William Lorkin, Methodist historian

By Norma Virgoe

   William Lorkin died in Norwich on 13 January 1837. In reporting his death, the newspaper, the Norwich Mercury, reminded its readers that ‘He was for 65 years a member of the Wesleyan Methodist body having joined them soon after Mr Wesley first visited Norwich.’ William Lorkin was aged 81.

   In 1825 he published a small book with the mighty title, A Concise History of the First Establishment of Wesleyan Methodism in the City of Norwich in the Year 1754 with its Progress from that period to its Present State. The book was printed in Norwich by Matchett and Stevenson in the Market Place. The artist J.S. Ladbrooke provided two line drawings of Calvert Street and Lady Lane Chapels.

   The book was dedicated to Rev. William Gilpin. He had been stationed in the Norwich Circuit as Superintendent in 1809 and had laid a foundation stone the following year at the new chapel in Calvert Street. He was again in the circuit in 1823 and in April 1824 was one of those who laid a foundation stone at Lady Lane Methodist Chapel in Norwich city centre.

   In his preface Lorkin explained that ‘he has been repeatedly requested to draw up and arrange such a Narrative from the various documents in his possession’ and that ‘he has at length yielded to the solicitations of his friends.’ He assured his readers that the earlier facts were obtained from his ‘intimate acquaintance with many of the original Members of the Society’ and later he experienced the events himself which he described. He insisted that he ‘has conscientiously avoided inserting anything on mere hear-say.’

   William Lorkin described the arrival of John and Charles Wesley in 1754 and the successes and failures of the various preachers stationed in the circuit. In the early years the preachers moved on every four months, but later they remained for a year or two.

   The ups and downs of the Methodist cause in Norwich were described as well as the disputes and splits in the congregation which took place from time to time. The opening of Cherry Lane Chapel in 1769 was an important milestone and so too was the death of Charles Wesley in 1788 and then John Wesley in 1791 – ‘This long dreaded and deeply deplored event.’

   Over the years congregational numbers grew so that a gallery was added to the Cherry Lane chapel, but when even this proved inadequate, a new chapel was planned at Calvert Street.  Lorkin recalled that ‘At an early hour, immense multitudes of people from different parts of Norfolk and Suffolk as well as hundreds of the inhabitants of this city assembled together to witness the dedication.’ When the chapel opened members numbered about 250. By 1824 that number had increased to more than 700 and so Lady Lane Chapel was opened and again Lorkin was present. He concluded, ‘The cause of Methodism in this city now assumes as important aspect; it is no longer hid in obscurity and held in contempt which has been its fate for many years… Now, not less than two thousand people hear Methodist preaching every Sabbath day.’

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