Landmark Spire

New church after 1908 fire disaster


Methodists in Dunstable reacted with remarkable resolve when their chapel on The Square was burned down in September 1908.

Almost immediately, they set about creating a replacement. The rubble was cleared and just over eight months later, in May 1909, the foundation stone of a new building was laid. By December, Dunstable had a new landmark, with the slender spire of the new church visible for miles around.

Local Methodists built their first chapel on this site in 1831 and enlarged it in 1836. No details about its size or appearance have yet been traced.

In September 1844 a fire started in some adjoining farm buildings and this spread to the chapel, which was burned to the ground.

A second Wesleyan Chapel was erected the following year. It stood well back from The Square, with a burial ground in the front, and was extended in 1853 and 1858. The enlarged chapel could seat up to 1,400 people and members of its congregation were very influential in the life of Dunstable. The catastrophic fire of 1908 was a great shock to townspeople, who left their beds on the night of the disaster to flock to The Square.

The founder of active Methodism in Dunstable was a carpenter named John Darley, whose life was changed by hearing a powerful sermon by John Wesley while on a visit to Nottingham. Darley came back to Dunstable a changed man and by 1798 he was active in the Methodist movement. His workshop in Church Street was used for Sunday worship until it proved to be too small, and the growing Methodist congregation transferred to premises owned by Mr Fossey near the crossroads in High Street South. They moved to the old Quaker Meeting House at 15 West Street in 1821, before leasing land for their first chapel at The Square in 1831.

Old Wesleyan Chapel
The Methodist Chapel which burned down in 1908.
Disatrous fire
A photo of the methodist church fire.
Stone laying ceremony for the new Methodist church
The foundation stone laying for the new Methodist Church, May 1909.

Text: John Buckledee of Dunstable and District Local History Society. ©
Design: David Turner.
Narration: Barbara Morton of Dunstable Repertory Company.
Recording: David Hornsey.
Website developer: Joshua Buckledee.