John Wesley passed through the town several times during his years at Oxford, but did not return until 1784, when he was offered the Presbyterian meeting house to preach in. He came again in 1790. During that period a society came into existence under the leadership of James Ward, a dyer and a chapel was opened in 1791 at the top of Calthorpe Street. It was replaced by new chapel in Church Lane in 1812 (extended 1818 and 1841). In the mid-nineteenth century Banbury's prosperity as a centre for the manufacture of agricultural equipment was matched by a flourishing local Nonconformity. For many years WM remained politically conservative and until the 1850s was hampered by continuing debt. Then the support of prosperous businessmen (notably William Mewburn) transformed the largely working-class congregation to a predominantly middle-class one. Church Lane was replaced in 1865 by the much more impressive gothic church in Marlborough Road (with W.M. Punshon at the stonelaying and S.D. Waddy at the opening). New Sunday School premises were added in 1883. A mission hall in Calthorpe Street, only a short distance from Marlborough Road, flourished between 1903 and 1931, and suburban chapels were built at Grimsbury in 1858 (replaced in 1871 and redeveloped in the 1980s to incorporate an old people's home), Neithrop in 1888, Easington in 1937 and Ruscote in 1957.
Banbury Circuit was formed (from Northampton Circuit) in 1793, though renamed Brackley Circuit between 1797 and 1804. It extended as far as Warwick and Kenilworth.
The first PM preaching in the area was at Chacombe, when Joseph Preston travelled from Witney in 1836. In Banbury a chapel was built in Broad Street in 1839 (extended 1847) and a Banbury Circuit was formed in 1842. PM had local support from both the Baptist and the Congregational ministers. In 1865 they took over the Church Lane premises from the WM, adding schoolrooms in 1898; it closed in 1947. Their more important work was in the villages, especially among the agricultural workers.
The Reform movement had little local impact, but a small WR congregation, with no chapel of its own, survived until 1855.
John Wesley's Journal:
November 1784: 'I met with a hearty welcome from Mr. George, formerly a member of the London society. The Presbyterian minister offering us the use of his meeting, I willingly accepted his offer. It was, I believe, capable of containing near as many people as the chapel at West Street [London]; but it would not near contain the congregation. And God uttered His voice, yea, and that a mighty voice; neither the sorrow nor the joy which was felt that night will be quickly forgotten.'
Thursday 25th. 'I desired the people would sit below in the morning, supposing not many would be present, but I was much mistaken; notwithstanding the darkness and the rain, the house was filled both above and below; and never did I see a people who appeared more ready prepared for the Lord.'I