Otley, Yorks

Methodism was established in Otley by 1755, when the society was in the Haworth Round under the supervision of William Grimshaw. In his Journal Wesley gives an acount of a remarkable revival there in February 1760. Otley became the head of a circuit in 1791 and the Pateley Bridge Circuit was formed from it in 1811. John Ritchie (c.1703- 1780), an Otley surgeon, played a prominent part in the early years; his Boroughgate home, where John Wesley stayed, is marked by a plaque. Ritchie's son, also John (c.1751-1799), a draper, was another leading local Methodist. They with other Methodists are buried in All Saints churchyard. Wesley paid numerous visits to this ancient market town and in his closing years was accompanied by John Ritchie's daughter, Elizabeth Ritchie.

The first WM chapel was opened in Nelson Street in 1771, possibly on the shareholder principle, and became Sunday School premises when a new chapel was built in Boroughgate in 1825-26. The present Italianite-style chapel, also in Boroughgate, was opened in 1875 and since 1965 has been the town's only Methodist church. The second chapel in turn became Sunday School premises and was sold for commercial use when the present Sunday School and Wesley Hall were opened in 1905.

By September 1821 the Otley PM Mission was under the Bradford Mission within the Leeds Circuit. In 1823 it became a Branch of the Leeds Circuit. It did not finally become a separate circuit until 1840. A chapel opened c.1835 in Newmarket, now used by the Salvation Army, was replaced in 1873 by premises in Station Road, now closed.

Otley was an early centre of the MNC, whose first chapel was in Nelson Street, replaced by Providence, Westgate in 1856 (closed 1944). There was also a short-lived WR/UMFC cause in the town; officially they reverted to WM c.1863, but some members seem to have joined the MNC.


John Wesley's Journal:

17 July 1759: 'At seven in the evening I preached to an immense congregation at the foot of a high mountain [the Chevin] near Otley.'

6 July 1761: 'In the evening I preached at Otley, and afterwards talked with many of the society. There is reason to believe that ten or twelve of these are filled with the love of God..'

27 June 1764: 'In the evening we had a large congregation at the foot of the great mountain. After preaching in the morning, I examined those who believe they are saved from sin. They are a little increased in number since I met them last; and some of them much increased in love.'

4 August 1766: 'In the afternoon I went to Otley; but the town seemed to be run mad. Such noise, hurry, drunkenness, rioting, confusion, I know not where I have met with before. It was their feast-day! A feast of Bacchus, or Venus, or Belial? Oh shame to a Christian country! However, both the small and great rabble were so engaged that they had no leisure to molest us; so that I preached to a large congregation under the hill with perfect quietness.'

26 June 1770: 'It rained all the time I was preaching at Otley, to a numerous congregation; and they drank in the words of life just as the thirsting earth the showers.'

30 June 1772: 'In the evening I preached in the new house at Otley, as neat as that at Hull; and the people appeared to be much alive; so that I was greatly comforted among them.'

24 April 1776: 'I went to Otley, where the word of God has free course and brings forth much fruit. This is chiefly owing to the spirit and behaviour of those whom God has perfected in love. Their zeal stirs up many, and their steady and uniform conversation has a language almost irresistible.'

19 April 1779: 'Here also the work of God increases, particularly with regard to sanctification. And I think every one who has experienced it retains a clear witness of what God has wrought.'

  • W.F. Seals, Methodism in the Otley Circuit, 1744-1974 (1974)