Mulbarton Methodist Chapel

Methodist Chapel

On a bend in the road, next to the Worlds End public house, is the former Methodist Chapel.

(Information from Evelyn Vincent - first written for and published in 'Woolgatherer', the Methodist Women's Network Magazine. Contributed by the author. + additional dates from 'Through Cloud and Sunshine: the History of the Norwich Methodist Circuit's Churches and Chapels' Norma Virgoe & Albert Ward (eds), Norwich, 2002. Plus information from Mulbarton School Log Books and from Chapel Account Books, 1945-91 lent by Mr. & Mrs. P. Bobbin

The earliest days

1823 - Mulbarton was among the first group of societies to send quarterly contributions to the Primitive Methodist circuit funds.
1837 - the circuit looked for a room to rent for regular Sunday services,
June 1838 - report of meetings being held in the home of David Spurgeon jnr.
1840 - the circuit was looking for another base, though exactly why is not known.

The circuit found a meeting-place to rent, but the Mulbarton congregation was 'asked if it would be responsible for the weekly shilling rent, but warned that if they declined then preaching would have to be conducted in the open air'. The congregation did decline - and does not seem to have supported open-air meetings...

1841 - a village mission in March failed to gather enough support for a Society.
1850-51, and 1861 - mention of Mulbarton in Local Preachers plan, but this does not necessarily mean that services were held.
1872 - the Queen's Road (Norwich) Primitive Methodist circuit organised a mission which resulted in a Society being formed with nine members.

Meetings were being held in Bracon Ash, but efforts to find a building plot for a chapel there came to nought. So....

Far right, the new Chapel next to the World's End. the hedge borders an orchard by the Post Office: neither the Wingfield Hall nor the Garage exist.
Far right, the new Chapel next to the World's End. the hedge borders an orchard by the Post Office: neither the Wingfield Hall nor the Garage exist.

The Foundation

In the 1890s a group of Christians used to meet as a house group in Bracon Ash, the next village along the road from Mulbarton, and they were led to build a Chapel to give them more space to worship. It was never quite understood why the Chapel was built in Mulbarton on such a small site, other than to assume that the land was offered to them by the mill owner. Of course at the time it was built, the Chapel was at the centre of the village: there was no motorised traffic and there were none of the large housing estates on the other side of the common.

The stone laying ceremony took place on August 8th 1899, and the stone was laid by the Rev. Calvert, the then Superintendent Minister of the Queen's Road (Norwich) Circuit, on behalf of the Trustees. The Chapel was built by the Robert Trower firm of builders, and the Chapel was completed by 1900. The stone at the top of the Chapel reads: PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHAPEL 1900.

The Eastern Daily Press reported that £40 was laid on the stones for the new chapel.  

Some of the early Trustees were Mr. Robert Trower and Mr. Frederick Crown, a retired farm bailiff of Keswick. Mr. Ernest Scarlett of Kinsley Road Norwich was also a Trustee: he was listed as a teacher. Mr. Emms from East Carleton was appointed Chapel Steward, and Mrs. Cooper of The Rosery, Mulbarton, was also a founder member.

April 1900 - services begin. The chapel could seat 150 people, cost £292, of which £140 was still owed when it was opened.
The Chapel was obviously very active in these early years - there was a Sunday School with 4 teachers and 32 children; a Band of Hope with 5 adult and 10 young abstainers; and a Christian Endeavour Society with 10 members.

Entries in the Mulbarton School Log Book show:
1900 July 3rd - Chapel Tea Meeting [some pupils left early]
1904 July 6th - The Methodist Sunday School Treat this afternoon, consequently nearly 1/3 of school away. 61 present out of 94 on books

There were two services a Sunday, one in the afternoon and one at 6.30 p.m. Adjoining the Chapel was a stable for the visiting preacher's pony, if he was fortunate enough to have one, otherwise the preachers used to walk many miles to take the services. It was said that after Mr. Emms got too frail to attend the 6.30 p.m. service, his housekeeper could be seen walking alone on the dark winter nights lighting her way with a hurricane lantern, and people could set their clocks by her, she was always so punctual.

The Inter-War Years

The late Walter Chilvers said that by the late 1920s the Chapel was almost closed down. Country Methodism depended very much on agricultural families and the congregation would fluctuate in numbers according to whether farm workers moved at Michaelmas or not. [In the autumn, when agricultural tenancies were - or were not - renewed.]

1925 - 25 chapel members. The Sunday School had 1 teacher and 10 children
1931 - 25 chapel members; Sunday School now 4 teachers and 28 children (largely thanks to help from Queen's Road Methodist Chapel, Norwich).

However, in the 1930s some young men from the Queens Road Methodist Church, Norwich, supported the Mulbarton Society by helping out with the Sunday School. Also in the 1930s, Mr. James Bobbin from Swardeston was asked if he would become Steward at the Chapel. Mr Bobbin's family had been worshipping at a small non-conformist Chapel in Swardeston but that had closed down. So began the long association of the Bobbin family with Mulbarton Chapel. At the outbreak of war in 1939 the young men from Queens Road Chapel were called up into the armed forces and Mrs. Gertrude Sturman, sister of Mr. Bobbin, undertook to teach in the Sunday School.

Front of hymn-sheet - which had 9 hymns
Front of hymn-sheet - which had 9 hymns

The Band of Hope also declined - though one member (possibly from Norwich) started to visit Mulbarton School:
1935 Feb 11th Mr. Gascoyne of the Band of Hope lectured in this school on "Alcohol" today.
1941 June 27th Chn. went to Parish Hall this afternoon for a Cine Show and Lecture by Mr. Gascoyne [Band of Hope]

In 1944 Mr. James Bobbin died and his son Arthur became Senior Steward. He remained a faithful Steward until his death in 1991, a remarkable 47 years of service and witness. He was supported by members of his family, including his wife Ethel and son Patrick. With two services a Sunday, preachers would often be planned a double appointment, and they would then be hosted for tea at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Bobbin. Alice Cooper, daughter of one of the founders, was organist. The caretaking of the Chapel was carried out by Mrs. Alborough and later she was helped by her sister Mrs. Lucas, and they were often responsible for the pretty flowers in the Chapel - flowers they had grown themselves.

Mrs Lucas arranging flowers. The interior has just been redecorated and new heating installed. The cross was given in memory of Alice Cooper.
Mrs Lucas arranging flowers. The interior has just been redecorated and new heating installed. The cross was given in memory of Alice Cooper.

Postwar decline & growth

In the early 1950s Mrs. Sturman retired from the Sunday School and at that time Rev. Perry was the Minister. The Membership was very low and he felt that it was inevitable that the Chapel would have to close. Mr. Arthur Bobbin was able to convince him and the Circuit that the Chapel should remain open. During the 1940s and 1950s Mr. William Trower Jnr. was treasurer for Mulbarton Chapel. Although he himself was member of a Church in Norwich, he was also one of the Mulbarton Trustees. It was always thought that he often met the assessment out of his own pocket, as the collections were so low.

Accounts for 1945-52 show that collections were around 5 shillings at each service, totalling between £6 and £7 per quarter. Quarterly totals rose to over £10 from 1953 and crept up to £20 by 1961. They doubled again by 1971, to keep up with inflation, and quarterly totals for collections up to 1981 are impressive, despite declining numbers. 

In the years 1955/1957 the congregation numbers increased due to several families from Swardeston attending. Namely Mr. & Mrs. Bailey, Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Bobbin and family, Mr. & Mrs. Gerald Bobbin & family, Mr. & Mrs. Lewis, Mr. & Mrs. Oliver Trory & family, Mr. & Mrs. Sadd, and Mr. & Mrs. Vincent. The Chapel fortunes improved, a new trust was formed, and the local Church took on the management of their own affairs in 1960. This was suggested by the then Minister, Rev. Loy. As well as Mr. Arthur Bobbin being Steward, Mr Frank Sadd was also elected as one, and Mr. Vincent became the treasurer. Mrs. Vincent became the unofficial organist. A 'Women's Bright Hour' was started and Mrs. Bailey, Mrs Mary Bobbin, Mrs. Ethel Bobbin and Mrs. Ida Sadd were on the first committee. Later they were joined by Mrs. Peggy Swindells, who also worked hard in engaging the speakers. Again the numbers fluctuated, but several friends from the Anglican Church supported the meetings well.

Family loyalties were maintained. Mrs. Barbara Stevens became a member when she attended from the l960s with her husband John and two sons. Barbara was the granddaughter of Mrs Cooper one of the founder members of the Chapel. From the end of the 1960s, the Chapel went to having just afternoon services, and it was then that Mrs. Tuck from Park Lane Methodist Church used to sometimes accompany the preacher and play the organ. She always sang a solo.

Spring Sale first mentioned May 13th 1965. - £18 given to Chapel funds.
1975 Spring Sale raised £43.70p.
1985 Spring Sale raised £217.39
May 1991 - last Spring Sale recorded, £398.19

Links with Norwich and elsewhere

In its time the oversight of the Mulbarton Methodist Chapel was organised by the Methodist churches at Queens Road, Norwich; Park Lane, Norwich; Bowthorpe Road, Norwich; Chapelfield Road, Norwich; and Hethersett. So over the years members could recall Ministers' names such as Revs. Perry, Loy, Thixton, Blount, Wedgeworth, Elworthy, Hopper, Dowson, Ream, Broadhurst, Wall, Sulston, Booker and Cole. All the Ministers in their turn supported the Chapel and encouraged the larger Churches to support the smaller one. Each in their own way guided the Mulbarton members and often tried hard to encourage new people in.

The support from the larger Churches was much appreciated by the Mulbarton members. On some special occasions the Chapelfield Road choir, or the Hethersett members, or those from Park Lane, would help out at the service, and then afterwards tea and cakes would be served. The problem for the local folk was that with no kitchen the kettles had to be plugged into the sockets wherever they were available. One socket was in the pulpit: the preacher would be asked to switch the kettle on just before he announced the last hymn. Depending on the length of the hymn and the final prayer, it has been known for steam to be seen rising up out of the pulpit! Good Methodist humour prevailed, and with much laughter it was suggested that hot air was coming out of the pulpit.

When in 1984 Mrs. Vincent moved to the other side of Norwich she still attended, but Rev. Wall arranged for Mrs. Mavis Bastin and Mr. Cyril Stevens to go on an organ rota. Later John and Mavis Bastin transferred their membership to Mulbarton. Mrs Bastin ran the Sunday School at the Parish Church for many years.

The Final Years

Over the years the Chapel had been blessed with several retired people who became members, and they helped in whatever way they could. One recalls names such as Mr. & Mrs. Adcock, Mr & Mrs. Debenham, Mr & Mrs. Macrow, Mrs Fisher, and Mr. & Mrs. Sothcott. Both Mr. Adcock and Mr. Debenham held office as Steward, and were a great help to the Chapel with the outside maintenance.

Every year there would be a fund raising event known as the Spring Sale held always in May in the village hall, and everyone helped including several friends from the Parish Church. Arthur Bobbin's plant stall was particularly popular! Traditionally for a rural Chapel, the Harvest Festival was always followed by a short service on the Monday night and then the fruit & vegetables would be auctioned (see photo in the heading for the harvest display c. 1985). Mr Aubrey Mayes was for many years the very able Auctioneer, and the friends from the larger Methodist Churches supported this event well. Often the money raised would be sent to one of the missions. For many years a service was held once a quarter at the Cheshire Home, East Carleton, and the friends there looked forward to the meeting.

In the very late 1980s Mrs Gail Clifford moved to the area and her membership was transferred to Mulbarton Chapel. She and her husband Mike and two sons attended the family services which had been introduced by Rev. Booker. She became a Lay Worker in 1993 a position she held for over two years for Mulbarton. Gail put a lot of work into the pastoral side and used to provide transport for members to the services. Mrs Macrow, Mr & Mrs Massey, and also friends from the Anglican Church were around to help, too.

When Mr Bobbin died in 1991* Mr Debenham became senior Steward. He took on the job of opening the Chapel up on a Sunday and seeing the heat was switched on. However, this gradually became too much for him to walk the long trek across the common and it was decided that the services would be held in the Village Hall in the morning This would be a warmer venue and offer facilities for the occasional family lunch. So Mulbarton Methodist Chapel ceased to be used for worship from about 1993. The Methodist services continued in the village hall for about a couple of years. It was at that time that Mrs Alice Cooper came back to live in Mulbarton and she attended the Methodist services: it was her mother who was one of the founder Members back in 1899! As it became apparent that the numbers attending the Village Hall services was decreasing it was decided to cease services and to offer the remaining members lifts to Chapelfield Road Church. This the members accepted, and so Mr Peter Gaskin arranged a rota for lifts and the members then enjoyed the worship with a larger congregation.

On November 26th, 1995, the last Methodist service was held in Mulbarton Village Hall followed by a luncheon. This was arranged by Mrs Gail Clifford and her willing band of helpers, including of course her husband Mike and her sons. Rev. Gerald Cole was there, and also representatives from the Norwich Circuit and the local Anglican Church. All joined in the tribute to almost 100 years of Methodism in Mulbarton and to pay tribute to people keeping faith with their Lord.

1993 Services ceased at the Chapel building. Services held first in School Hall and then in Village Hall.
26th November 1995 last service of Mulbarton Methodist Chapel.
The building was sold and later converted into two flats.

* Arthur Bobbin's funeral in January 1992 was the last to be held in the chapel. It was a crowded, and decorous occasion, but some time afterwards the undertakers admitted that they had had to stand the coffin on end to get it to the back door of the chapel.... Mr. Bobbin himself was the only person who knew how to manoeuvre coffins into the chapel!
 (Information from his son)

Methodist Chapel, World's End and pond shop, summer 1992
Methodist Chapel, World's End and pond shop, summer 1992


The hottest Sunday afternoon of summer.
A country lane, unaccustomed to its traffic,
Half-hinders town dwellers
In their lemming-rush to countryside.

Where the lane fans out
Into a large village green,
The World's End attracts its clientele -
noisy as wasps to a honey-pot.

We fail to notice the blank wall
Casting enshortened shadows
Into the sweltering public house car park.
Uncomfortable in the airless heat,
We head for the open lung, the village green.
And the peripheral bustle of the world even intrudes
As the snake of traffic passes on and on.

Looking back we see a chapel by the pub,
Its eyeless wall facing the car park.
"Primitive Methodist Chapel, 1900"
engraved in stone on its gable end.
Door open, but not especially inviting.

Hesitantly, we venture in. We take the plunge.
The cool meets us, a physical presence
As welcome as the waters of a swimming pool.
The plain white walls offer an airy spaciousness.
The Peace is profound refreshment.

What happens in the service hardly matters.
Two dozen people sing, and pray, and listen.

Like the cars parked in the shade cast by
The blank wall of the Chapel at the World's End,
We have hid beneath the shadow of Thy wing
And in that hour been refreshed for life.

Impression of a first visit to Mulbarton by Rev. Richard Thompson, July 1987.