Manchester City Council

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Manchester Methodists

A brief history

Methodism was part of a Nonconformist movement that grew up after the Reformation of Henry VIII's reign and the Acts of Uniformity (1549, 1559, 1662), which introduced penalties for those who refused to conform to the Book of Common Prayer. The Nonconformists objected to the liturgy and ceremonies of the established church and they also objected to church government, to the authority of the bishops and the links with the State.

Methodist denominations

Over time disputes amongst the Methodists created break-away groups and the formation of new Methodist denominations.

  • Methodist New Connexion (MNC) formed in 1797 by Alexander Kilham, William Thom and others
  • Primitive Methodist (PM) formed in 1810 by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes
  • United Methodist Free Church (UMFC) formed in 1857 by the union of the Wesleyan Methodist Association (started in Manchester in 1835 under the leadership of Samuel Warren) and the Wesleyan Reformers (founded 1849) .

These, together with the Wesleyan Methodists, were the main Methodist groups working in Manchester and neighbouring areas.

Methodist Union

This period of division within the Methodist Church was followed by a period of union. In 1907 the MNC joined with the UMFC and a few other smaller groups to form the United Methodist Church (UM). Full Methodist union came in 1932 when the United Methodists joined with the Wesleyan Methodists and the Primitive Methodists and formed the Methodist Church of Great Britain.

Methodism in Manchester

Wesleyan Methodists

Methodist preaching in Manchester started in 1742. The first Methodist society was formed in 1747 and met in a succession of rented rooms and then in a former Baptist chapel off Withy Grove. The first proper Methodist chapel was opened in 1751 in Birchin Lane off Church Street.

Manchester Methodism went through a period of rapid growth. In 1765 Manchester joined London, Bristol and Leeds as a 'conference town', a town where the annual Methodist conference, the most senior body of the Methodist church, could be held. A bigger chapel was needed and this was built in Oldham Street and opened by John Wesley in 1781. At the time Wesley was said to have been concerned that the new chapel was too far out in the country. More Wesleyan chapels were opened: Gravel Lane in Salford 1791, Great Bridgewater Street in Manchester 1801, Grosvenor Street in Chorlton-upon-Medlock 1820, Irwell Street in Salford 1826, Oxford Road in Chorlton-upon-Medlock also in 1826. These were the senior chapels and in time they came to head their own circuits. Many more chapels were built during the course of the nineteenth century.

Manchester and Salford Wesleyan Methodist Mission

One hundred years on from the opening of Oldham Street Chapel, and that area of Manchester was quite different. The middle classes had abandoned the built-up city centre for the suburbs, leaving behind the poor and the working classes. Oldham Street Chapel was pulled down and a mission hall, named Central Hall, was built in its place and opened in 1886. Central Hall became the headquarters for the Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission, which, under the dynamic leadership of Revd. Samuel Collier, became a highly successful centre for evangelical work. Central Hall could not accommodate all those wanting to attend the Sunday services, so the mission started holding services in the Free Trade Hall - resulting in some of the largest Methodist congregations ever. These services continued until 1910, when they were moved to the newly built Albert Mission Hall in Peter Street.

In addition to the evangelical work done through Central Hall and other mission halls, the Manchester and Salford Mission did social work, following the principle of 'Need, not creed'. The Mission ran a number of homes and hostels including:

  • Men's Home and Labour Yard, Hood Street, Ancoats
  • Women's Home and Refuge, Great Ancoats Street
  • Maternity Home and Hospital, High Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock (later Lorna Lodge, Didsbury)
  • Hammond House Preventative Home for Girls, Reddish

Central Hall was bombed during the war (a new hall was built on the same site) and many records of the Mission were destroyed. The only records we have of individuals who were at any of the Mission's homes are:

  • Maternity Home baptism register 1917 to 1929 (ref: M196/10/6/1/1).
  • Hammond House Preventative Home for Girls, admission and discharge registers 1893 to 1916 (ref: M196/10/6/2/1-5).

You can view these records in the search room, please make an appointment.

Other Methodist denominations

The Wesleyan Methodists were always the strongest Methodist force in Manchester itself, but the Primitive Methodists also had quite a substantial following. The first Primitive Methodist missionary to the city arrived in 1819 and an organised mission was in place by 1820. The Primitive Methodists had most success in establishing societies in working class areas. The first Primitive Methodist chapel was opened in 1823 in Jersey Street, Ancoats. This, the 'mother church' of Manchester Primitive Methodists, was relocated to New Islington in 1874.

The Methodist New Connexion and the United Methodist Free Church tended to be strongest in areas north and east of Manchester. Ashton-under-Lyne, for example, was a stronghold of the Methodist New Connexion.

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