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Hethersett Methodist Church


As early as 1792, there were Wesleyan Methodists in Hethersett. The Society was one of 17 which formed the Diss Circuit. At first there was no chapel and, complying with the conditions of the 1689 Toleration Act, the house of Robert Baley (probably in Mill Road) was licensed as a preaching place.

On 1st October, 1817, a Wesleyan Chapel was licensed, erected it is said by a Methodist Builder who rented it to the Society for 8 a year. It was what is now called the Schoolroom but without the extensions.

The Tithe Map of 1846 describes it as a Meeting House. The Hethersett Society had now been transferred to the Norwich Circuit, surely a more suitable link than Diss.

In the years following the death of John Wesley there were various secessions from the Wesleyan Methodists; the most notable were the Methodist New connexion (1797), the Primitive Methodists (1810) and the Bible Christians (1815). Others made attempts for reform from within, particularly the Wesleyan Methodist Association (1835) and the Wesleyan Reformers (1849).

These two came together in 1857 to form the United Methodist Free Churches. In 1858 the Calvert Street Circuit, including Hethersett, separated from the Wesleyans and joined this body. The disagreements which brought about separation were not really concerned with matters of doctrine; they were largely about practice and the government of the churches.

Some objected to too much power being in the hands of the ministers and the denying of responsibility to lay people. Others sought to combine the independence of the congregational system with the supportive role of connexionalism.

One wonders how in those days of widely scattered Societies it was possible to succeed in the latter objective. The Quarterly Meeting minutes of the Calvert Street Circuit do not give the impression that local Societies were even represented. There are notes about village Societies that had failed to pay their dues; on one occasion representatives were appointed to visit Hethersett and Weston to "improve the organisation."

Since services had to be sustained in the villages by an itinerant ministry and local preachers, the local Society Steward was a person of some influence and importance. In Hethersett he paid the rent, kept the key and was said to have power to admit and exclude from the building whom he would.

Mr Robert Richardson was Steward from 1872 to 1909. In 1880 he allowed a temperance lecturer to use the building. To the objectors he said: "I pay the rent and I hold the key, and the teetotaller can have his meeting. Them that don't like it will have to lump it."

As has always been the case, local self help was important in maintaining the work. George Bunn, a Methodist ploughman who came to live in the village, preached twice a quarter and conducted a weekly class meeting. In 1910 William Wade a local coach builder became Society Steward. He helped to form the first Chapel Trust. It owned the organ, the pulpit Bible and the lamps. It also purchased some land in the corner of Queen's Road and Lynch Green, for it was feared that the rented site on which the chapel stood might be lost when the land was auctioned on the death of its owner. In fact, it proved to be an unnecessary precaution.

On 7th July, 1920, the site including chapel with pitch pine pews, gallery, platform and pulpit together with four cottages was purchased by the Methodists for 250. Incidentally the notice of sale described it as a Wesleyan Chapel. In fact, there had been no return to the Mother Church. In 1907 three break away connexions had come together as the United Methodist Church. Together with the Primitives and the Wesleyans they were to amalgamate in 1932 to form the Methodist Church.

The previous chapel, which now forms the basis of the extended building of the 1980s, was built in 1922 at a cost of 1,814. The pulpit was made of native oak by C.W. Wiles and John Harvey and the wrought iron gates by C.L. Smith. The 50th anniversary services were held on the 28th and 29th October 1972 and in February the following year there were other events to mark the completion and rededication of the Schoolroom rebuilding. This included storage facilities and a kitchen with classrooms above.

In 1981 numbers of worshippers were increasing and it was felt that the church needed some sort of extension. "Operation New Look" - the fund-raising venture - with grants from bodies in Methodism, and other gifts, raised 123,000 to finance the project.

The church as it is at present (1989) has been turned from North/South to East/West by removing the East wall and building on an extension to the worship area, a General Purposes Room (which can be added into the worship area), toilets, two entrance areas and a vestry. The old vestry and toilet area at the North end was included in the worship area.

A balcony was created and the organ from the Chapel at Keswick Hall was brought in. The old pulpit was used to create a smaller pulpit and the lectern. The new apse on the West side forms the back of the sanctuary area and the communion rail and the communion table of oak were crafted by Edmund (Teddy) Forster of G.W. Gooch and Sons of Norwich who were the contractors for the alterations.

The pitch pine pews were removed and chairs are now used in varying formations. The re- opening of the extended and modernised premises took place in October 1983.

The premises provide not only for the Methodists of the village but for other groups too, and at this time the Methodist Church enjoys good relations with the Anglicans and Roman Catholic communities in the village.

Operation New Look

Gradually as the population of the village grew there was disquiet regarding the space available. The space had seemed so adequate in 1922 but its shoe box shape with narrow central aisle from narrow door to pulpit and organ, prohibited expansion at the entrance and circulation and cloakroom space were quite inadequate.

Matters came to a head in 1970. Even before that date a detailed survey of the premises had made it clear that about 800 a year for the next five years would have to be spent to avoid deterioration. The result of further discussions showed that a radical solution was necessary.

On April 1st, 1980 Kenneth James, a local architect, presented a report to a special meeting of the church council. Even minor modifications and improvements would cost 6,000. A more revolutionary scheme, involving enlargement to a capacity of 175, meant adding length and breadth to the existing church. This, it was said, would cost about 45,000. The meeting gave general approval, but referred the matter to the property committee for further discussion.

On November 4th the council approved a more detailed scheme. One side of the church would be extended into the car park, giving more circulation and cloakroom space and an extra meeting room. On the wall opposite would be the communion table, flanked by a pulpit and reading desk made from the existing large pulpit. The congregation would be seated in a semi-circle facing the table.

A small gallery was to be provided for the organ. Later an anonymous donor was to present a fine instrument, made available on the closure of Keswick College of Education. Additional gifts of a wooden cross behind the table and an enlargement of the window looking out to the road addede to the beauty of the building. As the work began, the amount of the appeal had to be raised to 70,000.

Work started towards the end of 1982. On Saturday March 19th, 1983 the stone laying took place. Stones were laid by Mr David Richardson in memory of his parents, who, over the years, had done so much for the church and by Mr Herbert Thrower and Miss Sian Evans to represent the older and younger members of the congregation.

The formal re-opening and dedication took place on Saturday October 22nd, 1983. This was performed by Mr Paul Bartlett Lang, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference. Others taking part were the Chairman of the East Anglian District, the Superintendent of the Norwich Circuit, two members of the congregation and of course the minister, the Rev Brian Dann who had been an inspiration throughout.

By this time the cost had risen to 126,000. It took four years to reach that target. Grants were obtained from charitable trusts such as the Joseph Rank Benevolent Trust. There were donations from the circuit and some of its churches. There was a generous loan from the Chapel Aid Department and also interest free loans from members and friends. Events were organised by the "New Look" Committee and individual and group efforts such as dinners, coffee mornings, sales of work (under various names) were just some of the ingenious means of raising money.

Notes by H. Trevor Hughes 1979: Operation New Look written by H. Trevor Hughes July 1987: Revised and added to by Barbara Holmes 1989: Edited by Peter Steward 2000.

Hethersett Methodist Church has its own web site which can be accessed by clicking here.