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Wellington, Shropshire

When John Fletcher preached there in 1765 a society was formed. A house in New Street belonging to William Buttery was licensed for worship in 1771. The first chapel, in what became Chapel Lane, off the High Street, was licensed in 1797, and enlarged in 1811. At the 1799 Visitation one in five of the population were said to be Dissenters, mostly Methodists, whose chapel had a congregation of 200. The society was closely linked to All Saints parish church and was worshipping there in the morning as late as 1813. The evangelical vicar John Eyton consulted with, and was consulted by, the preachers. He met in class, paid his class money and attended the chapel in the evening. Circuit plans show no morning service in 1813 and in 1819 one at 9 a.m., well before the one at the parish church. In 1823, the year of Eyton’s death, the service moved to 10 a.m. and then to 10.30.

Wellington became a separate circuit (from Shrewsbury) in 1817, stretching from the northern coalfield to Shifnal, and soon took over the Newport area from the Stafford circuit. Methodists continued to be baptized at the parish church: the WM baptismal register did not begin until 1827. Societies grew up and eventually built chapels elsewhere, e.g. Lawley Bank, Ketley and Coalpit (later Ketley) Bank. The area was strongly Wesleyan, with the Wellington society dominated by the town’s tradesmen and nearby ironmasters, such as William Ison of Steeraway in the Wrekin forest to the south. A new chapel on New Street was built in 1834, with a gallery added in 1866. One leading Methodist was Benjamin Smith, printer, bookseller and local preacher and father of the children's author 'Hesba Stretton'.

Although the 1849 agitation hit the village societies, the Wellington society, led by Ison, Smith and theGroom family, remained loyal. In the 1851 Religious Census, congregations of 277 in the morning and 251 in the evening were reported, with a morning Sunday School of 143. Society membership grew from 107 in 1851 to 250 in 1862. A WM day school in Prince's Street was built in 1857. A mission at the poorer end of the town, opened in 1861, had only evening services; it closed under wartime pressure in 1940. In 1882 a new chapel was built further down New Street, with an imposing Italianate frontage and large galleries on three sides, opened in 1883 by George Osborn and Charles Garrett. The old chapel was refurbished as a Sunday School, run for nearly half a century as 'a model Sunday School' by John Wesley Clift (1856-1939), related by marriage to the Grooms. The school had 500 on its books for most of his superintendency. Economic stringencies in World War I led to the selling off of the premises, which were replaced in 1920 by 'temporary' wooden buildings (lasting forty years!) at the back of the 1882 chapel.

The twentieth century saw a weakening of the financial strength of local Methodism. Most of the Grooms moved away to Hereford. In 1908 the Home Mission Department encouraged the circuits of the coalfield, by this time long in decline, to come together with Wellington as the head of a new circuit. Mission activities led to a small growth in membership. A strong succession of minsters came to the town, at least until World War II. Among ministerial sons born in Wellington was A. Kingsley Lloyd. Cecil F. Groom (1867-1953; e.m. 1895), youngest son of Richard Groom junior, also became a minister.

Entry written by: JHL
Category: Place

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