The Year without Summer

In this bicentennial year of our chapel, I’ve given some thought to what life was like for our founders. 1816 was not especially easy for British people of the poorer and middling sort:

Napoleonic Aftermath

Although Great Britain had just defeated the French, the country had little money and returning soldiers were restless and often unemployed. There were a great many widows and orphans; state provision for these vulnerable folk was negligible. The national debt had doubled since 1800 and there was fear of bloody revolution.

The Great Recoinage

The currency had become debased; many towns often produced their own coins or tokens to compensate for this. The government therefore produced a series of new crowns, half-crowns and sovereigns to reintroduce stability and confidence. Few working folk would have handled coins of this value. 1816 became known as ‘Poverty Year’ to contemporaries


On account of the volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies in 1815 of Mount Tambora, masses of volcanic ash were released into the atmosphere. This cooled global temperatures and hindered the sun’s rays. New England received snow in June, and old England witnessed heavy summer down pours and unseasonably cold temperatures. The harvests failed, farm workers went unpaid and the spectre of starvation stalked many communities. People began to refer to 1816 as the year ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’ and ‘the Year without Summer’.

What a miserable year! What a time to live! And yet a group of men and women, called by God and having a desire to make Him known, met in the grooms’ quarters of Martin Top Farm to form a society of Congregationalists.  This year we celebrate their vision, and acknowledge the difficult times in which they lived.

Similarly, in 2016, we witness the growth of foodbanks, the increased threat of terrorism and foreign wars as well as predicted climate change. Nevertheless, this chapel will stand. As Jesus told Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). I trust that Salem will still be proclaiming the gospel of free grace come what may, until the Lord returns.