In April 1807 twenty esteemed citizens met to sign a revised property deed for Abbey Lane meeting house and burial ground. They were led by James Searle, draper and banker, and included another draper, four maltsters, two bakers, two butchers, a blacksmith, miller, carpenter/builder, ironmonger, brazier, liquor merchant, woolcomber and three ‘gentlemen’. Sixteen lived in Saffron Walden and four came from outlying villages – Wenden, Littlebury, Newport and Elmdon.
This was the Abbey Lane board of trustees who decided in January 1810 that the 120-year-old chapel must be replaced and who supervised the rebuilding project and its financing.
Trustees had to be ‘regular attenders of this and no other meeting’ (no flirtation with the parish church or Baptists!) and subscribers supporting the ministry. On a list of conditions for being a trustee someone scribbled a query: ‘Whether 1s. or 2s.6d. is sufficient when trustee formerly paid £4?’ No answer is recorded but it suggests that only men of means were wanted on the board.
They paid a very generous share of the rebuilding costs. James Searle the banker topped the subscription list, promising to pay £20 annually, and to this he added hundreds of pounds by instalments.
(Sad postscript: In 1825 came the shocking failure of Searles’ Bank which collapsed taking its associate, the Cambridge Town & County Bank, with it. Inadequate capital reserves, too many risky loans – sounds familiar? Just before the crash James Searle died of typhus.)