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Historic Cornish chapels at risk of decay, warns English Heritage

By AliceWright  |  Posted: December 12, 2012

  • The 1884 Wesleyan chapel at Gulval is now a studio. Photo: Eric Berry

  • Constantine Tolmen Centre. which is now in community use. Photo: Eric Berry

  • The chapel on Alexandra Road, Penzance, has been converted into residential flats. Photo: Eric Berry

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Many historic Methodist and Nonconformist chapels in Cornwall are at risk of decay, English Heritage has warned. 

More than 900 chapels have been recorded across the county, but less than 250 now remain in religious or community use. 

The conservation charity has warned that many of these are vulnerable to decay and closure because of long-term maintenance problems, ageing congregations and small communities that struggle to keep them in good condition. 

The majority of the chapels have been converted to other uses, usually domestic. And while conversions can retain the buildings' distinctive character, the charity cautions that in many cases the features that made them special have been removed or hidden. 

English Heritage, The Methodist Church and Cornwall Council have now produced joint guidance to help local communities decide how to safeguard these buildings, especially when they are no longer in religious use.

Chapels and their communities developed as an important part of Cornish culture and its landscape, especially after Methodism took root from the late 18th century. 

Cornwall has one of the highest concentrations of Methodist and Nonconformist chapels in England, including 184 listed chapels – 30 per cent of the national total. 

Eighteen are listed at Grade II* for their rarity and historical significance as outstanding examples of their type, and one, the Quaker meeting house at Come-to-Good, Kea,  is listed at Grade I. 

Most chapels date from the 19th century, often resulting from successive phases of rebuilding and reordering, and there is a great variety of size and architectural style.

Click here to see the guidance issued by English Heritage. 

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