Norwich; Cowgate Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

Report of a service

By Norma Virgoe

    In the late 1870s and 1880s, a popular article in local newspapers was for an anonymous reporter to visit various churches and chapels and then write an account of the service he attended.  One series appeared in the Norwich newspaper, Daylight entitled ‘Our Places of Worship and their Preachers.’  This report appeared on 14 February 1880 and concerned a service at Cowgate Primitive Methodist Chapel just off Magdalen Street in Norwich.

    If a Christian denomination may be considered flourishing in direct proportion to the number of buildings devoted to its religious cultus, then the Primitive Methodists are flourishing indeed…I am continually coming across them, no matter to what part of the city my steps may tend.  ‘Twas only the other day my eye rested fondly on two chapels within almost a stone’s throw of my den whence I sally forth every Sunday… But alas! Both of them so conveniently situated for a visit during this muddy season belong to the aforesaid Methodists.  Again, happening to be some miles the other side of the city, Cowgate Street Chapel was the most handy for a visit; lo! I found the Primitives settled in force…

   ‘Twas a very cold – not to say bitter – Sunday eve when I reached the chapel of Cowgate and there was but a thin congregation when I entered; and I must admit that the occasion demanded any amount of devotion within to atone for the cold without.  The building is plain to a degree and there cannot be said to be much attempt at decoration.  The organ… is certainly an improvement and there is a nice rostrum.  On the whole, I think the chapel is quite up to the standard one would expect in the neighbourhood.  The choir was considerably better than I expected; but I would remind some of the ladies and gentlemen who compose it that levity of conduct during Divine Worship is not only in bad taste, but is most calculated to disturb the worshippers whom they immediately face.  Much laughing and talking went on, especially at the time the minister who stands above them, was offering prayer.

    Service commenced with a hymn, Mr Palmer (who conducted the service) reading each verse before it was sung.  Why this custom obtains for the commencing hymn alone, or what object it serves, I am at a loss to know.  The usual ritual of the Methodists was followed.  The anthem was sung in fairly good time, but a little more practice would have been an improvement.  The leading soprano has a good voice and did her work well; but the lad to whom a short solo was entrusted, appeared to be suffering from a cold – at least there was a nasal twang which might be attributed to that cause.  On the whole I was surprised at the choir being as efficient as it really was and the authorities deserve credit for it.  The hymns, I may add, were heartily taken up.  During the prayers, which were well done, there was a soupcon of Methodistic peculiarities which I had not noticed at other chapels.

    Mr Palmer read the first Lesson from Proverbs chapter 1 verse 15.  He indulged himself in a short commentary, the gist of which was that the lesson gave a death-blow to death-bed repentances.  That many a man cried on a death-bed for mercy not repentance, but from fear.  He then turned to St Luke chapter 16 and read the parable of Dives and Lazarus without comment.  There was no other peculiarity in the service.  The lessons were read clearly, but with as certain amount of mannerism which, however, was not to be noticed in the delivery of the sermon.

    Mr Palmer interspersed his sermon with many anecdotes and illustrations from pastoral experience.  His manner was calm and earnest, his speech fluent.  I would have liked a little more vigour as a relief; but, however, that is purely a matter of taste.  To sum up; I am of the opinion that, even in the byways of the city, the Methodists are hard at work according to their light.  

 The article was simply signed ‘Will o’ the Wisp’.

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

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