The first business to come under the spotlight in the Business Focus section was the Dedham Arts and Craft Centre. The centre is housed in what was once a Congregational Chapel so the history of the building is described as well as details of the Art & Craft Centre and the Parish Council Office. Use these links to jump to the Craft Centre and Parish Office sections.
Cannon Gerald Rendall, in his book, Dedham Described and Deciphered, recounts the events leading up to the establishment of the Chapel. “The gratuitous eviction of the Rev. George Smith as Vicar, and Dr. Matthew Newcomen as Lecturer, on St. Bartholomew’s Day of 1662, provoked a sense of bitterness and wrong in the flock to which they had ministered, and created a rift, which their successors’ spiritual gifts were powerless to compose.
During the years following the Restoration no Meeting Houses were allowed. The Conventicle Acts of 1664 and 1670 forbade all forms of unauthorized worship, but these came to an end with the Toleration Act of 1689. At Dedham, under the lead of John and Henry Blomfield, a family by tradition given to Nonconformist proclivities, a portion of Frog Meadow, 37 ft. by 70 ft., was purchased from Timothy Peacock, owner of the Sun Inn, and reclaimed for the erection of a Meeting House.
In 1738 the land was conveyed to a body of trustees, composed of local clothiers, farmers, and tradesmen, registered as ‘Protestant Dissenters, called Independent or Congregational’; and the next year saw the opening of the new building, and probably started the erection of the Manse, for housing a resident minister. In its unadorned simplicity, with footbridge over the Black Brook, the chapel was so typical a product of those first days of Nonconformity that one is fain to regret replacement by its more ambitious mid-Victorian successor.”
The chapel was built in 1739, and a pastor, Bezaleel Blomfield, appointed. The chapel, which was plastered and had a hipped roof, had a two-storeyed, three-bayed classical front with pedimented doorcases in the outer bays. Presumably most of the estimated 250 dissenters in the parish in 1810 belonged to that church, which had a congregation of c. 250 in 1829. By 1841 it had 400 members. On census Sunday 1851 the church, which had space for 400, was said to have attracted lower than usual congregations of 201 in the morning, 279 in the afternoon, and 145 in the evening. The growth of the congregation and the poor condition of the building led to the demolition of the chapel in 1871.
The memorial stone for the new building was laid on Thursday 26th October 1871. The Chapel is a large red brick building in 13th-century Gothic style with lancet and rose windows. There is a small bell tower at the north end of the aisle. It was built by Nathanial Saunders who also built Lecture House and Hallfields in Dedham. The course of Black Brook had to be diverted as it ran through the proposed site and a new foot bridge built. The new church opened on the 26th June 1872. On the 21st June 1972 the Congregational Chapel became a United Reform Church which closed its doors on 31st December 1979 due to dwindling numbers.
The Dedham Art & Craft Centre launched on the 7th April 1984. Quatrefoil roof lights and two new floors were installed as part of its conversion to a craft gallery in 1984. As a Craft Centre, it quickly became established as a venue for numerous artists and craft workers and soon gained a reputation as a destination for tourists and local visitors alike.
Michael Clark writes “In 2004, after 20 years of ownership the initial partners decided it was time for a change and put the property up for sale. Miriam had always wanted ‘a little craft shop’ and so we seized the opportunity, as we too were ready for a new challenge. We had lots of new ideas. With the private collection of toys which had previously been housed in the Toy Museum being removed by its owners, we set about renovating the area so that it could be used to provide more exhibition space.
Each floor of the Centre houses a collection of work produced by both local and national painters, potters and other crafts making it the ideal place to visit to find something new for your home or the perfect gift for a friend. By providing a commercial setting with the support of other similarly minded people, the Craft Centre has allowed a host of new artists to develop their work and turn their passion into a business. More recently steps have been taken to provide smaller exhibition areas making it more viable for new exhibitors to ‘test the water’. There are currently over 70 collections on display. The Craft Centre is a popular attraction in the village with an annual footfall of 85,000.
Charlie6, on the ground floor, has a contemporary approach to lifestyle retail, featuring traditional and contemporary furniture, interiors and accessories sourced locally and from around the world.
The popular Tearoom also on the ground floor, is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike, offering vegetarian light lunches and a plethora of delicious cakes and scones all prepared on the premises.
Once again, changes are afoot with the new collaboration between the Craft Centre and the Dedham Parish Council. We are delighted to welcome the Parish Council to the Centre where they will occupy what once was the Vestry. Further co-operation with the D.P.C., Munnings Museum and Colchester Borough Council now means that Dedham will also have its own Tourist Information Point at the Craft Centre.
A venture which will give information and advice to the many visitors that Dedham receives each year. Already a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and with strong connections to Sir Alfred Munnings and John Constable, this facility will surely prove a great asset to all”.
Dedham: Described & Deciphered – Gerald H. Rendall, 1937.
Victoria County History – Essex. A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Dedham: Nonconformity