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Chester

Methodism was introduced by John Bennet in 1747. John Wesley's visits, from 1752 on, were generally made en route to Ireland, sailing from Parkgate on the Wirral. By 1765 the society was confident and wealthy enough to erect an octagon chapel seating 600 and a preacher's house. Services were not held in church hours until 1806. Chester became the head of a circuit, covering the western half of the county, in 1764. James Crawfoot recollected Wesley's use of the term 'primitive Methodists' on his last visit in 1790. St John Street WM church was opened in 1812.

The MNC maintained a precarious existence throughout the nineteenth century and its Conference met in the city five times between 1811 and 1856. PM established a strong presence from 1819 onwards. A chapel was opened in Steam-Mill Street in 1823 and several new ones in the late nineteenth century: Tarvin Road (1884), George Street (1888) and Hunter Street (1899)), each of which became head of a circuit. The PM Conference met there in 1894. At the time of *Methodist Union there were one WM and three PM circuits. The former WM church in City Road was converted into a [[Entry:564 Central Hall] ]in 1933.

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

June 1752: 'I rode to Chester, and preached at six in the accustomed place, a little without the gates, near St. John's Church. One single man, a poor alehouse keeper, seemed disgusted, spoke a harmless word, and ran away with all speed. All the rest behaved with the utmost seriousness while I declared "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

[Next day, Sunday] 'I preached at seven in a much larger house, which was just taken near St. Martin's Church - as eminent a part of the town as Drury Lane is in London, or as the Horsefair was in Bristol… At one I began preaching again on "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord"; but the house not containing half the congregation, I was obliged to stand at the door, on one side of a kind of square large enough to contain ten or twelve thousand people…

'At four I preached in the Square to a much larger congregation, among whom were abundance of gentry. One man screamed and hallooed as loud as he could, but none seconded or regarded him. The rest of the congregation were steadily serious from the beginning to the end.

[Next day] 'I preached at six in the evening in the Square to a vast multitude, rich and poor. The far greater part, the gentry in particular, were seriously and deeply attentive, though a few of the rabble, most of them drunk, laboured much to make a disturbance. '

March 1753: 'We rode to Chester, where we found the scene quite changed since I was here before. There is now no talk of pulling down houses. The present mayor, being a man of courage as well as honesty, will suffer no riot of any kind; so that there is peace through all the city. [Next day] 'The house was full of serious hearers at five. In the evening some gay young men made a little disturbance, and a large mob was gathered about the door; but in a short time they dispersed of themselves…'

August 1756: 'Here we had a comfortable meeting in the evening, as well as the next day, both in the room and in the Square.'

April 1757: 'The congregation at Chester in the evening was as quiet and serious as that at the Foundery, and the society was near a third part larger than when I was here in autumn.'

March 1762: 'Though the warning was short, the room was full; and full of serious, earnest hearers, many of whom expressed a longing desire of the whole salvation of God.'

August 1762: 'Never was the society in such a state before. Their jars and contentions were at an end, and I found nothing but peace and love among them. About twelve of them believed they were saved from sin, and their lives did not contradict their profession. Most of the rest were athirst for God, and looking for Him continually.'

July 1764: 'I preached in the little square adjoining to the preaching house at Chester. There were many wild, rude people, but they were quite outnumbered by those who were civil and attentive; and I believe some impression was made on the wildest. What can shake Satan's kingdom like field-preaching?

[Next day] 'The congregation at Chester in the evening ws more numerous and far more serious than the day before. There wants only a little more field-preaching here, and Chester would be as quiet as London'

August 1765: 'I rode over to Chester and preached to as many as the new house would well contain. We had likewise a numerous congregation on Saturday morning as well as evening. How the grace of God concurs with His providence! A new house not only brings a new congregation, but likewise (what we have observed again and again) a new blessing from God. And no wonder, if every labour of love finds even a present reward.

[Next day, Sunday] 'The house contained the morning congregation, but in the evening multitudes were constrained to go away. So does truth win its way against all opposition, if it be steadily declared with meekness of wisdom.'

March 1769: '… We had a refreshing season with a loving people, and in a loving family. The congregations were not small in the mornings; in the evenings exceeding large. And all who attended behaved as if they not only understood but relished the good word.'

March 1772: 'There were about forty persons in St. John's Church at the Morning Service. Our room was pretty well filled in the morning, and crowded in the evening.'

April 1776: 'I came to Chester, and had the satisfaction to find an earnest, loving, well-established people.'

April 1780: 'I returned to Chester, and found many alive to God, but scarce one that retained His pure love.'

April 1781: 'The house was well filled with deeply attentive hearers. I perceived God had exceedingly blessed the labours of Jonathan Hern and William Boothby. The congregations were much larger than they used to be. The society was increased; and they were not only agreed among themselves, but in peace with all round about them.'

April 1784: 'I was surprised when I came to Chester to find that there also morning preaching was quite left off , for this worthy reason: "Because the people will not come, or, at least, not in the winter." If so, the Methodists are a fallen people… If they will not attend now, they have lost their zeal, and then, it cannot be denied, they are a fallen people.'

July 1787: 'I spent a quiet day; and in the evening enforced to a crowded audience the parable of the Sower. I know not that ever I had so large a congregation.

April 1788: 'In the evening I preached to the affectionate congregation at Chester, who want nothing but more life and fire.

[Next day] 'I was desired to preach upon the Trinity. The chapel was sufficiently crowded, and surely God answered for Himself to all candid hearers.'

July 1789: 'The house was thoroughly filled in the evening (it being the fair-time), as well as the following.'

April 1790: 'In the evening [I] met once more with our old, affectionate friends at Chester.' I have never seen this chapel more crowded than tonight; but still it could not near contain the congregation. Both this and the following evening I was greatly assisted to declare the power of Christ's resurrection, and to exhort all that were risen with Him to set their affections on the things above.'

Sources

  • F.F. Bretherton, Early Methodism in and around Chester (Chester, 1903)
  • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1904, p.48
  • Chester PM Centenary 1819-1919 (Chester, 1919)
  • F.F. Bretherton, 'Wesley's Last Visit to Chester', in WHS Proceedings, 26 pp.76-79
  • MNC chapel: WHS Proceedings, 36 pp.8-9

Entry written by: EAR
Category: Place

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