George Whitefield, a native of Gloucester, belonged to the dissenting congregation which met at the Cobblers Hall in Kimbrose under the evangelical preacher Thomas Cale. In 1735, after coming within the orbit of the Holy Club, he spent nine months in the city and gathered together a small group. He was ordained in the Cathedral in 1736 and in 1739 preached there several times, in the Booth Hall, Westgate Street and in the open air.
John Wesley first visited the city on Sunday, 15 July 1739, preaching, he claimed, to some 5,000. On his many later visits he preached in the open air or at the Tolbooth (later known as the Tolsey). The small society met in one another's houses until the Cobblers Hall was taken in 1770 and a Gloucestershire Circuit was formed, with John Glassbrook as its first Superintendent. When Wesley met the society in 1787 it was decided to build a chapel in Lower Northgate (opened July 1787; extended 1824 and 1831). The present chapel with frontage to Northgate Street was opened in 1878. The pulpit from which both Whitefield and John Wesley preached is housed there. There was a WM meeting in Yew Tree Cottage, Hucclecote from 1843 to 1848, when a chapel was opened (rebuilt 1929). Other WM chapels were at Hartpury (1828, rebuilt 1846 and 1887), Tibberton (1839) and Churchdown (1849, rebuilt 1902). The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion opened a chapel at Birdwood in 1814, taken over by WM in 1848.
PM began open-air preaching in 1837 and built its first chapel in Barton Street in 1856 (enlarged 1882), followed by Stroud Road in 1897. The UMFC also built in Stroud Road in 1903. The two Stroud Road congregations were later united at St Luke's (rebuilt 1967). St John's, Northgate, is now a Local Ecumenical Project and large housing developments are served at Quedgeley by a chapel first built in 1885 and at Abbeydale by another Local Ecumenical Project in the newly built Christchurch complex.
John Wesley's Journal:
July 1739: 'We had an attentive congregation at Gloucester in the evening. In the morning [Sunday], Mr. Whitefield being gone forward, I preached to about five thousand there. It rained violently at five in the evening; notwithstanding which, two or three thousand people stayed, to whom I expounded that glorious vision of Ezekiel, of the resurrection of the dry bones.'
March 1768: 'The mob here was for a considerable time both noisy and mischievous; but an honest magistrate, taking the matter in hand, quickly tamed the beasts of the people. So may any magistrate, if he will.'
March 1784: 'The room was full at five in the morning, and both the preachers and people promised to neglect the early preaching no more.'
March 1787: 'In the evening I preached to a multitude of people in the Talbooth … High and low, rich and poor, behaved well. I trust a good blessing is coming to Gloucester also. [Next morning] 'I strongly enforced the great salvation [Hebrews 2:3]. About eleven I had the satisfaction of spending an hour with the Bishop; a sensible, candid and, I hope, pious man… 'Finding prejudice was now laid asleep, the tide turning the contrary way, our friends thought it time to prepare for building their preaching house; and a hundred pounds are already subscribed.'
August 1787: 'I preached to a numerous congregation in the new house and strongly applied the words [of Romans 1:16] to those whom they concerned. This night was one of the hottest I ever felt in Europe.'
March 1788: 'Here, it seems, the scandal of the cross (such is the will of God) is ceased. High and low, rich and poor, flock together, and seem to devour the word. I … spoke with all plainness. Many, I believe, were cut to the heart; for it was a day of the Lord's power.'
March 1790: 'We had a large multitude; but many of them would neither hear nor let others hear. Indeed, they that sat in the galleries could hear well; bu very few of them that were below.'
Charles Wesley's MS Journal:
24 August 1739: 'Before I went forth into the streets and highways, I sent, after my custom, rto borrow the church. The minister (one of the better disposed) sent back a civil message: he would be glad to drink a glass of wine with me but durst not lend me his pulpit for fifty guineas. 'Mr Whitefield durst lend me his field, which did just as well.'
25 August: 'Went to the field at five. An old intimate acquaintance (Mrs. [Damaris] Kirkham stood in my way and challenged me, "What, Mr. Wesley, is it you I see? Is it possible that you who can preach at Christ Church [cathedral], St. Mary's, etc. should come hither after a mob?" I cut her short with, "The work which my Master giveth me, must I not do it?" and went to my mob…'
14 March 1740: 'By eleven I reached Gloucester, where the very last spark, I think, is gone out. In the evening I preached to a few people in Mr. Whitefield's field…'