Gadfield Elm: The Oldest LDS Chapel in Europe


Seven miles southwest of Ledbury, England, stand the gaunt grey walls of a ruined and deserted building. The thousands of motorists who pass Junction 2 on the M50, just two miles to the northwest, are totally unaware of its presence. For Gadfield Elm chapel appears on no map and is listed in no guidebook.

In 1840 and 1841, Wilford Woodruff concentrated most of his missionary labors in the Herefordshire area. His greatest success came when he was led by the Spirit to Hill Farm, Castle Frome, and there met John Ben-bow, the tenant of the 300-acre farm. Through him, he met Thomas King-ton, the leader of the “United Brethren,” a sect formed in the 1830s after the group broke away from the Methodists.

As Wilford Woodruff recorded: “On the 21st day of March [1840] I baptized Elder Thomas Kington. He was superintendent of both preachers and members of the United Brethren. The first thirty days after my arrival in Herefordshire, I had baptized forty-five preachers and one hundred and sixty members of the United Brethren, who put into my hands one chapel and forty-five houses, which were licensed according to law to preach in.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898, ed. Scott G. Kennedy, 9 vols., Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983, 1:426; original spelling here and throughout has been retained.)

The chapel referred to was Gadfield Elm, which subsequently formed the hub of LDS church activities in the area.

The challenges Elder Woodruff faced were immense. On April 3, he wrote to Willard Richards, expressing his yearning for the rest of the Twelve to come from America.

A few days later they did arrive, and Brigham Young called Elders Woodruff and Richards to Preston for quorum meetings and general conference. At the first meeting, Willard Richards was ordained an Apostle, bringing the number of members of the Council of the Twelve in Britain at that time to eight. By unanimous vote, Brigham Young was confirmed as “Standing President of the Twelve.”

Brigham Young assigned the new Apostle to assist Wilford Woodruff in Herefordshire, then went there himself to witness the growth of the work and do some preaching. Wilford Woodruff records:

“June 3. A notable miracle was wrought by faith and the power of God in the person of Sister Mary Pitt at Dymok. She had been confined 6 years to her bed … and had not walked for 11 years, ownly with the use of crutches. Elders Young, Richards and Woodruff lade hands upon her and rebuked her infirmity and her ancle bones received strength and she now walks without the aid of crutch or staff.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:449.)

Gadfield Elm chapel was built by the United Brethren in 1836. Here a number of key conferences were held. Brigham Young played a major part in helping the main body of the United Brethren make the transition fully into the Church. On May 18 he assisted in a tactful transformation of one fine United Brethren custom into an LDS one:

“Elder Kington made a feast for the Saints which had been a custom among the United Brethren. But as they now were all receiving the fulness of the gospel they had become saints. The Saints began to collect at 2 o’clock … we truly had an interesting time. Elder Young addressed the Saints clothed with the power of god. And then asked a blessing upon the food prepared. We then sat down to the table and eat and drank with nearly 100 saints.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:450–51.)

Shortly after Elder Young’s first visit, a conference was convened at Gadfield Elm. Thomas Kington, now an elder, moved that the meeting “be hereafter known by the name of the Bran Green and Gadfield Elm Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:458.)

For the next few months Gadfield Elm chapel hosted an increasing number of converts to the Church. But in those days, the call was to gather to America, and on 15 March 1841 Wilford Woodruff held his last conference at Gadfield Elm.

“After conference close a scene followed not easily described,” he wrote. “I never saw a time when I needed more wisdom in order to council in wrighteousness than on this occasion … for the Saints … are anxious to gather with the Saints in Nauvoo as soon as possible. But many are vary poor and see no door open as yet.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:462–63.)

Brigham Young’s counsel was to sell the Gadfield Elm chapel building and use the proceeds to help finance the emigration to America. The chapel’s purpose had been served.

Today, one hundred and fifty years after it was built, only the walls remain of the oldest Church-owned chapel in Europe. But the Spirit remains, bearing strong and stirring testimony to those brave English pioneers and to the rich heritage they left behind.

[photo] After 150 years, only the walls remain of the Gadfield Elm chapel near Ledbury, England. (Photo by Bryan J. Grant.)