Our church's history

Methodism in Lakenheath can trace its roots back to November 1757!

During that month, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was travelling from Bedford, through Newmarket and on to Norwich. It seems that this journey to Norwich necessitated a stop – perhaps for the night – in Thetford.

While in Thetford he was asked by Mr Andrew Rolph to preach at Lakenheath. Wesley records this visit in his journal as follows:

“Nov. 24th 1757: “A man had spoken to me last week, as I was going through Thetford, and desired me to preach at Lakenheath, near Mildenhall in Suffolk; I now propose so to do, and rode thither from Thetford. One Mr Evans had lately built a large and convenient meeting house there, at his own expense. It was more than filled at six o’clock, many standing at the door, At five in the morning (as uncommon a thing as this was in those parts) the house was nearly filled again with earnest, loving simple people. Several of them came into Mr. E’s house afterward, stood awhile, and then burst into tears. I promised to call on them again and left them much comforted!”.

Wesley must have had a soft spot in his heart for the people of Lakenheath for it is recorded in his Journal that he paid thirteen more visits at various interval, the last being on 8th November 1773.

It was during his sixth visit, on 2nd February 1761 that he apparently called the people together and formed them into a Society.
However, when Wesley paid his last visit on the 8th November 1773 he records that he:

“found the Society at Lakenheath was entirely vanished away. I joined them together once more, and they promised to keep together. If they do, I shall endeavour to see them again; if not, I have better work.”.

Wesley did not return to Lakenheath – probably due to increasing age – but from brief records found in Colchester we discover that Lakenheath was part of the large Colchester Circuit in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These records show that in the year 1789 Lakenheath had eleven members, and in 1790 the number had increased to fourteen. Among the recorded names is that of Andrew Rolph, who was undoubtedly the man that had first approached Wesley with the invitation to preach at Lakenheath.

Not much more can be said of the early Society, apart from one other brief record which states that Mrs Ann Marshall who died in Lakenheath on 8th March 1826 had for forty years been a member there and during that time entertained the preachers.

So much for the people, now to the buildings. The reaching house that Wesley visited was built, it is believed, during late 1755 and early 1756 and was certified as a “Preaching House” by Samuel Churchman, of Bury St Edmunds, on 17th August 1757. This building was situated in Anchor Lane, and was the first Methodist preaching house in Suffolk. Until it was demolished a few years back, it was the last Chapel standing in Suffolk in which Wesley had preached. It seems that this building was not adequate for the number of worshippers, for in 1835 the present Methodist Church was built.

Permission for the building to be erected was received from Liverpool Conference in June 1835. The cost of the building, measuring 38 feet by 27 feet, was £120.

The membership as the time numbered 14 with an average of 80 “listeners” (now known as ‘Adherents’). The annual cost of lighting and cleaning was estimated at twenty shillings and other incidental expenses probably twenty shillings. There was no gallery in the original building. The Church was enlarged about 1911 and the schoolroom added in 1913. The cost of the erection of the schoolroom was £100.

In 1985, to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the present Church the premises were enlarged by the addition of an extra meeting room (The” Evans Room”) together with many other improvements to the kitchen etc., together with the addition of a Minister’s vestry.

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