Visiting Coltishall, Norfolk, England and Its Former Wesleyan Chapel, Now Gospel Hall
Well over a century and a half of Nonconformist presence in a Norfolk village road
This building, of sedate, Georgian appearance, dates from 1842. When it was erected, architectural customs in England were only just emerging from the strongly neo-Classical preferences particularly in vogue during the reigns of the Hanoverian monarchs.
If not its extension, seen to the left of the picture, above, then in its original frontage, there is a pronounced sense of symmetricality. The strongly rectangular, pillared doorway does not have the rounded top associated with the Georgian doorways so widespread in Dublin, but a sense of its lines' neo-Classical provenance is compelling.
While the facing of the frontage is in a combination of light and dark brick, the side walls are in what is known as knapped flint. This stone is a fairly common building material in Norfolk (1).
The building had an interior balcony dating from its days as a Wesleyan chapel, and although this was being used a few decades ago it is no longer operative.
Albeit not in institutional terms, yet in some ways there would probably be some degree of a sense of continuity between the form of Methodism professed in 1842 and the doctrinal identity of the Gospel Hall here at Rectory Road (2). In the British Isles, Gospel Halls abound, though usually in much more modern buildings. This particular building is thus noteworthy because of its former, distinct usage, compared with its function today.
There is thus a strong aura of historic Nonconformity to this building, which dates as far back as a period when the Test and Corportaion Acts which put Nonconformists (and Roman Catholics) under civil disabilities had been repealed for hardly more than a dozen years. In a contemporary era when not a few politicians find it convenient to encourage people to think of themselves within a bewildering array of 'rights' often disconnected from the past, it is constructive to consider how the identity of buildings may be associated with times close to a long period when non-Anglicans were not considered quite equal under the law.
This former Welsleyan Chapel, now Gospel Hall, is situated at 10 Rectory Road, Coltishall, near Norwich, Norfolk.
March 1, 2013
(1) In North Norfolk especially, it has sometimes been customary to use not knapped flint, but whole flintstone in building.
(2) Both would be identified with simple, Gospel preaching; and the presence of Biblical text posters — also a common sight outside buildings used by congregations in the British Isles of an evangelical persuasion — would reinforce a general commonality of outlook between Gospel Hall users and the teaching of early Methodist leaders such as John Wesley and others.
Historical note: Indeed, much of rural East Anglia has a strongly Nonconformist historical background which influenced its character considerably. While many local churches were, and remain, totally apolitical, it is interesting that in the usage of trade unionism the word 'chapels' is sometimes employed to denote local branch organizations; and indeed it was in Norfolk that the National Union of Agricultural Workers was founded.
Also worth seeing
In Coltishall itself, other noted buildings include the Medieval parish church of St John the Baptist, Coltishall Hall, and various houses have notable gables; Coltishall Staithe is a hub of activity for boating, particularly in the summer months.
Norwich (distance: 14 kilometres) among the numerous attractions for visitors are: Norwich Castle; Norwich Cathedral; Bishop Bridge; Elm Hill; Pull's Ferry; the Guildhall; Norwich City Hall; and many others.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please refer to the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.