Dr John Hunt

Living the Parable

    John Hunt, surgeon of Norwich, was well known to John Wesley.  He was a man who found religion compelling although his views wavered back and forth between different denominations. In his obituary in the Norfolk Chronicle[1] he was described as having allied himself at various times with the Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, Swedenborgians, Unitarians and finally the Methodists.  He also attended his parish church.

   Hunt lived in a house in Ber Street.  His very large garden had a fountain and formal paths and flower beds.  In one corner was a substantial summer house.   

   In January 1781, he applied for and obtained from the bishop a licence for religious worship for the summer house. This was then used for services and John Wesley mentioned preaching there in 1781 and 1783.  The chapel was known as ‘Ebenezer’ chapel. [2]   Hunt also registered a large room for worship in Swan Yard in the Norwich parish of St Peter Parmentergate in 1789.

   During his visits to Norwich in October 1783, John Wesley was entertained by John Hunt at his house in Ber Street and he was again at Dr Hunt’s house at the beginning of November the following year and once more eleven months later.  He was there twice more in the autumn of 1786 for meals, conversation and prayers.

   Wesley commended the Ber Street congregation. In a letter to Jonathan Coussins, the Norwich Assistant [3] in 1785, he wrote, ‘Dr Hunt and his people shame us; I mean in fasting which we have well-nigh forgotten! Let us begin again!’ [4]

    One of the itinerant preachers, Thomas Cooper, who was stationed in the Norwich circuit in 1782, remembered that he had been taken ill ‘by a putrid fever’ and felt,

 there was not the least prospect of my recovery…Mr Hunt, a most skilful surgeon and a truly pious man, who was my medical attendant, with strong cries and prayers, pleaded with God to rebuke the disorder… The Lord in mercy heard and answered…by giving the healing touch; for I improved in my help from that very hour; and my kind surgeon, though he attended me for a long time, and with great assiduity, never made any charge, only requesting me to preach to him a sermon, which I cheerfully did as soon as I was able. [5]

     Hunt was described as a man of extraordinary piety and extensive benevolence’. [6]   On at least two occasions, he provided a banquet for the poor.  The first was reported in the Norwich Mercury newspaper in January 1781 and recorded that ‘110 persons as belonging to St John de Sepulchre in this city received a comfortable dinner of dumplings, beef etc from Mr Hunt, surgeon’. [7]   

   The second of these feasts was held in March 1789 to celebrate the news of the recovery of King George III from his illness and his return to normality.  The young Methodist preacher Richard Reece wrote in his journal, ‘This day was to dine with Dr Hunt who expresst [sic] his gratitude by making a feast and inviting the poor only, when I had the honour of serving them.  I felt a sensible pleasure in doing it.’ [8]

    John Hunt remained a committed Methodist in Norwich for many years, but at the end of the century he and his wife Susana retired to Gissing in south Norfolk.  He made a number of donations to the Diss Circuit where he was a Local Preacher and took a prominent part in the funeral service of the Wesleyan itinerant preacher Jonathan Coussins who was buried inside the Diss chapel.  He also built a little chapel on his own land which he kept closed at the time of the services in the parish church, in strict obedience to John Wesley’s directions. In his will, he left this chapel to be administered by four trustees and directed that it should be for the use of the Methodist preachers whenever they were able to visit.  He died on 16 June 1824 aged 86.


[1] Norfolk Chronicle, 3 July 1824.

[2] In 1806, a controversy amongst the Norwich Methodists led to a split in the congregation.  The smaller group broke away and joined Ebenezer Chapel.  Preachers were invited there from the Methodist New Connexion.

[3] ‘Assistant’ was the title of the supervising minister in each circuit.  After John Wesley’s death, it was changed to  ‘Superintendent.’

[4] Letters…,Telford, op. cit., vol. vii, p.259 – letter 25 Feb. 1785.

[5] Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, 1835, p.41.

[6] Norfolk Annals, ed. Charles Mackie, 1901. vol. i, p.235 quoting the Norfolk and Norwich Remembrancer.

[7] Norwich Mercury, 27 January 1781.

[8] A Season Highly Profitable, Norma Virgoe, Wesley Historical Society: East Anglia, 2007.

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