Bodenham: Methodist Chapel SMR no. 35775, OS grid ref: SO 5451 5061
A chapel on Bodenham Moor that is marked on the 1885 1st Edition OS map as Wesleyan Methodist. The chapel is small in size with seating for 80 and was entered through a porchway on the one side. Either side of the porch is a narrow arched window with blue and yellow stone dressings. A grave found next to the chapel has a date of 1834. There is a small extension on one end of the chapel.
THE STORY OF Mr. JOSEPH WATKINS OF BODENHAM MOOR THE PIOUS AND PRINCELY VILLAGE SHOEMAKER 1763 – 1835
Amongst the villages in Herefordshire, worthy of special mention from a Methodist point of view, the village of Bodenham is entitled to a page of its own and to a foremost place. It was at Bodenham Moor in this village that a rare and typical Methodist, Mr. Joseph Watkins by name, together with his excellent wife, Mary Watkins, lived during the latter part of the 18th and the earlier part of the 19th century. Here this happy Christian couple, in a singularly praiseworthy manner, endeavoured to promote the spiritual welfare of their neighbours. The house where they resided, and in which Mr. Watkins carried on his trade as a shoemaker is still standing; and together with the orchard garden, and burial ground, with the little Methodist Chapel built in the year 1874 on the site of the original chapel, constitute the Wesleyan Methodist Trust Property in the village.
In his youth Mr. Watkins resided in the neighbourhood of Bromyard, and was born in the year 1763. Preachers from the Worcester “round” itinerated in the neighbourhood of Bromyard and some of the surrounding villages. They did not confine their labours to the towns or to the few chapels that then existed, but they preached in cottages or barns, out of doors, and on Village Greens in the course of their rounds.
The labours of these courageous, faithful and devoted men, resulted in the formation of little Methodist societies in different parts of the country. One of these was formed at Stoke Lacey (now Stoke Lacy), in Herefordshire, which continued for many years. Here it was, in the dwelling house of Mr. Wood, that a small Methodist Society was formed, which became the centre of religious life and influence over a considerable country district. Mr. Watkins attended the meetings of this little group, and thus began his life-long connection with the people called Methodists.
Joseph was then seeking the Lord. He witnessed the humble seriousness of a few persons, who met for mutual help and edification. The Word of God was read and discussed at their meetings, and Joseph began to feel the influence of truths, which had hitherto been concealed from him. He cast in his lot wholeheartedly with this little band of disciples; and it was not long ere he found the pardoning mercy of God. For many months, Joseph took his accustomed journey on Sunday on foot, toiling many a mile to hear the Word of God, and to join with his fellow-Christians in prayer and praise in the dwelling house of Mr. Wood.
In the course of time Mr. Watkins married, his choice falling on one of the same little society of Christians. They settled in the district in a little home of their own. Mr. Watkins looked round on the moral and spiritual condition of his neighbours. He deeply mourned over their spiritual destitution, and earnestly desired to do something for their benefit, by the establishment among them of religious meetings like those at Stoke Lacy, which had proved such a blessing to himself. He thought he would, if possible, purchase a small freehold that he might open his own house for the worship of God; and have no interruption by landlord or anybody else.
In a short time, two properties were advertised for sale by auction, at an inn. Joseph attended the sale, expecting that they would be offered in separate lots, intending to make a bid for the smaller one; but, to his great disappointment he found they would be sold together, and therefore abandoned his intention of bidding, as he had not the means of paying so large a sum as would be required.
The business began, the conditions of sale were read, and bidders invited. The auctioneer, observing the young shoemaker among the company, somewhat humorously said: “Come Watkins won’t you give us a bid?” to which Joseph replied, “I certainly intended to bid for the small lot, if it had been sold separately: but as they are put together, they are quite out of my way.” “Oh.” rejoined the other. “put us on, give a bid: it will not stop. Come put us on.”
Joseph, not thinking what he was about, complied, but was soon awakened to a sense of his situation, when no-one followed him. In vain the auctioneer called for bidders. At length he said, “Going….going….gone.” Down came the hammer, with Joseph Watkins as the purchaser. Joseph went home in great anxiety and informed Mary what he had been drawn into, who was equally perplexed thereat. He passed an almost sleepless night, pondering how to get out of his difficulty.
Next morning, while standing at the door, a gentleman rode up, and accosted him with “Well, Watkins, you have been buying land, I hear.” “Buying land,” responded Joseph, as the echo of what fell on his ears. The gentleman further said, “I am come to ask what you will take for your bargain.”
This relieved Joseph, so he replied, after some little consideration, “Why, Sir, to tell you the truth, I only wanted the small lot; and if you are willing to take the larger one, I have no objection to part with it.” “That,” said the gentleman, “is the one I want. What will you take for it?”
It was considered at the sale that Joseph had made a good purchase, so he thought how he might, without impropriety, ask the man for the large property (about fifty acres) what he had obtained both for (the smaller one being about two acres). The gentleman said, “I will give you that sum for it.” Joseph was thus extricated from his difficulty, became the possessor of the freehold he had desired, and yet his amount of cash was not lessened.
He now saw the way clear to carry into effect his long cherished desire to open his house for the worship of God. It was duly certified for that purpose, and the neighbours were invited to come and hear words whereby they might be saved. Nor was the preaching in vain. The Holy Spirit was poured upon them, and several believed and turned to the Lord.
As Bodenham was a considerable distance in those days from any circuit town, it was only seldom that a Methodist Minister visited the village. This was particularly the case in winter, the roads being in many places almost impassable. In these circumstances, Mr. Watkins, moved by the Holy Spirit, felt necessity was laid upon him, first, to give a word of exhortation to those who, from time to time, came to worship at his house. After this he was invited to other places, it having become known that he was a witness for Christ, ready to tell others the way of Salvation.
In his own house the congregation increased, and additional accommodation was needed. He asked himself, “What can I do?” He felt he could do but little, yet he resolved what to do if the Lord permitted; and the deed was as princely as the principle was Divine. The little of which he had become the proprietor, or rather, as he felt, the Steward, he would consecrate to the Lord.
On a part of the property, he accordingly determined to build a small chapel, for the service of the neighbouring cottages. The work was soon effected: a Minister was obtained to open the place of worship; the day arrived, a happy and zealous company of friends came together, and the place was set apart for the high and holy use of prayer, praise, and the ministration of the Word of God.
Who could describe what would be the emotions of Joseph and Mary Watkins on that day? They saw the building, reared by their benevolence, and presented to the Lord, dedicated as the house of prayer. The gift on their part was noble and lovely, perhaps beyond precedent at that time in this part of the Kingdom.
The emotions of this lowly cottager that day might have been envied by a prince; and few princes of this world ever did an act so noble and so pious.
It is not surprising that the dedication of that humble Sanctuary to the Service of God was the occasion of calling forth another instance of the zeal and kind heartedness of Joseph Watkins. Some of the good people who had come to participate in the religious solemnities of that day, powerfully felt the influence of a zeal so eminent and pure, and voluntarily proposed that they should be allowed to share with him the expense of the erection. They endeavoured to convince him that it was not right for him to bear the whole burden, and that collections would cheerfully be made towards assisting him in his labour of love. But the sacrifice was a luxury to his soul not to be foregone. He was resolved to have it a monument of his gratitude to the Saviour. Still, however, alert on doing good, and glad to find his fellow-Christians willing to contribute of their ability to aid the village cause, he proposed that they should give what they thought proper, and devote it to the purchase of a horse for the service of the Ministers of the Circuit in which the Chapel was situated, to enable them more frequently to visit this and other benighted places. This was accordingly done; and as a result this village enjoyed the regular services of the Ministers of the Gospel.
Joseph and Mary Watkins honoured God in their house. Family worship was observed three times in the day; in the morning before they sat down to breakfast; at noon when workmen and whoever might be in the shop at the time were called to join with them; and again in the evening. Morning and evening worship was conducted by reading the Scriptures and prayer, and the noon service by singing and prayer.
Mr. Watkins recognised how much he owed to the giver of all good, being impressed with the conviction that it was by the special Providence of God that he became the possessor of the property he enjoyed. Having this conviction and having no child, and not knowing what might arise in the neighbourhood after his decease, it was in his heart to secure the property, so remarkably given to him to the service of God. He carried out his purpose, the property being transferred by sale to a number of Trustees, to be held by them and their successors as provided by the deed, in trust for ever for the use of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. When the trust deed was duly executed and enrolled in Chancery, he generously returned the purchase money to the trustees, and though he continued to reside on the premises, yet, as an acknowledgement of their right to the property, he paid an annual rent, which they applied to the circuit expenses. An illustration in an unmistakable form of the words of Scripture: “The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.”
The blessings of God rested on the labour of his hands, his business was prosperous, and his customers numerous. In those days the Village Shoemaker was a person of note, the manufacture of boots and shoes in factories by machinery had hardly been thought of. The wants of Mr. and Mrs. Watkins were few, and instead of spending their savings on themselves, they were constant benefactors of the poor around them, and they were most generous supporters of the cause of God at home and abroad.
Being on the Preachers’ Plan in the Hereford Circuit, he did good service in many of the villages which he visited, where he proclaimed the glad tidings of the Gospel of Christ. He also made considerable sacrifices in order to establish Methodism in the Borough of Leominster, and although he did not witness the success he deserved, he had the satisfaction to believe that his efforts were approved by Him who said, “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart.”
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Methodist Church Buildings: Statistical Returns July 1st 1940. Circuit 209 Hereford.