National Trust acquires Avebury Chapel

A FORMER United Reformed Church chapel at Avebury has been purchased by the National Trust as a space to highlight conservation work and explain the special landscapes within the World Heritage Site.

Jan Tomlin, the trust’s general manager for the Wiltshire Landscape, explains: “Our vision is to develop this unique and beautiful building into a welcome and information space for both local communities and visitors to share our passion for the landscape, its abundant nature and world-renowned archaeology.

“We will be working with World Heritage Site partners to showcase the essential work undertaken to conserve and protect the WHS, and will also offer advice and information on wildlife and heritage.

“The initial plan is to undertake sympathetic renovation, while retaining the special character of the 300 year old building and grounds.”

Like many buildings in Avebury, the chapel, founded in 1670, is located within the main stone circle and partly built from broken standing stones. It is rare to find a Christian building sited within a prehistoric henge and stone circle, although there is a similar example at Knowlton in Dorset which is built within a Neolithic henge, but without a stone circle.

It is also one of the few remaining examples of a Five Mile Chapel; a story that will be included in the various displays.

Until recently the chapel was a place of Christian worship and was also used as a tourist information centre.  With the closure of the TIC in 2011, and with a dwindling congregation, the chapel was eventually offered for sale in 2015.  Local people were concerned about the future of the building, and initially a local group hoped to buy it. Negotiations fell through and, with no community bid on the table, the National Trust stepped forward to secure the chapel’s future.

Jan Tomlin said: “We will also seek to establish the building as a space within the village for talks and presentations by specialists in ecology, archaeology and heritage, to promote conservation and the National Trust’s core work in the outdoors.”

Five Mile Chapels were built by non-conformists, including Quakers, following the passing of the Five Mile Act. This piece of legislation, also known as the Oxford Act or Nonconformists Act 1665 was an Act of the Parliament of England, during the reign of King Charles II, with the long title “An Act for restraining Non-Conformists from inhabiting in Corporations”.

The aim was to enforce conformity to the established Church of England, and to expel non-conformists. Clergymen were banned from living within five miles of a parish from which they had been expelled, unless they swore an oath never to resist the king, or attempt to alter the government of Church or State.

Photo:  Avebury Former United Reformed Church Chapel ©National Trust/Abby George