Methodism was established in the town in the face of fierce opposition by the local mob, sometimes encouraged by the churchwardens and gentry. The first chapel was opened in 1771 by Alexander Mather in Inch Lane (now Bell Lane) off Church Street. The first of Wesley's six visits was in 1779.
A larger chapel was built in Weirhead Street, replaced in 1837 by the present church in St. James Street, designed by a local architect, George Vaughan Maddox. The box pews, including the three-sided gallery, seated 340. The pulpit was lowered in 1885 and the floor raised by two feet. Pevsner's verdict on the design was that 'the interior, quite exceptional for an early C19 chapel, is a coherent piece of considered architecture.'
Notable among its former ministers was Peter Mackenzie in 1860-1862, whose lively and popular preaching led to the installation of the organ at the expense of one of his lady admirers.
John Wesley's Journal:
July 1777: 'Much disturbance was expected here, but we had none; all were deeply attentive.'
August 1779: 'I did not observe one inattentive person.'
M ay 1781: 'Mr. C., a Justice of the Peace, one of the greatest men in the town, desired I woould take a bed at his house. Of consequence, all the rabble of the town were as quiet as lambs, and we had a comfortable opportunity both night and morning. Surely this is the Lord's doing!'
August 1784: 'A very quiet and civil congregation. Tumults were now at an end, since I lodged at the house of a gentleman whom none cared to oppose… [Next day] It was with some difficulty that I broke from this affectionate people.'
August 1788: 'Mr. G. has done with us; so I lodged with my old friends Mr. Johnson… I peached both in the evening and the next morning with the demonstration of the Spirit; and all the congregation, rich and poor, appeared to be sensible of it.'