History Of Methodism In Empingham
Probably there were
Methodists in Empingham when the 19th Century began, for there
were enough members in and around Stamford for the Stamford
Circuit to be carved out of the Kettering one in 1806.
Shortly before 1818 the
house of William Davis, in Church Street, now occupied by
Kirstine Hamilton [ formerly the home of Di Deamer] was used for
worship, and in 1821 it was formally licensed at the Rutland
It seems probable that
“the old chapel” on the farm of Charles Keen came into use
between 1821 and 1830. It was adjacent to the farm house and had
been a butcher's shop. For, like some other farmers of that
time, he was a butcher too. The building stood end on to the
road and came right up to the pavement. The site is now occupied
by 18 Main Street.
In 1840 W.Ogden and J.
Tucker were both local preachers and it may be that R.
Christian, who was in trouble for preaching at Empingham ideas
that were not Wesleyan, was another. In 1841 Keen attended a
Circuit Meeting and promised that Empingham would put on a tea
to help reduce the Circuit debt.
The Empingham Benefit Club
attended chapel on its Feast Day in the years 1843 to 1847. In
1847 the preacher was the Rev. Mr. Watson a Wesleyan preacher of
Stamford. He married Keen's daughter Elizabeth, who died in 1863
aged 43, She was buried in the churchyard.
As the number of
worshippers grew the building was enlarged with the help of Mr.
Cragg of the Mill House. In the 'eighties' there were
renovations which cost £60, At some time a gallery was added and
in 1892 an American organ was installed.
The class system was a
valuable part of Methodism. Each member was under pastoral care
of a class leader and had to hold a class ticket, which in those
days cost 6d. a quarter. On 29 September 1870 there were 18
members under C. Keen and JTucker.
When Keen died later that
year his place was taken by William Redshaw. After Keen's death
5s. a year rent was paid to the Normanton Estate, In 1878 there
seem to have been only 15 members, but the number of class
members does not adequately express the strength of Methodism,
which has always had many other adherents or 'hearers'. When
application was made to the Wesleyan Chapel Committee in 1899 to
erect a new chapel it was stated that there were 32 members and
133 hearers, and that the existing building, which held 140,
could not accommodate the increasing congregation and
flourishing Sunday School. In the application it was stated that
the average annual amount received from pew rents in the past
five years was £3.10s. and that £7. P.a. came from other
The Earl of Ancaster
agreed that when the 'old chapel' was pulled down the material
should be sold and the proceeds of sale go towards the cost of
the new one. He also gave the site.
On 21 July 1899 the 'old
chapel' was used for the last time.The pulpit was occupied by
William Hinson, Next day the contractors, Hinson Brothers of
Stamford, moved in. During the transition period Mr Healey's
paint shop in the block of buildings now containing the Surgery
and Wheelwrights Barn was used. JohnHealey was one of the first
trustees of the new chapel.
The stone laying on 17
August 1899 tell their own tale. We can mention only five of
them. Thomas Wright, the saddler, laid one on behalf of the
Adult Bible Class which he conducted. In 1900 it had 20 members.
Robert Stafford laid one on behalf of the Sunday School. In 1901
there were 55 scholars under 6 male and 2 female teachers, with
Mr Wright as the superintendent. Joseph James Healey laid a
stone on behalf of his grandfather James Healey. Mrs Wade of
Halifax laid one in memory of her father Charles Keen. Robert
Shields laid one on behalf of friends 'in and from Scotland'. It
would seem that some of the Scots coming south had found their
spiritual home among the Empingham Methodists.
After the stone laying
ceremony 300 people had tea in a marquee. At 6.30 pm. There was
a large public meeting. There were four principal speakers
beside the usual votes of thanks. It was reported that Mrs
Walshaw of Halifax, perhaps another of Keen's daughters, moved
the feelings of her hearers as she dwelt on memories of the old
days. The sum of £250.10s. 1d. was raised in all.
The opening was on 30 November 1899. The Rutland & Stamford
Mercury, gives a list of furniture given and to-day we find it
amusing to read that Mrs Shields gave twelve umbrella stands!
The preacher was a former President of the Wesleyan Conference,
the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes. His text was St. John ch 4 v 25 -
26, which the reader may care to look out for him or herself.
The School Log Book records for that day that few children
attended school in the afternoon, most were at the opening.
There must have been
several sittings at tea in the Audit Hall, for 500 teas were
served. Another mammoth public meeting then followed, Mr Price
Hughes spoke for an hour on the value of true religion, of the
importance of belonging to the Church of Christ and the honour
of belonging to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, a section of the
whole. The Rev. S. Hunt followed in 'happy style'. He had been a
junior Methodist minister in Stamford and was apparently a
favourite in Empingham. On the day £101. 0s. 7d. was raised. It
seemed that the building cost £967 and not £849 as expected.
That was because the first contractor had backed out.
The accounts for 1900 are
interesting. A tea on Good Friday and the collection at a
service raised £2.5s.5d. Collections at the afternoon and
evening services on Easter day yielded 15s.6d. A sum of £2.12s.
was raised at a tea and a lecture by Mr Hunt. At the afternoon
service on Harvest Festival Day £1.0s6d. was collected and
£5.18s. in the evening. A tea and a night meeting on 3 October
raised £3.9s.11d. The Christmas singers raised £1.10s. and pew
rents brought in £8.13s3d.
About this time H. Munton,
Reuben Redshaw, John Healey and Robert Stafford were the class
leaders. Mr Redshaw was the postmaster. John Healey was a
wheelwright and blacksmith who later became a farmer also.
Such pieces of information
as we can gather help us to see across the years a picture of a
vigorous Methodist Society, and we realise that many Empingham
people found their religious, social and cultural centre in the
chapel. It was the time when churches of all religious
denominations were crowded for Harvest Festival services. Among
the Methodists there was plainly a partiality for teas and an
appetite for long sermons. The 'lecture' was basically a
longer-than-usual sermon. Great stress was laid on the Sunday
School and the new chapel was built to provide accommodation for
it. Pew rents were necessary because Methodists rarely had any
It is perhaps fitting to
close this brief account by quoting the words of Charles Wesley
inscribed on the stone which bears the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes’
name: ‘Thou, 0 Christ, art all I want.'
The writer would like to
make it clear that he has used the word 'chapel' instead of the
word 'church' because that was the word that the Methodists
themselves then used for their place of worship. He would also
like to express his gratitude to Mrs. R. W. Clark, Mr. J. B.
Wright, the staff of Stamford Library and the staff of the
Lincolnshire Archives Office.
J.E. Swaby. M.A,Ph.D.
Canon Emeritus of Lincoln.
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