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York was an early centre of Methodism, thanks to John Nelson who preached on Heworth Moor whilst quartered in York as an impressed militiaman in May 1744. He returned in the autumn and as a result a class led by Thomas Slaton began to meet at Acomb. In 1744 Slaton started a class in the city, in the house of Thomas Stodhart in the Bedern close by the minster. An intended visit by John Wesley in 1747 was aborted after Nelson was almost killed by a mob, so his first visit was not until April 1752. Despite this inauspicious start, the cause grew rapidly. On his third visit in July 1757 Wesley preached in the open air and a subscription was started for a chapel, which he opened in Peasholme Green on 15 July 1759. Though accommodating 400, galleries were added in 1775. A large chapel, opened in New Street in 1805, remained the circuit chapel for the next century. Further chapels were opened in Albion Street (1816) and in St George's parish, Walmgate (1826). The latter was replaced by the imposing Centenary Chapel (1840).

The MNC had little impact on York. A small society supported by Robert Oastler met in a former Calvinistic chapel in Grape Lane in 1799, but survived only until 1804. Until 1850 other branches of Methodism made little impact. William Clowes preached in York in 1819 and formed a small Primitive Methodist society, which moved into Grape Lane chapel in 1820. In 1830 a chapel of Protestant Methodists was opened in Lady Peckett's Yard. Following the Fly Sheets controversy a major split occurred in 1850; WM was set back by a decade and PM expanded, moving from Grape Lane to Ebenezer chapel in Little Stonegate in 1851. A mission led by William Booth re-established the MNC at Peckitt Street chapel in 1855. Other reformers joined with former Protestant Methodists to open a UMFC chapel at Monk Bar in 1859.

Wesley Chapel (replacing Albion Street, 1856) became the head of a second WM circuit west of the Ouse in 1867, and Centenary Circuit was created in 1888. The PM Elmfield College opened in 1864. PM formed a Second Circuit in 1883, following the opening of Victoria Bar chapel (1880). They moved from Ebenezer to the John Petty Memorial Chapel in Monkgate in 1903. But numerically WM was never challenged and dominated the suburbs, with large chapels at Melbourne Terrace (1877), the Groves (1883), Southlands Road (1887) and Clifton (1909, replacing New Street). Following Methodist Union in 1932 and numerical decline many chapels closed, especially in the city centre. In 1999 only Centenary remained within the city walls.


  • Richard Burdekin, Memoirs of the Life and Character of Robert Spence (1827) pp.123-34
  • J. Lyth, Glimpses of Early Methodism in York (York, 1885)
  • Edward Royle, 'Religion in York' in C.H. Feinstein (ed) (1981)
  • Edward Royle, Nonconformity in Nineteenth-Century York (York, 1985)
  • Edward Royle, 'Central Missions in York and Huddersfield before the First World War: a forward or a backward movement?', in Bulletin of the WHS, Yorkshire Branch, no.74 (Spring, 1999) pp.3-20

Entry written by: ER
Category: Place

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