Norwich; Scott Memorial Primitive Methodist Church

First Building

Thorpe Road Primitive Methodist church, for many years known as Scott Memorial church, first used the former Dutch church in the Blackfriars’ monastery adjoining St Andrew’s Hall. When the Dutch Strangers had arrived in Norwich in the sixteenth century, they used this place of worship, vacant since the dissolution of the monasteries, but in the course of time, the Strangers were absorbed into the general population of the city and it was no longer needed.  The lease of the building was taken up in 1878 by the Rev. Jonathan Scott who had completed his full-time ministry in Norwich in 1868-9 and subsequently remained in the city as an active supernumerary minister.  He also worked as a school attendance officer in Norwich for many years.

School Hall

Ten years later, the City Council bought back the lease for £500. The Connexion, insisted a new place of worship be built instead in the city suburbs.  Norwich was ringed with a necklace of Primitive Methodist churches except in the east and so it was felt appropriate to set up a new church there.  Eventually in 1892 land was bought in Ethel Road, Thorpe Hamlet, using the money repaid by the City Council in redeeming the unexpired lease on Blackfriars’ Hall and a school hall put up at a cost of £920. With seats for 250, within a year it was attracting congregations of more than 200.  It was intended that a church should follow, but the minister at the time, John Smith, insisted the site was too obscure a setting and to make a positive statement, a main road position was imperative.

Thorpe Road site

A much more suitable site was identified in Thorpe Road where Stracey House stood, the former home of the vicar of St Saviour’s church in Magdalen Street.  It was bought for £1000, although the trustees had only £10 in cash in the building fund at the time.

The architect of the new church was Augustus Frederic Scott, a local preacher and son of Jonathan Scott who died in 1900. He proposed that the chapel should be named in memory of his father who had been so active in initiating the project.

Gravel in the topsoil meant that excavations for the chapel were particularly deep in order to set the foundations on firm footings and this added to the cost of the building.

A foundation stone ‘Laid for the children of Jonathan Scott in memory of their father by his daughter, Fanny’ was dedicated on Easter Monday 1901 and exactly one year later, the opening ceremony took place, the rooms at the rear of the chapel having already been unofficially opened the previous November.

Design

The design was heavily gothic with red brick walls and white Ancaster and Cosseyware stone dressings around pointed windows and doorways. The tall building had an imposing facade with white banding, a large triple window with plate tracery, flat buttresses edged with stone and topped by narrow finials and a pillared portico with bands of decoration above.  Entrances to the gallery staircases were placed at the front corners, each topped by a semi-circular turret.  Along the sides of the building, the gothic windows projected above the top of the wall line.  The roof was of slate.

The stepped entrance had three arches and four reddish-brown granite pillars with plain plinths and decorated capitals.  Within the portico were six commemorative panels one of which was laid by John Smith, the current minister who had been President of the Primitive Methodist Conference in 1898 and his Vice-President, William Glass. Amongst the bands of stylised flowers, leaves and berries above the entrance, a stone ribbon wound its way with the carved words ‘Scott Memorial Church.’  After the closure of the church, this was carefully recut to read ‘Scott Memorial Hall.’

Inside, the organ and its pipes filled a large arch with a small brown granite pillar at each side.  In front, a huge triple-decker pulpit of dark oak was decorated with carved cusped arches and so too was the gallery which ran round the four sides of the building.  Here two rows of seats along the sides rose to a tier of seven rows at the back.  It was supported by four granite pillars and was reached by four staircases.  The barrel-vaulted roof had six bays with curved struts rising from wooden corbels.

The pews, similarly decorated with cusps, seated 650.  The light fittings had elaborate leaf and flower decorations.  Small rooms at the rear, built at the same time and within the shell of the building, had pointed windows, but lacked other significant architectural features, although at the time of the closure of the chapel, two interesting moulded china washbasins were still in place.

Originally, a large tower topped by a spire was designed for the south side of the church as well as a matching gothic-style Sunday school building and a caretaker’s cottage.  These were not built in 1901-2 and the hall in Ethel Road continued as a Sunday school until it was damaged by bombing during the Second World War.

Finance

The church and land had cost in total £5800.  This debt was cleared within eight years of the opening.  The organ was installed in 1911, much of the money coming from the Carnegie Trust as well as £100 in memory of David Warns given by his widow.

Stress

The minister who had supervised the building, John Smith, had been an itinerant preacher for more than forty years. A vigorous man, he began missioning Thorpe St Andrew where open-air services were organised as soon as the church in Thorpe Road was opened.  However, the picture at Scott Memorial church was not as rosy as it appeared at first glance.  In March 1903, he wrote to Conference asking for a year’s total rest.  He explained,

‘I have not sought a medical certificate for the simple reason that I am not suffering from disease of any sort….but I am worn down a good deal and long for rest.  I have hope, however, that a year free from work with the blessing of God may so restore the elasticity and buoyance of my life as to enable me to resume the ministry I love…. ‘  [1]

John Smith’s appeal was successful and Conference whilst restationing him in Norwich for the year also appointed a Mr J.B. Baylift, a lay evangelist, as his assistant – but what lay behind this heartfelt appeal and the mental stress it revealed ?

Anna Abel

The minutes of two meetings of the stationing committee in July 1903 record a complaint brought against one of the Sunday school superintendents, Miss Anna Abel, also known as Anna Warns.  The complainant was John Smith who was instructed by the meeting to put the charge in writing so that a copy might be handed to the accused as well as transcribed into the minute book.  In doing so, Smith explained that the formal complaint was made in accordance with circuit rules as he had received a letter from Anna Abel’s step-father, David Warns, with whom she lived, challenging him to prove the accusations and this could be done only by formally calling witnesses.

‘I had not been here long,’ wrote John Smith, ‘before I discovered that idle tattle and evil-speaking widely prevailed in Thorpe Hamlet amongst our people….the root cause of much unpleasantness and failure during the ten years of our existence in Ethel Road.  But what pained and surprised me most was to find that anonymous letter writing was much in vogue….They were evidently written or dictated by someone well acquainted with official meetings for more than one of them contained statements of the business done.  These things were not only unjust and injurious to the parties concerned but…. acted as a strong dividing force, cutting up and separating the small society into little hostile camps and worst of all operated as a repellent, driving away many young people and caused pious folk to shun our fellowship. [2]

He stressed he had constantly condemned anonymous letter writing as ‘cowardly and contemptible in the extreme.’  He then used this complaint against Anna Abel as an example of the malicious gossip he condemned.  He accused her of telling the children and teachers during the Sunday service as well as other individuals on other occasions that he had been invited to conduct the anniversary services, but he had refused to do point blank. She had also spoken of him in a ‘most offensive manner.’

Anna Abel forcibly refuted the accusation, but when witnesses were called, she capitulated saying that she had not intended to cause offence and the witnesses had misunderstood what she had intended to convey.

A fortnight later, the committee received a further complaint against Anna Abel, this time brought by the church secretary, A.J. Bilham.  She had, he said, told two church officials that many people were discouraged from attending Scott Memorial services because of his ‘obnoxious character.’ Moreover, she had claimed in the minister’s presence that ‘all the trouble in our church was caused through Mr Bilham.’ [3]

Anna Abel’s written reply failed to address the issue.  She said she refused to comment as ‘we have had quite enough of that kind of business lately’ and insisted that the matter was now amicably settled, quoting a hymn to illustrate how forgiving she was, ‘should friends misjudge and foes defame and Brethren faithless prove.’

Either Anna Abel was remarkably thick-skinned or peacemaking efforts were successful for both she and her step-father continued to attend all the various church and circuit meetings and within a month, David Warns was appointed society steward.  Two months later he withdrew the accusatory letter he had written to the minister.

Financial difficulties

By 1904, the church was anxiously requesting that its Connexional grants should not be reduced.  It had relinquished the minister’s house in favour of a smaller one which was cheaper to rent.  In spite of financial difficulties, spiritual life was deepening it was felt and numbers steadily increased through the first two decades of the century.

Ethel Colman, writing to the church officials in 1907 to enquire about the money given by her family to support an evangelist in Thorpe Hamlet over a five-year period, asked about payments already made by the family.  An examination of the accounts found no record of any payments.  Letters of enquiry sent to John Smith, now superintendent minister of the Hackney Road circuit in London, elicited no response.  Finally, the church drafted a formal complaint against Smith and sent it to his circuit.  Anna Abel and David Warns must have felt some satisfaction at seeing the tables turned.

After further letters to the Hackney Road circuit, John Smith agreed to write to Ethel Colman direct.  Presumably he explained matters satisfactorily for shortly afterwards she paid the balance of the money to the church insisting that it was not to be used for building, but only for evangelistic work.

Missionary work

To further this missionary work, a house in St Leonard’s Road was rented for week-night devotional services, open-air services were held in the neighbourhood and also at Thorpe and a grant from the Connexion helped to buy a site for a new chapel on Plumstead Road.  In 1914, land and a building known as the ‘Foundry’ in Thorpe St Andrew were purchased and opened for worship.

Army Chaplain

In 1915, the minister at Scott Memorial, Albert Lowe, volunteered for service as an army chaplain.  The church agreed to his absence and he was sent to northern France where he ministered to men in the trenches. He wrote a series of letters to the congregation describing some of his experiences.  His clerical photograph in the ScottMemorial Messenger, the circuit magazine, was replaced in 1916 by one of him in captain’s uniform and copies of the photograph were sold to raise funds for missions.

Controversy

The minister who succeeded him, Percy Carden, was a controversial figure because of his commitment to Socialist causes.  He and A.F. Scott quickly became bitter antagonists.  The quarrel resulted in Scott leaving the church which he had designed.

Post Union

Originally the only church in the Norwich Primitive Methodist third circuit, in 1910 it was joined by Plumstead Road chapel.  At the time of Methodist Union, it headed one of the five new circuits although two years later it, together with Plumstead Road chapel, was amalgamated with the former Wesleyan Lady Lane circuit thus presenting an interesting challenge to the goodwill of the churches involved.

Extended premises

More school premises were built behind the church in 1959. The architect was Clifford Dann and money for the project came from a variety of sources – £2150 as war damage compensation from the destruction of the Sunday school in Ethel Road, £1250 from the Joseph Rank Benevolent Trust, £750 from the proceeds of the sale of Queen’s Road chapel, £500 from the Methodist Department for Chapel Affairs and £568 was raised by members and friends of the church.  The cost of the new buildings was £6350.  The opening ceremony was performed by Lord Mackintosh of Halifax.

Closure

The church closed in 1985 with the final service taken by the Rev. Jack Burton who had been associated with Thorpe Road since Sunday school days.  The building was then converted to offices by the architect Peter Codling of Norwich in a sympathetic manner which preserved the exterior of the church so that it continues to be a prominent feature of the townscape of Thorpe Hamlet.

References

[1]  N.R.O., FC 32/6, Norwich P. M. 3rd circuit documents, 1901-10

[2]  N.R.O., FC 32/1, Norwich P. M. 3rd circuit minute book, 1903-11

[3]  Ibid.

Downloads
Transcription of an article about the chapel published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907.

Comments about this page

  • This page was modified on 31 December 2018 to add a transcription of an article about the church published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907.

    By Geoff Dickinson (31/12/2018)

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