Wivenhoe: Protestant nonconformity

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2001.

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'Wivenhoe: Protestant nonconformity', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, ed. Janet Cooper( London, 2001), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp292-294 [accessed 12 July 2024].

'Wivenhoe: Protestant nonconformity', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Edited by Janet Cooper( London, 2001), British History Online, accessed July 12, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp292-294.

"Wivenhoe: Protestant nonconformity". A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Ed. Janet Cooper(London, 2001), , British History Online. Web. 12 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp292-294.


One Quaker and a few Anabaptists were recorded in 1664. (fn. 1) John Argor (d. 1679), who had been ejected from the church at Braintree, was licensed as a Presbyterian teacher in 1672. He had a congregation at Wivenhoe, which prob- ably met in the houses of John Tylor and William Giles, licensed for Presbyterian meet- ings in 1672. (fn. 2) Samuel Wood, who ran a small nonconformist academy, served as minister from 1709 until 1719 during which time the first Independent chapel was probably built. The congregation numbered 150 in 1715, but a division apparently occurred between the Pres- byterians and the Paedobaptists (perhaps Independents) in the congregation, and each group worshipped separately. (fn. 3)

Between 1796 and 1805 some Independents worshipped in a house at the corner of West Street and High Street; no trace of the first chapel remained. They were led by ministers from Colchester until 1803 when James Hyde, a lay pastor, came from London and the number of services and the size of the congregation increased. A house was bought in West Street and on land behind it a new Independent chapel with seating for 350 was built, and opened in 1805. A schoolroom was added in 1807. A church was constituted in 1808 and James Hyde ordained as its pastor. (fn. 4) In 1829 there was a con- gregation of 500 and the Sunday school, which had been founded by 1816, had 150 children. (fn. 5) Charles Riggs, pastor 1831-4, was once horse- whipped on his way from his home in Colchester to the chapel by someone very antagonistic to dissenters, alleged to be Gen. Francis Slater Rebow of Wivenhoe Park. The church soon afterwards rented Colne House, West Street, for a manse. (fn. 6)

During the vigorous ministry of Samuel Hubbard (1840-56) a new chapel, financed by Thomas Sandford (Sanford), oyster merchant, was opened in 1847 on the corner of West Street and Quay Street. Designed by James Fenton in the Italian style with a plaster dome, it had 600 seats. (fn. 7) A small mission was started at Wivenhoe Cross in 1848. (fn. 8) On census Sunday 1851 attend- ances of 319 in the morning, 422 in the after- noon, and 450 in the evening were recorded, including 100 Sunday school children in the morning and in the afternoon. (fn. 9) Under the min- istry of W. F. Tyler (1883-1927) a Band of Hope met, there were men's bible classes and prayer meetings, and the earlier preaching station at Wivenhoe Cross was reopened. Between 1927 and 1941 an early 19th-century house, formerly part of Wivenhoe Hall, was used as a manse. (fn. 10)

The church faced financial problems and declining membership in the mid 20th century, but there was some revival in the 1960s. Wivenhoe Hall Cottage, on the west side of High Street, was bought in 1956, the old church was sold, a new church was built in the grounds of the cottage and opened in 1962, and the cottage was converted to a manse. (fn. 11) In 1972 Wivenhoe Congregational joined the United Reformed church.

About 1805 there were Methodist teachers in Wivenhoe. (fn. 12) Wesleyan Methodists at Wivenhoe were included in the Colchester circuit from 1823 when there was a class of six led by John Grimes, perhaps with a break between 1836 and 1839. Between 1840 and 1866 the Wesleyans seem to have given way to the Primitive Meth- odists, but Wesleyan meetings were recorded again in 1866 and a new chapel, opened in Chapel Road in 1871, was adopted by the Colchester circuit in 1872. (fn. 13) By 1881 the seating capacity of 162 was inadequate, but the new chapel, designed and built by Thomas Marriott Locke of Colchester, was not opened until 1901 in the road later called The Avenue. By the 1950s numbers were dwindling, but member- ship increased in the late 1960s and the church premises were modernized c. 1970-1, partly with funds bequeathed by Stanley Osborne in his will, proved 1965. (fn. 14) There were 46 members in 1998. (fn. 15)

The Ipswich Primitive Methodist circuit included Wivenhoe in its plan in 1837; there was preaching, apparently in a member's house, every Sunday afternoon and evening, and fort- nightly on a weeknight. (fn. 16) The Primitives appar- ently continued to meet, having six members in 1857 when they were part of the Colchester circuit. In 1868 the congregation lost its preach- ing house and dispersed. (fn. 17)

In 1853 the Reform Methodists took over a mission the Congregationalists had started in 1848 at Wivenhoe Cross. (fn. 18)

David George Goyder, minister of the Swedenborgian Society at Ipswich, founded a small society in Wivenhoe by 1848. The New Jerusalem church in Sun Yard, Bethany Street, was opened in 1849, and on census Sunday 1851 had attendances of 22 in the afternoon and 54 in the evening, with another 12 at the Sunday school in the morning and 14 in the afternoon. The Harvey shipbuilding family was associated with the church. James Husk, another ship- builder, financed and built a Swedenborgian chapel at the top of Alma Street in 1864. (fn. 19) There was a lapse but services were resumed in a house in East Street by a minister from Brightlingsea, and later in the former Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Chapel Road, and finally in a school in High Street, where they continued until 1933. (fn. 20)

In 1864 Henry Ruffnell, a railway official, held evangelical meetings, mainly for railway nav- vies, in a barn. His successor, George Carter Needham, an Irish evangelist, rented the Swedenborgian chapel for six months in 1866, changing its name to the Gospel Hall. He left for America in 1868, having failed to raise money for a new hall, and his followers presum- ably dispersed. (fn. 21)

The Salvation Army held meetings c. 1895 in a sail loft at The Quay, and later in the former Swedenborgian chapel in Alma Street. (fn. 22) They remained until c. 1923. (fn. 23)

In 1761 the 'Seventh Day Sabbath' sect, pre- sumably the Seventh Day Baptists from Col- chester, provided a tenement for poor adher- ents. (fn. 24) About 1805 there were Baptist and Arminian teachers. (fn. 25)


  • 1. Guildhall MS. 9583/2, part iv, no. 105.
  • 2. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1672, 578; Davids, Nonconf. in Essex, 355-6.
  • 3. E.R.O., Acc. C271 (uncat.), Box 1, Congregational Ch. Bk. 1808-27; C. M. Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 8-9.
  • 4. E.R.O., Acc. C271 (uncat.), Box 1, Congregational Ch. Bk. 1808-27; Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 11-19.
  • 5. E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2/129; Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 18.
  • 6. B. Slaughter, Growth of Popular Educ. in Wivenhoe, unpaginated; Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 21.
  • 7. Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 23-9, 60; H. Colvin, Biog. Dict. of Brit. Architects 1600-1840, 305.
  • 8. Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 32; G. King, We nearly closed - Hist. of Wivenhoe Meth. Ch. 7.
  • 9. P.R.O., HO 129/8/205.
  • 10. Gordon, Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 40-5.
  • 11. Ibid. Wivenhoe Congregational Ch. 45-55.
  • 12. Lamb. Pal. Libr., Fulham Papers.
  • 13. King, We nearly closed, 5-16; E.R.O., D/NM 2/1/11; 2/1/25; ibid. Acc. A6817 (uncat.), poster, opening of new Meth. chapel.
  • 14. King, We nearly closed, 25-49; E.R.O., D/NM 2/9/3.
  • 15. Colch. Methodist Circuit Annual Preachers' Directory, 1998.
  • 16. King, We nearly closed, 5.
  • 17. E.R.O., D/NM 2/2/13, 21.
  • 18. King, We nearly closed, 7.
  • 19. Autobiography of Sir John Martin-Harvey, 10, 12; N. Butler, Story of Wivenhoe, 96-7; P.R.O., HO 129/8/205.
  • 20. Wivenhoe W.E.A., Wonderful Wivenhoe, 7; Butler, Story of Wivenhoe, 220-1.
  • 21. Butler, Story of Wivenhoe, 96-8.
  • 22. Wivenhoe W.E.A., Wonderful Wivenhoe, 7.
  • 23. Butler, Story of Wivenhoe, 221.
  • 24. E.R.O., D/DEt M12; V.C.H. Essex, ix. 340.
  • 25. Lamb. Pal. Libr., Fulham Papers.