The Baptist Tabernacle Chapel

Baptist Tabernacle Chapel

This former Calvinistic Methodist chapel was established in 1754 by James Wheatley, who also built a Tabernacle in Norwich, and thus the chapel numbers as one of the oldest in the county. It has given Forncett End the byway known as Tabernacle Lane, which was formerly referred to as 'Holl Way'.  

The chapel was leased to John Wesley in 1758 at the time that he was riding through East Anglia. Indeed in his Journal entry for April 1759 he writes:

Sun. 25. - I rode to Forncet, twelve miles from Norwich, where also was a building of James Wheatley's, which without my desire, he had included in the lease. We found William Cudworth had preached there in the morning. It was exceeding good for my sense of honour to come just after him. The people looked as direful upon me, as if it had been Satan in person. However they flocked from all parts, so that the Tabernacle would not near contain them. I preached about two: God bare witness to his truth, and many were cut to the heart. After preaching I found Mr. Cudworth sitting in the pulpit behind me, whom I quietly and silently passed by. About six I preached at the Tabernacle in Norwich........

It evokes a remarkable scene for this rural backwater. An enormous crowd of folk must have gathered to hear this 'incomer' speak and see how their local 'minister' would react. It would seem that Cudworth gave him the cold shoulder and that Wesley's peroration had certainly some effect on the sensibilities of those present. 

The building was originally constructed of clay lump, which unless well-tended will deteriorate. The 19th century minister, George Maddeys, was very conscious of this and therefore in 1875 he set about instigating a restoration of the fabric ; the major undertaking was the application of brickwork facing to the whole building. Inside there is an ornamental ceiling rose, identical in style to that in the present Methodist Church (built in 1865) nearby.

The chapel was later used by General Baptists, who formed a church of the New Connexion in 1814. The adjacent building is a rebuild of the original 'School Room' belonging to the church and used then for Sunday School or preparation of candidates for baptism. It is now in private ownership. 

Baptist use ceased about 1960. Upon being deconsecrated all internal fittings, including benches were sold and most grave headstones removed. Earlier photographs show a burial yard full of headstones (see header). The two remaining headstones within the grounds are those of William & Mary Tuck and Ethel Kent. 

The chapel was subsequently purchased by a local farming family for storage purposes. Two hardboard silos were constructed inside and a modern access door to the right of the porch. A grain blower was later used for filling from the top through the roof. It was last used for this purpose about 2001. 

The Baptist Tabernacle Chapel in 2012
The Baptist Tabernacle Chapel in 2012