The Beginnings of Abbey Hill Church
When did Abbey Hill Church start? The buildings are easy to date. However a church is more than its buildings and the first Congregationalists met together in Kenilworth long before the church was built.
The story started in 1662 when the Revd William Maddox, vicar of the Parish Church of St Nicholas was ejected under the Act of Uniformity. The non-conformists in Kenilworth met in various houses and more unusual places such as the Gospel Oak at Banner Hill on Rouncil Lane.
In 1705 a meeting place was constructed on Rosemary Hill for the Independents, as the non-conformists were known at that time. The church then contained a mixture of people with slightly different beliefs, in modern terms Congregationalist, Presbyterians and Baptists. The first ministers appointed seemed to have been Congregationalists.
In 1720 a Kenilworth carpenter called William Arlidge left in his will various rentals to provide for the education of Congregational children in Kenilworth. The Arlidge Charity Trust was established and still distributes money today.
In 1755 The Revd Josiah Corrie was appointed. He had been a student at the Presbyterian college at Carmarthen . Obviously some of the congregation did not like his teachings and in 1787 a number of Congregationalists left the Rosemary Hill Church and started meeting in a barn on Abbey Hill. This met with disapproval from others and there was much trouble. It is recorded that a wasps nest was placed in the entrance, the doors were blocked to stop people leaving, servants were sacked and shop keepers lost customers. It was a few years before the troubles died down.
They had no regular minister and in about 1814 they rejoined the Rosemary Hill Church under the Revd Thomas Birkett. When he retired in 1816 a Unitarian was appointed and the Congregationalists left again, meeting in various houses until they could raise the funds for their own church. This was opened in 1829 on Abbey Hill near the site of the old barn. It had seating for 300. Congregational ministers were appointed from that time.
The Trust for the Arlidge Charity was transferred to the new church and a school was built on the rear of the church. The church and schoolrooms are the building situated to the rear of the present church and are now used as church halls.
The foundation stone for the present church was laid in 1872 and the church, capacity 500, opened in 1873. The cost was £1814. The debts were cleared in 1877.
The choir gallery (£200) was added in 1894. The Arlidge School closed in 1883.