Leeds emerged in the early eighteenth century as the leading West Riding market town and grew to be a major industrial centre. Benjamin Ingham and the Moravians were active in the parish, but the father of Methodism there was John Nelson from nearby Birstall. The first society was established in Armley in the autumn of 1742. Soon afterwards a society of ten was formed in Leeds itself under the leadership of William Shent in his Briggate barber's shop. After various other meeting places, the Boggard House was opened in 1751 (enlarged or rebuilt c.1786). Several Conferences met there, including the one in 1769 which sent Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore to America.
The Leeds society experienced difficulties, including the expulsion of Shent. In 1753 the itinerant John Edwards seceded over Calvinism and the Independent White Chapel was opened for him. William Hey (1736-1819), senior surgeon at Leeds Infirmary, who had been circuit steward since 1764, presented a paper on the widening gap between WM and the Church of England at the Leeds Conference of 1781 and left the Connexion in 1784.
In the 1790s, with a sympathetic printer and bookseller, Leeds was for a time Alexander Kilham's base and a Kilhamite stronghold. One of his leading supporters was Robert Oastler. Having failed to obtain their demands at the Leeds Conference of 1797, Kilham's followers withdrew to Ebenezer Chapel (obtained from the Baptists) and held the first MNC Conference. In 1858 Ebenezer was replaced by Woodhouse Lane chapel, where, on 18 October 1859 William N. Hall and John Innocent were commissioned for China.
The great West Riding revival of 1794, inspired by William Bramwell, led to a rapid increase in WM membership and new chapels: Albion Street (1802; replaced by Oxford Place, 1835), Wesley, Meadow Lane (1815; enlarged 1837) and Brunswick (1825). In 1834 the Boggard House was replaced by St. Peter's Chapel (later part of the Leeds Mission; closed in 1909).
The secession in 1803 led by James Sigston (the 'Kirkgate Screamers') was short-lived. But in 1819 an expelled class at Wesley joined the Hull PM Circuit and in 1821 Leeds became a PM Circuit and a Conference town. There was already an established tradition of women preachers in Leeds, with Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet and Ann Tripp, and this continued under the PMs with Ann Carr, who seceded to form the Leeds Female Revivalists.Matthew Johnson led the Protestant Methodist secession of 1827, which later joined the WMA. Their Lady Lane Chapel (1840) housed the Annual Assembly when it met in Leeds nine times between 1839 and 1890. Although the WR agitation from 1849 onwards affected the Leeds circuits, its greatest impact was in the Bramley Circuit. The influence of Bramley-born Joseph Barker was locally responsible for membership losses in both the MNC and PM in the 1840s.
By the 1830s Leeds was a strong Methodist centre, but the revival of Anglicanism under Dr W.F. Hook was at Methodism's expense. Faced with declining inner-city congregations, in 1889 WM responded by making Wesley a mission centre, resulting in 1899 in the Leeds Mission based on Oxford Place (1835, extensively remodelled 1896-1902) with the influential ministry of Samuel Chadwick at Wesley and Oxford Place. Later, Lady Lane (UMFC), Rehoboth (PM), Park Lane and Dewsbury Road (MNC), West Hunslet also became central missions. There were notable ministries at Brunswick under A.E. Whitham (1918-25) Leslie D. Weatherhead (1925-36) and William E. Sangster (1936-39). More recently, Oxford Place and Brunswick were amalgamated.
Leeds is associated with WM overseas missions, particularly the establishment of the first District Missionary Society in 1813 (commemorated by a plaque unveiled on the site of the Old Boggart House in 2013) and the fund-raising Missionary Breakfasts from 1849 under the influence of the wealthy merchant William Smith. Headingley College was opened in 1868 and the first Wesley Guild was formed at Roscoe Place Chapel in 1894.
John Wesley’s Journal:
12 Sept. 1745: ‘I came to Leeds, preached at five, and at eight met the society; after which the mob pelted us with dirt and stones greater part of the way home. The congregation was much larger next evening; and so was the mob at our return, and likewise in higher spirits, being ready to knock out all our brains for joy that the Duke of Tuscany was Emperor. What a melancholy consideration is this! That the bulk of the English nation will not suffer God to give them the blessings He would, because they would turn them into curses.’
15 Oct. 1745: ‘I preached [at Leeds] at five, and then next morning and evening, without any noise or interruption.’
14 May 1751: ‘I preached about five in the walls of the new house [the ‘Boggard House’].’
5 April 1752: ‘Between four and five I preached in our new house at Leeds; but it was so full, consequently so hot, and my voice was so damped by the breath of the people, that I suppose many could not hear.’
15 March 1758: ‘I rode to Leeds, where, in the evening, a multitude of people were present. I never before saw things in so good order here, and took knowledge the assistant had not been idle.’
23 March 1761: ‘I hastened forward [from Manchester], and reached Leeds about five in the evening, where I had desired all the preachers in those parts to meet me. And a happy meeting we had both in the evening and morning.’
5 July 1764: ‘I had the comfort of leaving our brethren at Leeds united in peace and love.’
9 July 1770: ‘About noon I preached at Woodhouse, a village near Leeds, where a flame is suddenly broken out. Few days pass without fresh displays of the grace of God converting sinners to Himself; and a spirit of childlike, simple love runs through the whole body of the people.’
2 Aug. 1778: ‘At one I preached at the foot of Birstall hill to the largest congregation that ever was seen there. It was supposed that there were twelve or fourteen thousand. But there were some thousands more at Leeds; I think it was the largest congregation that I have seen for many years, except that at Gwennap in Cornwall.’
13 April 1780: ‘I opened the new house at Hunslet. On Friday I preached at Woodhouse’ Sun[day] 16: ‘Our house at Leeds was full at eight, yet everyone heard distinctly. In the afternoon I preached at the old church, but a considerable part of the people could not hear. Indeed, the church is remarkably ill constructed; had it been built with common sense, all that were in it, and even more, might have heard every word.’
' I greatly rejoice to hear of the prosperity of the work of God at Leeds. I have known many good days there, together with seasons of trial.'
Thomas Olivers, letter of May 15 1792
• Phoebe Palmer, Four Years in the Old World (1866), Ch. XLV • A Leeds Methodist [Matthew Johnson], 'Recollections of Methodism in Leeds, during the past fifty or sixty years', in UMFC Magazine, 1864 • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number,1894 pp.62-7 • C.A. Federer, in WHS Proceedings, 2 pp.115-18 • Henry James, 'Leeds First Circuit', in MNC Magazine, 1904 pp.19-24, 47-54 • W. Hookins, 'Leeds - Humslet Circuit', in MNC Magazine, 1904 pp.90-94, 131-36 • A.W. Harrison, 'Old Accounts of Leeds Circuit', in WHS Proceedings, 17 pp.154-60 • William Beckworth, A Book of Remembrance, being records of Leeds Primitive Methodism (1910) • Conference Handbooks, 1914 (WM), 1938 and 1956 • George Sails, At the Centre: the story of Methodism's Central Missions (1970), pp.71-2 • D. Colin Dews, 'The Ecclesiastical Census Returns, 1851: A Study of Methodist Attendances in Leeds', in WHS Proceedings, 39 pp.113-16 • D.C. Dews, 'Leeds and the Methodist New Connexion' in WHS Proceedings 51 pp.96-103, 117-25; also 36 pp.9-10 • D.C. Dews, 'The Methodist New Connexion in Leeds', in WHS Proceedings, 51 pp.96-103, 117-24 • D Colin Dews, The Church with a Mission: Oxford Place Methodist Chapel, Leeds, 1835 to 2010 (Leeds, 2010) • Edward Royle, 'Leeds in 1813 and the origins of the Methodist Missionary Society' in WHS (Yorkshire), Bulletin, Spring 2014, pp.6-17