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Yorkshire

Yorkshire provided fertile soil for Methodist expansion in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Archbishop Herring's Visitation Returns for 1743, which record that nearly half the 836 parishes in the huge diocese of York had non-resident clergy, reveal that Methodists were already active in 22 localities. In 1748 the first circuit Quarterly Meeting was held near Todmorden and in 1753 the first of John Wesley's Conferences to be held in the North assembled at Leeds. By 1764 the incumbents of no fewer than 108 Yorkshire benefices reported Methodists among their parishioners and among the surviving early preaching houses are the distinctive octagon chapels at Yarm and Heptonstall.

By 1785, when Yorkshire Methodists numbered over 15,000, many more chapels had been built across the county, especially in industrial parishes engaged in textile manufacture, coal mining and metallurgy. This remarkable religious revival, initially stimulated by itinerant evangelists (including Benjamin Ingham, Will Darney,David Taylor, John Bennet and Charles Wesley), was reinforced by John Wesley's frequent visits between 1742 and 1790. The revival was also supported by sympathetic clergymen, notably William Grimshaw of Haworth and Henry Venn of Huddersfield, and by energetic lay preachers such as John Nelson, William Shent and Francis Scott, the Wakefield joiner.

Between 1790 and 1795 the average annual rate of increase was 1,000 members, reaching a total of more than 21,000 by 1795. WM expansion was temporarily checked by the MNC secession at Leeds in 1797, which won strong support from West Riding urban circuits such as Huddersfield, whose membership was almost halved. The secession of the Protestant Methodists in 1827 was another setback. In 1836 they amalgamated with the WMA, which had a Yorkshire membership of c. 3,000 in 1837. PM also gained growing support after 1819, particularly in the North and East Ridings and at Hull, where the first PM Conference was held in 1820 and which became the base for missions as far afield as Kent and Cornwall.

The most damaging secession, as elsewhere, was that of the Wesleyan Reform movement, which cost the WM societies in the county over 15,000 members in 1850-51, almost halving the membership of the Bramley, Cleckheaton, Sheffield East and Wakefield Circuits, and which eventually established its headquarters in Sheffield. Despite this, WM predominated in every Yorkshire borough in the 1851 religious census and only in Halifax did the combined strength of the non-Wesleyan groups challenge the WM ascendancy. There were isolated pockets of support for the Bible Chrisians in the county, e.g. in Bradford, where the Toller Lane congregation was formed by migrants from Somerset.

Expansion and secession had resulted in a proliferation of chapel accommodation in the county, which led to a process of amalgamation and closure following Methodist Union in 1932, against a background of declining membership. For example, 38 of the 111 chapels in the city of Leeds in 1932 had been closed by 1956, a period which saw a membership decline of 2,500; and in 1961, four years after the formation of the West Yorkshire District, schemes of amalgamation were reported to be proceeding in no fewer than 16 circuits.

In 1851 the Religious Census enumerated 1,855 Methodist places of worship in Yorkshire (including WM: 1,177; PM: 476; WR: 77; MNC: 73; WMA:52). By 1989 there were only 1,082 Methodist churches in Yorkshire and Humberside. Total attendances reported in 1851 amounted to 426,787 (23.7% of the population), with evening services (usually the best attended) totalling 168,547 (9.4%). In 1989 Methodist worshippers totalled 65,400 (1.6% of the population) and Methodist members 69,700 (1.7%). In both 1851 and 1989, the proportion of the population attending Methodist worship was higher in the predominantly rural North and East of the county than in the urban conurbations of the West and South.

Sources

  • Henry Woodcock, Piety among the Peasantry: being sketches of Primitive Methodism on the Yorkshire Wolds [1889]
  • John W. Laycock, Methodist Heroes in the Great Haworth Round (Keighley, 1909)

Entry written by: JAH
Category: Denomination

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