Religious non-conformity has a long history in Nonington, dating back to Edward Boys of Fredville, a “Marian Exile” in 1557 and 1558. Marian Exiles were strict Protestants who fled England to escape persecution by the staunchly Roman Catholic Queen Mary Tudor, who after her death became known as Bloody Mary because of her executions of Protestants. During her short five year reign between 1553 and 1558 Mary and her equally staunch Catholic husband, Philip of Spain, tried to lead England back into the arms of the Church of Rome.
In 1676 the parish was recorded as having nine non-Conformists consisting of: two Anabaptists, two Browns, three Quakers, and two Independents.
Brownist was a common designation for early separatists from the Church of England before 1620 with Brownist, Independents and Separatist all used somewhat interchangeably for those non-conformists who broke with the Church of England but more specifically referred to the followers of the writings and teachings of Robert Browne (1550?-1633), a prominent Elizabethan Separatist born in Tolethorpe, Rutlandshire, of a wealthy and a very prominent Northamptonshire family, and is often referred to as the “Father of Congregationalism”. The use of the by then archaic term “ Browns” in 1676 indicates that there had been non-conformists well before this date.
Early Baptists in Nonington were part of the Eythorne Baptist Church, and one of its early ministers was the Reverend John Giles, 1792-1827, who preached in Nonington parish. In the early 1800’s the house of Henry Furley Spanton, an Easole farmer, was used as a place of worship and was known as “the Easole Kitchen”. Mr. Spanton’s son, Will, farmed Old Court and his son-in-law, Troward Harvey, farmed Ratling Court. Troward Harvey, junior, born there in 1865, became moderator of the Kent and Sussex Baptist Association in 1930.
In 1804 the present Baptist Church was built at Eythorne and Nonington Baptists regularly worked there to worship on Sundays using what is still know as “Baptist’s Walk” between Frogham and Barfreston. In the 1870’s those in need of a lift to the church were collected at the corner of Fredville Park by James Dilnot, the Nonington miller, in “The Ark”, the name given to his miller’s van because of the shape of it’s roof.
There were in the region of thirty Baptists in Nonington by the early 1900’s, and in early 1908 services began to be held in the Easole cottage of a Mr. Cross, who had come from Wales to work at the recently opened Snowdown Colliery. Other Non-Conformists came from all over the United Kingdom to the Nonington area to work at Snowdown Colliery and joined the local congregations and in 1910 the deacons of the Eythorne Church decided that the Nonington Baptists needed their own chapel in Nonington. Mr. H. Western Plumptre kindly agreed to sell nine perches of land in Easole Street for the chapel for £.30.00, of which he donated £.10.00 to the building fund, and the construction of the new chapel soon got underway. A foundation stone laying ceremony took place on 8th March, 1911, and the completed chapel, built by H.J. Harlow of Nonington, was opened on 11th May, 1911, by Mrs. J. Cottam.
The large crowd attending the opening could not be accommodated in the chapel so a marquee had been put up near the Nonington cricket ground in Fredville Park where a service followed by a tea was held. The view of the chapel has altered a little over the years, the iron railings that can be seen on the front wall in the last picture were taken for salvage during World War II and the thatched and weather-boarded cottages behind were demolished in the 1960’s to be replaced by bungalows. Inside it is now a little more comfortable than it appears to have been in the early years. When I attended Sunday School at the chapel in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there was a harmonium, which was seldom if ever used, in front of the pulpit and the piano which provided the accompanyment to the hymns was to the left of the pulpit.
Soon after the chapel opened a Sunday School was started by Mr. Binks, the manager at nearby Snowdown Colliery, and some of the early members can be seen in the picture in the slide show above.
Over the years the Sunday School played an important part in village life. In the late 1950’s and 1960’s many people of my age will remember the annual chapel outing by coach to Broadstairs was keenly looked forward to by Sunday School members, family and friends, as was the “Sausage Sizzle” held in early autumn every year in the nearby “Ruins”, the local name for the open area in Beauchamps around the remains of the old Beauchamps manor house, where sausages were fried and tea was brewed over an open fire to provide the sustenance needed to play hide and seek and other out-door games which would probably now be banned under “Health and Safety” regulations. Both these and other events were organised by Mr. Alan Onions and his wife, Helen, the daughter of Mr. Tom Clayson, who was the chapel’s superintendent from 1934 to 1976 as well as being the village post-master for many years. Mr. and Mrs. Onions took over from Mr. Clayson as superintendent in 1976.
The Baptist Chapel now hold joint services with the Anglican St. Mary’s Church, Nonington, but the building looks little changed from when it was opened just over a century ago.