Nonconformists or dissenters were people or groups who did not agree with all the Anglican articles of faith. These groups are referred to as sects or denominations. They were often different in their style and type of worship from the Church of England. 

You can use Medway Archives Centre to find out about: 

  • family ancestors who were nonconformists
  • the old chapel on your street or the building across the road
  • your congregation's history
  • nonconformists for your academic research. 

Medway and nonconformity

Medway has always had a strong history of nonconformity, which included having 4 sects by the end of the 17th century.

This increased to 11 sects by the late 18th century. During the 18th century, local Catholic and Jewish congregations were formed. 

During the 19th century there was a rise in new sects with splits among Methodists. New religious groups included:

  • Irvingites
  • Southcottians (later known as Jezreelites)
  • Swedenborgians
  • Salvation Army.

Your visit to Medway Archives

It is best to plan your visit and what you want to look at.

Most materials are available without an appointment.

To look at newspapers or microfilm, you must book a microfilm reader before your visit. 

To look at archive records, you must book an appointment.

Email to book an appointment or pre-order documents. 

Image of Zion chapel, Chatham

Zion Chapel, Chatham.

Researching nonconformist family history

We have a variety of resources available for researching family history. 

To help with your research, try to narrow down dates for your ancestors':

  • birth
  • marriages
  • burials.

Before 1837

The registers of baptisms, marriages and burials up until 1837 are available on microfilm at Medway Archives Centre.

You can also view them free of charge at our centre on computer.

Records include chapels in:

  • Dartford
  • Gravesend
  • Medway.

We have digitised the Methodist circuit records (1770 to 1914) for:

  • Wesleyan
  • Bible Christian
  • Primitive Methodist chapels.

These records can be viewed on Ancestry using a name search.

We hold a few other nonconformist registers in our archives.

Some of these are catalogued and the references can be found by searching our catalogue.

We have a few uncatalogued registers. You will need to check our manual listings or ask a member of staff for help. You must make an appointment to view the original registers.

We have transcripts of burials and baptisms for some chapels and churches such as The New Jerusalem Church in Snodland.

The Royal Dockyard Church baptisms are held on CD and available to view on the computer at our centre.

We do not hold Rochester Quaker births or burial records after 1837. These records are held at Kent History and Library Centre but are uncatalogued.

To access these records, contact

We do not hold Catholic records at our centre. You will need to contact the local church or Southwark Cathedral Archives for more information.

Image of New Jerusalem Church in Snodland

New Jerusalem Church (Swedenborgia Church), Snodland. Reproduced with permission from Andrew Ashbee at Snodland Millenium Museum.

Discover the history of a chapel or church

There are a few ways to start your search, including:

  • finding out the name and location of the chapel (if possible)
  • ask local residents about any demolished buildings
  • check if there are any resources in your congregation
  • ask existing and former members if they have any information.

Local maps can be useful for dating and locating a building. Maps can also give a picture of the area the chapel or church served.

You can use maps to find out how many places of worship existed in a particular part of town.

Directories are a useful tool as they often list places of worship, including their location. Directories can also include information about their early history.

It is good to be able to see an image of a particular building.

Medway Archives holds images of both existing and former churches and chapels.

Local history books may also contain pictures of places of worship.

Our library catalogue can give you details of any books or booklets about individual churches or chapels held at Medway Archives Centre. You can browse our catalogue from home.

We also hold folders (ephemera) on some local chapels. Ask a member of staff for more information.

Our local papers often printed accounts of the opening of new chapels and churches. You can search the Chatham News Index or Medway Index of Local News (MILN) at the centre for any articles and then view them on microfilm.

You must book a microfilm reader before your visit.

The registers of building plans are available on microfilm.

Make a note of building plan references you find, and we can check if we hold the original plans for that building in our archives.

You must make an appointment to view original building plans.

Salem Chapel

Salem Chapel, Gillingham.

Academic research into nonconformity or dissent

Before starting your research, please check there are enough resources available for your study. 

You must make an appointment to view archive material. 

This church dates back to the English Civil War and has been rebuilt several times over the centuries.

Nonconformists or dissenters were Protestants who refused to subscribe to the thirty-nine Anglican Articles of Faith at the Restoration in 1660.

It was not until the Act of Toleration was passed in 1689 that these groups could worship openly.

They needed to get a licence for their chapel or meeting house and register their minister. Some earlier licences were granted in 1672.

The license issued by King Charles II to Heavyside General Baptist Church in Chatham is kept at Kent History and Library Centre.

The last visible sign of this group was Jezreel's Town. This was demolished in 1961.

Our archives have one of the best Jezreelite collections in the country.

You can search our catalogue under reference N/JZ.

We hold a substantial collection of information relation to Chatham Memorial Synagogue. A large part of this material is in Hebrew.

You can view this collection by searching by reference number N/J/305.

The Medway Methodist circuit records are held by Medway Archives.

This collection dates back to 1770. In this collection, we hold:

  • minutes
  • trust deeds
  • licences
  • correspondence.

The material includes:

  • Wesleyan
  • Primitive Methodist
  • Bible Christian
  • Free Methodist
  • United Methodists churches.

You can search this catalogue under reference number M5.

This collection is smaller but is an example of a Congregational chapel. This was established in the late 18th century and contains trust deeds.

You can search this collection under reference number N/I/150B.

We have uncatalogued records available for both of these churches, as well as some other places of worship.

These are held in the manual catalogue at the centre.

You must book an appointment to view these collections.

Image of Chatham Synagogue

Image of Chatham Memorial Synagogue from Rochester Photographic Collection. 

Researching published sources

You can use Medway Archives and other useful resources to research published sources. 

We have a selection of books on various religious groups at the centre. This includes copies of the 1851 Kent religious census and 1676 Compton census returns.

You can use a keyword search in our library catalogue.

We have a number of sermons and pamphlets, some are bound, and can be found in our library catalogue. Others are uncatalogued but we hold a listing.

You may need to make an appointment to view some of these items.

This is additional material held in folders, containing booklets, articles and other information.

Our staff at Medway Archives can get this material out for your visit.

A series of clerical sketches' articles from the 1880s can give a good account of some congregations as well as more general articles.

You will need to check our indexes.

Wills are a good source of nonconformist research for known ministers and members.

This information can be accessed on ancestry at our centre.

Details of many nonconformist churches, ministers and their careers can be found on the Surman index.

Here you will find the Kent Quaker collection including records for Rochester.

Nonconformist licences and the wills for the Diocese of Rochester can also be found in Maidstone.

You can search their catalogue for references.

You can use The Huguenot Museum for Huguenot religious research or family history.

Find out more on the Huguenot museum website.

Image of St Andrews Presbyterian Church

Image of St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Chatham. 

Research services if you cannot visit us in person

We offer a paid research service for customers who cannot visit us in person. We currently offer a maximum research time of one hour. Contact Medway Archives for further details.

For lengthier enquiries, you may need to employ a researcher to visit us on your behalf. Contact us if you would like to see a list of our independent researchers.

Frindsbury Methodist baptism register

Image of Frindsbury Methodist baptism entry.