The Chapel on Pound Hill
While it is unlikely that non-conformity was a novelty in Frittenden, the appointment of an absentee rector, Henry Hodges, in 1804 who then sought to impose/extend his right to tithes, may have proved to be the catalyst for a visible split with the Anglican church. The Strict Providence Chapel on Pound Hill was established, not in the nucleus around the church, but nearly a quarter of a mile away in the vicinity of The Bell Inn and the forge (albeit at the furthest point of that nucleus). It is also of note that a lane/pathway provides a more direct link from the church to the chapel than the road, being the hypotenuse of a triangle. The two buildings are sited on the same ridge and therefore at much the same height.
There are no records which throw any light on the success, or otherwise, of this chapel during the first forty years of its existence. We know that it enjoyed the services of pastors coming into the village to take services. Between 1838 and 1878 the pastor was Thomas Clifford, of Winchet Hill, Goudhurst.
A centre of non-conformity
The Chapel’s role, as a centre of non-conformity was unchallenged, for no rival non-conformist establishment appeared at Frittenden until 1928 and the opening of the Bethel at Chanceford Corner. It is likely (though unfortunately with no direct evidence to support this) that the Providence Chapel may have made some headway against the Established Church in the period of absentee rectors, possibly to fall back somewhat in the face of the competition provided by the arrival of the energetic Edward Moore at St Mary’s in 1839.
In 1846, the chapel was bought by James Hickmott of Lashenden who was a parishioner of Frittenden but also a deacon of the Providence Chapel at Tilden, Smarden, equally distant from his farm, where he continued to worship. Later, in 1867, he also acquired the cottages adjoining the Frittenden Chapel, and the whole of the property was given in Trust for the Strict Baptist cause on 26 July, 1876. This series of steps presumably helped to secure the position of the chapel and shore up its future: it continued in existence throughout the twentieth century, but as a joint pastorate with the Bounds Cross Chapel [itself built by James Hickmott on part of Lashenden’s farmland] and was infrequently used for services. The Cranbrook Almanac for 1911 shows that the chapel was opened ‘every second Lord’s Day in each month and Thursday evening’.
A challenge to authority
The establishment of a chapel, whether featuring old or new dissent, was often seen as a challenge to the authority of landowners and parsons. In Frittenden, it would appear that members of the Baptist congregation were not excluded from participation in the parish Provident Society, although it is probably safe to presume that they would have distanced themselves from drinking and similar convivial activities, as evidenced on the Society’s Club Day.
There are, though, some minor signs of an undercurrent of mutual suspicion and division. Despite the generous sentiments expressed by Robert Mercer to Edward Moore on behalf of ‘those belonging to as those dissenting from the established Church’ in 1848 upon the re-opening of the church, in 1860 James Hickmott felt the necessity to record in his diary that:-
this evening Mr Cole the Curate of Frittenden call on us and discoursed with us about Baptism and the Church and claimed authority over us Shepherd. I denied his authority ….
The continuing irritation over the church rate is also revealed in James Hickmott’s diary entry in March 1860 that :-
this day Signed the Petition of the Tilden Chapel for the Abolition of Church Rates.
More seriously, admission to Frittenden’s National Schools was conditional on attendance at the Church Sunday School, and there are examples in the school records of children who were expelled because their parents had permitted them to go to chapel on Sunday, which was against the rules of the school. The parents were severely reprimanded, and the child sent home, until a few days later they were recorded to have duly apologised and promised not to do it again.
If the aggregate figures reported in the 1851 Religious Census are accepted, approximately one-half of the village population attended Church or Chapel on Census Sunday, and about three-quarters of all attendances were at the Church, rather than the Providence Chapel. Moreover, services at the Providence Chapel were reported to be on ‘alternate weeks’. In regard to education, dissent offered no direct competition to the National Schools in respect of day-time provision, and in the absence of a Baptist Sunday School meant that the Anglican church accounted too, for all Sunday school provision. In view of the presence, from 1839, of a vigorous and progressive Anglican leadership stemming from Edward Moore, it seems safe to say that Frittenden – in contrast, it may be said, to certain neighbouring parishes – was one in which it was the Church, rather than the non-conformist community, which enjoyed the greater influence in shaping the life of the village. By and large, the non-conformist element in the village, though by no means of minuscule proportions, had a relatively low profile.
On 25 February 1867. James Hickmott bought from David Screes the cottages at Pound Hill, adjoining the Chapel, for the sum of £140 and paid five pounds in part payment of the purchase. He took possession on 15 April 1867, but five years later he recorded in his diary:-
“Saturday Morning about eight O’Clock Silas Hickmott [son of Silas and nephew of James the diarist] came galloping to me & said Mr Gurrs Shop was on Fire & Burning down & thought My cottages must be burnt. on my arrival the shop was burnt down. owing to the Ivy on the side of the shop the flames was partly kept in. And by the Providence of God the wind was in faver. and by the quantity of water thrown on the House it was burnt but little. the Oast being attached to the Shop was nearly consumed before the Engine [from Cranbrook] arrived.”
Today the Chapel is a private residence.