The History of :-
Trinity Methodist Church, Dereham.
1880 - 2011
The Beginnings of Methodism in Dereham
It is pleasant to reflect on this occasion that the story of Methodism in Dereham may well have begun on the very site of Trinity church!
The Rev. John Wesley made over forty visits to Norfolk and passed through Dereham frequently on his travels between Norwich and King’s Lynn, along the route of the old A47. Word of his coming went ahead of him and crowds gathered to see the once abused but now venerated evangelist.
He records in his journal that, on 3rd October 1788, having come from Lynn on the coach called ‘Expedition’, which held four people, “Going through Dereham about noon I was desired to preach, which I willingly did, on Isaiah 37 v3.” as a result of that sermon, a few weeks later, on 25th November, the house of William Knapp was licensed for preaching by Methodists. John Reynolds, minister at Norwich, applied for the license. It was used for regular worship. William Knapp’s house became the first meeting place of the newly formed society and, possibly, later the site of the first Methodist church.
When Wesley came on 16th October 1789, he spent two and a half hours in the town having a meal, either at one of the coaching inns, the ‘George’, or the ‘Eagle’, but more likely with William Knapp.
It is pleasant also to know that he met the Dereham Methodists on his famous last visit to Norfolk, a few months before his death. The old man of 87 (now so feeble that he had to be supported in the pulpit when preaching) administered communion to 150 members and preached three sermons at Norwich on Sunday 17th October 1790. On Monday he rose at 4am and set out for Lynn at 7am. As Dereham was not on the mail coach route he travelled, with a companion, in a two-horse post-chaise.
He wrote; “I was obliged to take a post-chaise. But at Dereham no horses were to be had so we were obliged to take the same horses to Swaffham.”
He had administered communion (probably in William Knapp’s house) before continuing with his journey. As the turnpike from Norwich then ended at Swaffham and no post-horses being obtainable the travellers had to take a single-horse chaise.
Wesley wrote; “the wind, with mizzling rain came full in our faces and we had nothing to screen us from it, so that I was thoroughly chilled from head to foot before I came to Lynn”. (at about 5pm). He adds; “But I soon forgot this little inconvenience for which the earnestness of the congregation made me large amends.”
We do know that the Dereham society built a chapel in 1824 and that Samuel Bates, a tailor with a shop in the Market Place, played a big part in this. (The minister’s house had already been bought in 1823.)
The old chapel stood on the site of the present one, but a little to the west. Part of the foundations have been found during renovation work. There was a graveyard and one of the horizontal gravestones can still be seen. This chapel however was probably found to be too small as the society grew, for in the middle of the last century it was estimated that nearly half of the church-going population of England were Dissenters. In rural areas of East Anglia the proportion was often greater than 50%.
How Trinity Methodist Church Began
This was the hey-day of chapel building. Moreover, Dereham had a population of 5600, which had grown rapidly, for although it was a time of agricultural depression, the town was prospering with 3 iron foundries and Elvin’s carriage works sending carriages to the nobility all over Europe.
When a larger chapel was required, Mr J.R.Cossons, who had an outfitters business in the Market Place, became the driving force for the scheme and, just 125 years ago, the new church was built in what seems to be a remarkable time of 8 months.The architect was Mr Edward Boardman, who had also designed the Cowper Memorial Church.
It was faced with Kentish rag, with Bath stone dressings, and a steep slate roof. The fine front faced south onto Theatre Street and it had two pinnacles with a cross (since blown down) crowning a large central gable. The schoolroom and manse adjoined and there were four vestries.
The church seated 400 and the schoolroom had provision for 250 scholars. (Although they must have either been thin or packed in with a shoe horn!)
The seats, pulpit, gallery front and handsome roof were of pitch pine. The large gallery at the back was fitted with rail backed pews taken from the original church. It had a platform for the harmonium and , according to the Press account, was intended for the Sunday School scholars, but another account says the choir was to be there. Access to the gallery was by a winding staircase from the vestibule.
The pulpit was placed in a small apse entered from a door in the minister’s vestry with the angled communion rail in front. A dado of pitch pine, relieved with quatrefoil insertions and bearing stencilled patterns adorned the walls above the pews, and just below the roof rafters.
The church was lit with two brass chandeliers (the bosses in the roof can still be seen), and also wall bracket gas lamps. A very large window above the gallery, and mullioned side windows, edged with coloured glass, gave a light interior.
The following local tradesmen built the church;-
Larner & Bolingbroke of Commercial Road (Stone & brickwork)
James Mumford of Commercial Road (Carpentry)
William Spanton of Norwich Road (Glazing)
Cooper & Vincent of the Market Place (Heating system)
A Norwich firm installed the gas lighting.
The total cost was £3400, including improvements and furnishings for the manse. At the time of the opening, £2000 was available, which meant there was a £1400 burden of debt.
The foundation stone of the new building had been laid in April 1880 by the Rev. Morley Puncheon, and in early December, the church was dedicated by the Rev. Francis J. Sharr of London. Mr R.B. Nicholson of Lowestoft was in the chair.
Soon after the opening, the President of Conference, the Rev. E.E. Jenkins, came and preached. For this event the Great Eastern Railway Company arranged special trains at reduced fares from Norwich, Lynn, Wells and intermediate stations.
The Start of Many Changes and Building Work
It was a fine looking, well constructed church but the brick manse, already 57 years old, was less well built and various repairs were soon needed.
The heating system too became a continual source of worry and expense. The coke-fired boiler in a stokehole, with its entrance just outside the church (near the door of the minister’s vestry, now covered by a concrete slab) provided hot water for pipes running under grilles along the aisles. Soon after the opening of the church, the stokehole became flooded so that the fire could not be lit. Its walls were cemented and drainage carried out. (Connection to the main sewer was too costly.) However, the trouble was not cured, and in 1897, the caretaker was given 10 shillings for his extra work pumping out. Complaints from the shivering congregation were many and another boiler was fitted!
Unfortunately several leaks occurred; the installer blamed the caretaker and the caretaker blamed the installer, but rusty tears still ran down the grimy face of the boiler and still the folk complained. The boiler story ended when , after yet another installation, the system was abandoned. The grilles were taken up and the boiler laid to rest in a scrap yard. The Trustees reverently murmured “Rust in Peace”.
A system of tubular electrical heaters under each pew was fitted for a cost of £380. Additional heaters were later placed along window sills and at the back of the church.
The first caretaker of the church was Mr Locke, who lived at the corner of St. Nicholas Street. His wage was £10 a year. He did faithful work until in 1919, due to his wife’s illness, he had to resign .
There have been many changes over the years and the wage has always seemed inadequate. A rota of volunteers was then used to service the church.The practice of renting pews, with name cards, brought in needed money for the church. However it was increasingly disliked and is now abolished. The name card holders can still be found in each pew at the end of the shelf.
In 1889 some of the Trustees obviously felt ‘church’ sounded better than ‘chapel’, and wanted to alter the name from ‘Dereham Wesleyan Chapel’ to ‘Trinity Wesleyan Church’. the name-board, posters, etc were all using the name ‘church’ but the Trust itself was determined to revert to the title ‘Dereham Wesleyan Chapel’! The notice-board and posters had to be altered.
When the church was built it was part of the Swaffham Circuit, but in 1881, it became head of the Dereham Wesleyan Circuit, and in 1906, resulting from a major re-organisation, it became the Mid-Norfolk Mission.
In 1904, the rostrum was brought forward 5feet to give access to the pulpit from both sides of the church.
The original gas lighting seems to have given little trouble until 1930 when the pipes, which had been let into the walls, deteriorated. The smell, never mistaken for incense, and the danger, made action necessary. As the estimate for renewal was between £150-£200, the installation of electric light for £146 for the church, schoolroom and the manse, was the obvious course ahead, and the society set about raising what was then a large amount of money. The lighting has since been improved twice and the wiring renewed.
The height of the building has always made heating a major problem. Although heat rises it is impractical to get the congregation to also rise to rafter height and complaints about draughts have been a perennial feature of church life. To ask people to use umbrellas to counter the down-draughts would have had several disadvantages! So it was decided in 1935 to fit tubular electrical heaters along the principal beams in the roof.
One member, probably suffering from a stiff neck, offered to erect a brass rail and curtain to screen his rear pew from door draughts. However the Trustees thought this might create an outbreak of rails and curtains all around the church, so they themselves fitted circular brass rails and curtains to screen the entrance doors. Complaints of draughts in the large vestry (minister’s vestry) led to a door being completely blocked up, so cunningly that many present members are unaware it ever existed.
The Trust voted unanimously in favour of Methodist Union (this was the coming together of the Wesleyan, the Primitive and the United Methodists.) as far back as 1925 (the Enabling Bill (which allowed the three to come together) was passed in 1929), and when it became effective in 1932, it meant major local changes, including the closure of the Primitive Methodist church in Commercial Road. Most of the members attended Trinity but the members of the United Methodist church in Norwich Road did not agree with the closing and kept a Methodist witness at that end of the town until 1982. Trinity then became head of a new circuit of chapels, most of which had been Primitive Methodists. And in 1975 it joined with the Swaffham Circuit to form a new circuit extending form Lyng to Westacre and Elmham to Shipdham, with a manse and minister at Swaffham.
In the year of Methodist Union (although nothing to do with that great event), the pail water-closets at the rear of the premises were converted to flush toilets - for the cost of £16. A bathroom and toilet were put into the manse at the same time.
Unfortunately, time took heavy toll of the manse and it became increasingly damp and in need of repairs.
So in 1944, No.1, Park Road was bought for the minister using part of the proceeds of the sale of the Primitive Methodist Church in Commercial Road, and letting the original manse for a rent of £30 per year. The original manse finally deteriorated so far that a decision was made to pull it down. A screening wall was erected and some of the land was used for a car park.
The church has always aimed at being well kept, and in the aisles, the original homely but dust collecting coconut matting with lead binding was replaced, first with linoleum and then in 1957, with carpet.
In the late 70’s, part of a legacy was used to re-carpet aisles and communion area, and in the 90’s the same areas have been re-carpeted yet again.
Church members too gave a tremendous amount of time and labour to make the vestries more appealing, using wallpaper and curtains instead of the original colour wash and dull furnishings.
In 1961 a necessary scheme to improve the toilet and kitchen facilities was undertaken. Volunteers kept the heavy cost of this major alteration to a minimum. The expense of extensive repairs to the schoolroom and construction of the car park was much reduced by church workers.
The schoolroom originally had moveable wooden pews. These were replaced by chairs. Then in 1962, Mr Wallace Stoakley and his family presented to the church 100 modern stacking chairs in memory of his parents, Mr & Mrs Albert Victor Stoakley.
The open fireplace gave way to a Tortoise stove. This in turn was replaced with electrical heaters in the roof, and more recently following the completion of the Disability Access Improvement Scheme, radiators now heat the schoolroom.
The old platform with its 3-sided rail made way for a stage, but progress demanded its removal and the thoroughly renovated schoolroom is now clear of pews, stove and stage.
In 1970, a needed extension of the vestibule (front porch) was made by removing two of the rear pews and re-panelling.
In 1975 the wonderful gift of a public address system was given by Mr W. Stoakley, and it has proved invaluable in the life of the church.
Also in 1975 many extra meetings of the Trust were called to deal with an exchange of land with a local builder and to alter boundaries and fencing. The land at the rear of the church was transferred to Manse Trustees with a view to building a circuit manse. This has been done and the large manse, 31 Trinity Close, was erected and the car park was also completed. Until the recent building works it was the biggest scheme Trinity had ever known, but the wide experience of Mr Ray Lee, and other members with knowledge of building requirements, leading a volunteer party, kept costs to a minimum.
It was in 1977 that the arch enemy of all property owners;- dry rot - crept into the building through a side door and began gnawing at all woodwork in sight. Panic that it would get into the pulpit led to prompt and drastic action, and the teeth-gnashing but defeated foe was driven outside never to return! (We hope!)
Also in 1977 it was determined that major restoration of the roof and front elevation of the building was required. The stone round the Rose Window was beginning to crumble and fall away, leaving gaps through which the wind and rain was entering - much to the discomfort of the congregation!
In 1985, the Eastern Daily Press (Thursday June 13th) and the Dereham and Fakenham Times (Friday June 14th), both ran articles marking the completion of the renovation of the Rose Window.
When the scaffolding was removed, £15,000 worth of the estimated £40,000 renovation work had been completed. Of this £40,000, the church itself had raised £25,000 with concerts and other fundraising events.
David Brough who, as a surveyor and member of the property committee at the time, was given the task of overseeing the work. He remembers that during the restoration of the Rose Window many of the congregation took advantage of the internal and external scaffolding to have a closer look at the renovation work being undertaken. There were no Health and Safety problems in those days!
When the church building was first opened, the report in the local press noted that “The pews were constructed of pitch pine and very comfortable!” The gradual increase in the number of cushions and bits of old carpet that appeared in the pews, proved that peoples’ idea of what is comfortable, seems to have changed! So, in November 1995, matching cushions were placed in all of the pews.
The seating capacity has also been reduced over the last 10 years, for various reasons.
1996 saw changes to the layout of the front vestibule (porch), to improve the use of space, and heating was provided to reduce draughts . The rear centre pew was removed which provided access across the rear of the church without having to open and close the doors during a service.
Getting into and out of the pulpit was a tricky business, as access was provided by two sets of open tread steps. There was no hand rail, and the top of the steps were positioned quite close to the organ pipes. Next to the steps were small doors for access to the area underneath the pulpit. (Another hidey hole for those ’lets keep it just in-case‘, bits and pieces!) As the sanctuary area was fairly small it was decided to improve access and extend the whole area in one go. (There goes another pew.) This time the front centre pew was removed and the sanctuary area extended by about four feet, and was squared off. The communion rail was made removable and the whole are, including, the aisles, was carpeted.
The schoolroom was also carpeted after many discussions concerning the dangerous conditions of the old wooden floorboards.
Apart from the laying of the carpet, all this work was carried out by Mr. Dougie Townsend, his carpenter, and a small band of helpers.
The first incident of problems concerning access for the disabled, was recorded in 1993 during the ’Rose Festival’. There may well have been problems before this date but it was as a result of this incident that the church took its first steps to improve access for wheelchairs. A set of removable ramps were provided for the front steps of the church and a single removable ramp was provided for entry into the schoolroom.
Although this provided access, there were no other amenities available. The church took on board the government legislation for the provision for the disabled, and in July 1999, Mrs Keer - the District Disability Advisor, addressed a meeting of the property committee. She suggested many ways that Trinity could improve its facilities to meet the needs of disabled visitors. It was a very bold move that saw the church council decide that, rather than try to improve the existing toilets, a new toilet block should be built.
This has provided the whole user community with far better facilities than would have been possible otherwise. Not only do we have better toilets, we also have better heating in the schoolroom.
It is interesting to note that the halogen heaters, that gave the schoolroom its distinctive red glow, were originally installed in the Norwich Road Methodist church, and have now gone to Litcham Methodist chapel. (How’s that for a recycling record!)
The latest major improvement to the buildings facilities has been the enlargement and total refurbishment of the kitchen. The work included the bricking up of the doorway at the end of the passage leading to the old toilet block and installing a new doorway into it, from what is known as the rainbow room. This enabled the passageway to be incorporated into the kitchen and gives access to the old toilet block which is now used as a store room. To enable this structural work to be undertaken it was found necessary to repair and reinforce the gable end wall of the school room. Following the death of Mr. Dougie Townsend in 2009, our in house builder, the structural work was carried out by ‘Rowley Builders Ltd’. The kitchen was installed by ‘R & S Joseph, Kitchen Fitters’ and the plumbing work was carried out by ‘Simon Perry, Property Maintenance’, all local businesses. The project was the culmination of several years planning and fund raising and following a successful inspection by Food Hygiene Safety, plans are afoot to start a ‘Luncheon Club’ in October.
The War Years
The Trinity church members have had to face the difficulties of keeping the building open during two major wars.
In the First World War the schoolroom was taken over for a short time for billeting troops, and the Y.M.C.A. used it as a canteen for them.
In 1917 the authorities required the schoolroom again, although it was being used both as a Sunday School and for evening worship, having been blacked out against zeppelin raids. So the main church had to be blacked out; the large front window was totally covered and the side windows fitted with frames and removable shutters. The cost was £3.2.6d!
During the Second World War the schoolroom was again blacked out and troops used it for sleeping quarters. The building was also used as a day school for evacuee children.
The Sunday School
Numbers of scholars in the Sunday School have fluctuated and , when much larger, there were often 100 on the books. As is the present practice, Sunday School scholars came into church for the first part of the morning service. Their presence can be noted by the many carved initials in the front side pews, and in 1892, the Trust found it necessary to fit substantial splines to steady the pews against restless young occupants!
Members (though now a little older!) can recall the ’treats’, when horse-drawn wagons, gaily decorated, set off from Trinity to Arch Farm in Scarning. It was a time of games, singing, refreshment and excitement.
In time, the farm wagons were replaced by a tarpaulin covered lorry, which set off for Cromer and often needed the children to get out as the vehicle struggled up Thornage Hill! The prize giving was also a special occasion.
Over the centuries many faithful workers have served God in the Sunday School, and although the numbers of children in the Sunday School, or Junior Church as it is now known, are small, a dedicated team of leaders endeavour to keep it going. The children that attend enjoy the lessons and often take part in services and holiday clubs.
The Musical side of Trinity
Throughout the centuries the church organ, like Pickfords, seems to have taken for its motto, “Keep Moving”. It is doubtful if it ever got into the gallery but, in 1887 it was moved from the rostrum and, with the choir, occupied the front pews.
The first organist and choir mistress was Miss Downs, who was probably connected with the family who owned a musical instrument shop in the High Street and supplied the organ. She gave loyal service and continued till her death in 1911.
During the second Boer War the organ was moved to the west side of the church and in 1904, when the rostrum was enlarged, both organ and choir were elevated to a position just behind the preacher’s desk.
A new hymn book was introduced in this year, and the Rev. Samuel Chadwick was invited to take special services. The congregation practised the new tunes well in advance. The Trust ordered a mere 30 books but they were ‘For the Use of Visitors’ only - members were expected to provide their own!
In 1910 however, demotion came; the front pew was cut to take the organ , and , with the choir, faced the preacher immediately in front of the communion rail.
In 1936 a second-hand eleven speaking stop pipe organ was bought and placed on the rostrum.
The choir moved to pews on the west side of the building in 1955 but in 1957 the pews were taken out, the floor raised, the communion rail straightened and chairs purchased for the choir. The wood used for the flooring had once served as the platform for Sunday School Anniversaries.
The positions of the organ and choir have remained the same to this day, and although not as large as it has been, Trinity Choir continues under the skillful guidance of Mrs Olwyn Brough, organist and choir mistress.
Other Aspects of Church Life
In its history the church has had visits from many famous speakers; ‘Gipsy’ Smith, the Rev. Luke Wiseman, and the Rev. George Allen of the Wesley Guild, came to give his renowned lecture on “Praying Hands”, such speakers not only filled the church and gallery, but made it necessary for people to sit on the steps of the vestries and even the pulpit itself.
Also, Sunday School Anniversaries, Harvest Festivals and rallies have often brought the gallery into use. For Sunday School Anniversaries, a large platform (stowed out of the way under the pulpit throughout the year), was built with a temporary pulpit erected over the eastern side-pews of the choir. A large, augmented choir filled the rostrum where the organ now stands.
There were many organisations that were (and still are) part of church life. The Wesley Guild, and later, the Christian Endeavour, were strongly supported. Saturday night was Prayer meeting night.
A large Women’s Sewing Meeting was constantly helping Trust funds with special efforts. A Women’s Own and a Women’s Work organisation have similarly assisted both church and overseas missions.
There have been drama clubs and after school children’s clubs.
Today there is still the Wesley Guild and Women’s Own. As previously mentioned there is still a Choir and a Sunday School. There is Ladies Wednesday Club and Network; another meeting for women which raises money for overseas. There is a World Church organisation and Bible Study groups. There is a very active support group for NCH (National Children’s Home).
We have a property committee; a dedicated band of volunteers who are responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the building fabric. Their work is essential but little noticed; they are often behind the scenes and rarely in the limelight. Trinity has always had these workers and of recent years they have given an increasing amount of service.
We have stewards and welcomers, who all play a vital role in ensuring that everyone’s visit and time of worship at Trinity is enjoyable and comfortable. We have our wonderful flower ladies who make sure there are beautiful floral arrangements every Sunday.
We have coffee mornings, sales, fetes, plays, musicals, concerts, meals and a 3 day flower festival, as well as all the special services that are important in the church calendar,; Christmas, Easter, Harvest Festival.
We also have teams, far too many to name individually, who have scrubbed down, washed up, polished, scoured, baked innumerable cakes and poured out oceans of tea! We are grateful to everyone who has ever taken part in events, or assisted in any way, however large or small their contribution. For without our faithful members and friends, Trinity Methodist Church would not still be active 130 years on.
Ministers who have served in the church, 1880 - 2005
1881 Alfred Tucker
1882-83 Edwin Gelder
1884 John J. Ward
1885-87 John S. Robinson
1888-90 John Crawshaw
1891-93 Arthur Holland
1894-96 John H. Rogers
1897-99 Richard J. Pland
1900-02 John B. Gedye
1903-04 Alfred Kirk
1905 James Jenkin
Mid-Norfolk Mission formed in 1906
1906-07 James Jenkin
1908-10 Charles Lumsden
1911 John Dugdale
1912-15 Alfred G. Haughton
1916-19 William H. Coradine
1920-23 Arthur Adlington
1924 Wilfred H. Boocock
1925-26 Matthew Hall
1927-28 Robert W. Pickersgill
1929-31 John T. Salisbury
1932 George W. Demaine
1933 Arthur E. Goodhall
1933: East Dereham Circuit
Minutes of the Conference-1933, give details of the amalgamation of previous circuits as follows;
“East Dereham Circuit is to consist of 18 societies, together with two from Mid-Norfolk Mission, four societies from East Dereham, one society from Swaffham and one society from Norwich, with one married minister and one probationer.”
1934-36 J. Whitaker Bond
1937-40 J. Lambert Baggott
1941-44 Ernest W. Fitch
1945-48 Thomas Thompson
1949-51 A. Barrett Gowers
1952-54 Leslie H. Clench
1955-57 John J. Perry
1958-60 Reginald R. Stallard
1961-64 Stephen Frith
1965-69 A. Daemond Hall
1970-75 Brian H.F. Webb
1976-80 W. Ivor Claydon
1980-84 Rev Albert Fairhurst
1984-89 Rev Colin Riches
1989-94 Rev Richard Purvis
1994-97 Rev Robert Bean
1997-2002 Rev John Waterhouse
2002-2007 Rev Andrew King
2007: Mid Norfolk Circuit
The East Dereham circuit was enlarged to include some churches from the Watton area. Rev King’s tenure as Superintendant minister was extended to oversee the amalgamation and the circuit was renamed the Mid Norfolk circuit.
2007-2010 Rev Andrew King
2010: Central Norfolk Circuit
In 2010 the Mid Norfolk circuit was amalgamated with the Fakenham, Holt and Wells circuit to form the new Central Norfolk circuit. Rev King’s tenure as superintendant minister was again extended to oversee the amalgamation but on this occasion he was transferred to Fakenham as superintendant minister and Rev Val Spencer was transferred in from Bury St Edmunds.
2010 - 2015 Rev Val Spencer
2015 - 2020 Rev Betty Trinder
2020 - Rev Anne Richardson