The house of Robert Goodrick, a leather cutter, and his wife Mary at the corner of London Street and The Pightle , 'consisting of two low rooms', was licensed for religious worship in January 1772. Two years later they applied for a licence for anothr house; then in 1775 registered an outhouse attached to 'The Leather House'. John Wesley records passing through the town in 1788 and 1790 and preaching in Goodrick's house. Local tradition has it that he delivered one sermon from a window in the house and another 'to an uproarious crowd on Market Hill where he was pelted with garbage, rotton eggs and stones, many windows being broken'.

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On 28 June 1813 Robert Goodrick jr. licensed 'a certain new-erected building or Chapel built by me ... one of the acting Trustees and situated in London Road'. This was the site of the present church. The new chapel was opened on 7 July 1813 and the ceremony was followed by a lavish dinner for 38 guests, but debts on the building continued to rise, reaching £1,240 in 1834. Extensions were added in 1845, a vestry in 1846 and a Sunday School in 1877. In 1928 the side galleries were removed and the rear gallery remodelled.

A separate Swaffham Circuit had been formed from Kings Lynn Circuit in 1813. In the wake of the Wesleyan Reform defections a large part of Norfolk was reorganised in 1906 into the mid-Norfolk Mission, with Swaffham and its surrounding villages forming one section.

The town was first missioned for the Primitive Methodists by William Green Belham, the travelling preacher at Mattishall. A society was formed despite opposition and in 1836 became the head of a circuit. Numbers fell to a low level and grew again only slowly.

The Norfolk News reported on 4 April 1849 that 'the quietude of this town was disturbed ... by an attempt to suppress the field preaching of the Rev. Henry Alderslade, who had been addressing a large and attentive assembly in the market place'. Two policemen were instructed to arrest the preacher and he was taken before a magistrate, the Rev. W. Woodhouse, who forbad him to preach in the open again. Henry Alderslade refused to agree and indicated he would again preach in the same place before long.'

The Primitive Methodists met at first in a barn in Lynn Road. By 1852 they had taken over a meeting house originally consisting of two old cottages. Here on 3 May 1852 the first Primitive Methodist African Missionary meeting took place. A schoolroom was built at the rear in 1853. In 1873 a new chapel was begun, costing £1,066 and opened in March 1875. The debt on the chapel had been cleared by 1907, but in 1936 it was closed and sold.

The Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist strands of Methodism were united in 1936 in the former Wesleyan chapel, which was designated as a Grade II listed building in 1973. Between 1988 and 2014 a series of major repairs were made to it. In December 1958 it was the venue for the funeral of Sidney Dye, MP.

In 1851 the Religious Census recorded a congregation of Bible Christians in Lynn Street, in a chapel built twenty years previously. Attendances of 50 in the morning, 100 in the afternoon and 139 in the evening were recorded. Henry Bunce who completed the census form indicated that he had opened the chapel on January 20th 1850. The absence of earlier evidence suggests that the building had not originally been intended for public worship. Perhaps the congregation was of seceders from the Wesleyans during the Reform agitations. It must have had a transitory existence, as it is not mentioned in the Swaffham Directories of the 1850s and 1860s and no records remain.

  • Marion Hancock, Swaffham and Methodism (1988)
  • Norma Virgoe, The Heavenly Road (2011)

Entry written by: NV
Category: Place
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