Costessey Primitive Methodist Chapel, Norfolk

By Norma Virgoe

Although Costessey appeared first on the Primitive Methodist circuit plan for autumn 1830, by the next quarter it had disappeared.  It was included again in late summer 1832.  With the division of the two Primitive Methodist circuits in the 1830s, Costessey became part of the Norwich second circuit headed by Rose Yard chapel.  The uncertainty surrounding Costessey continued for in 1836 it was feared that the society might again come off the plan ‘all on account of not having a house to Preach in.’ 1   Perhaps with the Church of England, a Baptist chapel and, in addition, a Roman Catholic chapel supported by the Catholic Jerningham family at the Hall, there was enough diversity of worship for it to be difficult to establish yet another denomination.

In August 1838 the Quarterly meeting directed ‘Brother Speed to go to and try and obtain a house for preaching every Sunday.’ 2    That he was successful is doubtful for the next meeting in November decided that there was to be open air preaching at Costessey which must have tested the fortitude of both preacher and congregation in a Norfolk winter.  Indeed, the society was served badly by the local preachers planned for services there and must have felt disheartened.  When charged with failing to turn up on the 27 April 1839, one local preacher excused himself by claiming it was ‘too cold to preach in the open air,’ another on the 5 May offered the excuse that her absence was ‘on account of rain,’ on 6 May a third had to attend his father’s funeral whilst the preacher appointed for the 19 May explained he had been ‘unavoidably hindered by his Master and could not get a supply.’ 3

At the autumn Quarter Board meeting, Costessey was again taken off the plan ‘as we cannot get any opening nor is there the least glimmering of hope that we ever shall.’ 4

Three years later another attempt was made as a preaching place had become available and a weeknight service arranged although ‘prudence dictates that there be no Collections at Costessey at present.’ 5  However, optimism was short-lived for the next meeting removed Costessey from the plan again, ‘the inhabitants being such persons (viz Catholicks) as that we are unlikely to succeed in missioning it.’ 6

A Wesleyan society was established in the village in early 1849.  It met in a building owned by William Taylor, a local farmer, but almost immediately it became embroiled in the Reform dispute.  It opted to change allegiance and was incorporated into the Wesleyan Reform circuit by 1851.  Proposals were made by the June 1859 Quarterly meeting for Drayton and Costessey societies to unite as a consequence of the difficulties in obtaining local preachers for those places and again in 1870, but in neither instance was anything done.

In the early 1860s this society ceased meeting for worship in the farm building and moved to a cottage.

In 1864 trouble erupted.  The President of the Norwich Wesleyan Reform circuit which had become part of the newly-formed United Methodist Free Churches told the Quarterly meeting that he was seeking its opinion and advice about ‘some unfortunate disagreement in the society at Costessey.’ 7   Two local preachers were delegated to visit the society, enquire into the circumstances of the dispute and ‘give the brethren there their advice to restore harmony amongst them.’ 8   Presumably peace was re-established as there are no more references to this problem in the minute books.  However, in 1869 a local preacher, Brother Gotts was asked by the Local Preachers’ meeting to try and promote ‘a more harmonious state of feeling in the church there.’ 9

In a survey of the circuit of March 1884, it was reported that at Costessey prayer meetings were well attended and there was a Sunday school of 90 children.  By 1891 this number had risen to 139.

A brick chapel was built in 1886.  It had a domestic appearance with long sash windows and a pantile roof.

In September 1904 the society invited Sister Joyce, a deaconess working in the circuit to assist in a week’s mission at Costessey, offering to contribute part of her salary.

Two Cliff College evangelists conducted a mission at the chapel early in 1934.  It proved to be no deterrent to the missioners that numbers attending the services were disappointing and only one person responded to their invitation during the first week.  However, ‘at the close....six young folk and two lads expressed the desire to lead a new life.’ 10

This chapel building closed in 1978.  Its oak communion rail was given to the chapel at Brooke.

In March 1931, the Norwich Primitive Methodist circuit report to the District meeting announced, ‘We have taken over a Mission Hall at Costessey.’ 11   It had been bought for £140 and a loan of £150 was secured from the Church Extension Fund to cover all the costs involved.  It stood on a grassy site next to a new unmade road called Hill Road and was constructed of wood and clad outside with corrugated iron.  It had a large main room, a lean-to annexe on the north side and a central open porch.  The roof was covered with light red diagonal asbestos cement slates with a clay ridge with barge boarding along the eaves.

Inside there was comfortable seating for 150 although 200 could be fitted in on special occasions.  There was a dais across the width of the building and a small wooden reading desk which could be used as a pulpit, various forms with backs and a harmonium.

Meanwhile, a Costessey Methodist, Cubit Arthur Coleman had conducted a Sunday school first in his small shop in Kabin Road and then in a hall during the 1920s.  He and his wife moved to Banningham in 1931 from where he wrote to one of the Primitive Methodist ministers in Norwich, Percy Webb, urging him to buy the old mission hall on Ashtree Road which, he said, belonged to the Sunday school and he willingly relinquished his rights over it to the Connexion.  He felt that the remaining trustees might be persuaded to give up their rights and pointed out that the original intention of those giving money had been  to provide a Sunday school and a base for evangelistic work, the largest donor having been Ethel Mary Colman.  He wished the money raised from its sale to be used help pay off the debt on the newer mission hall in Hill Road.

He also wrote to the officials of the Queen’s Road chapel urging the circuit to take over the old mission hall, explaining he had ‘interviewed Mr W. Kuppers, son of the late W. Kuppers who gave us the land and he is in favour of the same, provided the Land is used for a place of worship and there is sufficient land to Build a good Church in front of the schoolroom.’ 12   The circuit decided to take over this second mission hall and it was renovated and continued as a Sunday school with more than 100 children on the registers in 1934.

In 1955 serious attempts were begun to raise money for a new church.  In December the following year, a piece of land fronting Norwich Road and next to Autumn Drive was bought by the trustees for £650.  The tenant then occupying the site was protected under the Agricultural Holdings Act and so was entitled to twelve months’ notice to quit.  However, he agreed to vacate the land by the end of March 1956.  The Methodist Chapel Aid Association lent £450 for the proposed new chapel.

The first plans drawn up by Clifford Dann in 1961 show a building with a slender spire.  A new plan was prepared in 1963 without the spire.  A platform in the school hall and other adaptations to the Sunday school accommodation were incorporated as a grant from the Joseph Rank Trust would only be forthcoming if the premises were used extensively for youth work during the week.  The trustees held a meeting for the congregation to discuss the proposals.  Opinions differed widely although the general feeling was that ‘both young and old were not too pleased’ with the scheme. 13

Meanwhile Methodist ownership of the Ashtree Road site and building could not be confirmed as no deeds could be found.  Believing all original trustees to be dead, a suitable sale document was drawn up, but it was suddenly discovered that one, a Mr Neave, was very much alive and, shortly after, a Mr Chapman burst upon the scene also claiming to be a trustee and produced a bank book for the chapel showing the sum of £3.9.6d which had lain untouched in a bank account for 38 years.  Eventually, after repeated delays and problems, the Ashtree Road site was sold in June 1967.

Building the new chapel had begun in 1963 and the official opening took place on 2 May 1964 when amongst the many attending the ceremony was Donald Soper, former President of Conference and renowned open-air speaker who was shortly to be given a peerage.

End notes

1 - 6   N.R.O., FC 85/4,  Norwich P.M. 2nd circuit minute book, 1836-46

7 - 9   N.R.O., FC 22/2,  Wesleyan Reform circuit minute book, 1855-66

10.     NorwichMethodist Magazine, Feb. 1934, p.33

11.     N.R.O., FC 17/8, U.M.F.C. minute book, 1851-1908

12.    Circuit safe, folder  6                         

13.    N.R.O., FC 73/61-140, P.M. chapel schedules, 1871-1931       

This page was added by Jill Barber on 03/05/2013.

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