The town was an established centre of the silk industry and was in John Bennet's Round as early as 1745. In 1747 an uneducated tailor, George Pearson, walked to Manchester to invite John Wesley to Macclesfield. The Methodists met at first in a converted stable on the east of the town, before renting a cottage in 1750. A chapel was built in Commercial Road in 1764; then one known as 'Wesley's Chapel' in Sunderland Street in 1779, which had to be enlarged in 1799. Brunswick Street chapel was opened by Jabez Bunting in 1824. By 1770 the town had become the head of a widely scattered circuit and by 1840 had become the head of a District of nine circuits.
During the Rev. David Simpson's evangelical ministry at Christ Church, 1775-1799, there was close Anglican-Methodist co-operation and his was the only Anglican pulpit in Cheshire in which John Wesley preached regularly. The town supplied John Wesley with his solicitor (William Clulow) and Jabez Bunting with his wife (Sarah Maclardie) and was the home of Hester Ann Rogers (née Roe). Head of a circuit from 1770, WM membership was 5.1% of the population in 1794.
A leading figure in the public life of the town and the early days of the Methodist society was John Ryle, owner of a silk mill and a banker, who served as Macclesfield's MP 1832-1837. He was the father of John C. Ryle (1816-1900), first bishop of Liverpool 1880-1900 and grandfather of Dr. Herbert E Ryle, biblical scholar and bishop of Winchester 1903-1911.
Primitive Methodism arrived in 1819 and by 1820 reported 172 members grouped in twelve classes, six local preachers and eight class leaders. The first of its three chapels, Beech Lane, was opened in 1830.
Both the MNC and the UMFC established very large chapels. Lord Street Sunday School (1820) was also used for worship until the opening of Park (or Parsonage) Street MNC in 1836. Fence School, Hurdsfield, attracted many of the textile workers.
John Wesley's Journal:
April 1759: 'I rode over [from Manchester] to Macclesfield. Abundance of people ran together, but wild as colts untamed. Their noise quite drowned my voice at first; but in a while they were tolerably quiet, and before I had done all but four or five lubberly men seemed almost persuaded to be Christians.'
March 1761: 'About one I preached at Macclesfield, near the preaching-house. The congregation was large, though the wind was sharp. But it was more than doubled after the evening service, while I opened and enforced the solemn declaration, "Him hath God exalted with His own right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour.'
August 1762: 'I preached at Macclesfield in the evening to a people ready prepared for the Lord. An impetuous shower began just as we came into the town, but it did us no hurt. Inquiring how the revival here began, I received the following account: In March last after a long season of dryness and barrenness, one Monday night John Oldham preached. When he had done, and was going away, a man fell down and cried for mercy. In a short time, so did several others. He came back and wrestled with God in prayer for them. About twelve he retired, leaving some of the brethren, who resolved to wrestle on till they had an answer of peace. They continued in prayer till six in the morning, and nine prisoners were set at liberty. 'They met again the next night, and six or seven more were filled with peace and joy in believing. So were one or two more every night till the Monday following, when there was another shower of grace, and many believed that the blood of Christ had cleansed them from all sin. 'I spoke to these (forty in all) one by one. Some of them said they received that blessing ten days, some seven, some four, some three days, after they found peace with God; and two of them the next day. What marvel since one day is with God a thousand years?'
July 1764: 'I preached about seven to a hugh mulitude of attentive hearers.'
'March 1766: 'The same earnestness I observed in the congregation at Macclesfield; and yet hardly a third part of those I formerly examined now retain the glorious liberty which they then enjoyed.'
March 1768: ' [Sunday] At eleven one of the ministers preached a useful sermon, as did the other in the afternoon. At five in the evening we had thousands upon thousands; and all were serious, while I enforced, "Now is the day of salvation." '
March 1772: 'We had a solemn congreagtion at Macclesfield in the evening, to whom I preached longer than usual. But I felt no more weariness when I had done than I did at six in the morning.'
April 1774: [Easter Day] 'I went on to Macclesfield, and came just in time (so is the scene changed here also) to walk to the old church with the mayor and the two ministers. The rain drove us into the house in the evening - that is, as many as could squeeze in - and we had a season of strong consolation, both at the preaching and at the meeting of the society.'
April 1776: 'That evening I preached in the house, but it being far too small, on Tuesday thje 2nd I preached on the Green, near Mr. Ryle's door. There are no mockers here, and scarce an inattentive hearer. So mightily has the word of God prevailed!'
April 1777: 'The new church here is far the most elegant that I have seen in the kingdom. Mr. Simpson read prayers, and I preached on the first verse of the Second Lesson, Heb. xi. And I believe many felt their want of the faith there spoken of. The next evening I preached on Heb. xii.14: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." I was enabled to make a close application, chiefly to those that expected to be saved by faith. I hope none of them will hereafter dream of going to heaven by any faith which does not produce holiness.'
April 1779: 'The hearts of many were enlarged; and the society I found was increasing both in number and strength.'
May 1783: 'This society seems as lively as even that at Manchester, and increases nearly as fast. Not a week passes wherein some are not justified, and some renewed in love. [Next day] 'I met a few of these and found them indeed -
All praise, all meekness, and all love.
In the evening I exhorted them all to expect pardon or holiness today, not to-morrow. Oh let their love never grow cold!'
August 1783: 'I preached in the new church at Macclesfield, both morning and afternoon. I believe we had seven hundred communicants.'
March 1784: 'I found the same sad effects of prejudice at Macclesfield. But there are so many here truly alive to God that His work goes on still, only not in so rapid a manner as it might otherwise have done.'
April 1785: 'I came to Macclesfield, where Mr. Simpson had given notice of my preaching in his church. Her I fully delivered my own soul…'
April 1786: 'Here again I had the satisfaction to find a people much alive to God. [Next day] 'We had a large and serious congregation at the new church, both morning and afternoon. The organ is one of the finest-toned I ever heard; and the congregation singing with it make a sweet harmony.'
March 1787: 'I went on to Macclesfield, and found a people still alive to God, in spite of swiftly increasing riches. If they continue so, it will be the only instance I have known, in above half a century. I warned them in the strongest terms I could, and believe some of them had ears to hear. [Next day, Sunday] 'Fearing nothing so much as lest a people so much at ease should settle upon their lees, I preached at the new church, in the most awakening manner I could, on Rev. xx.11: 'I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it,' &c.'
July 1787: 'I preached at the new church in the morning , on Matt.5:20; in the afternoon, on 1 Cor. xv.55… [Next day] 'The house was well filled at five in the morning. At noon I took a view of Mr. Ryle's silk-mill, which keeps two hundred and fifty children in perpetual employment.. In the evening I preached on Mark iii.35 and we had a comfortable opportunity.'
April 1788: [At Macclesfield] '… all is calm; their little feuds are removed, and the work of God steardily goes on. [Next day, Sunday:] 'The new church was half filled in the morning, but thoroughly in the afternoon; and great was our rejoicing in the Lord, both then and at six in the evening.'
April 1790: 'I went on to Macclesfield, and preached to a crowded audience, both this and the following night.'
'A gentleman of Macclesfield, who employs a great number of hands in both the silk and cotton manufactories, in order to encourage his work people in a due attendance at church, on the late Fast-day, told them, that "if they went to church, they should receive their wages for that day, in the same maner as if they had been at work." Upon which a deputation was appointed to acquaint their employer, that "if he would pay them for over hours, they would attend likewise at he Methodist chapel in the evening!"'
Samuel Taylor Colleridge, Collected Works, vol. II, p.152