East Finchley Methodist Church

The Beginning of Methodism in East Finchley

... From an 1896 viewpoint

An account by George Stubbs
provided by Friedemann Burkhardt

Wesleyan Methodism has had a name and a place in East Finchley for over 70 years. About 1820, John Freeman, a young man of twenty, and an earnest Methodist, took up his residence in the village. He was born at Brackley, and embraced Methodism in early life, it is believed through the influence of a godly shoemaker to whom he was apprenticed.

His zeal had already led him into Sunday School work at Cockfosters and Whetstone. When he settled in Finchley there was no Methodist cause, and he joined the Society at Highgate. There he met in the Class of Mr Müller, a most ardent worker in the cause of Christ, and soon prayer and class meetings were commenced in a cottage at Finchley.

Mr Müller met the Society and its principal members were Messrs Freeman, Cramphorn, Waddell and Edmonds, with Sisters Freeman, Sheffield and Oldridge. The Sunday public services followed, and the cottage was duly licensed as a place of worship. This house, known as Lincoln Cottage, and standing on the High Road, at the corner of Strawberry Vale, has thus the honourable distinction of being the first preaching place of the Methodists in Finchley.

From this cottage, which became too small for the congregation, a move was made to a room at Church End, but the great inconvenience to the majority of members led to the building of a Chapel for the little Society at East Finchley. The difficulty of a site was unexpectedly met by the generous offer at a 'low price', of the plot of ground in King Street, on which the present premises stand. The building was immediately opened in the month of November, 1829.

A very unpretentious poster - a bill eight inches by twelve - announced the opening services. It records the unusual direction that the Wesleyan Chapel was 'near the Red Lion'. It also showed that this portion of the parish was not then distinguished by the term 'East End' - a designation due to the Great Northern Railway Co.

That first Chapel served the purposes of Methodism for forty years. In front was a long triangular strip of ground bounded by a hawthorn hedge, and having a small wicket gate opening from the road to the path leading to the entrance door. This grass fore-court was subsequently sold, and afterwards thrown into the road. Behind the building was a small garden.

Within the Chapel, an aisle ran down either side, and several pews across the front, while free seats occupied the back portion, and a family pew was on each side of the pulpit. There was a stove for heating purposes, and the supply of coke was stored in a cupboard beneath the pulpit.

Changes were made in the Chapel in later days. About 1862 a central aisle was made, candles were exchanged for lamps, square pews were put into the entrance corners, and in 1867 a musical instrument was intro­duced into the service, a harmonium being placed in one of the pews near the pulpit. A door in the end wall communicated with a small vestry.

The Chapel had large windows with hanging shutters on the outside, and often the preacher had many complaints to make of the noise of these shutters on stormy nights.

That small building was ample for the requirements of the village and a great undertaking for the Society. The population of this district at that time could scarcely have reached 1,000. In 1820 Finchley is described as a 'small but respectable village, with many substantial villas'. The Common, covering 1,000 acres and part of the great waste land extending along the High Road from Highgate to Barnet, had only been enclosed in 1812.

When the Chapel 'near the Red Lion' was opened, Bull's Lane had not the alternative title 'Church' Lane, for Trinity Church, which has suggested the latter name, was not built till many years after, Indeed, only four or five cottages were in the Lane, and not more than thirty on Red Lion Hill.

The Society too was small. In 1837 the membership was only 18. In 1840 it had risen to 25, but in 1843 had fallen to 10; and in 1860 it was 12. During all these years Mr John Freeman stood nobly 'by the cause'. It is impossible to record the full extent of his manifold labours to sustain Methodism here. He was always present at every service. He was honorary doorkeeper, and if the preacher failed - as was not uncommon - he supplied his place in the pulpit. His was the only Class for thirty years, and when in 1876 he passed away, the Circuit Quarterly Meeting recorded its appreciation of his great services.

At this time, Finchley was attached to Great Queen Street, known until May 1864 as the Second London Circuit. Other country places on the same plan were Whetstone and Barnet. With exceptions, the pulpit was supplied by local preachers on the Sunday and a minister was appointed on two Monday evenings in each quarter. The travelling allowance to local preachers from London was fixed, in 1837, at one shilling and sixpence. But, by reason of its connection with one of the first Circuits in Methodism, Finchley derived the benefit of having occasionally in its pulpit, especially on the Whit-Tuesday Anniversary gatherings, some of the most distinguished ministers of the past. In 1848, Dr Beaumont and Rev John Lomas were in the Circuit; in 1851, Rev Robert Young; in 1852, Rev Alfred Barratt; in 1855, Revs John Rattenbury and T Woolmer; in 1858, Revs Benjamin Waddy and Richard Roberts; in 1859, Rev H H Chettle; in 1862, Rev Romilly Hall; and in 1865, the Rev John McKenny became superintendent.

The old Chapel was, nevertheless, the scene of much varied work. There was an active Sunday School in its early days, and also a night-school .... (which is, sadly, where Friedemann's extract stops)


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Last modified: 26 January 2018

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