About Rochford Methodist Church (HT)
As told by Dave Dobbin from the Rochford Methodist Church. 2017
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There is no record of John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) ever visiting Rochford, but he did visit the ‘small ruinous village’ of Leigh-on-Sea several times between 12th November 1748 and 11th October 1756.
After Wesley’s death in 1791, the Methodist movement split from the Church of England and various branches were formed. The term ‘Wesleyan’ refers to a branch of the Methodist Church that still followed Wesley’s principles, rather than one of the other groups who had split away. In the 1930’s, most of these break-away groups merged to become once more the Methodist Church of today.
It wasn’t until May 1822 that a Wesleyan Society started meeting at a weather-boarded house in Rochford’s Market Alley, probably where there is now a garden adjacent to Martin’s.
We can only speculate how Wesley’s teachings of serving others reached Rochford, but there was a thriving fishing community near Stambridge Mills and it is believed they must have heard Wesley’s message from the preachers among the Leigh fishermen. From the beginning of Wesley founding the Methodist movement, he relied on the principle of local preachers, in addition to “Mr Wesley’s Preachers” (as his ministers were known) – a principle that still holds true today.
One of the early local Wesleyan preachers was a former drunkard named James Banyard. He reformed, stopped his drinking and other vices and became a fervent preacher. There was a falling out between him and the local Wesleyan Church over his habit of preaching in the Market Square on Sunday afternoons, especially as the Wesleyans considered he had not been given the church’s approval to do so. As a result, he left the Wesleyans and started the sect called the Peculiar People.
In 1841 the Wesleyan Society moved to a purpose-built Chapel on a site near the corner of Roche Close but, when they discovered a problem over what was referred to as a ‘so-called’ lease, they were advised by the Wesleyan authorities in London to find another site. They bought a piece of land further along the road in what was already known as Chapel Field and this opened in 1880. They were helped in the cost of building this chapel by John George Baxter.
Baxter had made his first fortune by obtaining the rights to the shellfish beds off Southend. When the local Council opted to no longer lease them, he moved to Southwark where he dealt in shellfish at Billingsgate market and made his second fortune. His third fortune was made when he worked with several of the land-owning families in this area, but notably with Thomas Dowsett, who was his partner in buying up the manor of Prittlewell from Squire Scratton and selling it off in building plots, allowing the growth of Southend.
A lot of Baxter’s fortune was given to help the Wesleyan church in the area to grow and develop, so that the principles of the church could be spread, and some £3,500 found its way to help the Rochford Society. This is the equivalent of around £40,000 of today’s money.
A School Hall was built in 1897 and would have provided education and teaching for both adults and children on Sunday afternoons. At one stage, the hall was also used as overflow accommodation for the National School during the week.
The Rochford Society had several people who preached Wesley’s aims and they founded other Wesleyan churches in the area – one in Hockley and two in Rayleigh.
John Wesley believed that certain aspects of the Christian Faith required special emphasis. Methodists today still hold to these emphases and call them the ‘Four Alls’. Although this is a twentieth-century creation it represents Wesley’s mind and is certainly more comprehensive than any single statement of his.
The ‘Four Alls’ are:
- All people need to be saved.
- All people can be saved.
- All people can know they are saved.
- All people can be saved to the uttermost.
The building known as Rochford Methodist Church has undergone a deal of refurbishment and the Society is working with Community Church Rochford to provide services to the community in which it stands. Within the walls, they accommodate groups for toddlers and parents, including a breakfast club, time when people can step aside from the world for a while to sit and think, meals for over-60’s, youth work, a photography club, coffee mornings, as well as opportunities to worship. They also reach out into the community, providing schools with support for teaching about the Christian faith. And that is why it now carries the label of ‘Community Hub’.
And of course the Methodist Society still meets there regularly every Sunday morning, following John Wesley’s principles.
|Address:||77-79 North St|
|Categories:||Historical, Point of Interest, Rochford|
Rochford Methodist Church (HT) is included in the following trails:Main Heritage TrailInner Heritage Trail7 Centuries of ArchitectureChurches, Faith & Peculiar People