Strict Protestantism and religious non-conformity has a long association with Nonington which dates back to the time of Edward Boys of Fredville and the Marion Exiles of the 1550’s and beyond.
In 1676 the parish was recorded as having nine non-Conformists amongst whom were two Anabaptists , two Browns, three Quakers, and two Independents.
The Anabaptists were a radical Protestant movement founded in the early to mid 16th century which advocated the baptism and church membership of adult believers only, non-resistance, and the separation of church and state
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 at Tolethorpe in Rutlandshire into a wealthy and a very prominent Northamptonshire family. Browne is often referred to as the “Father of Congregationalism”.
Eythorne Baptist Church had its origins in the early 16th century when Baptists fled from the Low Countries across the English Channel to Kent to escape persecution. These religious refugees were possibly encouraged to settle in and around Eythorne and Nonington by Edward Boys of Fredville, a strict Protestant and Marian Exile whose family owned much of the land in and around the two parishes. Edward Boys spent several years in exile on the Continent and during that time would have met many prominent Protestants from the Low Countries, Switzerland, and the German states.
The nineteenth-century Baptist writer J. J. Goadby named Eythorne as one of the ” three most ancient Baptist churches in England” and the Eythorne Baptist Church website states that: “Eythorne Baptist Church is certainly the oldest baptist church in Kent and probably the oldest in the United Kingdom, dating back to the early 1500’s”.
It is therefore very likely that there have been Baptists in Nonington from at least the time of the foundation of the church at Eythorne.
For many years Nonington Baptists were part of the Eythorne Baptist Church, and one of its early ministers was the Reverend John Giles, 1792-1827, who often preached in Nonington. In the early 1800’s the Easole house of farmer Henry Furley Spanton was used for worship and was known as “the Easole Kitchen”. Mr. Spanton’s son William farmed Old Court Farm, and Troward Harvey, his son-in-law, farmed the adjoining Ratling Court, where his son Troward ,junior, was born at in 1865. The younger Troward became moderator of the Kent and Sussex Baptist Association in 1930.
Eythorne Church once had associated village chapels at Adisham, Nonington, Eastry, Ashley, Woolage Green, Wootton, and Barnsole, but now the only associated chapel is at Nonington.
In 1804 an imposing new Baptist church was built at Eythorne and Nonington Baptists regularly walked to the new church to worship on Sundays. For some of their journey the Nonington Baptists walked the footpath between the Frogham end of Fredville Park and neighboring Barfreston that became known as “Baptists Walk”, a name by which it is still known by older natives of Nonington. In the 1870’s those in need of a lift to the Eythorne church were picked-up at the corner of Fredville Park by the Easole miller James Dilnot in “The Ark”. This was his miller’s van, so called because of the shape of its roof.
There were in the region of thirty Baptists in Nonington by the early 1900’s. 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 then recently opened Snowdown Colliery. The opening of the colliery brought in Non-Conformists from all over the United Kingdom to the Nonington area and they joined the local congregations. So many joined the Nonington congregation that in 1910 the deacons of the Eythorne Church decided that the Nonington Baptists needed their own chapel. Mr. H. Western Plumptre kindly agreed to sell nine perches of land in Easole Street for the building of the chapel for the sum of £.30.00, of which he donated £.10.00 to the building fund. The construction of the new chapel by H.J. Harlow of Nonington soon got underway with a foundation stone laying ceremony taking place on 8th March, 1911, and the completed chapel was opened on 11th May of that year by Mrs. J. Cottam. The large crowd attending the opening could not be accommodated in the chapel and a marquee was put up near the Nonington cricket ground in Fredville Park where a service was held followed by a tea.
As can be seen in the 1930’s photograph of the chapel at the top of the page the view from the road 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 early 1960’s to be replaced by the present bungalows. Inside the chapel is now a little less austere than it appears to have been in the early years.
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 above.
Over the years the Sunday School played an important part in village life. Many villagers will remember the annual summer chapel outing by coach to Broadstairs that was keenly looked forward to by Sunday School members and their families and friends. The annual “Sausage Sizzle” was held for Sunday school pupils and friends in early autumn at the “Ruins”, the local name for the open area in Beauchamps around the then still visible remains of the old Beauchamps manor house. Here sausages were fried and tea was brewed over an open camp fire to provide the sustenance needed to play hide and seek and other out-door games, some of 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, 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 congregation of the Baptist Chapel now holds joint services with the Anglican congregation of St. Mary’s Church in Nonington.