A Methodist congregation was first recorded in 1761. The earliest chapel was near the Blue Anchor in High Street. John Wesley paid 16 visits, the first on 11 October 1764 and the last in October 1790, when the poet James Crabbe was introduced to him. Usually he came from Great Yarmouth and returned the same day, and was full of praise for the congregations he found there. On 19 November 1776 he opened a new preaching house on the north side of Friary Lane, a 'plain building of brick about 30 feet by 24', enlarged with a gallery on three sides in 1803. This was succeeded by High Street chapel at the junction with Meeting Lane, opened in 1863, damaged by bombing in World War II and sold in 1969.
By 1785 the Lowestoft society had 50 members, according to the Norwich circuit book, rising by 1796 to 97. When the Norwich Circuit was divided in 1792, Lowestoft was allocated to the new Yarmouth Circuit. It became the head of a separate circuit in 1812. A new chapel was opened in High Street in 1863. Other WM chapels were Tonning Street (1857, replaced in 1866, closed 1968) and Lorne Park Road, Kirkley (opened 1904, replaced by South Lowestoft church 1963).
PM reached the town in 1823 and Lowestoft was incorporated into the Yarmouth Branch of the Norwich Circuit. When Yarmouth became a separate circuit in 1824, Lowestoft became a Branch of Yarmouth Circuit, then became a separate circuit with 15 preaching places the following year. The first PM chapel was on South Beach, opened in 1827. Its successor, near the Fisherman's Hospital, known as the Beach chapel or Whapload Road chapel, on a site given by Sir Samuel Peto MP, opened in 1853. It was replaced in 1876 by St. Peter's Street, with galleries added in 1884. The congregation was disbanded in 1948 and after some years it became the Elim Pentecostal church. There were other PM chapels in Mill Road (1870; originally called Minerva Road chapel; sold in 1946), West Bevan Street (1872; also known as Brickfields; sold to the Baptists c.1888) and Norwich Road (opened 1873, closed at Methodist Union; later a cinema and a furniture store).
There was much WR activity in the town in the mid-nineteenth century, but Wesleyanism did not suffer as much as in Norfolk, circuit membership dropping by only about 76 from a total of 396. In the summer of 1854 the Lowestoft WR society joined the Norwich Reform circuit. Their London Road chapel (later known as 'Central' UM) was opened in 1878; it was damaged during World War II and did not reopen. The building was demolished in 1956 and the site was sold.
In 1970 High Street WM and Central UM were replaced by Trinity on a site bought in 1962 at the top of High Street. World War II bombing damaged Central Methodist Church in High Street, Tonning Street and Lorne Park Road. Some of the damage had still not been repaired by the early 1950s and this had marked effect on congregational and Sunday School members. In 1972 the circuit became the Lowestoft and East Suffolk Circuit, by which time the only town churches were Trinity (opened 1970) and South Lowestoft.
John Wesley's Journal:
October 1764: 'I was desired to go to Lowestoft, in Suffolk, nine miles south-east of Yarmouth. The use of a large place had been offered, which would contain abundance of people. But when I was come, Mr. Romaine had changed his mind; so I preached in the open air. A wilder congregation I have not seen; but the bridle was in their teeth. All attended, and a considerable part seemed to understand something of what was spoken; nort did any behave uncivilly when I had done; and I believe a few did not lose their labour.'
February 1767: 'The house would not contain one fourth of the people, so that I was obliged to preach in the open air; and all behaved with great seriousness.'
November 1774: 'About noon I preached at Lowestoft, where the little flock are remarkably lively.'
November 1776: 'I opened the new preaching-house at Lowestoft - a new and lightsome building. It was thoroughly filled with deeply attentive hearers. Surely some of them will bear fruit unto perfection. [Next day] 'Mr. Fletcher preached in the morning, and I at two in the afternoon.'
February 1779: 'I preached at Lowestoft, where is a great awakening, especially among youth and children; several of whom, between twelve and sixteen years of age, are a pattern to all about them.'
Octobr 1781: 'At Lowestoft I found much life and much love.'
October 1782: 'I went on to Lowestoft, which is, at present, far the most comfortable place in the whole circuit.'
October 1783: 'We went to Lowestoft, where the people have stood firm from the beginning. Observing in the evening that forty or fifty people were talking together, as soon as the service was over (a miserable custom that prevails in most places of public worship throughout England and Ireland), I strongly warned the congregation against it… They received it in love; and the next evening all went silently away.'
November 1786: 'Wednesday and Thursday I spent comfortably at Lowestoft, among a quiet, loving people.'
October 1788: 'When I came into the town it blew a storm, and many cried out, "So it always does when he comes." But it fell as suddenly as it rose; for God heard the prayer.'
October 1790: 'I went to Lowestoft, to a steady, loving, well-united society. The more strange it is that they neither increase nor decrease in number.'
Wesley's last sermon in Lowestoft:
'He was exceedingly old and infirm, and was attended, almost supported in the pulpit, by a younger minister [itinerant preacher?] on each side. The chapel was crowded to suffocation. In the course of the sermon he repeated, though with an application of his own, the lines from Anacreon --
Oft am I by women told, Poor Anacreon! thou grow'st old; See. Thine hairs are falling all, Poor Anacreon! how they fall! Whether I grow old or no, By these signs I do not know; But this I need not to be told, ' Tis time to live if I grow old.
My father was much struck by his reverend appearance and his cheerful air, and the beautiful cadence he gave to these lines; and after the service introduced himself to the patriarch, who received him with benevolent politeness.'
(Life of George Crabbe by his Son (1834) ch.6. [Anacreon was a Greek poet of the 6th century BC.]
Entry written by: EW and NV
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