When John Wesley preached in Forncett
On Sunday 25th March 1759 the Methodist evangelist John Wesley rode into Forncett and found an enormous crowd waiting to hear him preach. The building that brought Wesley to Forncett was the small chapel in Tabernacle Lane, Forncett End, that still stands today, albeit now in an advanced state of decay.
The chapel had been built in 1754 by a former follower of Wesley, called James Wheatley. It is now possibly the oldest Methodist chapel in Norfolk. James Wheatley came to Norwich in 1751 and caused a major furore when he preached to large crowds in the open air in Tombland. He was not well-received by everyone in Norwich and there were major riots in the city led by those who disapproved of his message. Nevertheless, Wheatley gained a significant following and raised funds to build a large chapel in Bishopgate in 1753. He then resolved to build two more tabernacles, one in Hempnall and one (below) in Forncett.
During his lifetime John Wesley travelled thousands of miles across Britain to spread his Methodist message and often preached several times a day. He did not subscribe to the Calvinist message preached by Wheatley and his collaborators, so in 1759 Wesley did not find a warm welcome in Forncett where William Cudworth, a friend of Wheatley, had preached that morning. Wesley wrote in his journal:
"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."
Wesley returned to Forncett the following Wednesday and recorded: "I rode over to Forncett again and preached to a large congregation. Great parts of them were now exceedingly softened; but some were still bitter as wormwood. " A year later Wesley was in Forncett again and wrote "preached at about one at Forncett to a much milder people than I left there".
It's difficult to imagine what an effect Wesley would have had in our small rural community but the old chapel in Tabernacle Lane is now the only remaining building in Norfolk where he is known to have preached!
Read the full story of the Forncett Tabernacle here.
With thanks to Norma Virgoe for some of the research behind this article.