Salisbury was the focal point of Methodism in southern England throughout the eighteenth century and was the head of an extensive circuit. John Wesley's earliest visits were because of family connections and his brother-in-law Westley Hall formed the first society at Fisherton in the early 1740s. But Hall's leadership proved a mixed blessing; his immoral behaviour brought the society into disrepute and in 1748 Wesley had to salvage what he could, putting it under the pastoral charge of John Furz. Despite this, Salisbury was the first society established in central southern England. The first chapel was opened in St Edmund Church Street in 1758 (rebuilt in 1810-11, extended westward in 1835 and remodelled in 1992-93). It was unusual in having Wesley himself as one of the original trustees.
When the Wiltshire Circuit was divided in 1768 into Wiltshire North and South Circuits, Salisbury became the head of the latter, embracing Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. Francis Asbury was acting Superintendent of the circuit before offering for America in 1771. Despite rivalry (and some animosity) between Salisbury and Portsmouth, there was no further division until the formation of a separate Portsmouth Circuit in 1790. A chapel built in Mill Road, Fisherton in 1832 was demolished to make way for the new railway line and replaced by Wilton Road (1860; sold to an independent Emmanuel Church in 1969). Roman Road, Bemerton opened in 1932.
PM preachers came from Motcombe in 1827. The society met first in a room in the yard of the Old George Hotel, then ifrom 1835 in the former WM chapel in Fisherton Street. There was a proliferation of small village causes, mostly without a home, but sometimes in former WM chapels. A Salisbury circuit was formed as early as 1831. In 1869 a new chapel was built on the opposite side of Fisherton Street (replaced by Dews Road, 1917).
Salisbury was one of the few places in the south seriously affected by the Fly Sheets controversy. The three ministers expelled at the Conference of 1849 came to Salisbury and addressed an audience of 700. The resulting expulsions from the Church Street WM society led to a revolt of Sunday School teachers and scholars who, in April 1851, took possession of the Salt Lane school premises and held rival services there. The protest spread to the village causes and by June 1853 they claimed 270 members, including 164 in the city. When they eventually affiliated to the UMFC in 1861, some village causes (notably Downton and Wilton) remained aloof. The first Milford Street chapel of 1851 was rebuilt in 1879 and after reunion of the local circuits became an Elim Church and then a night club.
Methodist Union was not effected locally until 1949, when the three Salisbury circuits, together with Woodfalls PM Circuit, came together. In 1984 the four city congregations became one in the Church Street premises.
Charles Wesley's Journal:
[Salisbury, June 19, 1745:] 'Found my sister [Martha Hall] as a rock in the midst of the waves. Mr. Hall's society had all left the Church, and mocked and persecuted her for not leaving it. Many pressed me to preach, but I answered them, "My heart was not free to it." '
John Wesley's Journal:
September 1759: 'The new room there is, I think, the most complete in England. It strikes every one of any taste that sees it; not with any single part, but an inexpressible something of the whole.'
October 1780: 'I found at Sarum the fruit of Captain Webb's preaching; some were awakened, and one perfected in love. Yet I was a little surprised at the remark of some of our eldest brethren that they had never heard Perfection preached before.'
October 1783: 'Captain Webb lately kindled a flame here, and it is not yet gone out. Several persons wwere still rejoicing in God, and the people in general were much quickened.'
August 1785: 'As Captain Webb had just been there, I endeavoured to avail myself of the fire which he seldom fails to kindle. The congregation in the evening was very large, and seemed to be deeply affected.'