John Wesley made the first of 25 visits in 1742, but Methodism first became established in the parochial out-townships of Lightcliffe (where there was an early Moravian settlement) and Skircoat Green (where John Nelson preached in 1741). A society was formed in Halifax itself following Wesley's open-air preaching in 1748. The first purpose built preaching house, in Church Lane (1752), was replaced by South Parade Chapel, opened by Wesley in 1777. A second chapel was opened in Broad Street in 1829. Halifax became the head of a circuit in 1785 and of one of the first Districts in 1791. Superintendents of the Circuit included William Thompson, the first WM President after Wesley, William Thom, the first President of the MNC, and Jabez Bunting, who faced the challenge of the Luddite disturbances during his Halifax ministry.
At the time of the Religious Census (1851) it was the only large town in the West Riding where WM, reduced by 45% during the WR controversy, was outnumbered by the other branches of Methodism. During the second half of the century, the MNC exerted considerable influence on municipal politics, the first nonconformist civic service being held at Salem Chapel (1799) in 1877, which also hosted six MNC Conferences between 1817 and 1895. Queen's Road MNC Church, opened in 1871, with a larger church opened in 1877, was an offshoot of Salem. The Mackintosh family were prominent MNC members. The imposing Ebenezer PM Chapel, rebuilt in 1922 to commemorate the centenary of the first PM society in Halifax, was the last to be built there before Methodist Union.
After 1932 circuit amalgamations and chapel closures reduced the number of circuits from eight to one by 1971, but new churches were opened at St Andrew's (1965), Salem (1970) and Highgate (1978). The oldest surviving chapel in the circuit, Mount Zion at Ogden, north of Halifax (1815, replacing an earlier building of 1773), was seized from WM by the MNC in 1796 and became United Methodist in the Union of 1907. It is now a centre for Methodist heritage, with a display of ceramics from the Collection of Alderman Horace Hird.
John Wesley's Journal:
June 1742: 'I was invited to Mrs. Holmes's [of Smith House, Lightcliffe], near Halifax; where I preached at noon, on, "Ask and ye shall receive." Thence I rode to Dr. L[eigh]'s, the Vicar of Halifax; a candid inquirer after truth.'
May 1747: 'I preached at Halifax to a civil, senseless congregation.'
August 1748: 'Our brethren [at Skircoat Green] were much divided in their judgement. Many thought I ought to preach at Halifax Cross: others judged it to be impracticable, the very mention of it as a possible thing having set all the town in an uproar. However, to the Cross I went. There was an immense number of people, roaring like the waves of the sea. But the far greater part of them were still as soon as I began to speak. They seemed more and more composed; till a gentleman got some of the rabble together, and began to throw money among them, which occasioned much hurry and confusion. Finding my voice could not be heard, I made signs to the people that I would remove to another place. I believe nine in ten followed me to a meadow about half a mile from the town, where we spent so solemn an hour as I have seldom known, rejoicing and praising God. [Next day] 'The congregation was larger at five in the morning than it was in the evening when I preached here before.'
July 1759: 'I preached at Halifax in the evening; but the preaching-house was like an oven.'
July 1761: 'New opinions had done harm here also; but at this time all was quiet.'
July 1764: 'In the evening I preached at Halifax, where I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. [Henry] Venn…'
July 1772: 'My old friend, Titus Knight, offered me the use of his new meeting, larger than Dr. Taylor's at Norwich, full as superb (so he terms it in his poem), and finished with the utmost elegance. But I judged more people would attend in the open air, so I preached in the cow-market to a huge multitude. Our house was well filled at five in the morning.'
April 1776: 'In the evening I preached in the Croft, adjoining to the new house at Halifax.'
July 1778: 'The house was tolerably well filled at eight. Understanding there was a great need of it [because of a recent local case of counterfeit coinage], I preached on "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." I spoke with all plainness, and yet did not hear that anyone was offended. 'At one I preached on those words in the Gospel for the day, "Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Such a time I have not known for some years. The house was extremely crowded, but I believe there was not only no inattentive, but no unaffected hearer.'
April 1779: 'I went to Halifax, where a little thing [a carved angel blowing a trumpet placed over the pulpit] had lately occasioned great disturbance… The congregation, morning and evening, were very large; and the work of God seems to increase in depth as well as extent.'
July 1784: 'The house would in no wise contain the people; yet the wind was so high that I could not preach abroad.'
May 1788: 'I found … still more [liberty of spirit] at Halifax in the evening, when it seemed as if the windows of heaven were opened; and also at five in the morning, when I took a solemn leave of this affectionate people.'
July 1789: 'I went on to Halifax, where, in the evening, I preached to a noble congregation, and afterwards spent near another hour in exhorting the society.'
Entry written by: JAH
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