Lewes, East Sussex

Lewes was for centuries a stronghold of Nonconformity and Calvinism, with a proliferation of Independent, Baptist, Presbyterian, Unitarian and Quaker congregations. Methodism reached the town (and Sussex generally) quite late. The first initiative was taken by Lady Huntingdon from her base in Brighton. In 1765 she arranged for William Romaine, Martin Madan and John Fletcher to preach in the town, despite opposition from local clergy and townspeople. Ten years later her Cliffe Chapel opened in the face of continuing hostility. In 1781 the first full-time minister, Joseph Middleton, trained at Trevecca College, arrived; but controversy over infant baptism divided the congregation. Cliffe Chapel survived until the 1860s.

The first WM chapel, a former warehouse, was opened in St. Mary's Lane (later Station Street) in 1807, under the leadership of a layman, John Dudeney of Rottingdean. By 1829, despite a loss of members to the BCs, it claimed as many as 300 hearers, but on Census Sunday in 1851 the largest adult congregation was 155 in the evening. The 1807 building was replaced by a red-brick gothic chapel on the same site in 1867. This eventually closed in 1970, when the society arranged to share the Westgate Unitarian premises. In 1999 a joint URC-Methodist congregation came into existence under the name 'Christ Church'.

Arriving in the 1820s and helped by the novelty of using women preachers, the BCs took over a former Baptist chapel in Eastport Lane. But their success was limited and by 1851 they had been replaced by the PMs in their Ebenezer Chapel, Fisher Street. In the 1851 Religious Census they reported an evening attendance comparable to that of WM, but their membership was very much smaller. The first resident preacher was appointed in 1864, but decline led to the Brighton PM Circuit abandoning the cause in 1877.

  • Jeremy Goring, Burn Holy Fire: Religion in Lewes since the Reformation (Cambridge, 2003)