of the History of Wivenhoe Methodist Church
the early years of the 19th century the followers of John
Wesley, known as “Methodists”, split into two rival groups, the
established “Wesleyan Methodists” and the breakaway “Primitive
Methodists”. Both groups became established in Colchester and competed
to extend their influence in the surrounding area. In many places these
Methodists had no building of their own but conducted services in private
houses, hired rooms, or in the open air. Both groups were active in
Wivenhoe in the late 1830’s. But while the Wesleyans soon withdrew, the
Primitive Methodists persevered for several decades.
the end of 1870 the Primitives looked set to buy land and build a chapel.
But at the last moment the Wesleyans returned to the village and quickly
won what can be seen as a race to build. Despite a muddle over the
purchase of the land, the whole project was completed in just seven weeks.
What emerged was a wooden-boarded building, situated on the bend in Chapel
Road, with seating for 162 and opened in February 1871 (see drawing right,
by Geoffrey King). The Wesleyans were
now safely established in the village after making very little effort
during the preceding 30 years. The Primitives, who had done so much
groundwork, withdrew defeated.
10 years there were complaints of overcrowding and discomfort and
agitation to build a bigger chapel. Two adjacent plots of land at the
junction of Chapel Road and Clifton Terrace were purchased and plans
prepared, but no further action taken for over 15 years. Meanwhile the
original building survived the 1884 earthquake unscathed.
project was revived in 1897. Several alternative sites were now considered
and rejected. New plans were drawn up for the land in Chapel Road, before
the present site in The Avenue became available. Again plans were prepared
but builders’ tenders were 40-60% above the architect’s estimate.
Further delay ensued while one of the Trustees prepared a simpler
specification and undertook to build at a cheaper price. There was a
ceremonial stone-laying on Whit Monday 1901 at which contemporary
documents and newspapers were buried in the foundations. The new chapel
was finally opened in October 1901. Despite initial optimism, it took 25
years to pay off the debt on this new building.
Chapel Road land and building were eventually sold, the old chapel
becoming first the Parish Hall and later the St. John Ambulance Hall, its
external appearance much changed in recent times. At the national level,
the rival Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist factions finally re-united in
lighting was installed in The Avenue chapel in 1928 to replace the gas,
while 1938 brought electric heating instead of the stove. Otherwise the
building changed little in 60 years. After a period of relative prosperity
the membership dwindled until in 1959 a proposal to close was narrowly
in the early 1960’s the life of the church was revived by the arrival of
a number of new young families. Soon there was interest in renovating the
premises. A modest scheme proposed in 1966 was overtaken by the receipt of
a bequest which facilitated a more ambitious project completed in 1971.
New rooms were built at the rear and the interior of the church was turned
round so that the congregation faced west instead of east. New chairs
replaced the pews and the exterior red brickwork was rendered over and
painted. Two years later a small pipe organ was installed. Recent
modifications have improved facilities for the disabled. In 2001 the
church celebrated the centenary of the present building in The Avenue and
continues to serve the local community.
The above is a summary of the history of the Wivenhoe Methodist Church.
The full history of the Church was first published by Geoffrey King in
1988 and a second edition was produced in 2003.
To see how buy a copy of the booklet, contact Geoffrey King on tel:
01206 823235 or e-mail:
Re Pictures above:
1. Line drawing by Geoffrey King of the original Methodist
Chapel, built 1871 in Chapel Road.
2. Poster announcing a 'public dedicatory service of prayer' in the
3. Photograph of the later Methodist Church built in The Avenue in
4. Interior of the Church, probably around 1966, well before the alterations