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Black Country

In the rapidly developing industrial area north-west of Birmingham, Methodism was based on the Wednesbury society (which nurtured the young Francis Asbury) until the 1760s. By then the early persecution had died down and places such as Dudley and Wolverhampton, where the Wesleys had initially faced violent mobs, developed separate societies. By 1801 there were ten chapels: at Wednesbury, Darlaston, Dudley, Bradley, Bilston, Tipton, Wolverhampton, Sedgley, Oldbury and Walsall. Although John Wesley preached at Cradley, near Stourbridge, in 1770, the southern part of the area was only gradually incorporated into the Dudley Circuit (formed in 1794). Subsequent evangelism led to the formation of separate Stourbridge (1828), West Bromwich (1811) and Walsall (1835) Circuits.

In 1819 PM established a base at Darlaston with the support of a WM local preacher. A separate Darlaston Circuit was formed in 1820. During that year Thomas Brownsword was briefly imprisoned at Worcester for open-air preaching at Stourbridge and James Bonser was similarly treated at Stafford for committing the same offence in Wolverhampton. Both WM and PM membership grew rapidly during the first half of the century, especially during the two great cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1849. The PM circuits divided after each epidemic: Dudley separated from Darlaston in 1832, whilst Brierley Hill and West Bromwich circuits were created from these in 1849.The MNC gained most from the Warrenite controversy in 1835. In Dudley local agitation against the WM Conference was led by a former itinerant John Gordon, who succeeded in detaching several societies from the Dudley and Stourbridge circuits and leading them into the MNC before he himself left to become a Unitarian pastor.

In the 1851 Religious Census the MNC recorded the largest Methodist attendances in the Dudley and Stourbridge registration sub-districts. Nevertheless the MNC did not expand as much as either WM or PM after the 1830s. Together these three Methodist denominations accounted for 44% of the church attendance in the Black Country as a whole - the largest percentage of any denominational group, though the CofE had the largest share in Wolverhampton, Wednesbury and Walsall. Methodism was strongest in Dudley, West Bromwich and the smaller industrialized settlements in and around Oldbury, Tipton, Sedgley and Rowley Regis, with the largest overall attendances also in places like Darlaston, Bilston, Brierley Hill and Halesowen.

Quotations

Charles Wesley's Journal:

February 1, 1744: 'A great door is opened in this country, but there are many adversaries… Staffordshire at present seems the seat of war.'

Sources

  • J. Hall, Methodism in West Bromwich from 1742 to 1885 (1886)
  • A.C. Pratt, Black Country Methodism (1891)
  • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1905, pp.86-88
  • Conference Handbook, 1966 pp.74-78
  • G. Robson, Dark Satanic Mills: Religion and Irreligion in Birmingham and the Black Country (Carlisle, 2002)

Entry written by: GR
Category: Place

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