Kingswood, Bristol

Kingswood was a former Royal Forest, covering about 20 square miles and including parts of four parishes, but with no parish church of its own and no school. The only nonconformist church was a Baptist chapel at Hanham. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the development of coal mining and the dependent brass- and copper-smelting industries and of a distinct forest settlement of outcast squatter communities. Working conditions for the men, women and children in the mines were atrocious. On his first visit to Bristol, in 1739, John Wesley accompanied George Whitefield and heard him preach in the open air at Hanham Mount. That spring Whitefield took the first steps to established a colliers' school and preaching house, leaving Wesley to carry the project into effect. John Cennick was appointed the first schoolmaster. The school continued until 1803, but in 1741, as doctrinal differences widened, Whitefield and Cennick founded another school at what became known as Whitefield's Tabernacle. (This building has survived, but only in a severely derelict state.) In 1748 Wesley, in his turn, founded the present Kingswood School, now at Bath. He was frequently at Kingswood during his many visits toBristol.

In the main, the work throughout the Kingswood area began and continued in humble homes and makeshift rooms; but in 1768 a vigorous revival swept through the local society. Adam Clarke recorded in 1799 that 'the work goes on gloriously'. The first recorded WM chapels were built in Warmley Tower in 1800, Downend (1804), Kingswood Hill (1809) and Bridgeyate (1810). A further nine chapels followed. The first PM chapel was built on Kingswood Hill in 1833, followed by Mangotsfield (1857) and Bourne, Staple Hill (1869). Between 1850 and 1870 the UMFC built rival chapels in almost every Kingswood settlement where WM had built in 1830-50.The bicentenary of John Wesley's birth in 1903 saw the building of Wesley Memorial Church (opened 1907) in Hanham, with the good wishes and support of other branches of Methodism. To commemorate the Festival of Britain in 1951, the Hanham Mount site, also used by persecuted Bristol Baptists in the seventeenth century, was laid out as a public open space, with a replica of the pulpit from Kingswood School chapel and dedicated to 'the Field Preachers 1658-1739'.

  • George Eayrs, Wesley and Kingswood and its Free Churches (Bristol, 1911)
  • A.G. Ives, Kingswood School in Wesley's Day and Since (1970) pp.227-33
  • Michael Bishop, 'John Wesley's Four Schools at Kingswood', in T.S.A. Macquiban (ed.), Issues in Education: some Methodist perspectives (Oxford, 1996) pp.41-61