In the 18th century this was a market town of 1,500 or so inhabitants, with a tradition of Independency. Thomas Coke was curate here 1771-1777, before being dismissed for his increasingly Methodist leanings. He returned in September 1778 when Wesley preached here in the course of a tour of the West Country. His plans to build a Methodist chapel came to nothing at the time. But in 1807 he visited the town with his first wife and included it among the Home Mission stations set up in 1808. It became a separate circuit (from Taunton) the following year.
The original society was in the care of John Stuckey of Ilminster. A chapel was built in North Street in 1809 on a site provided by the Edmonds family, of Hayes End Manor, Coke's main friends and supporters. This was replaced by the present Coke Memorial church in 1882. The house in St. James Street in which Coke lodged is marked by a plaque and the oak choir stalls in the parish church were given in his memory by Methodist laymen in 1935.
'3 September 1778: In the evening I preached at South Petherton, once a place of renown , and the capital of a Saxon kingdom, as is vouched by a palace of King Ina still remaining, and a very large and ancient church. I suppose the last blow given to it was by Judge Jeffreys, who, after Monmouth's rebellion, hanged so many of the inhabitants, and drove so many away, that it is never likely to lift up its head again.'
John Wesley's Journal, 3 September 1778