On entering Tadley from Basingstoke on the A340 a rather simple chapel building comes into view, at the rear of a graveyard, which looks rather like a small single-story house. In fact, that is exactly what it was designed to be - a chapel disguised as a house.

It was built around the time of the Puritan Ejection in 1662 when non-conformist religious bodies were persecuted and had to meet in secret. The Act of Uniformity stated that any minister of the Church of England who refused to conform to the Book of Common Prayer should be ejected from the Church.

This resulted in an increase of ‘non-conformists’ setting up churches outside of the recognised church.

Following Oliver Cromwells’ death in 1658, Charles II returned to the throne and reinstated the dissenting clergy to their previous positions, at which some parishioners opted to remain with the non-conformist church and its leaders. These became known as the Congregationalists.

The group in Tadley initially met in a house called Gardiners in Church Road but, as the numbers grew, more space was needed so the Meeting House was constructed in Malthouse Lane (previously known as Doe’s Lane). The original design was an open space with a gallery on three sides which was accessed by an external staircase. With the gallery in situ, it enabled an amazing 450 people to worship, there was no chance of ‘social distancing’ back then! Local knowledge states that a trapdoor existed beneath the pulpit to allow the minister to escape in the event of a raid. Joseph Tate was recorded as being the minister in 1718 and, upon his death in 1724, his body was interred within the church in front of the pulpit.

In 1828 an extension was added to the building to accommodate a further 100 worshippers, as was a ‘school room’ about twenty years later which gave us the design we see today. Nowadays the interior of the church is beautifully laid out in blue and white décor recapturing the warmth and charm which I imagine existed in the early life of this unique building.

Burials still take place in the picturesque graveyard but the official cemetery is at St Peters Church in Church Road. Other than St Peters church the Meeting House has the claim that it is the oldest building still being used regularly in Tadley.

The union in 1972 of the Congregational Church of England and Wales with the Presbyterian Church of England resulted in the new combined name of The United Reformed Church or URC.