Summer Travel Series: Gadfield Elm Chapel

The phrase “Mormon pioneer” evokes an image of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveling with wagons and handcarts across the American wilderness of the 1840s. However, for a church with 14 million members, there are Mormon pioneers in every country in the world. In England, a carefully restored historic site pays tribute to the early Church members in the British Isles.

The Gadfield Elm Chapel, located in the countryside of central England, is the Church’s only officially designated historic site outside of the United States. This small, humble building is full of meaning, according to Emily Utt, a historic sites curator in the Church History Department.

“The Gadfield Elm Chapel shows that we are an international church, not just a U.S. church,” Utt said. “It is the earliest site outside the U.S. that helps tell story of the global Church.”


Soon after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in upstate New York in 1830, the first Mormon missionaries went out to share their message about Jesus Christ and the restoration of New Testament Christianity. In 1837 a few Canadian converts went to England and in 1840 all of the modern-day apostles were sent to the United Kingdom.

“That is the only time in Church history that has happened, when the entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was instructed to serve a mission at the same time in the same place,” Utt said. “Their mission had a powerful impact. It was a time of intense persecution, and those who joined the Church in England helped infuse a new excitement and strengthen the testimonies of other Latter-day Saints.”

In 1840 apostle Wilford Woodruff arrived in the rural area of the English countryside where Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire meet. He was accompanied by recent convert William Benbow, and within two days the two men had baptized Benbow’s brother John, his wife and four neighbors. Within a year, 1,200 people in the area joined the Church.

“Most of these early converts were average folk who have largely disappeared from history,” Utt said. "But these were people who were so passionate about the new idea they heard that they were willing to change their lives completely for it. They were so excited that they went out and told their friends and family about it, and many of them joined the Church as well.”

Among these early British converts were members of the United Brethren congregation, who were meeting in a small chapel that was built in 1836 with room for only 100 people. After most of the congregation joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the building was deeded to the Church and was the site of the first Latter-day Saint worship services in England. Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff preached there, and the chapel became the center of activity for the Church in the area.

When many English members began leaving for the United States, the chapel was sold about 1842 and the proceeds were used to help the emigrants. Over the next 150 years, the chapel was used as a toolshed, garage and home, eventually falling into disrepair. In 1994 the property came up for auction, and a group of local Latter-day Saints joined together as the Gadfield Elm Trust to raise money to purchase and restore the building. This group then donated the building to the Church in 2004, and then-President Gordon B. Hinckley traveled to England to accept the building as an official Church historic site.

Wayne Gardner, a member of the Gadfield Elm Trust, said the local members felt strongly about saving the building.

“This was too significant to neglect and allow to fall down,” Gardner said. “The chapel has a really special feeling about it to all visitors. It's truly an inspiring place.”

Simon Gibson, another trustee, said the chapel is a symbol of the faith and devotion of the early Mormons in the British Isles.

“This wonderful story needed to be told, and this was the driving force behind the trust purchasing the site and the subsequent restoration project,” Gibson said. “Gadfield Elm Chapel reminds local members of the Church of the critical contribution made by early British Latter-day Saints to the development of the Church. It provides our young people with an opportunity to appreciate the rich vein of heritage that surrounds them.”

What to See and Do

The Gadfield Elm Chapel is among the oldest Latter-day Saint buildings in the world, so visiting there is like stepping back in time.

“One of things I love about this building is that the setting has not really changed. It is as rural of a landscape as it was when people worshipped there in the 1830s and 1840s,” Utt said.

Heber and Rosalie Kirkland of Carey, Idaho, visited the area in June 2011 to connect with their British ancestors.

“We had a wonderful visit to the delightful Gadfield Elm Chapel,” Rosalie Kirkland said. “It is a rustic little building which has a wonderful history.”

A tour of the small chapel and related exhibits takes only about 30 minutes. Unlike most other Church historic sites, there are no full-time missionaries assigned to the chapel, so the hours are limited. Visitors are encouraged to come during the following hours:

  • Wednesdays: 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Fridays and Saturdays: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Sundays: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

To arrange a visit outside of these hours, please call 01452 840576 within England.

Driving Directions to Gadfield Elm Chapel

Other Sites of Interest

Within a short drive of the Gadfield Elm Chapel, there are several other sites of significance to Latter-day Saint history. All of these sites can be visited in about half a day.

The pond at the farm of John Benbow was where 46 people were baptized in 1840 and 1841. The farm itself is privately owned, but the Church does own the pond, which is always open to the public. An explanatory marker was erected at the site in 1987 to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Church in the British Isles.

“The beautiful pond is very well maintained and is a site of inspiration when you know the remarkable things that happened there,” Rosalie Kirkland said.

Driving Directions to Benbow Pond

Also of note is the Herefordshire Beacon Hill, where Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young and other Church leaders met to plan their missionary work.

“We climbed the hill and looked over the beautiful countryside,” Heber Kirkland said. “It was on Herefordshire Beacon Hill that the apostles met and decided to print copies of the Book of Mormon, hymnbooks and other materials for the people in the British Isles. It is a breathtaking site.”

In the nearby towns of Ledbury and Dymock, visitors can see other places where Wilford Woodruff and Brigham Young preached.

Emily Utt thinks these sites are relevant to any visitor, not just Latter-day Saints.

“Visiting these sites enlarges the vision of religious history in the British Isles,” Utt said. “People see Latter-day Saint missionaries knocking on doors and may think this is an American church, but these sites demonstrate that the Church has been in England for nearly 180 years. Mormonism is a part of British history.”

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