Wicken: Nonconformity

Pages 572-573

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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Two Wicken husbandmen were linked with dissenters at Burwell in 1687; one belonged to the Fuller family, (fn. 1) which furnished members in the early 18th century for the Isleham Independent congregation, which a former Wicken man served as minister, 1727-47. (fn. 2) In the 1790s the Asplands of Wicken produced a notable Baptist, later Unitarian, minister, Robert Aspland, who began preaching, aged sixteen, at Wicken in 1798. A surviving building beside his father Robert Aspland's house was registered for dissenting worship in 1799. (fn. 3) It perhaps housed the 20 dissenters, centred on a family 'of Baptist persuasion', but with no regular teacher, reported 1806-1813. (fn. 4)

By 1820 dissent at Wicken was based, instead, on Methodism. (fn. 5) In the late 19th century, when the vicar thought the dissenters 'bigoted' despite professions of friendship, they dominated the parish: in 1897 they comprised two thirds of the inhabitants, probably including, as in the 1860s, most of the farmers, such as the Dennises and Slacks. The two dissenting Sunday schools then had 160 pupils, compared with 120 at the Anglican one. (fn. 6) About 1950 Wicken's Methodists, who dominated the parish council, were still thought 'not friendly' to the Church. (fn. 7)

The Primitive Methodists later believed that they had been active at Wicken from the 1820s, using a thatched cottage and then a barn off North Street. A small timber-framed chapel, built c. 1835, provided seating for 185, a third free, in 1851, when three Sunday services were held. Attendance at them rose from 120 in the morning to 190 in the evening. (fn. 8) That chapel, near the junction of North Street and Gilbert's, later Chapel, Lane, was rebuilt in grey brick, with a schoolroom behind, in 1865-6 (fn. 9) in domestic style with a plain three-bayed front. In the mid 19th century the services, still sometimes held in barns lent by farmers, and including camp meetings, (fn. 10) had been assisted by local preachers drawn from Wicken farmworkers; in 1871 one was a tea dealer. (fn. 11) Still open in the early 20th century, (fn. 12) the chapel closed in 1944. The building, sold by 1947 and converted from a grain store to a dwelling house c. 1980, (fn. 13) still stood in 1995.

The Wesleyans had also been working at Wicken before 1830. In 1832 they built and registered a chapel north of North Street, slightly west of the Primitive one, and initially served from Mildenhall (Suff.). In 1851, when it had 310 sittings, two thirds free, and provided three Sunday services, it was attended by up to 145 people, beside almost 60 Sunday-school children. (fn. 14) A four-month mission in 1860 claimed c. 100 conversions. (fn. 15) The old brick chapel, which had a tall five-bayed front, its ground floor with arched windows facing south to the street, was enlarged in 1865 and had a Sunday schoolroom added in 1887. It was replaced in 1911 by a chapel of grey brick dressed in stone, which had an elaborately traceried Gothic window in its large south gable above a porch, although the rest was built in very simple Gothic. (fn. 16) Seating 273 people, (fn. 17) it was still open in 1995.


  • 1. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1686-7, p. 358.
  • 2. Isleham Church Bk. 1693-1805, ed. K.A.C. Pearson (C.A.R.S. vi), 181-4, 209.
  • 3. Ibid. 220; D.N.B. i. 667-8; P.R.O., RG 31/2, Sudbury archdeac. no. 284; cf. L.M. Munby, Village Hist. in Staploe Hund. 49.
  • 4. Norf. R.O., VIS/42/4; VIS/47/10.
  • 5. Ibid. VIS/54/4.
  • 6. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/24; C 3/39; C.R.O., P 172/3/5; cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 6 July 1861, p. 5; 2 Nov. 1861, p. 8.
  • 7. Char. Com. file 62352, letter 1954.
  • 8. Munby. Village Hist. in Staploe Hund. 49; P.R.O., HO 129/89, f. 55; cf. ibid. RG 31/2, Sudbury archdec. no. 775.
  • 9. Munby, Village Hist. 49; Ely Weekly News, 10 Dec. 1981; cf. P.R.O., RG 9/1036, f. 100v.
  • 10. Camb. Chron. 12 June 1852, p. 3; 2 Aug, 1862, p. 8.
  • 11. P.R.O., RG 9/1036, ff. 98 and v., 100v.; RG 10/1601, ff. 101, 103v., 106v.
  • 12. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1900-37).
  • 13. Munby, Village Hist. 49; Methodist Ch. Bldgs.: Statistical Returns, 1940 (1947), 14; Ely Weekly News, 10 Dec. 1981.
  • 14. Munby, Village Hist. 49; P.R.O., RG 31/2, Sudbury archdeac. no. 688; ibid, HO 129/189, f. 54.
  • 15. Camb. Chron. 12 May 1860, p. 5.
  • 16. Munby, Village Hist. 49; A. Day, Fenland Village in Photog. 49, with illus. of old bldg.; foundation stone at chapel; cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 29 June 1861, p. 8.
  • 17. Methodist Ch. Bldgs.: Returns, 1940, 14.