Porthtowan is a small village on Cornwall’s north Atlantic coast about 1.2 miles west of St Agnes, 2.5 miles north of Redruth, 6.2 miles west of Truro and 9.3 miles southwest of Newquay. This profile of Porthtowan Wesleyan Chapel has been compiled by Clive Benney & Tony Mansell
1796: It is claimed that Methodism in Porthtowan has existed since 1796, maybe earlier if we include Aunt Betty Chegwin’s open-air classes in Tom Tonkin’s garden.
The Revd Thomas Shaw’s book, “Foolish Dick and his Chapel at Porthtowan,” describes the events that led to the creation of the Society and the building of the Chapel in a location, now some distance from what we think of as the village centre. The Society seems to have been an extension of the one at Bridge, a small village not far along the road towards Portreath. Thomas Shaw said a young Methodist and mine manager, Thomas Garland, arranged the use of a cottage belonging to Tom Tonkin, the middle of a row of thatched cottages just below where the Chapel now stands. If ever that was not convenient then they could meet in Tom’s garden under a cherry tree where Betty Chegwin held her meetings. He wrote, “The first class was held on the 26th February 1796 and its members were mostly elderly women.”
1820: Chapel built. Thomas Shaw records that Aunt Betty Chegwin attended the opening, and he is certain that Captain Garland and Dick Hampton (Foolish Dick) would also have been there.
Small wayside Wesleyan chapel, built 1820, later a Sunday school to new 1841 chapel to south (now demolished) and now west part of modern c 1980 chapel-which extends to east. Painted rubble walls; half-hipped roof. Very simple vernacular example with one window to each side wall. Now linked by a flat-roofed porch to a large extension. Listed in Stell (b1) and illustrated in Shaw (b2). (Cornwall Heritage Gateway)
1841 replacement Wesleyan chapel was built to the south of the original 1820 chapel-which became a Sunday school. Gabled front with central doorway and window over, with three-centred arched heads. Demolished c 1980 and replaced by ne chapel extension to original chapel. Listed in Stell (b1) and illustrated in Shaw (b2). (Cornwall Heritage Gateway)
1841: Lease purchased.
Circa 1840: Build date.
Built as a Wesleyan chapel. (SWChurches)
Part of Redruth Wesleyan Circuit. (SWChurches)
1841: Voluntary labour used to build a new and larger Chapel. It was located just behind the 1820 structure which was left in place.
1841 – 30th May 1841: New chapel opened. Thomas Shaw said, “The Chapel had a narrow gallery, reached by steep steps from the porch at either end. Its original appearance was altered when the body of the Chapel was re-pewed towards the end of the nineteenth century. Open pews removed from a closed Chapel then replaced the original high-backed box pews. At the same time the small pulpit was replaced by a rostrum which reached the full width of the building. The old pews were retained in the gallery and a row of wooden coat pegs, formerly in the 1820 Chapel, was fixed behind the back pews under the gallery.” Here again, a fuller description is included in Thomas Shaw’s book.
The Chapel(s) on the hill (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
The little 1820 chapel to the left and the larger chapel which stood there from 1841 to 1978 (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1905: Porthtowan: “… The Wesleyans held their annual tea treat on Saturday, and headed by the Redruth Town Band, started from the schoolroom … After marching through the beautiful grounds of Mr. Dungey, proceeded to the beach …” (5 August 1905 – Cornubian and Redruth Times)
1908: The interior of the 1841 chapel (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1932: The Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist and the United Methodist Church amalgamated to become the Methodist Church of Great Britain.
1932: Became Porthtowan Methodist Church. (SWChurches)
1932: Part of Redruth Methodist Circuit. (SWChurches)
1967: Foolish Dick and this Chapel, Porthtowan Methodist Church 1796-1967. (Kresen Kernow LIB/688)
1970s: 1841 chapel becoming unsafe.
1977: 1841 chapel closed.
1977: Services reverted to the 1820 chapel.
1979: The 1841 chapel was demolished – it had stood for that the 137 years. (“West Briton” January 1979)
The area where the 1841 building had stood was to be a car park and plans for a new Methodist Church of Great Britain were submitted to Carrick District Council.
Chapel built by Douglas Trewern. (Further history of the Chapel-on-the Hill at Porttowan by Ron George)
1980 – 12th January: The new Chapel was opened. It was 20 metres by 7.5 metres with facilities suitable for a range of community events. The original 1820 Chapel was left in place, linked to the new by a vestibule.
The two chairs and pulpit had been removed from the 1841 chapel and installed here. (Ron George of St Agnes)
Banner by Gladys Pease to celebrate 200 years of worship on this site – 1796-1996
The 1820 and 1980 chapels – since this photograph was taken, the car park has been lowered and surfaced (Photo: Ron George of St Agnes)
Circa 2004: Various refurbishments and alerations undertaken both internally and externally. (Further history of the Chapel-on-the Hill at Porttowan by Ron George)
2005: Celebration of 25 years since the dedication of the new chapel. (Further history of the Chapel-on-the Hill at Porttowan by Ron George)
2021: The Chapel is still active. It is proud of its history and, remembering the early meetings in Tom Tonkin’s garden, its logo depicts a group of worshippers under a cherry tree.