Tytherton Moravian Church

East Tytherton, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN15 4LX (1743)


The Moravian Church in East Tytherton owes its existence to John Cennick, an eighteenth century evangelical preacher who worked for a while alongside John Wesley and George Whitefield in Bristol and was probably John Wesley's first local preacher. Afterward he concentrated on the Wiltshire area with George Whitefield and Howell Harris. They preached in Brinkworth, Foxham, Lyneham, and Malmesbury, forming societies there and in several villages.

In November 1742, John Cennick purchased a house in 'Tetherton' as it then was. "As soon as I saw the house I resolved to buy it in faith that hereafter it might be a Fold for the Flock to assemble in, though at this it was far out of the way." he wrote. The house soon proved to be too small and for a while Cennick preached under a pear tree in his orchard while the building was enlarged.

Cennick was not a member of the Moravian Church at this time, but an independent preacher. He was born in Reading on December 4th, 1718 and baptised in the Parish Church three days later.   His grandparents had been Quakers and had been imprisoned for their faith. As a teenager John Cennick lived what was regarded at that time, as a dissolute life, but at the age of nineteen he was converted during prayers in the parish church at Reading.

His new found faith led him into contact with the Methodist movement which had recently been organised in Oxford by Whitefield and the Wesleys. Methodism was not a separate denomination at this time, but an evangelical society whose members were mainly Anglican and included some clergy.

Cennick became John Wesley's first lay preacher inadvertently! He had attended a meeting in Kingswood where the speaker had failed to arrive and he was persuaded by those who had arranged the meeting, to fill the vacancy, which he did to the apparent satisfaction of both the organisers and his listeners.   He continued to preach in the Bristol area and along with John Wesley, founded various societies. In the course of time Wesley and Cennick disagreed over certain doctrines and went their separate ways. Later on Whitefield and Wesley also parted, and for a while Cennick was in charge of Whitefield's Tabernacle in London.

Cennick's heart was however in open air preaching and within a couple of years he was preaching mainly in Wiltshire, with brief trips to other parts of the West Country and also into Wales. With the establishment of a congregation in Tytherton, societies from the surrounding villages had a centre at which preaching was done every Sunday and the sacraments were presided over by George Whitefield, who was an Anglican priest and visited from time to time.

Cennick was not interested in organising congregations however and in 1745, with the agreement of the members, the Tytherton congregation was handed over to the Moravian Church while Cennick got on his horse and rode off into the sunset!

Cennick's evangelical journeys took him further into Wales, the south and west of England and also to Ireland.   In Ireland, he established several societies,   many of which exist today as Moravian congregations. Cennick was ordained as a Moravian Minister in 1749 but still continued as a wandering preacher, preferring "for the present, to go a little before the Church into such places where He would have her come."

He met with a great deal of opposition both from the church and clergy of his day and also from mobs stirred up to cause trouble by those who felt that their interests were being threatened. Constant exposure to the elements along with harsh treatment from others took its toll and he died in London on July 5th 1755 at the age of thirty-six.

Cennick also wrote many hymns - 750 altogether. They were written for the times and conditions in which he lived and while a few of them are well-known and still used, most have fallen out of fashion. "Children of the Heavenly King" and "E're I sleep, for every favour" are probably the best known along with the grace before meals "Be present at our table Lord" and "Lo! He cometh", an Advent hymn, later edited and virtually rewritten, by Charles Wesley.

Apart from the Moravian Church in East Tytherton, there are other societies and groups of Christians who owe their origin to the preaching of John Cennick in Wiltshire and elsewhere.


The house at the west end of the chapel is where John Cennick and his family lived. This has now been converted into two flats and some of the furniture (table and chairs) is at present in the church building. The house at the east end was used as a school and also as a residence for the teacher.   The large building behind the church - now known as Kellaways house, was at one time a boarding school for the children of Moravian missionaries sent overseas but later on it was attended by children from the surrounding area, regardless of the church to which they belonged.

A brass plate on the wall just inside the church door commemorates the lives of Ann Grigg, Rebecca Browne and other staff of the school, which closed in 1939.

The present Girl Guide Headquarters was at one time a Moravian primary school but some years ago it was handed over to the Local Education Authority and subsequently to the Guides. The lawn in front of the church is the original cemetery, and in the nineteenth century, a new burial ground was opened and can be reached by the lane which continues past the school. The names of those buried in the old cemetery are recorded on a stone built into the south wall of the church. This is now illegible but a written record survives. All gravestones were originally of uniform size and shape and contained the minimum of information about the members. The inscriptions have become more informative over the years but some attempt has been made to retain the uniform shape and size.

When Cennick’s pear tree, his original preaching place, was blown down in a storm some years ago, the wood was used to make a chair for the use of the minister and also two collection plates. These are still used in the church. The chair contains a brass plate stating its history. Another pear tree was planted after the demise of the famous one but shortly afterward, it was eaten by the minister's donkey and no further attempt was made to perpetuate it.

All services are open to the public and are conducted in the church every Sunday at 10.30 a.m. Holy Communion is included on the first Sunday each month and is open to believers from all denominations. For many years the congregation formed a part of a unit of three churches, served by the same minister, the others being in Swindon and Malmesbury. The latter has now merged with this congregation. The name and information about the present minister may be obtained from the notice board outside the church gate, or from the contact details below.


Worship Times

Services: 10.30am
Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month.

People to Contact

Minister: Rev Patsy Holdsworth
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Treasurer: Ms Agnieszka Lewinska

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Our Location

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East Tytherton, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN15 4LX

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