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Honiton

The earliest record of Methodist members in Honiton was in 1810, when the town was part of the South Petherton Circuit, but properties had been licensed for worship, possibly for cottage meetings, as early as 1779. They were succeeded by a malthouse, a blacksmith’s premises and eventually an ammunition store, before a purpose-built church was opened in 1876.

Although John Wesley frequently visited nearby Axminster and Honiton was a busy staging post between Bristol and Exeter, his only recorded visit to the town was for dinner on 15 March 1785. There is no record of his having preached in the town. The local Methodists were ‘a wandering, vagabond race’, transferring their allegiance from one brand of Methodism to another. At one point they were linked with the Wesleyan Reformers and in the mid-19th century became part of the UMFC.

Premises in Warwick Lane were acquired from a local blacksmith in 1830 and converted into a place of worship. It was known locally as 'the Blacksmith's Chapel' and was eventually sold to the Baptists towards the cost of its successor. What has been described as the society's long period of ‘disaffection and strife’ (along with much of the Axminster Circuit at that time) came to an end when the Rev. Charles Prest, connexional Home Missions secretary, included them among his many projects. The result was the building of a prestigious church in 1876 and a long period of debt that continued until 1971, when the 1876 chapel was sold and the 1931 school hall was revamped to provide a flexible modern interior.

Throughout the life of the 1876 chapel Honiton was noted for its grand (re)openings, as successive generations tried to update it ‘to serve the present age’. In 2009 the premises underwent their first major refurbishment in nearly forty years, thanks largely to a sizable legacy, and this resulted in a much more flexible and safe link with the 1908 Wesley Hall.

Sources

  • The Mighty Oak: The Story of the Devon and Dorset Mission (1974)
  • Patricia Batstone, The Mystery of Methodism in Honiton (2009)

Entry written by: PB
Category: Place

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