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 Quarter Sessions.
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 sources.
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.
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 endowments.
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.