John Bennet visited what was then the village of Buxton as early as 1748. Although John Wesley passed through the area from time to time in his earlier travels and refers in 1752 to a society in nearby Monyash, his only preaching in Buxton was not until 1783. The first chapel was built in 1797 on Smith Hill, near the corner of Dale Road and close to St. Anne’s church. It was described as ‘neat’ and ‘a square building with a convenient schoolroom beneath’, but was also recognised early on as ‘unsound in structure and inconvenient in position’. The earliest deeds relating to it are dated 1796 and 1799.
Buxton was in the Macclesfield Circuit until a separate Buxton Circuit was formed in 1813, Frrom then until 1919 the Circuit was in the Macclesfield Wesleyan District, but was then transferred to Manchester.
The society grew only slowly during the first half of the century, but in 1849 a new chapel, to be known as ‘Wesley’ and in the Decorated style, was built in Higher Buxton, on a more central site, that of the former cockpit in the Market Place between Chapel and Fountain Streets. The harmonium which in 1856 replaced the original group of instrumentalists, was badly damaged by fire in 1864 and was itself replaced by the first pipe organ (replaced in turn by a new instrument in 1895).
During its first century, ‘Wesley’ underwent frequent enlargement and refurbishment, including the addition of transepts and an extension of the nave in 1878-9. In a period of rising population in the town, membership of the society rose to 125 in 1888, with a second chapel being built in 1873 at Devonshire Park, seen as the fashionable part of the town. Wesley Chapel was officially renamed ‘Wesley Church’ in 1901, though this was not immediately adopted in some quarters.
A Dale Road Mission, launched in 1903, closed in 1924. The Primitive Methodists had a chapel in London Road. Following Methodist Union the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Circuits were united as a single circuit in September 1933.
John Wesley’s Journal:
24 May 1783: Being desired to marry two of our friends at Buxton, two-and-thirty miles from Derby, I took chaise at three [a.m.] and came thither about eight. I found notice had been given of my preaching in the church [St. Anne’s]; and the minister desired me to read prayers. By this means I could not leave Buxton till eleven, nor reach Nottingham till after seven.’
September 1783: ‘We clambered over the mountains [from Macclesfield] to Buxton.’