The Chapel is a very visible building at the Rural Life Centre. Originally it was built in 1857 as a Congregational Church breakaway from the established church, and came from Eashing. The building was rescued from decay and ruin in 1994 and brought to the museum as a "kit of parts" — rebuilding it at the museum was completed in 1997.
Eashing Chapel had once been used as a public library, but later it was not required even for this and was taken across Eashing Bridge for Mr. Bridgewater to use on his smallholding. Here it became a general storage shed and chicken coop prior to being donated to the museum by his son, Stephen. The Surrey Historic Buildings Trust made a significant financial donation, in order that it could be preserved. Its closeness to the river bank had allowed water to build up and rot the back wall and roof; the entire building was covered with brambles and weeds and the original windows had been replaced with chicken wire and sheets of polythene. Of course, the interior was bare.
More history (pdf)
An enormous amount of attention was needed to make the building secure and to restore the condition. The main structure is timber, clad with split poles similar to the Cricket Pavilion. The pile of parts that arrived at the museum was catalogued and stored until the main visiting season was over, and replacement parts obtained. This was a long list including bricks for the base, large quantities of timber of various sizes, tiles for the roof, window materials, hessian for the interior walls and split wood poles for the exterior. Repair work began with laying the foundation for the chapel, then it was painstakingly rebuilt, using new materials where necessary. The original split larch cladding was badly in need of replacement, so Rustic hurdle maker George Marshman provided cleaved chestnut poles for the purpose.
Only one original wall panel was kept in order to show how it had looked originally. The internal walls were remade in a similar way to the original, with hessian stretched over the timber frame of the building, but the replacements were painted with modern emulsion paint rather than distemper, in order to provide a more visitor-friendly surface that would not rub off on clothing.
The window frames had all distorted over the years and were now able to dry out and stabilise. Replacement of the windows with transparent plastic avoided problems with glass windows. This was done to all the windows, including the wide, six foot tall window at the back of the chapel.
In 2013, to mark the museum's 40th anniversary, a brand new leaded stained-glass window was made and donated by Jackie, a volunteer at the museum. This window is held in position using wooden battens, to permit slight movement. Leaded glass is inherently slightly adaptable to frame distortion, and the prevailing exact shape of the frame opening was carefully replicated (it is well out of true). The choice of style was agreed with the late Les Graham, our 'Rustic' vicar, from a number of possibilities, and the new window made in three pieces for ease of handling, with horizontal rods embedded in the frame for stability. The process is documented within the chapel. So far, the small side windows are still plastic sheeting.
Fortunately we were able to fit out the interior of the chapel with pews, lectern, harmonium and other items from the entire contents of a Baptist chapel from Farnborough, which we were given at just the right time. Although the donated pulpit was too large for our chapel, the remaining items were used in the reconstruction.
The wooden War Memorial (see top banner on this page) in the chapel was a later addition, from the Congregational Chapel at Shortfield where it was commissioned in 1929 to list the 57 Frensham men who fell in the Great War. Originally in poor condition, it was restored by voluteers and unveiled on 1st August 2004 by Frensham British Legion president, Roy Armstrong, at a dedication ceremony conducted by our own vicar, Les Graham.
The official opening of the chapel was in May 1996 by Virginia Bottomley (The Heritage Seretary) with Loyd Grossman (chairman of the Campaign for Museums) present and Henry Jackson supervising – a great start to Museum Week! In the same visit, they dedicated the new Children's Playground to the murdered children of Dunblane.
Mrs Bottomley said "Henry and Madge Jackson have worked lovingly with volunteers over many years. Their team of supporters, the Rustics, are well-known in museum circles. Their enthusiasm is an inspiration to us all. Our museums have something for all tastes, intersts and ages. Their dusty, fusty image is firmly in the past and I urge people to go and see for themselves just how enjoyable a museum visit can be."
Our Chapel has been used for many purposes and events since first it came to the Rural Life Centre, and will be used for many more in the future. Although it is quite a small building, it is now in excellent condition and is a tribute to all those volunteers who helped restore it. Naturally it is the focus of our annual Harvest Home event at the end of the farming year, when we celebrate the plentiful produce that the area has grown. It is a truly valued part of our community.
The first Service of Blessing at the relocated chapel was held in June 2000. Lucy Hedgecoe and Patrick Coleman had been married at a civil ceremony before travelling to the Rural Life Centre where they were serenaded by Elvis look-alike Dave Murrell.