The first to preach there, John Nelson, met with much opposition, but formed a society of 15. Beginning in 1743, at the invitation of William Blow, a local cordwainer, John Wesley paid his first visit and in 1757 opened the first preaching house, in William Blow's yard. The society suffered setbacks from disputing, but had a special place in Wesley's affections among the societies in that part of Lincolnshire.
With the opening of the new haven in 1800 the population grew rapidly and several substantial WM chapels were built during the nineteenth century, including New Street (1808), George Street (1847) and Victoria, following the opening of the Royal Dock by the Queen in 1852. Further large chapels and small mission halls were scattered east and west across the town. Grimsby became the head of a WM Circuit in 1776. George Jackson and George Stampe were among the notable Methodists associated with the town.
Primitive Methodism was introduced in 1819 by Thomas King, who preached from a wheelbarrow in Victoria Street. By 1880 a number of large chapels, including Garibaldi Street (1863), Hainton Street (1869), Ebenezer (1871) and Flottergate (1880), housed large congregations. Four PM Conferences were held there. and by 1900 there were three PM circuits. The fishing industry produced leading figures in both civic and religious life, some becoming mayors of the borough. C.K. Watkinson and Sir Thomas Robinson were Vice-Presidents of the PM Conference. Sir James Blindell was an MP in the post-Union era.
The Grimsby circuits included Cleethorpes and many close-knit villages, with congregations drawn from the agricultural community. In May 1932, on the eve of Methodist Union, the trustees of Duncombe Street, Garibaldi Street and Freeman Street, decided to unite their three large chapels in the dockland area on a single site. A new Central Hall on the Duncombe Street site was opened in 1936, but wartime leadership difficulties and continuing financial problems led to postwar decline. In 1963 it was decided in consultation with the connexional Missions Committee to confer Central Mission status on the cause. In response to extensive local rehousing, the premises were extensively remodelled, to include a Community Centre as well as a main hall. In 1966 a Fisherman's Chapel, provided by the Sailors' Children's Society, was opened and the Port Missioner became a member of the Mission's Team Ministry, which also included a full-time Community Officer and an Industrial Chaplain.
John Wesley's Journal:
October 1743: 'In the evening the house at Grimsby not being able to contain one fourth of the congregation, I stood in the street, and exhorted every prodigal to "arise and go to" his "Father". One or two endeavoured to interrupt; but they were soon stilled by their own companions. The next day … one in the town promised us the use of a large room; but he was prevailed upon to retract his promise before the hour of preaching came. I then designed to go to the Cross, but the rain prevented; so that we were a little at a loss, till we were offered a very convenient place by a "womam which was a sinner". I there declared "Him" (about one o'clock) whom "God hath exalted, to give repentance and remission of sins". And God so confirmed the word of His grace that I marvelled any one could withstand Him…'
April 1745: 'I began preaching before eight; but to such a congregation as I had not lately seen; so stupidly rude and noisy, encouraged thereto by their fore-speaker, a drunken alehouse-keeper. I singled him out and fastened upon him, till he chose to withdraw. The rest were soon calmed, and behaved very quietly till the service was ended.'
February 1747: 'We reached Grimsby by five, and spoke to as many of the society as could conveniently come at that time. About seven I would have preached to a very large audience, but a young gentleman, with his companions, quite drowned my voice, till a poor woman took up the cause, and, by reciting a few passages of his life, wittily and keenly enough, turned the laugh of all his companions full upon him. He could not stand it, but hastened away. When he was gone, I went on with little interruption.'
July 1748: 'At seven I preached in the large room; but it was not near large enough to contain the congregation. Many stood on the stairs and in the adjoining rooms and many below in the street. The fear of God has lately spread in an uncommon degree among this people also. Nor has Mr. Prince been able to prevent it, though he bitterly curses us in the name of the Lord.'
May 1751: 'I preached to a mixed congregation, some of whom (the greater part) were exceeding serious, and some exceeding drunk. The society I found was much alive to God.'
April 1752: 'The crowd was so great in the evening that the room was like an oven.The next night I preached at the end of the town, whither almost all the o]people, rich and poor, follwed me, and I had a fair opportunity of closely applying that weighty questio, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" '
July1757: 'At seven I poreached in the new room which they have just finished at Grimsby. [Next morning] 'At seven in the morning the house just contained the people. I designed to preach abroad in the afternoon, but the rain drove us into the house again. As many as could crowded in. The rest stood without, though many, I fear, were wet to the skin.'
April 1759: 'The house was pretty well filled at eight. At two I was obliged to go into the old churchyard where was such a concourse of people as had hardly ever, they said, been seen at Grimsby before. As many as the roiom woiuld well contain were present at the watchnight, and at seven in the morning.'
April 1764: 'Hence we rode to Grimsby, once the most dead, now the most lively place in all the county. Here has been a large and swift increase both of the society and hearers, so that the house, though galleries are added, is still too small. In the morning … I explained at large the nature of Christian Perfection. Many who had doubted of it before were fully satisfied. It remains only to experience what we believe. 'In the evening the mayor and all the gentry of the town were present; and so was our Lord in an uncommon manner. Some dropped down as dead; but after a while , rejoiced with joy unspeakable. One was carried away in violent fits… The unclean spirit did tear her indeed; but his reign was not long. In the morning both her soul and body were healed, and she acknowledged both the justice and mercy of God.'
April 1766: 'I … came the next day to our old friends at Grimsby. It puts me in mind of Purrysburg in Georgia. It was one of the largest towns in the county; it is no bigger thn a middling village, containing a small number of half-starved inhabitants, without any trade, either foreign or domestic. But this they have: they lobe the gospel, hardley six families excepted. And a large proportion of them have found "it is the power of God unto salvation." '
July 1779: In this, and many other parts of the kingdom, those striplings who call themselves Lady Huntingdon's preachers have greatly hindered the work of God. They have neither sense, courage, nor grace to go and beat up the devil's quarters in any place where Christ has not yet been named; but wherever we have entered as by storm, and gathered a few souls, often at the peril of our lives, they creep in and, by doubtful disputations, set everyone's sword against his brother. One of these has just crept into Grimsby and is striving to divide the poor little flock; but I hope his labour will be in vain, and they will still hold "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace".'
June 1780: 'I went on to Grimsby, where I am still more at home than at any place in the east of Lincolnshire; though scarce any of our first members remain; they are all safe lodged in Abraham's bosom. But here is still a loving people, though a little disturbed by the Calvinists, who seize on every halting soul as their own "lawful prey".'
June 1786: 'In the evening, the people flocking together on every side, I was constrained to preach in the market-place at Grimsby, where everyone behaved well, except the Calvinist preacher.'
July 1788: 'About five we came to Grimsby, and, the vicar reading prayers, I preached on the Psalm for the day, "He healeth them that are broken in heart, and giveth medicine to heal their sickness." I think the chuirch is near as large as that at Hull, and it has not been so well filled in the memory of man before. All were seriously attentive; many received the word with joy; and some doubtless will bring forth fruit to perfection. [Next day] 'The vicar again read prayers at eleven; and I preached on those words in the Second Lesson, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" I spoke as plain as possibly I could; but God only can speak to the heart.'