Anne Dixon, nee Chambers
Transcription of ‘Sketch’ In the Christian Messenger in the series “Of Godly Women Not a Few” by W.A. Hammond
Away in the north-eastern corner of Norfolk stands the little village of Weybourne, nestling peacefully in a gentle hollow in the coast, with the famous Kelling Heath stretching far away behind it. Shut out from all the world apparently, it was, until recent years, little and unknown, except, perhaps, to Primitive Methodist preachers, who gladly found their way there, for to them it was an oasis in a somewhat dreary region.
Kelling Heath, a fine, breezy upland swept by the North-East winds in winter, but covered with glorious gorse in the summer, is now a recognised health resort and the chosen spot for a fine consumptive sanatorium, to which patients travel from far and near; but in olden days it was the home of the rabbit and hare, the partridge and pheasant, the happy hunting-ground of notorious poachers. No house could be seen across its wide stretches, though lonely homesteads were hidden away in its nooks and corners.
Until the home missionaries of early Primitive Methodism visited the neighbourhood it was largely neglected by religious agencies. Its fine churches were empty and neglected, and its people were careless and indifferent about religion. But the early pioneers of Primitive Methodism seemed instinctively drawn to such districts, however unlikely they appeared be. That wandering meteor, Billy Braithwaite, never seemed happy unless he could wander down through the fens of Lincolnshire and across the marshes of Norfolk until he reached Kelling Heath, and no sooner was it known that Braithwaite was on the Heath than scores of people flocked out from surrounding villages and gladly listened to the Word of Grace which he preached. “Fifty souls brought down with one shot,” says Robert Key of a service that he held on this lonely Heath. Yes, fifty souls won for Christ in a single service, and around the Heath little societies sprang up which have rendered fine service to the people. .
In one of these services Mrs. Dixon, whose husband was a small farmer in the neighbourhood, yielded herself to Christ, and her husband being like-minded, they opened their home for the entertainment of the nomadic preachers. And what a home it was! It mattered not who he was, so long as he was a “Primitive preacher” he found a hearty welcome there. Not occasionally and irregularly, but for fifty years, as regularly as the preachers came, they wended their way to the little farm; and when the husband died, and she retired to Weybourne, she saw to it that in the quiet cottage home the prophets’ chamber was not forgotten. Without such ministry the evangelisation of the Eastern Counties would have been impossible. The sons grew up to be larger farmers than their father had been. One took the church farm in the village opposite his mother’s cottage. He never joined our Church, but was a fine supporter, and regularly attended its services. All day long he would be on his horse round the farm, and ride into the farmyard by seven o’clock in the evening, but by half-past seven he would be in the corner seat in the little old hired chapel. It was a quaint place. Any preacher could touch the ceiling with his hand. Occasionally the congregation could count the stars through the broken roof whilst the preacher ambled on. It was one of those villages where land could not be had for love nor money. Lord Orford, the landowner, said to the minister, when he applied for a piece of land: “Yes, if it possible, you shall have a piece of ground. Mr. Dixon attends your services, doesn’t he?” “Yes.” “Well, you shall have a piece of land for a chapel if I can manage it.” But, lord though he was, the estate was entailed, and the next-of-kin refused to agree, and for years the little old hired building was the only place for worship, and that on very precarious tenure. A fine site and a beautiful village chapel has since been secured under terrible cost for site, but it was the only chance of continuing work in the village.
But the “prophets’ home” still remained with the old lady in the cottage. Rarely could she get to service, but what interest she had in all that pertained to the little cause! She was counsellor, adviser, friend. Quiet and gentle in manner, patient and submissive in suffering, her home was the centre whence issued influences that made Primitive Methodism a mighty power in that neighbourhood. She knew the joy of a close fellowship with God, the calmness that comes of a perfect trust, the rich satisfaction of “doing her bit,” of playing her part in the cause of Christ. She was indeed a “succourer of many.“ Of her the Master could say, “She did what she could.“ It was not hers to live before the footlights, but no one ever knew all she did. The hour of evening prayer was her means of grace. What fellowship she had! In that little room such giants as Robert Key, William H. Meadows, Robert Betts, Edward Howchin, John Smith, and others have poured out their souls and pleaded with God until, like princes, they have prevailed. There they have received their strength and replenished their resources, and gone forth to evangelize the country round. The commissariat department is as necessary as munitions of war. Hers was the commissariat department for valiant soldiers as they waged their warfare with careless indifference and sometimes bitter hostility along the coast-line of North Norfolk.
And what times some of them were! The Missionary Meeting was the great event of the year. The deputation always found a hearty welcome, and across at the farm provision would be made as though the king was coming – the fatted calf, or something akin, would be slain, a royal board would be spread. Such joints, such pasties, such syllabubs as never were! Neither deputation, nor circuit ministers, nor invited officials could possibly consume all. The poor of the parish had the advantage next day, for they all knew their way to “the farm,” and many a cottage larder received wonderful supplies. And then the boxes! I wonder whether those collectors are yet living? What miles they trudged! Each box was started with a golden sovereign, and came back well-laden to the Missionary
Meeting, and then just before the meeting a little parcel was slipped into the minister’s hand, gently and unostentatiously, with the firm request, “Say nothing about it,” but when the little bit of newspaper was opened, four sovereigns would reveal themselves for the collection. No wonder the speakers had wonderful times! No wonder they sang lustily, “Fly abroad thou mighty Gospel!” No wonder the little congregation imagined the evangelization of the world was nigh at hand!
In that little rugged chapel Thomas Lowe gave his great Metropolitan speech, and Robert Key told of the triumph of the Gospel of Christ. And in the record of evangelistic work those godly women were more than repaid for all the miles they had trudged and all the sacrifices they had made. “With long life will I satisfy Him and show Him my salvation.” Three godly women, the wives of agricultural labourers on the farm, had held their missionary boxes for many years, and collected many scores of pounds for the missionary cause. And when long life, the dread of an earlier generation, because of the vision of the workhouse at the end of life’s long day of toil – when long life came, with its weakness and decrepitude, each one found that “some better thing had been provided for them,” for Lloyd-George had carried his Old Age Pensions Act before the War came, and in the quiet of their little cottage homes these workers for Christ spent their closing days.
But behind the feast of fat things, and the heavily-laden missionary boxes, and the persistent workers, was the little lady of the “prophets’ home,” whose word of encouragement was the inspiration of all, and whose approval was the reward of all. Certainly she did more than can be told to build up Primitive Methodism in that locality. They have all passed away. The little mother, the stalwart son, his noble wife—they have all gone. The wife was the last.
It was the stone-laying of the new chapel. The M.P. for the division had laid the foundation-stone. We had a. quiet cup of tea with the widow in the old farm, and after tea drove to the newly-erected station on the line to Cromer. “Now, Sir Brampton,” said the good wife, “this is the first time you have been in my house. This is preachers’ home now mother is gone. If ever you are this way call for dinner or tea, or if you choose to stay the night the bed shall be ready,” and, turning to the minister, Sir Brampton said: “I’ll take good care to call here again, for you don’t often find a home away from home like this.” But Sir Brampton never called again; both he and the lady passed over to the Homeland, and the village isn’t quite the same.
But the pretty little chapel that now adorns the village is the fulfilment of the old lady’s dream that God would open the way to a permanent house of prayer, and He has done it.
Family and other information
Ann was born abt 1793 at Stiffkey, Norfolk. She married Grandison Dixon (abt1785-1867) on 17 December 1816 at Langham, Norfolk. Census returns identify three children.
- William (1817-1899) – a farmer; his wife, Mary, died in 1904 shortly after the stonelaying at Weybourne
- Abel (1819-1863) – a farmer
- George Chambers (1831-1895) – a farmer
Ann’s death was registered in the summer of 1886.
Christian Messenger 1916/235
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers
Ann’s 2015 Tree on Ancestry.com