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Although John Wesley journeyed through Thetford on his first visit to Norfolk in 1754, there is no mention that he stayed in the town. Thetford was mentioned only twice in his journal and diary - in 1757 when a man asked him to preach at Lakenheath and in October 1790 on his last visit to East Anglia when he stopped in the town for just half an hour.

A licence for religious worship was obtained for a Wesleyan society in 1786. One of the applicants was John Hinson, the father of the preacher William Hinson who entered the ministry in 1806. Sarah Mallet, who had been encouraged by John Wesley, preached there.

The society was in the Bury St Edmunds Circuit and in 1797 was promoted to joint head, which lasted until 1813 when Thetford became head of its own circuit. A chapel was built in 1803-4 in Raymond Street and opened by Martin Vaughan. The town council had not wanted the chapel to occupy the prominent site originally chosen and insisted the Methodists relinquish it for a cheaper, less prominent position. In 1807 a Sunday school was begun, the first in the town. One of the scholars was Francis West who became the President of Conference in 1857.

Another young member of the society was Robert Newstead who entered the ministry in 1815. He set sail for Ceylon as a missionary the following year. James Hall Cummings, born in the town and accepted for the ministry in 1855, worked as a missionary in India for many years. Elizabeth Pollard, daughter of the Rev. William Pollard, and a Sunday school teacher, left to work in India under the auspices of the Wesleyan Missionary Committee in 1864.

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A new chapel was opened in the town centre in October 1830 at a cost of £1,488. It was constructed of gault bricks with a slate roof and its three bays were defined by four giant pilasters. A burial ground was attached. The old chapel was retained as a Sunday school and was not sold until 1930.

The 1851 Religious Census recorded 198 present at morning worship with 81 in the afternoon and 247 in the evening. There were 133 Sunday school children in the morning and 20 in the evening.

In the Wesleyan Reform crisis in the mid nineteenth century, the ministers Theophilus Pugh and Joseph Portrey took a conservative stance and both wrote a series of bellicose letters to the local newspapers criticising the opponents of Conference’s actions. In contrast to every other Norfolk circuit, Thetford’s membership remained at a high level.

The first small congregation of Primitive Methodists met in a cottage in Magdalen Street. Then George Wharton of North Lopham, who had received communion from John Wesley, bought a property in Guildhall Street and opened it for worship in November 1829. It seated 90 people. It was enlarged by incorporating two adjoining cottages, but the cause failed. The town was again missioned in 1838 and was included in the Saham and Watton Circuit. A small chapel was built in a garden behind a cottage on Melford Bridge Road. It was registered for worship on 25 March 1839 and had 57 members.

Thetford was made head of a branch of the Brandon Circuit in 1851. The chapel was enlarged in 1859 with additional seating and a larger gallery, but with numbers increasing, a new building was needed and this was opened in September 1863 in Guildhall Street/Cage Lane. The old chapel was sold and converted to a house.

A large number of chapel members were involved in the Agricultural Trade Union.

A great District camp meeting was held in Thetford in 1904 with religious gatherings, public meetings, concerts and tours of the town. A vast number of people attended.

At Methodist Union the Primitive Methodists joined the Wesleyans at their church. The Primitive Methodist church was retained as a Central Hall until 1957 when it was sold.

In 1958 the President of Conference, Rev. Dr Norman Snaith, whose family had come from Thetford, visited the town. The circuit raised £33 towards his presidential gown. As a supernumerary, he and his wife came to live in the town.

With the main industry closing in 1928 the resulting economic distress led to many leaving the area to work elsewhere. The population fell drastically and this greatly affected numbers in the church. However in the late 1950s arrangements were made to accept people from London and several industries moved to the town. This led to a slow recovery of church membership. An adjoining warehouse was bought as a church hall in 1960. Another hall was added in 1982.

In the reorganisation of circuits in 2007, the Thetford, Diss and Mildenhall Circuits were combined to make a geographically very wide circuit.

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Born in Balaklava, north of Adelaide, on 8 January 1930, he grew up on the family farm at Inveray in Grace Plains and was educated at Adelaide High School. At the University of Adelaide he took a degree in Physics and played football, cricket and hockey for the university. His first job was with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Sydney. In 1953 he and his newly married wife emigrated to Britain, where at the invitation of Bernard Lovell he was offered a post at Manchester University’s Jodrell Bank Observatory. He became its Director in succession to Lovell in 1988.

During a long career of scientific research he became a leading figure in the field of radio astronomy and published many research papers. He was awarded a PhD in 1956, was President of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1987-89, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1992 and received a CBE in 1995. He continued his research after his retirement in 1997, his last paper being published after his death.

He became a local preacher in the Australian Methodist at the age of 16 and continued to preach and speak on religion and science during his years in Manchester. He died of cancer on 8 November 2015.

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Solicitor, English judge, Liberal politician and Wesleyan, born 23 September 1862, educated at Wesley College, Sheffield and served as the President of the Sheffield Chamber of Trade. From 1903 to 1921 he was a Sheffield City councillor. He stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal for Sheffield Hallam in January and December 1910, but in 1918 to 1920 represented Sheffield Hillsborough. Standing again for Bassetlaw 1923 and 1924, and Gainsborough in 1929 he was never returned to the Commons. He was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Paymaster-General in October 1919 and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Transport in November 1919.

His son, John Neal, MM (1889=1962), born 17 August 1889 was educated at The Leys School and King’s College, Cambridge. During the First World War he served inn the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve and then as a major in the Royal Artillery, being decorated with the Military Medal. He made a number of unsuccessful attempts as a Liberal to enter the Commons: Wansbeck, 1922 and Barnsley, 1923 and 1924. Called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1920, he was appointed a county court judge in 1942, from then until 1961 being Deputy Chairman of the West Riding Quarter Sessions. He died on 8 September 1962.


Occupations: Law; Politics, Liberal

Hyperlinks: Wesley College, Sheffield; Sheffield; The Leys School

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Joseph Mitchell of Worsbrough Dale near Barnsley was a Weslayan coalpit owner and as managing partner of Swaithe Main, Edmunds Main and Mitchell’s Main, was one of the largest employers in South Yorkshire. Having served an apprenticeship at Dawes' Milton Works and after working as a journeyman, he established a small foundry in Worebrough Dale. He went into coal mining in the 1850s. On 6 December 1875 an explosion at his Swaithe Main resulted in 140 deaths. The shock killed him and he died soon after in January 1876. Swaithe Maine ceased production in 1894, although the coke oven continued until 1908.

His son, Joseph Mitchell (1840-1895), born 7 September 1840, was involved in his father’s foundry and was responsible for the reopening of Swaithe Main and completing the sinking of Mitchell's Main, begun in 1871. As a successful mining engineer, he was consulted on issues in the South Yorkshire and other coalfields, served as an arbitrator in mining disputes and was a Parliamentary witness in mining, railway, and trade matters. A founder member of the Midland Institute of Mining, Civil and Mechanical Engineers, he became its secretary and treasurer in 1879. His foundry provided bridges for the South Yorkshire Railway. He resigned from the family business in 1890.

He was in turn succeeded by his son, Mr. T. W. H. Mitchell. who stood unsuccessfully as a Coupon Conservative for Wentworth in 1918.

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Born on 4 January 1915 in Addiscombe, Croydon and educated at Kingston Grammar School. His family worshipped at Surbiton Hill church and he became a local preacher following a deep spiritual experience under the preaching of J.E. Eagles. Accepted for the ministry, he followed his missionary brother Leslie to Richmond College, to which he returned as assistant tutor under Dr. Eric Waterhouse. In 1951 he was appointed tutor in Old Testament and Hebrew. With the closure of the college in 1972 he returned to circuit life with ten years in the Ealing and Acton circuit.

His academic gifts were matched by practical skills, which included violin-making. He was also a gifted raconteur and mimic, He died on 9 February 2009.

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For many years there were two active Methodist churches in Newhaven. The Wesleyan church was formed in 1894. The foundation stone for a church building, originally known as The Tabernacle, was laid by the Honourable T.S. Brand R.N. on 24 May 1893. On Friday June 7 1895 Mr. W.W. Pocock laid the final stone. Today the building is the headquarters of the Newhaven Sea Scouts. Previous to the opening a Mr. Gosling had sought permission for Methodist services to be held in his barn. The influence of the Rev. G.T. Dixon, Superintendent of the Sussex Mission, led to new chapel schemes in both Newhaven and Seaford. The Wesleyan Circuit in those days extended over a wide area, including Lewes, Brighton, Eastbourne, Bexhill, Tunbridge Wells and Littlehampton.

In contrast, the Primitive Methodist Circuit was based on Eastbourne and Newhaven. The Rev. William Dinnick signed the deeds for a chapel in Newhaven on the east side of South Road on 11 October 1886. The list of Trustees in 1900 shows that the early members consisted mainly of railway workers and local artisans.

On 8 September 1923 the two churches were united in a special service, with the Wesleyan chapel in Chapel Street as the centre of worshjp and activity. The Rev. H.W. Holtby from Brighton, who shared in the service, commented that this local union was ‘an echo of events already taking place in other parts of the country’. At the time of Methodist Union in 1932 there were 50 members and the following year Newhaven became part of the Sussex Mission (later the Mid-Sussex Circuit). By 1935 there were 72 members and a flourishing Sunday School. The minute book on 8 January 1939 recorded that 80 children attended in the morning and 120 in the afternoon. During the war the church was much involved in catering for the needs of servicemen stationed in the port of Newhaven.

During the ministry of the Rev. J.L. Cooper (1968-1973) it was found that some £6,000 was needed for urgent repairs. So negotiations took place between the Methodists in Chapel Street and St. Michael’s Anglican church. Ultimately the decision was reached to share the Anglican premises, Anglican services at 10 a.m. being followed by Methodist worship at 11.15. This arrangement gradually declined and the Methodists drifted away to other churches.. However, the present rector is also recognised as a Methodist minister and attends meetings in the Central Sussex United Area and occasionally leads worship in Methodist churches. His influence is greatly appreciated.

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