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Bicentenary celebration of historic Norwich Sunday School

A weekend of events on May 5-7 and the publication of a new book are planned to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the formation of the Sunday School of Rosebery Road Methodist Church, formerly known as Sun Lane Sunday School. 

Rosebery Road Methodist Church in North Norwich is celebrating the bicentenary of its Sunday School and Youth Group, formerly known as Sun Lane Sunday School, over the weekend of Saturday, May 5 – Monday, May 7

The 200th anniversary celebrations will include a Flower Festival based around the theme of ‘Childhood’, the publication of a new book about the history of Sun Lane Sunday School written by Rosebery Road church member Ursula Franklin, and a reunion of former Sunday School and Youth Club members at a worship service on Sunday morning. 

The President of the Methodist Conference, Rev Loraine Mellor will speak at the service at 10.30am which will be followed by a celebration lunch in the church’s Calvert Hall.

The Sunday School was established in 1818 by the Norwich Sunday School Union, whose President Joseph Gurney was the brother of Elizabeth Fry.  The group was first ran out of a wash house in a cottage in Long Row, in the fast developing New Catton area of Norwich.

As numbers increased the Sunday School moved to larger rooms in Sun Lane and in 1820 it became Sun Lane Sunday School. In 1827 a schoolroom thirty feet long by eighteen feet wide was built in Sun Lane.  This was added to in 1857 with two classrooms and an infant’s room.

Ursula Franklin explains: “Students were taught to read and write as well as religious instruction, as it was not until the 1870 Education Act that Elementary Education was available for all.”

The Sunday School continued to outgrow its premises. Ursula said: “In 1870 Sunday School Superintendent John Clarke and Charles Turner, describing themselves as ‘poor labourers of God’s vineyard in the wilds of Catton’, presided over a rebuilding venture. This new building, which cost £600, and was designed by the well-known Norwich architect Edward Boardman, had a general schoolroom, an infant schoolroom, 4 other classrooms and a library. Within 4 months of opening, the number of scholars totalled 365.

“But only 10 years later numbers of scholars had grown so much that the size of the premises was doubled at a cost of £1299. 1893 saw the highest ever number of scholars attending, the average being 528 in the morning and 594 in the afternoon.”

In 1908 Rosebery Road Church was built which then housed the Sunday School. The Sunday School continued under its original well-known name until 1953 when the name was changed to Rosebery Road [Sun Lane] Methodist Sunday School. Eventually ‘Sun Lane’ was dropped from the name.

Ursula said: “The twentieth century saw many inspirational and dedicated Sunday School teachers who are remembered with respect and affection. The huge numbers at the end of the nineteenth century did begin to decline, but there were still over 150 on roll in 1950. Many changes took place in the second half of the twentieth century. ‘Sunday School’ became ‘Junior Church’, and it was customary for the children and young people to be in church for part of the service, usually at the beginning. Sadly, numbers continued to fall until Junior Church ceased, but we are very glad that we still have a small group of young children with us most Sundays.

“Space here does not permit me to write of the many plays, musicals, outings, anniversaries, and Christmas celebrations and activities which have taken place, but I do have the luxury of recording the complete history as well as people’s memories and anecdotes in a book which I am writing to mark the occasion, and which I intend to have available for our celebration weekend.

"We look forward to welcoming as many of you as possible at Rosebery Road over the course of that weekend.”

Opening times for the Flower Festival and Exhibition are 10.30am - 4.30pm on Saturday, May 5 and Monday, May 7, and 12 noon - 4.30pm on Sunday, May 6Light refreshments will be available each day, and parking will be available in the Angel Road Junior School playground opposite the church.  Donations towards the church ‘Big Upgrade’ project would be welcome.

Rosebery Road Methodist Church, Rosebery Road, Norwich, NR3 3AB

Photo: Rosebery Road (Sun Lane) Youth Group in the 1960s. Some of those pictured will attend the reunion on May 6. 

Article printed from at 17:58 on 16 July 2020