903.

At one time this area was densely populated, and the kindly folk at Friar Street generously ministered to their neighbours until a great slum clearance programme, and subsequent commercial influx, turned this residential area into an extension of the business world of the town. Those saintly people who remained in the area greatly enriched, and continue to enrich, the life of the Oxford Road Society to which they transferred, resulting in a most harmonious union of two Societies.

Like many other causes, Friar Street benefited under the Will of one Isaac Septimus Nullis who left £500 for the building of a chapel at the West end of the town. Isaac Nullis, born at Ashamptead in 1828, became a leader in the religious revival which, in the early 19th century, was sweeping through that part of Berkshire. His conversion took place in the cottage of Ann Street, a saintly woman who had been instrumental in leading many to Christ. Her cottage stood opposite Quick’s Green Chapel and became the focal point of a converting ministry in which Nullis and other engaged with remarkable results. He entered the ministry and his exceptional gifts were greatly blessed in London and in Ireland. Unfortunately, at the age of 40, back in Berkshire, he was stricken with tuberculosis and died. His body was laid to rest in the small graveyard attached to Quick’s Green Chapel, the chapel in which his portrait held honoured place and his name was ever revered.

Oxford Road

The Oxford Road Primitive Methodist Society was founded in 1878. It began when meetings were held in a cottage in Oxford Road, opposite Brock Barracks, rented from a Mrs. Mayers. On another occasion the accommodation was referred to as the ‘British Workman’, an eating house and refreshment rooms, of which there were several in town. In the following year a schoolroom was built on a site at the corner of Beecham Road purchased from a Mr. Verlander (believed to be an accountant of Castle Street) for £160, and in this building Sunday School work and public worship was carried on for around 16 years. In 1896, on Good Friday, the Church, on the same site, was opened by the Rev. Ambrose Shepherd. The cost of the building was £1000. Work among young people had been most fruitful, notably in the 1920s in the Sunday School, with scholars coming from the new council estate at Norcot.

At the time of Methodist union in 1932 when the prefixes ‘Wesleyan’ and ‘Primitive’ were abolished, it was decided to retain the title ‘Oxford Road’ for the ex-Wesleyan church at the corner of Waylen Street, while the former Primitive Methodist church became known as ‘Oxford Road (West)’ and later ‘West Reading’. In 1961 it was decided that the time had come to have one Methodist witness in the West of Reading and the Society found a new spiritual home at Elm Park Hall, to be renamed West Reading Methodist Church. The former church at Beecham Road became a furniture store but in 1986 was demolished.

Swallowfield/Riseley and Pangbourne

In 1894 plans were laid to build a chapel at Pangbourne costing £550 - £600 and a new chapel to replace one built in 1853 at Swallowfield/Riseley Common to cost £350 - £400, where the members, worshipping in a barn, were hampered in their work for the want of suitable accommodation. The new chapels at Swallowfield and Pangbourne were opened on 17th October and 31st October 1895 respectively. A mission was held in Pangbourne with an encouraging result. Swallowfield, once considered ‘a splendid cause’, with a history of conversions going back to 1835 when missionaries first visited, kept the flame alive until the end of 1976, Pangbourne having closed in September 1970. Both buildings remain, converted into private houses.

The Street, Shurlock Row

The Rev. John Ride conducted the first services here on 29th May 1835 and a Society was formed. The chapel was opened in 1863. ‘A neat building’, it stood on land given by a Mr. Mortimer whose premises adjoined. A good Society, it maintained its witness until March 1918 when the last services were held. A decision to sell was made in 1925 and in 1928 the building was sold for the sum of £100.


Woodcote celebrated its centenary in 1986 and a comprehensive account of its history was produced at that time. Set among the Chiltern beech woods this small house of God has maintained a faithful witness through varying situations. The membership, which by 1948 had declined to single figures, experienced a revival in the next decade with the advent of several younger families and is now in good heart. [Chapel closed 1989 and society now meets at the parish church.]

Gallowstree Common

The potential for growth in the Gallowstree Common area would appear to be not so strong, and this is perhaps reflected in the life of the local church. This building, which was opened on 23rd September 1878, is situated in the heart of the Chiltern cherry country. In the immediate post war years the circuit people would gather for the annual cherry tea and rally which was always a happy occasion. As the number of members declined the few who remained were encouraged by the support of a couple from the Caversham Society who, by their regular attendance and devotion to their Lord, kept the Methodist witness alive, but sadly, the local people were not drawn in and the last service was held on 31st August 1987.

Burghfield Common

The situation at Burghfield Common church, opened in 1923, is somewhat different. In a prominent position on the busy main road through a thriving village it has attracted a loyal and devoted congregation throughout the years of its history. A happy, hospitable place, it has welcomed newcomers and entertained members of the Circuit on many occasions, including the annual Easter Monday rally and tea,. A recently built extension has enabled the scope of services to be widened and one hopes that the ever increasing local population will be drawn to its doors.

The Society here was formed on 17th November 1835 by the Reverend John Ride. Open air services during the summer months, and the hospitality of the local wheelwright’s shop in less favourable weather, paved the way for the opening of the first chapel in 1838. That building, now converted to a private house, stands on the brow of the hill a mile away to the north-east of the present church. That first chapel, with its own brass band, served the spiritual needs of the local community until Burghfield ‘burst at the seams’ due to the extensive building programme on ‘The Common’, and the present church is at the heart of that development.

Bradfield Section

Once, Reading and Bradfield were just a small part of an enormous Primitive Methodist Circuit, which in 1835 included a large part of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire and the north of Hampshire. Such an unwieldy collection of Societies must have been difficult to administer, and gradually it was broken down into more convenient sections. Thus came into being the Reading Circuit and the Bradfield Circuit. After Methodist Union the latter came into the Reading Circuit as the Bradfield Section, but later the churches of the Section took their rightful places among the Reading Societies.

Work in the Bradfield Circuit commenced when a Primitive Methodist preacher, Thomas Russell, already suffering persecution for his faith in the west of the County, was invited to a  local meeting house in 1830. Camp meetings and the evangelical fervour which they engendered caused a rift between the ‘Prims’ and the more ‘respectable’ Wesleyans. Preachers walked many miles and endured many hardships, sleeping under hedges and being dependent on their fellow Christians for their sustenance, their sole concern being to push on to their next appointment and to win souls for Christ. We read that at Bradfield there was little or no opposition to the travelling preachers and, in fact, this cordial relationship with those of other denominations has persisted to the present day.

A handbook celebrating 148 years Methodism in Bradfield, and giving in greater detail the history of this fascinating area, was issued in 1978.

Tutts Clump

The chapel at Tutts Clump was built in 1879 and members have faithfully maintained its witness to the Gospel, particularly in their work among children and young people. In 1908 the adjoining graveyard was consecrated, one of the very few in our circuit.

Quick’s Green

The evangelical zeal of the Bradfield Society was repeated throughout the area. At Quick’s Green, the attractively sited chapel which served the hamlet of Ashampstead Common, cottage meetings for prayer and camp meetings resulted in many conversions. Sadly, the numbers declined, the remoteness of the chapel proving too big a problem for the ageing members, and in 1971 it closed, re-opening for one day in May 1972 to celebrate its centenary.

Burnt Hill

Burnt Hill [initially known as Zion] built in 1864 maintains a witness in this tiny hamlet adjacent to the village of Yattendon, which, in spite of a small membership, holds regular meetings for worship.


Little information is available but it is believed that the village of Yattendon itself had its own chapel, probably built in 1851 [opened 28th/29th September in the grounds of Bee Villa, Chapel Street demolished after 1972].


Beenham Chapel, once a thriving village cause and part of the old Bradfield Circuit, was closed in September 1969. [A chapel behind Holly Cottage in Clay Lane was replaced by a chapel on the green in 1862]


The chapel at Theale, in spite of a strong Congregational presence in the village, continued its witness until March 1959. [Built 1868, altered in 1895 and demolished 1992 site now Beaumont House]

Emmer Green

We first read of this Society in March 1855 when services were held, probably in the open air. It was not until 1883 that trustees were appointed, and in September of that year given powers to obtain consent for the building of a chapel on land, valued at £200, donated by Mr. Thomas Rogers. Meanwhile, Brother Moss, was deputed to secure a place for services in the winter, and to rent a room if possible. By November arrangements were made for stonelaying and in December it was noted ‘the matter of hand bells for Emmer Green chapel be left with Mr. Butt and Mr. Picket.’

It would be interesting to know exactly where this chapel was situated and something of its history. By September 1893 permission to sell was requested and the purchaser was Mr. Martin John Sutton, a prominent local businessman and friend of nonconformity in the town. The £450 thus raised was divided among Pangbourne, Oxford Road and Swallowfield Societies and Pangbourne had the harmonium for their new church.

Silver Street

The Primitive Methodist movement also had the use of Silver Street Chapel [an Independent Methodist Church shown on maps of 1840 as being on the west side of Silver Street], Reading, for around 50 years at the close of the 19th Century.


The minutes if the September Quarterly Meeting in 1849 contains the exhortation: ‘Watch the openings of Providence for building a chapel at Wokingham’. In 1852 there is a reference to the Wokingham room. The Society was formed in around 1839 and met in rent rooms until, in 1857, the chapel was opened. There was some transference of allegiance from the Wesleyan Church, which at the time suffered something of a decline in membership. A Sunday School was built in 1902 and a Band of Hope and Christian Endeavour were fairly well supported, but by 1910 the work became too difficult and the end came. The Salvation Army took over the building for a while.

Wokingham Road, Earley

The outcome of work begun in the open air in Lower Earley, this church [Mount Zion] opened on 9th October 1887 and services were held regularly until June 1926 when a resolution to cease services was made. The building remains and is used by the Assembly of God Pentecostal Church.


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