Dorchester, Dorset

Dorchester was one of the towns in the south in which Old Dissent was particularly active and this may have been one of the factors which delayed the establishment of Methodism there. When an Independent congregation separated from the Presbyterian (and increasingly Unitarian) chapel in 1776, its first minister had been trained at the Countess of Huntingdon's College at Trevecka. John Wesley's Journal does not record his ever preaching there, but in February 1787 his Diary mentions his stopping there for dinner on the way by coach from London to Exeter.

By 1823 there was a Wesleyan society in the town, but with only 24 members. Their first known preaching place was a loft over a basket-maker's shop in North Square, fitted up in 1825 as a place of worship with seating for 200. It was part of the Weymouth Circuit until 1831, when a separate Dorchester Circuit was formed. The loft was replaced in 1840 by a new chapel built in Durngate Street. This in turn was succeeded in 1875 by a new, larger church built across the way at the junction of Durngate Street and South Street.

The Weymouth PM Mission was launched in 1834 by the Sunderland Circuit and included Dorchester, where the missioners were welcomed and encouraged by the local Independent minister. He estimated that not more than one in twelve of the 6,000 inhabitants were regular worshippers and offered them the use of his chapel in inclement weather. The mission struggled to survive and still had only 46 members in 1853, but was boosted to 172 during the ministry of Robert Pattinson in 1855-9. They met at first in the former Independent Chapel and British School in Durngate Street, until their own chapel was built in 1875-76 at the bottom of that Street. At the time of Methodist Union in 1932, still with an outstanding debt from extensions in 1901, it was sold the Salvation Army.

In the 1850s the Wesleyan Reformers gained a footing in Dorchester and rented the Masonic Hall in Back West (now Colliton) Street. But, as with their congregations in Weymouth and Charminster, they had disappeared before the end of the century.

Following the Sharing of Churches Act (1969), discussions began between the Methodist and United Reformed Churches and led to the inauguration of the Dorchester United Church in 1978 based on the URC premises in South Street. The South Street Methodist Church was sold and a major rebuilding programme was begun. The new premises were opened in 1982, leading to growth in membership and a widening range of activities, including youth work, music and various sports. The Millennium Project saw the purchase of the next-door shop and the opening of a coffee bar.

East Fordington Mission Church was the result of an initiative taken by the Dorchester Circuit Local Preachers Meeting in 1887. A caravan mission in 1959 was led by two Wesley Deaconesses and the centenary was celebrated in 1987.

WM and the UMFC also had a presence in Charminster to the north. From 1823 on the Wesleyans met in private houses and their classes were part of the Dorchester society. A chapel was built in North Street in 1860. The last service was held on the outbreak of war in September 1939. From 1941 the church was used for billeting troops and was sold in 1945. The UMFC society, resulting from the Reform movement of the 1850s, survived until the early 20th Century, when it was sold to the Congregationalists in 1909.

  • John S. Simon, Methodism in Dorset (1870)
  • Philip Blake, The Wesleyan Society in Dorchester 1825-1975 (1974)
  • Methodist Recorder, 12 April 2007