Wales: English-speaking Methodism

John Wesley first preached in Wales at Devauden near Chepstow on 15 October 1739 and made frequent later visits, often on the way to Ireland. He did not originally intend to form his own societies, as he worked closely with Howell Harris. But the first English-speaking society, formed in Cardiff in April 1740, allied itself with Wesley rather than Harris the following year. Wales was in the first list of circuits in the 1747 Minutes of Conference and by 1770 there were three Welsh circuits: Pembroke, Glamorgan and Brecon. But progress was slow, especially in Mid and North Wales, and by 1791 there were only 600 members in the whole of South Wales.

Industrial development and an influx from England to work in mining and industry helped nineteenth century growth, especially in the south. Leading industrialists such as Sir Thomas Guest and Richard Crawshay had Methodist roots and gave practical support to WM. In North Wales incomers and the development of the holiday trade led to growth, particularly along the coast, supported by missionary outreach from the Chester and Shrewsbury areas. Until a separate North Wales District was formed in 1987, Methodist circuits there belonged to the Liverpool, Chester & Stoke and the Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury Districts.

Many Cornish Wesleyans came to work in the Ceredigion mines and chapels were built as part of the missionary enterprise of Welsh-speaking Methodists among their English-speaking neighbours. BC migrants from Devon and Cornwall working South Wales industries established chapels which were often paired with chapels in the West Country. PM developed in Pembrokeshire and the Blaenavon/Pontypool area, in the first place as a mission from Oakengates, Shropshire. The Blaenavon (later Pontypool) Circuit missioned the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire valleys, and later Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, reaching Cardiff in 1857.

There was an imaginative but unsuccessful WM experiment in bi-lingual work, based in the Brecon and Brynmawr areas, in 1814-17. A similar venture in Merthyr in 1912 survived much longer. The bi-lingual Ceredigion Circuit is a more recent move in the same direction. Welsh- and English-speaking Methodists tended in the main to go their own ways, apart from belonging to the same British Conference, meeting in the English Day in the Welsh Assembly, then in the Standing Committee (later the 'Consultative Council') for Methodism in Wales. Language and cultural barriers were transcended by friendships, fellowship and co-operation. In 1997 Y Gymanfa was formed for overall strategic planning and consultation, spear-headed by the All-Wales leadership team.

In 2007 the Conference adopted Standing Orders providing that the work and witness in Wales of Yr Eglwys Fethodistaidd yng Nghymnru/The Methodist Church in Wales should be carried on in two Districts: Synod Cymru, working mainly in the Welsh language, and the Wales Synod, comprising Circuits working mainly in the English language. Y Gymanfa was replaced by Y Cyngor as the leadership and co-ordinating team for this work.

Welsh Methodism plays a full part, both nationally and locally, in CYTUN, Churches Together in Wales, and is committed to work towards visible unity in the Covenant which is the cutting edge of ecumenism in Wales. It is involved in many Local Ecumenical Partnerships.

  • D. Young, The Origins and History of Methodism in Wales and the Borders (1893)
  • H.B. Kendall, The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church (1906) vol.2 pp.306-10
  • A.H. Williams, Welsh Wesleyan Methodism 1800-1858 (Bangor, 1935)
  • Griffith T. Roberts, 'Wesley's First Society in Wales', in WHS Proceedings, 27 pp.111-16, 125-28
  • A.H. Williams, John Wesley in Wales (Cardiff, 1971)
  • G.T. Roberts, in History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 3 (1983) pp.253-64
  • L. Madden (ed.), Methodism in Wales: a short history of the Wesley tradition (Llandudno, 2003)
  • Patrick Slattery, The Wesleys in Wales (Dolgellau, 2003)
  • Lionel Madden, 'Methodism in Ceredigion', in Bulletin of WHS in Wales, No. 2, 2012, pp.56-77