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Bilston

John Wesley paid the first of many visits in 1745, in the course of travelling from Wolverhampton to Wednesbury (although he mentions the place only twice in his Journal, in 1745 and 1770). Bilston was at that time still a rural village, with 3,000 inhabitants, where brutal sports such as cock-fighting, dog-fighting, bull- and bear-baiting were popular. In the following years several homes were opened for Methodist meetings. The first Methodists were humble folk, looked down on by their neighbours and even refused the Sacrament at the parish church. The first known chapel was not built until 1794, in Temple Street. It was known as ‘Loxdale’s Chapel’ because the site was given by Ann Loxdale, later the second wife of Dr Thomas Coke. It was opened with sermons by both Joseph Benson and Dr. Coke. Side galleries and a singers’ pew were added in 1812.

The site for a new chapel was bought from the Loxdale family in 1823, on Swan Bank, with the Temple Street building becoming a Sunday School. Later, in 1892, Temple Street became the location of a mission church. In 1824 ‘Wesley Chapel’ on Swan Bank became the first building in Bilston to be lit by gas; and two large cisterns under the hall provided a water supply that was a profitable commodity. Major extensions were made in 1840 and 1890, and in 1844 the schoolroom was adapted for use as a day school. The first organ was installed in 1861 (replaced in 1905). The chapel survived a serious fire in 1892. Prominent among its members were William (‘Father’) Hackett, a local preacher for 70 years, who died in 1886 aged 90, and Joseph Sankey (1821-1886), founder of the metalwork and japanning firm of Sankey and Sons.

Methodists were foremost in attending the sick in the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1849, and a Ragged School was started in 1862.

Bilston became a separate circuit (from Wolverhampton) in 1864. Its strong musical tradition reached a climax when the Wesley choir came first in the Nonconformist choir competition at the Crystal Palace in 1901.

The Primitive Methodists came into the area from Tunstall in 1819. Sampson Turnerpreached in Bilston and other places that spring, and was followed by Thomas Brownsword, the ‘boy preacher’, and James Bonsor. They both faced hostility and persecution. The first PM church was opened in December 1825 and its first anniversary services were conducted by Hugh Bourne. In 1841 a new church was built in High Street and became head of the Primitive Methodist Circuit of five churches which later extended to eight churches. It was used for District Assemblies on four occasions. A Sunday School building was added in 1861 and was used as a Day school from 1886 to 1906 after which it was transferred to Stonefield. High Street Church closed at the end of December, 1962, when the society became part Bilston Methodist Church.

The Methodist New Connexion opened its Oxford Street chapel in 1835 (closed 1938).

The WM and PM circuits united in 1955. In 1962 it was agreed to amalgamate the Swan Bank and High Street congregations with a view to building a new church, which eventually opened in 1970 in Lewis Street.

Sources

  • John Freeman, Bilston Wesleyan Methodism: Notes on its origin and progress (Bilston, 1924)
  • Iris Dale, The story of Bilston Wesley [Bilston, 2003]
  • 250 years of Methodism in and around Bilston (n.d.)

Category: Place

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