Fakenham Circuit, Norfolk
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. A.B. Gowers
Our Connexional historians have it on record that the beginnings of Primitive Methodism in Fakenham are lost in obscurity. The statement does find acceptance locally, since there is a tradition which has been handed on from generation to generation and is believed to be historically accurate. A Fakenham carrier was returning one evening from King’s Lynn, when he overtook a stranger plodding wearily along the road. He pulled up his horse, and enquiring the traveller’s destination, offered him a ride, which was gratefully accepted. In course of conversation, the carrier ascertained that his companion was a “Ranter” preacher, travelling on foot from Peterborough to Fakenham. Reaching his journey’s end and knowing no one in the town, the carrier generously offered him hospitality for the night. When the preacher came down in the morning, he found his well-worn boots, the only ones he possessed had been repaired while he slept. The first services were held in the carrier’s cottage, which by a strange coincidence stood on part of the ground now covered by the Buckenham Memorial Church. From that time until the present day relatives of that generous carrier have been active supporters of our Church, and one branch of the family is represented in our ministry.
Shortly after services had been established, a room above a cow-shed was secured, across the adjoining yard. This became the site of a chapel, built in 1862, and accommodating four hundred. It is used to-day as a school hall and hallowed memories cluster around the services formerly held there. The present church is a beautiful and commodious structure built in 1908, during the ministry of the late Rev. W.M. Batterbee. It worthily commemorates the life and work of Henry Buckenham, the pioneer missionary to South Central Africa.
Fakenham was originally missioned by Nottingham, and in its turn became the base of activities covering practically the whole of Norfolk and part of Suffolk. In a balance sheet, dated 1822, the contributing societies include Norwich, Wymondham, Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Nine travelling preachers were employed, one of whom was a woman. In the same year, a proposal was carried that Norwich should become a separate branch of the Nottingham Circuit, and in 1823 Fakenham became an independent station, embracing a district since divided into no less than nine circuits. Strict rules were laid down in those days for the conduct of business. Some resolutions, dated 1822, provide that prayer be offered every hour for five minutes and that Brother Stimpson be timekeeper. If he exceed the time he shall forfeit twopence, and if any brother interrupt another, he shall be fined one penny for each offence. The custom might even yet commend itself as a method of extinguishing circuit deficiencies.
The circuit has been magnificently served by a long line of apostolic men. In the earlier records, names like Robert Key, Robert Betts, James Jackson and William Hammond, written in ink which has faded with the years, yet preserve a lustre undimmed by time. On the other hand, while the circuit has received richly in devotion and service, it has given great men to the Church. Henry Buckenham, whose name has already been mentioned, was a native of Fakenham. The Revs. F.W. Brett, W.R. Bird, M.S. Cushing all came from the same town; so too, the brothers Stone, of Norwich and Wymondham, their father’s devoted service being still a treasured memory.
The circuit to-day is in a healthy condition. Its work embraces ten villages, making with the town church, eleven societies in all. There is a membership of two hundred and twenty. The district is purely agricultural and is suffering from the depression of the industry, but the Circuit Stewards, who are both farmers, are optimists, believing that the best is yet to be. If the spirit of the fathers becomes the possession of the children, such hopes will be fully justified. The Circuit Centenary was celebrated in May and anticipation was fully met in connection with those gatherings. The services of the Revs. W.A. Hammond and E. McLellan were secured, and a souvenir has been published. The problem in the villages is largely one of leader ship. Where there are efficient leaders, excellent work is being accomplished. In the town a loyal band of officials and workers are giving their best to the work of the Kingdom. The interests of the young people are catered for in the Sunday school and Christian Endeavour, while a choir of over thirty members assists the service of praise. A staff of nearly forty local preachers is fully taxed to meet the needs of the circuit, and among; their number is George Edwards, the veteran leader of the Agricultural Labourers’ Union, and the late M.P. for South Norfolk.
Christian Messenger 1923/267