Forncett Methodist Church

Forncett Methodist Church


The present Methodist church, on Long Stratton Road in Forncett End, was built in 1865. The construction of the chapel was funded by a local resident, Thomas Palmer, who was a major philanthropist in Forncett.

Postcard of the Methodist Chapel - date unknown
Postcard of the Methodist Chapel - date unknown

Thomas Palmer was born on 15th January 1821 at Welborne, between Barnham Broom and Mattishall. By the census of 1841, when Thomas was 20 years old, he was living in Forncett End close to another Thomas Palmer (aged around 75 and born in Mattishall) who may well have been his grandfather. By the census of March 1851 Thomas Palmer senior had retired and Thomas Palmer junior was farming 100 acres and employing four men. He was apparently living at what is now Austhorpe House in Forncett End, though whether he or one of his relatives built the house is presently unknown. Palmer continued to farm in Forncett until the 1860s when he appears to have retired from farming. 

The opening of the Methodist chapel, on Tuesday 10th October 1865 was reported in the Norfolk News on Saturday 14th October. The construction of the "splendid and spacious" chapel was said to have cost Thomas Palmer about £1000 (around £120,000 today). After the service about 200 people attended a tea party at which Thomas Palmer presided. 

However the relationship between Thomas Palmer and the church changed radically when in 1874 Palmer decided to sell the church! The story was recounted years later (in 1908) in an article about the Wymondham Circuit in the Christian Messenger:

Forncett St. Peter is in the centre of the Circuit, and is now the largest of our village interests. This church has an eventful history. For a long time we used a rented chapel, the property of William Lansdell, a local preacher and great grandfather of the junior tutor at Hartley College. In the early sixties, Mr. P., a rich farmer joined the society and all too soon was thrust into its chief offices. In 1865 he built a commodious chapel at his own cost and publicly gave it to the Connexion, a stone in the front elevation also recording the gift. Before a dozen years elapsed, Mr. P. left the church and tried to sell the chapel away from us, a clause in the deed reserving to him the power to do so. We were evicted. Happily public sentiment was on our side, and ultimately we secured the chapel for nearly £500. Was it a mere coincidence that immediately afterwards Mr. P. was stricken with paralysis and lay a helpless wreck for nearly 25 years before he died? Popular opinion always associated the one event with the other. The friends long struggled under financial burdens, but better times have come. Since the eviction a school room has been built, and recently £300 have been spent in improvements, a large pedal organ installed, and the debt reduced to £50.

The sale of the church in 1874 and its impact was reported in detail in the Norfolk News.

Norfolk News 27 June 1874

Norfolk News 4 July 1874

Thomas Palmer died on 13th September 1903 having apparently suffered a stroke in about 1880 which had indeed left him paralysed and confined to his bed for the remainder of his life! He was buried at the parish church in Bunwell. 

The Methodist Chapel today
The Methodist Chapel today