New project will tell story of last “Tin Tabernacle” in the Forest

Tuesday 2nd August 2022 11:00 am
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A new project will tell the story of Bilson Mission (Picture: Dr Jason Griffiths. )

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A NEW PROJECT will bring together people’s memories and the archives of one of the last “Tin Tabernacles” in the Forest.

Bilson Mission Church has been at the heart of the neighbourhood in Cinderford for more than 130 years.

The Tin Chapel at the Edge of Town project will use archival research and voices of the local community as part of a nationally-funded project

It will record recollections of the services, baptisms and weddings there, the Sunday school, and the important part the building has played in local people’s lives.

The University of Gloucestershire’s Dr Jason Griffiths said: “The history of Bilson Mission is fascinating.

‘‘We would love to hear from you if you were part of the congregation or used the school room there, or remember the Bilson Mission Church in any way”.

The university is making an ‘in-kind’ contribution with a value of £3,402.

The project received the greenlight this week when Historic England announced its national list of Everyday Heritage awards.

The grants focus on heritage that links people to overlooked historic places, and are especially geared towards recognising and celebrating working class histories.

The Bilson project is one of only 57 grants from the scheme awarded nationally and will receive £9,776 from Historic England.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “Heritage should be for everyone. I am delighted that we are able to provide funding for this project through our Everyday Heritage grants, which will help to bring our collective and shared history back to life.

“These grants will enable people to tell their own stories, in their own way, and connect with others in their communities through a shared understanding of their local heritage.”

Cinderford Town Council is supporting the project too with a £500 grant towards the production of a booklet about the building and the people it served.

‘‘The history of Bilson Mission is part of the story of Cinderford,” said project co-director Dr Roger Deeks,

“Tin chapels were a quick and affordable solution for the Church of England as it ministered to the rapidly expanding population of Cinderford.”

The Bilson Mission was established sometime in the 1880s at a time when large numbers of people were moving into the area for jobs in the town’s iron foundries, mines and other industries.

Its original woodland location – before being moved to its present site – was said to provide a place of worship for gypsies, hence being sometimes described as the ‘gypsy chapel’. 

It later came under the new parish of Woodside along with the newly built St Stephen’s church.

While the new stone church served the centre of town, Bilson’s corrugated iron and wooden Mission Rooms served the edge of the town.

It continued as a place for worship and focus for the community until finally closing its doors in 2018. 

While the future of the building itself remains uncertain the new project aims to ensure its history is preserved.

Vicar of Cinderford with Littledean, Mike Barnsley, said: “This is wonderful news.

‘‘The history of Bilson Mission and its impact in the community for over 100 years is truly inspirational and it is to be celebrated that this is going to be researched and recorded for the benefit of generations to come.”

Kicking off this Autumn the project will record people’s recollections and share them online via the Voices from the Forest website, and in the Spring stage an exhibition and event in the town celebrating the unique story of the Bilson Mission.

If you have recollections of Bilson Mission you would like to share, or you would like to get involved in the project, you can meet the project team at the Heritage Open Day event in September, or give team members a call: Jason 07788654023, Roger 07708858274.

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