Society of Dependants

Northchapel Stores

The Society of Dependants were a Christian sect founded by John Sirgood in the mid nineteenth century. Their stronghold was in West Sussex and Surrey where they formed co operatives in some villages.

They were widely known as "Cokelers". The nickname 'Cokeler' is of uncertain derivation but was applied from an early date.[note 1] The sect disliked the name and would not use it.[1][2]



The former chapel at Warnham
The former chapel at Hove

Members of the Society of Dependants were Protestant dissenters whose beliefs largely derived from Wesleyan Arminianism.[3][4] They believed in the people's ability to exercise free will and thereby achieve salvation rather than the Calvinistic assertion of predestination. They were conscientious objectors to the war and were encouraged but not required to remain unmarried. Beginning in the 1850s meetings were held on commons or in barns and faced great opposition from the landed gentry and the clergy. Both men and women preached, which was unusual at that time, seeking converts among the poor and humble.

They first established themselves at Loxwood because it was outside of the control of the large estates whose Anglican owners would have denied them land or premises. The first chapel was opened there in 1861. Seven more chapels were built in Norwood, Shamley Green, Warnham, Lords Hill, Northchapel, Chichester and Hove. These were simple undecorated buildings, with a room where those who had walked long distances to attend could rest during the day-long Sunday worship.

They opened a number of combination stores around 1879 in Norwood, Lord's Hill, Northchapel, Warnham and Loxwood, where members lived communally, working in the business. Some followers disagreed with entering the world of commerce but they were successful, selling everything from soap to suspenders, bacon to bootlaces. They also grew their own produce to sell, living communally on tenanted farms. When there was a fashion for cycling in the 1890s they opened bicycle shops at Northchapel, Loxwood and Warnham.

All profits were put back in the business or used to help the needy. They also made furniture to sell: attractive, sturdy pieces, some of which still survive.

The following verse comes from the Dependants' Hymn Book[5]

Christ's Combination Stores for me
Where I can be so well supplied,
Where I can one with brethren be,
Where competition is defied..


  1. ^ The derivation of the name may refer to Sirgood's teetotal habit of taking cocoa at meetings. It may perhaps have originated in a corruption of 'cuckholders' and a populist misconception that the sect was polygamous.A third plausible explanation is that Cokeler is derived from a Sussex dialect word 'Coke' meaning to pry or peep about'


  1. ^ John Sirgood's Way, the Story of the Loxwood Dependants, Peter Jerome (1998)
  2. ^ Dictionary of Sussex Dialect, Rev W D Parish, Farngombe & co, 1875
  3. ^ Wesleyan Arminianism, Steven Harper, Four Views on Eternal Security (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002)
  4. ^ John Sirgood's Way, the Story of the Loxwood Dependants, Peter Jerome (1998)
  5. ^ Pamela Bruce,Northchapel A Parish History (2000) Published by Northchapel Parish Council.

Further reading

  • Jerrome, Peter (1998). John Sirgood's Way, the Story of the Loxwood Dependants. Petworth: Window Press. ISBN X030797543. 

External links

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