Fakenham, Norfolk

John Wesley visited the town in October 1781 and preached in a 'room' built by Mary Franklin(g) in 1775 as a place of worship. Mary married a widowed shopkeeper Thomas Parker in 1779 and they were foremost in introducing Methodist preaching into the town. Used at first by an Independent congregation, the White Horse Street chapel was later used by the Methodists and visiting preachers came at Mary's invitation from King's Lynn.She and her husband both died in 1788 and the chapel was left to the Methodist trustees in her will. By 1799 it had become part of the Walsingham circuit. Membership figures remained low, but in 1814 briefly reached 51. A leading member for many years was Samuel Eastaugh (c.1758-1840), a native of the town. The Wesleyan society was decimated by the Reform movement in the 1850s, with the UMFC taking over the White House Street chapel. In 1881, in circumstances that are unclear, they leased the chapel to the East Dereham WM Circuit, so that it became a place of Wesleyan worship once more. By then, however, it was in a poor state of repair, so in 1892 a new WM chapel was built in Oak Street. The UMFC trustees sold the Whitehouse Street building the following year. The new chapel in Oak Street was destroyed by a bomb in 1941.

Meanwhile, in 1821 the Primitive Methodists had arrived in the town. A barn at the back of buildings on the opposite side of Oak Street was converted into a chapel. This was in the Nottingham PM Circuit and by March 1823 a total of 458 members was reported. The property was bought in 1825 and rebuilt with galleries in 1861-2. Shops and cottages between it an Oak Street were acquired in 1896 and in 1908 the chapel was replaced on the enlarged site by the Buckenham Memorial chapel, designed by A.F. Scott. The earlier chapel was retained and converted to house the Sunday School. George Edwards, the champion of agricultural trade unionism, spent his closing years in the town.

Following Methodist Union in 1932, the WM society, after initial hesitation, joined the Primitive Methodists in their newer and larger premises on the other side of Oak Street. The WM chapel became the Wesleyan Hall and was used for various activities until sold to the Salvation Army in 1925. After its wartime destruction the Salvation Army built new premises on the site in 1956.

Property adjoining the earlier PM chapel in Oak Street came into Methodist hands in 1968 and became Halfway House, providing accommodation for patients discharged from hospital with mental health problems. It served this purpose until new legislation made it difficult for this to continue and it closed in 2004.

  • Jim Baldwin, Wesley's People: the Methodist Heritage of Fakenham (Fakenham, 2008)