Building of the Month February 2020: Heybridge Basin Congregational Church, Maldon, Essex
Don’t be fooled by the humble appearance of this little weather-boarded Wesleyan chapel. It is a rare piece of late Georgian vernacular nonconformist church architecture and its interior and exterior (including doors and windows) have survived largely intact. The building’s simple and unadorned design was a response to the religious practices of the Wesleyan movement.
The building is single-storeyed with a double gable. The church occupies one side and a reading room the other. The panelled interior still contains the original pews. It is unlisted but stands in a conservation area.
The chapel is believed to have been built by local builder and timber merchant, John Sadd & Sons Ltd in around 1834, as a place of community worship. It is known that the Congregational Church was established in the village at this time. If this is the case, this would make the building a late Georgian one and not Victorian. It seems that the Sadd family did not at this stage own the ground on which it was built as in 1867 it was sold to RC and AG Sadd who afterwards donated the chapel to the local Congregational Church. By the 1920’s the chapel was called the “Congregational Chapel”. As well as serving as a place of worship it has provided a community venue as a nursery, evening class location, youth club and other uses.
The chapel has been empty since 2004 and has changed hands a number of times since then. It was added to our Buildings at Risk Register in 2011. It is now in private ownership. It has survived three demolition applications. A proposal to convert it to a fish and chip restaurant failed due in part to its location in a predominantly residential setting. The challenge now is to find an appropriate use. It is thought to be unsuitable for residential conversion because of flood risk. Given its location and layout, a community use could be ideal.
In the last month, we have been contacted with information showing that this charmingly humble building is still standing empty and in a decaying state. There are areas of water ingress and there are increasing concerns about the damage this is inflicting on the building. What is needed now is for a new use to be found that enables as much of the structure as possible to be preserved coupled with a concerted local campaign or a determined individual willing to step in and open negotiations.