From 1896 Methodist Chapel to 2017 Event Space!

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In Autumn 2017, the old Methodist Chapel, in the Dean in Alresford, was re-opened as “White Space Alresford”, an event space for hire in the middle of Alresford. The building has been totally renovated, and now features a single storey 850 square feet of space, with a 6.6m high vaulted ceiling. The space is truly described as a white space, with white walls and arched ceiling, and white light from windows in the roof, as well as the original long thin windows in the East wall facing the street. ‘White space’ is offered for hire as an ideal venue for ceremonies, pop-ups, photoshoots, workshops (for training or product launches) and wellness days. For a conference the room be fitted out with chairs, and tables if needed, to accommodate 26 delegates.

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During the 2016 renovation work at the building, the workmen found a time capsule placed there in 1996, when the last renovation took place. This time capsule incorporated the contents of another, earlier time capsule, installed when the building was originally constructed, which by coincidence was dated March 1896, almost exactly 100 years previously. Holly Budge of White Space Alresford has generously decided that the documents in the capsule should be passed to the Alresford Museum, so that they can be preserved and recorded as an important part of the town’s history.

The Methodist Chapel, 1896

The ‘Primitive Methodist Chapel’, in the Dean, Alresford, was built in 1896. Many current Alresford residents, passing by the front of the building, which is directly against the pavement, will have seen the original 10 foundation stones at the base of the front wall. These were laid by the local notables and officials on Wednesday 11 March in 1896. The Mayor of Winchester, A.R. Dyer, laid the first stone. Other local people who paid for bricks, have their initials engraved in the side of a brick here too, as can be seen on the photographs.

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The builder given the work of erecting the Chapel was H. Mundy, builder and contractor, house decorator and undertaker, of Essex Road, Basingstoke. On some of his headed paper, dated 12 March 1896, four of his builders signed their names and added this to the time capsule they created. Their signatures were interpreted as Fred Mundy, John Willis and Bill Gunner in 1996: a fourth name was not deciphered, but could be “Harvey Bundon”: Victorian writing is hard to read at times, as you can see. The total cost of the original building was £200.

Builders signatures 1896

The newspapers originally interred in a cavity in the wall next to one of the doorways in the Chapel were the Hampshire Chronicle, the Hampshire Observer, published by Warren and Sons, and the “Primitive Methodist World and Sunday School Worker”: all these newspapers cost one (old) penny each. Regrettably the Hampshire Chronicle had been severely attacked by insects.

The copy of the Hampshire Observer tells us that following Mr Dyer, S. Tanner Esq of Avington also laid a stone, followed by other ladies and gentlemen. One was laid by Miss I. Smith on behalf of the orphanage children, in Old Alresford. After these ceremonies there was a public tea in the Town Hall at 5pm (tickets were one shilling each)

The build-up to 1996

By 1964 the building was no longer suitable for worship, and it was sold for £3000 to enable the purchase of further premises in Pound Hill. However, some people attending the 1996 ceremony remembered worshipping there. Alice Alsford, long connected with the NCH in Old Alresford, remembered attending services there, with children from the home. Bobbie Sanderson and her late husband John were actually married in the Chapel.

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The Chapel before the AYA renovation, in 1989

The building was possibly not used immediately, and by 1993 was in a derelict state. It was recognised as a possible site for creating a permanent place for the activities of the Alresford Youth Association, which had been established as a registered charity and legal framework to run the activities of “Tonix”, a meeting room and non-alcoholic bar for teenagers aged 14-18. Tonix had started in East Street in October 1992, in a room rented short term, on the first floor of ‘The Peaceful Home’ pub. This was a successful activity, but when the management committee decided to fund-raise from the public to seek permanent premises, it was necessary to establish the AYA as a registered charity. The AYA was formed with support from the County Youth Service, and many other local organisations including the local Churches, the Chamber of Trade, the Parish Council, Rotary and the Police.

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Renovation, November 95

Tonix was homeless, after vacating rented premises, and after the plan to park a vintage bus acquired for the club on Arlebury Park had been scuppered by the town council – when a planning permission request for electricity and water connections was rejected. So when the Chapel was offered for sale in 1994, further local fund raising efforts in the community, as well as grants from official bodies, enabled the purchase of the building in October 1995, and work to commence on the renovation of the building. Fixed assets reported by the AYA (valued at cost) at the end of 1995 were totalled at £42,300, of which the major part would have been the purchase price of the Methodist Chapel in October 1995.

The 1996 ceremony and their capsule

In 1996 the Alresford Youth Association invited Pat Norris, the Mayor of Winchester, to unveil a new Foundation stone to be built into the wall of the old Methodist Chapel in the Dean, to go alongside the other stones placed there 100 years before.  The photo shows the Mayor accompanied by Sir Peter Ramsbotham (the AYA President), laying the stone.

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Diana Woolridge, chairman of the AYA, later explained the history of the building to the visitors and guests, assembled on the first floor of the Chapel building. The audience included parish and city councillors, members of the local churches, chamber of trade, Rotary and Alresford Pigs, all of whom joined with the community in raising the funds needed to finance the renovations. Grants also came from the County Council. This large space, she explained, would be a large meeting room and event space, while downstairs a lounge, kitchen and office was planned. Tim Churchill explained that the two levels would work separately, with one group downstairs and another upstairs. The original concept of the Tonix coffee bar meeting room would be re-opened downstairs later in the Spring.

The building façade had been preserved and the windows with the original Cathedral tinted glass have been retained – looking much as they did 100 years before. The total purchase and restoration was budgeted to cost a total of £90,000: the building work still in progress at that time was being undertaken by Chamberlain Construction, of Laurel House in Alresford, working to a £45,000 budget. Part of their work was planned to involve the re-interment of the old time capsule, with added information from 1996, including several current local newspapers reporting on the stone laying ceremony, and some National newspapers. Additionally included were the AYA Annual reports to the Charity Commissioners for 1994 and 1995, plus a statement from Chamberlain Construction listing the unit costs of the materials and consumables used in the restoration.

[The above information was distilled down from the documents in the time capsule, such as reports in the Hampshire Chronicle of 15 March 1996, and also the Alton Herald of 22 March 1996, and the annual reports of the AYA charity for 1994 and 1995.

A subsequent story will quote some of the events reported in the 1996 local papers found in the time capsule]

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