No. 461 - The Primitive Methodist Church at Bracknell - "Gather In the Outcasts"

Bracknell is a small country town on the banks of the Liffey River and is located about 15 kilometres west of Cressy. Although a small settlement, Bracknell had several churches, the earliest of which was built by the Primitive Methodists who sought to bring ministry to remote and neglected communities.

A glimpse of rural life at Bracknell in the 19th century is provided by an article printed in 1874 by the Hobart Mercury titled: ‘A tour through the Northern Agricultural Districts’:

“The township of Bracknell is only of recent date, and has sprung out of the necessities of settlers, who unable to secure cleared land in the more central districts, have gone back into the heavily timbered country at the foot of the Western Tiers, and made their selections. Tho soil is good, and good roads and tho railway give every facility for the transport of produce, so that having overcome the preliminary labor of clearing, the persevering Bracknell settlers have every chance of future success. I am not perhaps strictly correct in saying that the township of Bracknell is only of recent date. A township reserve was surveyed many years ago, and the first sign of civilisation…a public house was erected. Till recently, however, the township remained in a stationary condition, and it is only within the last twelve months that it has taken any rapid forward strides. The township, which five or six years ago consisted only of the huts of a few charcoal burners, can now boast of a place of worship, two school rooms, a hotel, two or three stores, a post office, and several substantial wooden dwelling houses. The Rev. J. Langham (Primitive Methodist), and the Rev. J. Watson (Church of England) visit the place periodically, and administer the necessary spiritual nourishment to the thirsty souls of the settlers….The soil of the locality is of a moist, rich description, and some of the gardens are very prettily laid out, the hawthorn hedges, which thrive luxuriantly, giving a comfortable English appearance to the village. A bridge outside the village crosses the Liffey, and passing through the Enfield estate, connects it with the Hermitage, Longford, &c. The land immediately opposite the township over the bridge formerly belonged to the Cressy Estate Company, a pastoral co-partnery, but is now sold to various small holders…”.

The place of worship mentioned in the Mercury’s ‘tour’ was in fact a Primitive Methodist chapel that had been built a decade earlier. The Launceston Examiner’s report of the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for this chapel in October 1864, provides some detail about the origins of Methodist activity in the district:

“The inhabitants of Bracknell and the surrounding neighbourhood have been till lately destitute of all religious services. Three months ago the place was visited by the Rev. W. H. Walton, in company with Mr. J. Woolnough, of Bishopsbourne. Mr. Walton visited the families, and seeing the great numbers of young people, and the state of spiritual destitution which prevailed in the neighbourhood, at once offered, with the assistance of Messrs. N. Brothers and J. H. Emery, lay preachers of Longford station, to supply them with services; for purpose of which Mr. W. Page very kindly offered the use of his barn. But knowing that at harvest time this building would be required for farm purposes, immediate steps were taken for the erection of a neat and commodious place of worship, the foundation stone of which was laid on Friday, the 14th of October. The service was commenced by a hymn being sung, and prayer offered by the Rev. W. H. Walton. Mrs. Walton then came forward, and proceeded in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to lay the stone, quoting the 7th verse of the 122nd psalm "Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces".

“W. Mason, Esq., of Longford, on addressing the assembly, said it gave him great pleasure in meeting the present company. His position in being present at the laying of the foundation stone of a Primitive Methodist Chapel was very pleasing, and different to the one he occupied in that locality about 35 years ago, when he, in company with Mr. T. Field was taken by the bushrangers Brady and party. Mr. M[ason] said it was a characteristic of Primitive Methodism to visit and mission, the most neglected districts and seek to gather in the outcasts. He did not know of a district more in need of a place of worship; and he prayed that the blessing of the Almighty might rest on the undertaking…”.

The chapel was completed by the end of that year and opened on Christmas day. The event was reported by the correspondent for the Cornwall Chronicle:

“According to announcement, this Chapel was opened for divine service on Christmas Day, when two excellent sermons were preached by the Rev. J. Long lately arrived from Auckland, New Zealand. On Monday, the 20th, about noon, vehicles conveying friends might be seen approaching from all directions. At. noon, a luncheon was provided, to which ample justice was done. As the Chapel would not nearly accommodate the large company present, it was decided to hold the Public Meeting in the open air. This meeting was presided over by Mr. T. Edginton, of Launceston, and interesting addresses were delivered by the Revs. W. Tranter, J. Long, W. H. Walton, and others. After prayer being offered, the company returned to the Chapel (and a large booth which had been erected for the occasion), where a splendid tea had been provided by the ladies, to which about 250 sat down, including children. The total cost of the Chapel, including purchase of more than 2 acres of land, (part of which is intended as a burial ground), is £130 2s. 2d., towards which £80 2s. 2d. has been raised by contributions, opening services, and proceeds of tea, leaving a debt of £50 on the premises, …On New Year's Day it is intended to open a sabbath school in connexion with the above place of worship, books for which, have been promised by Mr. Griffiths. A neat bible and hymn book for the pulpit have been presented by Mr. Dakin, of Launceston. The building committee take this opportunity of tendering their thanks to all those friends who have so nobly assisted them in erecting this place of worship, and humbly hope that it may prove a lasting blessing to the district”.

The Sunday school was held in the old barn, located at the corner of Amelia and Jane Street and later in the town’s Templar’s Hall. After the Methodist Union in 1902, a church hall was built next to the church which was used for Sunday school and also housed an adult library. The old chapel served the Methodists of Bracknell until 1922 when it was replaced by a new church. The new building, which still stands, is the subject of a seperate blog entry. see HERE


The Weekly Courier, Thursday 21 September 1922

Source:  The Centenary of the Bracknell Methodist Church (1963) - Souvenir History

The barn which was used for the early Methodist services: The Weekly Courier, Thursday 21 September 1922


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 18 October 1864, page 3
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 31 December 1864, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 30 December 1865, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 31 December 1864, page 3
Mercury, Monday 16 November 1874, page 3

Brochure:  The Centenary of the Bracknell Methodist Church (1963) - Souvenir History

Stansall, M. E. J and Methodist Church of Australasia Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 : compiled at the time of last Meeting of Methodism prior to union. Methodist Church of Australasia, Launceston, Tas, 1975

Also - Special thanks to Ivan Badcock for generously providing notes and images for the writing of this blog entry.

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