Dunstable was a medieval market town which grew up close to where the Roman Watling Street crossed the Icknield Way.

Although John Wesley passed through the district a number of times, there is no record of his preaching in Dunstable. Methodism came to the town when John Darley, a local carpenter, visiting Nottingham, heard Wesley preach and was converted. On his return he started Methodist meetings in his workshop in Church Street. The group moved from there to premises in High Street South, then to the former Friends' Meeting House in West Street. The first actual mention of a society in Dunstable is in 1798; but their first chapel, on The Square, was not built until 1831; it was burned down in 1844 and rebuilt the following year, with a day school added to the rear of the premises in 1853. Again destroyed by fire in 1908, it was replaced by the present chapel in 1909. The old Institute buildings were replaced by the John Darley Hall in 1978.

A leading Methodist family at that period was that of John Cooper of the old Manor House and his brothers, who opened a hat-making factory in what was becoming a boom-town.

Dunstable was in the Luton WM circuit until 1843, when it became a separate circuit with 18 preaching places and a membership of 729. This reached a peak of 1,266 in 1867. Station Chapel was opened in 1859 as the home of the Railway Mission at the northern end of the town. It was succeeded by Waterlow Road chapel in 1905. (The architect Vincent Goldhawk was the brother of the Rev.Ira G. Goldhawk.)

John Darley and his son of the same name, a cabinet maker, were leading members of the WM society for many years. Another was Alfred Cook, trustee, chapel steward and a local preacher, who was mayor of Dunstable between 1932 and 1936.

The first PM meetings were held in a cottage in Edward Street in the late 1830s, following open-air services. A chapel was built in 1852 on the west side of Edward Street. Membership reached 100 by 1860 and a new chapel was built in Victoria Street in 1862. This was reopened in 1924 after alterations, but by 1965 was in need of major repairs and was closed, many members joining the congregation at The Square.

At first in the Luton PM circuit, Dunstable became the head of a separate circuit in 1866. Following Methodist Union in 1932 the two circuits remained separate until 1960.

Joseph Odell, President of the PM Conference in 1900, grew up in the Victoria Street Sunday School.

  • Colin Bourne (ed.), The Dunstable Methodist Circuit: one hundred and fifty years of witness 1843-1993 (Dunstable, 1993)
  • Jonathan Rodell, The Rise of Methodism:a study of Bedfordshire 1736-1851 (2014)

Entry written by: DCD
Category: Place
Comment on this entry