John Wesley's seven visits were to old Hartlepool, formerly a busy port which by the eighteenth century was in decline. His purpose was evangelical, but may also have been related to the presence there of the family of William Romaine. Typically, he recruited the services of a substantial man of business to oversee the budding society, John Middleton (1724-1795) a corn miller who was instrumental in establishing Methodist meetings and building preaching houses. Originally part of the great Yarm Circuit, Hartlepool was later transferred to Darlington. Methodism profited from its industrial and commercial progress, in the course of which both urban and social development, including church life, moved towards West Hartlepool. A clear sign of its strength was the building in West Hartlepool of the 'Wesley' chapel of 1873, whose imposing classical portico survives.
PM arrived on the headland of Old Hartlepool in 1822, where a fishermen's chapel was soon built; but the PMs soon migrated towards the new town. WR/UMFC was also active and all three Methodist denominations built chapels in outlying colliery villages.
John Wesley's Journal:
July 1757: 'Mr. Romaine has been an instrument of awakening several here; but for want of help they soon slept again. I preached in the main street to near all the town, and they behaved with seriousness.'
July 1759: 'I suppose we had all the town with us in the evening, either in the street or the adjoining houses. And God was pleased to touch the hearts of many, even among this dull, heavy, sleepy people.'
July 1766: 'In the evening the rain hindering me from preaching in the street at Hartlepool, I had a large congregation in the assembly-room. Many of them were prresent again in the morning, and seemed 'almost persuaded to be Christians'.
June 1784: '…in the evening [I preached] in the town-hall at Hartlepool, where I had not been for sixteen years.'
June 1788: 'I preached … in the evening at Hartlepool. I preached in the town-hall, where many appeared to be very deeply affected. Surely the seed will spring up at last even here, where we seemed so long to be ploughing on the sand.'
June 1790: 'In the evening I preached to as many as the town-hall would contain at Hartlepool. [Nextday] 'About noon I preached to a large congregation…'