Feock Methodist Chapel
You might be forgiven for thinking that a relatively modest wayside Chapel in a rural parish in Cornwall would have very little to do with the events which led to the eventual Ordination of women in the Church. But events in and around Goonpiper in the late 18th and early 19th centuries may well prove you wrong.
Elizabeth Tonkin was born in Gwinear on 9th May 1762 and baptised there on 1st June of the same year, the daughter of William and Margery. Her first encounter with Methodism seems to have been at the age of around sixteen years when she attended Methodist gatherings in Gwinear, some of which were led by Ann Gilbert, one of a very few female preachers at the time in the relatively new Methodist movement. Ann nurtured Elizabeth’s Faith and within a short time, Elizabeth herself was preaching under the Methodist banner.
It was around the time of her 20th birthday that Elizabeth moved to Feock. She found that there was no Methodist Congregation here and so she set about preaching Wesley’s new religion.
The house used for these meetings was believed to be at Sandoe’s Gate on the King Harry Ferry road, but how regular the meetings were in those very early days or how well attended is not certain.
What is known is that Elizabeth married Thomas Collett on 15th December 1785 in Feock Church and the couple moved back over the river to his home area around Philleigh. Their six children, Richard, Elizabeth, Thomas, Joseph, Mary and Martha, were all baptised at Veryan Church.
This was a time when a woman preaching the Gospel in any form was frowned upon. The Society of Friends, the Quakers, had allowed women to preach throughout their history it seems but other religious groups were not so much in favour.
Jabez Bunting had taken over the mantle as the head of the Methodist Church following the death of John Wesley in 1791. He had very definite views on many topics and was not afraid to express them. He was an uncompromising opponent of women preachers in the Methodist Church.
He became editor of the Methodist Magazine, the official national journal of the movement. When in 1794, Elizabeth Collett wrote a letter to the journal for publication, it was printed under the name of “Mr. E. Collett” and not “Mrs.”
Some years later, Richard, the eldest son of Elizabeth Collett submitted an article to the magazine, written by himself and a local (male) Methodist minister giving an account of his mother’s involvement with the fledgling Methodist movement. Bunting refused to publish it:- “lest it should be a precedent to young females in the Connexion who are ready to step into such work.”
Elizabeth Collett and her fellow female Methodist preachers did however find a champion in Zechariah Taft. He became a Wesleyan minister in 1801 and played a leading role in promoting the rights of women preachers and did much to publicise the contribution made by women to early Methodism. In 1803 he published his “Thoughts on Female Preaching” and in 1809 printed another work defending the scriptural basis of females to preach.
His most prominent book was “Biographical Sketches of the lives and public Ministry of various Holy Women”. This was published in two volumes in 1825 and 1828 and Elizabeth Collett was one of the women featured in these volumes. With Elizabeth moving to the other side of the Fal, it is difficult to prove just how influential she was in this area, but what can be said with certainty is that in 1807, at the same time as a Licence was granted to a Meeting House in nearby Penpol, a Licence for a Methodist Meeting House was granted also to a property in Feock, thought to be on the Sandoe’s Gate site. It is not thought that this was a purpose built Chapel, but more probably the home of one of the prominent members of the Methodist Congregation.
The first mention of a site at Goonpiper comes in the granting of a Licence in 1819. With seating for around 180 people, the building cost £154 of which a mere £44 had been raised by subscription, the rest being borrowed.
The 1845 Tithe Map shows a building on a site at “Gunpiper”, which is clearly the site of the present Chapel. The congregation grew and by the 1860’s, a larger building was needed. This was provided with seating for 250 and the building included an upper gallery. The walls however were found to be too weak to take the weight of the roof and in 1881, the roof was lowered and the gallery done away with. The Sunday School under the Chapel remained and the building took on the appearance we see to this day.
The spelling Gunpiper is to be found for many years after the Tithe Map. An article in the Royal Cornwall Gazette dated 19th April 1873 reads:- “METHODIST NEW CONNECTION:- On Good Friday a new Harmonium was opened at Gunpiper Chapel, Feock, In the afternoon, Mr. Magor junior of Truro preached and at a public tea, Mr. H.B. Champion of Feock presided.”
Where would we be without a good cup of Tea in Chapel?
Written by Bob Richards