Ketteringham Wesleyan Methodist Church,

High Church Intransigence

Ivy House Farm
Preparing the foundations. (Arthur Walker bottom right) Click to enlarge

Recently, I was given some papers to take to the Norfolk Record office.  They had been found in the basement of Chapel Field Road Methodist church.  Amongst them was a large brown envelope containing a number of newspaper cuttings and handwritten reports and statements.  On examination, it was clear that the papers recorded the founding of a Methodist church in the small Norfolk village of Ketteringham.  It was a fascinating story.

    ‘Ketteringham is one of those innumerable small Norfolk parishes where little happens to disturb the placid course of village life.  It is a delightful spot on a summer’s day.  Its natural beauty is superb.  But no one would look to this tiny south Norfolk parish and its residents to supply a first class sensation.  Such, however, is the case and Ketteringham bids fair to become famous.’[1]

    This is the introduction to a long newspaper article detailing the astounding behaviour of the vicar, the Rev. W.E. Duxson and the consequences of his high church attitude on the people of this small village.[2]

    The story has been preserved in the text of a talk given by a member of the Walker family who was closely involved in the events which took place in 1929.  She wrote,

    ‘Towards the middle of the last century, my grandmother, then living in Lincolnshire, was instrumental in the building of a small chapel in the hamlet where her husband farmed.  It was hardly a village, rather a few scattered cottages, but was known as Holbeach Marsh being in those days right on the edge of the wash…

 The chapel she built served the Walker family, some of their workmen and a small village community and for years after they left, carried on till the houses became uninhabitable and the hamlet virtually ceased to be.

    My father had to leave school at 11 and go to work on the farm, and as grandfather grew older, he gradually took over more and more of the running of the farm. During the 1890s, my grandfather died and soon after that the farm was sold over their heads.  In those days, tenant farmers had few rights and therefore they had to prepare to leave the following Michaelmass. Land in Lincolnshire was becoming very valuable and farms to let difficult to find.  Eventually an old friend of the family living in Hethersett wrote that there was a farm to let in the next village.  Thus it was that our family came to Norfolk and to Ketteringham.

    When my grandmother arrived, she soon set about looking for a site on which to build a chapel, but the landlord, Sir Francis Boileau was adamant.  He was a good churchman and felt that in so small a village, there was no need for any other form of worship.  Those were the days when the landlords were very much lords of the manor and expected to control and order all the doings of all their tenants.  So much was this adhered to that the villagers never made any decision without “I must ask her ladyship first.”

    As there was no possibility of obtaining a site to build, Grandmother started services in her own house, using the entrance hall which was 20 feet square as a meeting place in winter and the barn in summer and soon it came on to the Attleborough circuit.

     When my parents married, my grandmother and the rest of her family moved to the next farm, High Ash, and my father and mother carried on the services as before.  My mother started a sewing meeting and my father was the Class Leader etc.

    At first in grandmother’s day, chairs were collected from all over the house every Sunday, but later chairs were brought and stored in the cellar which opened out of the hall, a harmonium was acquired and a table was used as a pulpit.  Services were only held on a Sunday evening so that many of the members went to the parish church in the morning and the chapel at night and thought nothing of it.  The Vicar, the Rev. Hart, was a kindly, tolerant man rather  under the thumb of old Lady Boileau, but he always came to Harvest Festival services and took part in various week-night services.  He always made us especially welcome at church so that we felt at home in the Ivy House pew on the occasions we went.

    There was not much active intolerance from the Boileau family who were of  Hugenot descent, but we knew that they did not approve of Methodists.  However, my father was a good tenant, the rent was always paid in full on the day however difficult the times, he was a good master to his men and the first tenant to make that farm pay so they would have been loathe to turn us out.

    Although folk took their church going much more seriously than they do today, holding services in a barn certainly had its moments.  It was used for six and a half days per week as a corn store at one end and for cooling the milk at the other.  The corn store was cleaned on Saturday afternoon for the service, but seeing that no one has yet invented a cow that does not need milking on Sunday, the other end was in use during the afternoon.  How could one explain to animals that a service was in progress?  A horse would clatter in and had to be urged to clatter out, sometimes unwillingly!  The cattle in the sheds were sometimes vociferous and noisy – a hen would come clucking with her chicks looking for corn or an animal would be seen to be straying around the buildings and one or two men would go to deal with it.  My cousins and I rather enjoyed these little interludes.  I well remember our delight when one evening a preacher was rather dull and long-winded and a cat wandered in with her family of kittens.  She sat down in front of the congregation and preacher and proceeded to wash each one separately and effectively.  Poor man!  He went valiantly on, but he had lost his congregation.  On another occasion, a family of ducks quacked solemnly in, up to the front and out again quacking loudly, perhaps in protest.

    Then came change.  The Rev. Hart left and the living was vacant.  Lady Boileau was still alive and a strict low church woman.  Believing that the new incumbent was telling the truth when he assured her he was a low churchman, she appointed the Rev. William Duxson and whilst she lived, so he was, but as soon as she died, he immediately set about changing all that.

    On the walls of the parish church he hung pictures, dimly religious but I now suppose they represented ‘Stations of the Cross;’ from the main beam he hung a very large crucifix; candles were  everywhere; he wore many vestments, changed punctually during the service, and place reeked of incense.  To people brought up in the low church tradition, this was anathema and many of them could not and would not tolerate these goings on and they went no more to the church, but came instead to us so that our entrance hall was full to overflowing.  Some remained faithful to the church including the Boileaus and their servants, but were most unhappy about it.  Sir Maurice Boileau, a very cultured man…was particularly distressed, feeling probably that all this was wrong but lacking the power and wisdom to do anything about it.

  The wife of Colonel Boileau, Sir Maurice’s brother, better known as Ethel Boileau, the authoress, now came oftener to the Hall.  She was a high churchwoman and despised Sir Maurice, and she did not hesitate to make her feelings known in the village so that the tenants felt let down and despised.  Although she was kind and generous and tried hard to get on with them, they felt rightly that she was not a lady, in the sense that old Lady Boileau had been. 

The vicar himself was exceedingly scornful of village folk as a whole and little did he know the jokes they had about him and his doings.  My father overheard some of his men talking about the vicar one day and one said, “Wicar he doan’t hev much of a flock these days, dew he?”  “Hoa,” replied another, “and what he dew hev are mostly old yows,”  Our shepherd, himself a life-long Methodist determined to go one Sunday and see for himself what did happen and went one Palm Sunday. His vivid description of  the processing and prostrations, of the changing of the vestments and bowing etc had us in gales of laughter especially as apparently it was carried on mainly for the benefit of the vicar, there only being three others present.  He finished his talk, “You know, master, he did everything except ride up the aisle on a dicky.”[3]  But he was disgusted and never went again.

    Meanwhile the services at the farm were somewhat overfull.  It did not matter in the summer.  The barn was large and could easily accommodate them all with the addition of seating borrowed from the garden and the village hall.  But in winter, the entrance hall with low ceiling and lit by oil lamps was overflowing.  As at the beginning, the chairs had to be collected from all over the house.  Even so, the family had to overflow into the little breakfast room or that kitchen that opened off the hall.  Actually this was something of a relief although it was difficult to hear, yet we could have the windows open which we did even with snow on the ground.  The hall was difficult to ventilate.  It was all or nothing and became unbearably hot, but the heat and the fug did not worry the village folk.  They loved it. Although we did not alter the form of service to fit in with our visitors, we did our best, ministers and preachers included, to make them feel at home, whilst realising that many of them would remain at heart Anglicans and when the opportunity came, would return to the parish church.

    The Rev. W.H. Heap, Chairman of the District, felt with my father that these simple village folk should have the means to worship as they wished and not be driven out of their own church and said so publicly.  In fact, he requested an interview with the Bishop of Norwich on the matter, but although His Lordship knew what was going on and was profoundly sorry about it, he answered the Chairman that unless Mr Duxson did something morally wrong, neither he nor anyone else including the donor of the living could turn the vicar out and there the matter had to rest.  The vicar himself refused to do anything to meet his parishioners – they either accepted his form of service or went without and he couldn’t care less.  Consequently our numbers grew and grew and my father requested Sir Maurice Boileau for a site to build a chapel.  My father was not getting younger; retirement was drawing nearer and he must make some provision for the chapel community.  Certain it was that the next tenant of Ivy House would not be a Methodist!

    With this greatly increased congregation every Sunday and the fact that so long as that vicar stayed, which might be twenty years or more, this crowding would continue.  Sir Maurice Boileau granted a site on which to build a temporary building and a small nominal rent would be paid on the understanding that if the landlord so  requested, it would be taken down and removed.

    Then the storm really broke.  The vicar was furious and informed Sir Maurice that he would no longer read the lesson in church or be vicar’s warden or teach his class in the Sunday school.  The [last] was later rescinded, presumably because he felt that Sunday school did not make much difference either way.  To Sir Maurice, the right to read the lesson which, incidentally he did most beautifully, was a high privilege – the church was to him the house of God – and he was heartbroken, but he did not rescind his promise to us no matter what insults the vicar heaped on him and they were many.  The vicar was clever and knew that Sir Maurice, though a classical  scholar, had not the ability to stand up to him (as my father had) nor to refute his arguments and took advantage of that fact.  Sir Maurice was so unhappy with no one to turn to except old family retainers that his unhappiness affected the whole village and the tenants who loved and greatly respected the Boileaus turned against the vicar most bitterly.

    Thus it was when my father who had had some experience in building announced that he would lay the foundations himself, volunteers were not lacking.  The menfolk of the village rallied round and gave of their full time to help so that it was estimated that they saved the Trust £100.  Meanwhile the vicar’s high-handed action had got into the press, sparked off by an article which the Chairman of the District sent to the Joyful News newspaper.  It was taken up by both the local and national press and suddenly Ketteringham was famous!  Press photographers arrived, journalists sought headlines with all and sundry and such headlines appeared as ‘The Landlord, the Parson and the Farmer.’  They nearly drove my father mad by trailing all over the farm with him, demanding interviews and photographs.

     Sir Maurice was not allowed to be interviewed – his mother was away and Ethel Boileau, his sister-in-law was obviously afraid he would say too much, so she spoke for him [saying] what she wanted him to say which was often not correct.

    The effect of all this publicity did much to help raise the money for our new chapel.  One lady, an Anglican, sent us £100 as a protest.  Rev. Heap made a public appeal on our behalf in Methodist papers and this raised £130, money coming from all over England and not only from Methodists.  £23 [came] from the circuit as well as gifts in kind; outside friends gave nearly £90, but over £209 was raised in the village itself.  There were only 170 people in the whole village including children.  We had a bazaar, boxes.  One bed-ridden lady who would never see the chapel gave two separate donations of her pension money – ‘all her substance.’

    By today’s standards the amounts were small; so were wages and these were the years of the Depression.  Added to this were gifts of furnishings; an oak communion table and two chairs, a pulpit chair, collection plates and a pulpit table.  The building fund began in January with £8 and at the opening in September almost all the money was in and the bills paid – over £500….

    But the person who did most to raise the money and get the job done was the man who was most against it, namely the vicar, as he admitted himself later on.  Whilst the chapel was being built, we started a Sunday school at High Ash at my uncle’s farm so that when the building was opened, we had a Sunday school of twenty, of which I, in my teens, was superintendent.  I knew nothing!  Fortunately the children knew less, but we managed….

    Work started in January and the opening ceremony was in September, performed by Mrs Robert Jessup, the eldest daughter of the Mrs Walker who had started the work there almost thirty years before.  The preacher was the Rev. W.H. Heap.  There was, of course, a tea and an evening meeting and the speakers were Rev. W.H. Heap and the Rev. Lindley Tasker.  It was a great occasion in the life of the village and the whole circuit.

    But building and opening a chapel are one thing; running it is quite another and my father was determined that it should not be known as Walker’s Chapel, so saw to it the society stewards were appointed.  They were both youngish men, both   farm workers and great was their alarm when told that if the preacher did not turn up, they must do something about it.   

    We started a guild and one of the speakers was Sir Maurice Boileau who was so delighted to be asked.

    The following year we held our first anniversary … there were present at that   service six sons and daughters and four grandchildren of the late Mrs Walker.  One grandchild was the organist and one a junior class teacher.  The congregations were very good.

   In 1931, my father retired and as so often happens when a farmer moves, his men move, too.  My uncle, Mr Tom Walker, and his family were still there.  My father still took services on the Attleborough plan, but I was seldom able to go as my mother was ill and unable to be left.  The Sunday school continued and so long as the vicar remained, numbers were high.  Fewer and fewer went to the parish church and many never did go back.  Then the chapel at Wymondham was closed and Attleborough was a long way off.  About this time, my uncle moved and again there was another upheaval in the village.  Families left and the chapel members became fewer.

    In a circuit rearrangement, Ketteringham went to the Calvert Street circuit, [4] but now the family interest was missing and, of course, there was no transport from Norwich on Sundays.  Then the vicar left and went to St John Maddermarket [5] which he proceeded to empty in the same way that he had emptied Ketteringham. 

    In the original agreement, each year application had to be made to the landlord to renew the tenancy.  In 1943, the agent was told to say ‘No’ and that ‘the building must be removed.’  Why, we were never told, but we had our own ideas.  However, that was that.  The stewards and others from both the Attleborough and Calvert Street circuits met and it was agreed that it should go back into the Attleborough circuit and be re-erected at Long Stratton.

    As I look round this gathering today in the same building, somehow I think Grandmother would have approved.’

    The talk quoted above was given by Rachel (Ray) Walker, a granddaughter of Mrs Walker, the founder of the chapel.  The brown envelope containing the archival material had been re-used and retains her name and address.  It is also inscribed ‘On my Death this should be passed on to the Wesley Historical Society.’  Further investigation has revealed that Rachel Walker gave this talk to a meeting of our Branch of the Wesley Historical Society in 1968 at Long Stratton Methodist church.

    Other documents in the brown envelope show that the chapel at Ketteringham was built for £355-12-5d by Skipper and Bartram, Builders and Undertakers of Wymondham according to plans drawn up by the Rev. H.O. Arnett.  Cement was supplied by Lacey and Lincoln, Builders’ Merchants of Norwich.  Gates and iron railings were supplied by Boulton and Paul for £10-7-0d.

    A rostrum in Columbian pine was constructed for £16-10-0d by the firm of H.E. Taylor and Coy, Cringleford; Haines of High Wycombe provided the chairs for £30; lamps were bought from Johnson, Burton and Theobald for £6-14-5d; a carpet from Buntings department store in Norwich for £1-3-7½d and an organ was ordered from W. Howlett and Son, Musical Instrument Manufacturers and Importers for £45.  The annual rent paid to Sir Maurice Boileau for the chapel was set at ten shillings.

    In addition to those gifts listed in the talk, a pulpit Bible and hymn book were presented by Mr J. Rayner of Ripon who wrote to Mrs Walker about the gift, saying that his interest had been aroused by the piece written in the Joyful News paper by William Heap.  Mr Rayner described ‘the unreasonable attitude of your Vicar about the small piece of land.  I must say it is an attitude unknown to us in the North and he certainly would have been smartly rebuked and put in his place if any interference had been attempted here.’

   Amongst the fund-raising events for the chapel was a concert given by the men’s choir from nearby Hethersett Methodist church and another by the Methodists at Wymondham whilst the collections taken on opening day amounted to £22-17-3d.  The total cost of building and furnishing the chapel was £502-17-6d.

    The question has to be asked as to how far this talk gives a balanced view of the situation. It was given by a Methodist.  Moreover, the newspaper reports in Joyful News and written by William Heap were also written from the Methodist point of view – a Methodist author in a Methodist newspaper.  However, other newspaper reports survive.  One in the Eastern Daily Press prints an interview the reporter conducted with the sister-in-law of Sir Maurice, Mrs Raymond Boileau {Ethel Boileau] who pointed out that she was speaking on behalf of the family as Sir Maurice was indisposed and her husband, Colonel Raymond Boileau was away in Ipswich.  She said that Sir Maurice had previously refused to provide land for a chapel because the parish was too small for two places of worship to be necessary and that the number of people in the village who were genuine nonconformists were not sufficiently great to make the expenditure on the erection of a chapel justifiable or necessary.

   It was pointed out that serious inconvenience was being caused to the farmer by having meetings at his house so Sir Maurice finally agreed to lease a small piece of land for a temporary wooden building which could be removed at any time the Walkers left the parish.  The Boileaus felt that if it were not for the presence of the Walker family, there would be no lasting demand for the chapel.

    She continued by saying that Sir Maurice and Colonel Raymond Boileau consider it better to spend money on chapels in ‘the large areas on the outskirts of towns where there is neither church nor chapel rather than where there is no crying need’ and that ‘Sir Maurice has given way, recognising that in these days it is essential to uphold the principle of religious tolerance.  He and Colonel Boileau and I are all exceedingly annoyed at the officious action of the Rev. William H. Heap in rushing into print over a matter concerning us as Church people.’

    Mrs Boileau continued by saying that there had been no need for this as all the Methodists asked for had been conceded.  Moreover ‘any disciplinary action which the vicar chooses to take is a matter which concerns him and his church members and does not concern Nonconformists.’  She claimed that they had no direct knowledge that Sir Maurice is to cease to be vicar’s warden and that he continues to teach in the Sunday school and is a welcome guest at the vicar’s house.

    She added, ‘It is a curious thing that Nonconformists, while voluntarily separating themselves from the Church of England, seem to consider that they have a perfect right still to criticise and comment on the government of the Church.’  She agreed that Sir Maurice has been forbidden to read the lesson, but that he ‘does not regard himself as a martyr’ and that ‘in that matter the Vicar is within his rights, though we are sorry he has seen fit to exercise them.  Still we are all on friendly terms.’

    The reporter then spoke to the vicar who said that he had not yet made up his mind regarding the re-appointment of Sir Maurice as vicar’s warden at the next annual meeting.  The previous vicar sometimes took part in the services in the barn, he agreed, but he would not do so.  He emphasised the difference between Churchmanship and non Churchmanship as he saw it and remarked that as far as deciding who is to be the vicar’s warden and who to permit to read the lessons, ‘I want someone who is convinced of the definite teaching of the Prayer Book….I cannot with a light heart delegate that duty to a man that is openly propagating a chapel in our midst.’

    Another newspaper, The Journal, of 2 February 1929, published a notice on page 7 telling the reader that on the following page an illustrated article could be found ‘describing an amazing dispute which has arisen between a Vicar and a local Baronet, owing to the latter’s grant of land for a Methodist Church in the village.’  Heading the huge article itself is ‘Vicar and Baronet, Sensational Happenings…’

    The article describes the vicar as a leader in the Norwich Diocese in the Anglo-Catholic movement and judges that HighChurch changes in the form of worship at the church which are new to Ketteringham cannot be dissociated from the trouble which has arisen.

    Sir Maurice is portrayed as being utterly faithful to the church in the parish and well-known at gatherings throughout the Norwich Diocese.  He is, the reporter wrote, ‘a quiet, inoffensive, kindly-disposed, distinguished-looking man’ with ‘zealous regard for everything affecting the welfare of the Church.’

    The reporter described the Methodists as overjoyed to think that through ‘the kindness and catholicity of spirit of Sir Maurice’ they are to have their own chapel.  Arthur Walker ‘is one of the best known Wesleyan laymen in East Anglia’ and Vice-Chairman of the local District Council.   ‘He has dared many things for his religious beliefs.’  Sir Maurice’s offer has come at an opportune time as the services which have been held at his farmhouse since 1900 are now crowded in the extreme.

    The reporter sought an interview with Sir Maurice Boileau, but Sir Maurice was reluctant to make any statement, fearing it might further embitter the issue.  However, a ‘member of his household’ outlined the situation as in the other newspaper article and confirmed that the vicar had forbidden Sir Maurice to read the lessons, would not have him as vicar’s warden at the next annual meeting and said that the vicar was within his rights to do this.  He could not stop Sir Maurice teaching in the Sunday school and so Sir Maurice means to continue.   

    Next, the vicar was interviewed.  He was characterised as ‘a cleric of cultured mind and deep conviction, easily approachable,’ but he refused to affirm that his prohibitions of Sir Maurice were as a result of his gift to the Methodists. However, he did say that in a parish as small as Ketteringham, there was no room for an additional place of worship and ‘I expect one who is reading lessons in the parish church at Divine service to support only the parish church.  I don’t want a counter organisation running counter to mine.’  When asked about Sir Maurice’s position as vicar’s warden, he prevaricated and refused to commit himself.  He then complained, ‘I have people who go to communion on Sunday morning at the church and to the farmer’s barn for the Lord’s supper in the evening.  What a poor parish priest is to do, I do not know…I cannot countenance that sort of thing.’

    He confirmed Sir Maurice was still teaching in the Sunday school, that he continued to attend church and that they remained friends.

    He described Arthur Walker as ‘quite aggressive and will be after pinching the Church Sunday school.’ He asserted that ‘some of my best friends are Nonconformists’ and that ‘as a sportsman….I would not dream of doing anything mean.’

    The reporter suggested that some in the village who disapproved of his treatment of Sir Maurice and the vicar’s High Churchmanship might try to get him removed.  The vicar insisted that this could not be done, that his position was secure and that he had done nothing outside the limits of the prayer books.

    In the final paragraph, the reporter mischievously wondered whether Sir Maurice would be invited to read the lessons at the new Wesleyan chapel.

    This very long article, like the other, seems to be well balanced in that it gave a flavour of each of the protagonists personalities and point of view and allowed them to speak for themselves.  Moreover, the articles suggest that the talk given by Rachel Walker largely represents the true state of affairs.

    The chapel was built and opened with rejoicing.  Whether or not the vicar and Sir Maurice Boileau were ever reconciled is not known.



Published in the journal of the Wesley Historical Society: East Anglia,

No. 116, December 2013.

[1]  The Journal, 2 February 1929, p.8.

[2]  It is interesting that the vicar and the chief landowner should have fallen out when such a conflict had also occurred at Ketteringham in the mid nineteenth century although the circumstances then were very different – see Victorian Minature, Owen Chadwick, 1960, London.

[3]  A’dicky’ is Norfolk dialect for a donkey.

[4]  One of the Norwich circuits.

[5]  In Norwich.


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