Stowbridge United Methodist Free Church, Norfolk
Stowbridge (or Stow Bridge) is a village in the parish of Stow Bardolph. At one time there were five Nonconformist chapels in the parish: three in Stowbridge (PM, UM and Baptist); and two (UM and PM) in Bardolph Fen (Barroway Drove). Interestingly, there were none in Stow Bardolph village, but not all estate villages entertained dissenters.
Standing on West Head Road, and known as the Bethesda, this former chapel opened in 1860 as United Methodist Free. The building, big and bold, was a statement of hope and confidence in the early years of Free Methodism locally.
Seating accommodation for 150, while sufficient, was rather modest considering the size of the building. An attached room was used for Sunday school and social activities.
In keeping with national changes, it was renamed United Methodist Church in 1907. Following Methodist union in 1932 it became known simply as Stowbridge Methodist Church. It had membership of three successive Downham circuits: UMFC (1860–1907); UMC (1907–32); and post-union Methodist.
Although few chapels in the area had pipe organs, one came here in 1951 from a church in Leicestershire. At the inauguration a concert was given by the Downham Market Wesleyan Choir with organist Mr T Harris. (There is a photo of the organ and choir in the Lynn Advertiser 27th March 1951.)
Celebrating the Centenary in 1960, the Chairman of the District, the Rev H Martin, attended and preached. The celebration cake was cut by Mrs Coxall, the eldest member present and a life-long supporter of the chapel in which she had been baptised. Guests included members of Stowbridge Baptist church. (Two photos of the celebrations were published in the Lynn Advertiser 14th April 1960.)
By the end of the C20th century the congregation, depleted in number, could no longer maintain the chapel. Consequently, it closed and was put up for sale.
The building, presently disused, is in a sorry state. On the front gable end is the datestone of 1860; the title Bethesda is on a stone below it. A large stone in the lower wall names both the denominational branch, United Methodist Free Churches, and the builders, Bennett, Howlett & Lockwood. Also to be seen is a cornerstone laid by the Rev George Warne, circuit superintendent.
There are neoclassical features, not unlike the imposing Mount Tabor in Downham, built just the year before. Was it the same architect, perhaps?