Much of the information up to 1988 has been taken from a booklet produced in that year by the Rev. Elizabeth Bellamy.
It is not possible to accurately date the arrival of Methodism into Holt, as several St. buildings were licensed for worship in the mid eighteenth century without a denomination being specified.
The first definite evidence came in 1783, when a building in Lanetoe was licensed to Thomas Gunton of Briston, and was referred to in the diary of Mary Hardy of Letheringsett on July6th. Where she wrote, ” a mob was raised on acct. of a Methodist meeting in the town”. The Hardy family would become probably the foremost leaders in the subsequent history of Methodism in Holt, and it was Mary’s son, William, who would be the founder of the first purpose-built Methodist church in the town. This building was erected in Albert St. in 1813 at a cost of around £900. It subsequently became known as the Chancery Buildings.This building was part of the Walsingham Wesleyan Circuit, and was used for 24 years, at which point it became too small, and so the New Street Chapel was built, the work commencing in 1837. Again William Hardy was the person mainly responsible for the building of this chapel, taking a mortgage of £500, who also funded the erection of a gallery in the building in 1839.
William Hardy died three years later, and a memorial to him in New Street Chapel, was later moved into the Norwich Road premises. His heir was his nephew, William Cozens-Hardy, and he took over the mortgage on the property. He was a great advocate of more lay leadership within the church. This would lead to great acrimony and conflict in 1849, when he defended and supported 3 Ministers at the Weslyan Conference who published fly sheets advocating more lay leadership. The details are too lengthy and complicated to go into here, but are readily available. The upshot was that Cozens-Hardy demanded repayment of the money owed to him. After along legal battle, the Conference were ordered to repay all monies owing, including costs and interest, a sum of some £2000. As a result of this action, William and his supporters were expelled from Weslyan Methodism and started a new church, variously known as the Weslyan Reformers, the Free Methodists and the United Methodists.
After meeting at various locations, William Cozens-Hardy gave the Free Methodists permission to build on the present site at the top of Letheringsett Hill in 1862 at a cost of £2502 10s and 6d. It was designed by architect Thomas Jeckyll to specifications laid down by William, and is still one of the best examples of Victorian contrasted buildings to be found anywhere in the country. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the tower was built for nothing more than visual effect. The church was opened on Good Friday in 1863. As well as the Weslyans in New Street, and the Free Methodists, the Primitives built a chapel in Albert Street in 1872. The three churches continued thus into the 20th century, each very independent of the others.
The next significant move came with the Free Methodists becoming part of the United Methodist Church in 1907. By 1929 the three ministers had begun to draw the churches closer together, and , for the first time were being invited to speak at each others events, and by 1932 the Wesleyans were the only denomination to have a resident minister in Holt, with the two others being served by ministers from Sheringham. The uniting of the three denominations in Holt preceded the national union by 7 months, in February 1932, and it was agreed to centralise worship at Norwich Road, with the New Street building becoming the venue for the Sunday School and mid-week activities.
In 1936 the church hosted a visit by the famous evangelist, Gipsy Smith, and no less than 700 people were crammed into the building for the afternoon service, with many others unable to get in. (Health and Safety eat your heart out!). In order to ease things for the evening meeting, loud speakers were set up in the adjacent Church School and an adjoining meadow.
In 1950 the building in New Street building was sold, although the burial ground was retained, and is now rented to the Town Council who have turned it into a memorial garden. This sale allowed a School Hall to be built at the rear of Norwich Road, and the balance of the finance was cleared by a legacy from Basil Cozens-Hardy, the last of the family to worship regularly in Holt.
In 1965 a new Manse was purchased, a significant move as all ministers since Union had lived in lodgings or rented accommodation.
In 1972 the original decorative boundary wall was removed as part of the Norwich road improvement scheme.
1983 saw the beginning of the scheme to make the interior of the church much as we find it today. This was also the year that the graveyard was renovated, with the stones moved to the edges, allowing much easier maintenance. The Sunday School hall was demolished in 1988, and was replaced with the current rear extension which houses the Hall, kitchen and toilet block. The small meeting room behind the pulpit, part of the 1983 scheme, gradually dropped out of use and became something of a dumping ground for anything and everything. In 2007 the church was given a gift of money in memory of the late Hilda Hird, and this area was refurbished to it’s present fine state, and is now known as “Hilda’s Room”. At the time of writing there is a scheme in hand to transform the rather uneven driveway and car park, by laying Tarmac along the side and back of the building.
It has been almost impossible to condense the remarkable history of Methodism in Holt into this small space, but we thank God for the will to continue to witness in what was described in 1959 by the Rev. J. W. Sawyer as “the almost cathedral-like chapel now in use”.