Liverpool was growing rapidly during the first half of the 18th century, and like Bristol owed its prosperity largely to the slave trade. Methodist beginnings are obscure, but a chapel (the first in the north-west) was opened in Pitt Street in 1750, despite being far to the west of the main centres of Methodist activity in Lancashire. On his first visit, in April 1755, John Wesley was impressed by both the people and the elegant streets. Less than two years later the society suffered a serious set-back, led astray by James Scholefield during his very brief period as an itinerant. Wesley's visits were often made on his way to or from Ireland.

Liverpool became head of a circuit in 1766 and the growing population led to a second chapel in 1790, Mount Pleasant, which moved to the junction with Renshaw Street and eventually was rebuilt as theCentral Hall in 1905 (when Pitt Street closed).

Click to enlarge
Brunswick Chapel, Moss Street, opened in 1811 in what was then a prosperous area at the northern edge of the town, seated 1,140 and cost £8,000. The Prayer Book liturgy was used, with a desk from which the clerk could lead the worship. A graveyard was added in 1812. Day schools were built in Erskine Street in 1862. But from the 1870s the area changed rapidly, and Brunswick became more involved in relief work among the poor. Following damage during the Second World War blitz, it closed in 1952, became a warehouse and was eventually replaced by shops.

The WM Conference met in Liverpool for the first time in 1807 and again in 1820, when the 'Liverpool Minutes' were passed.

In 1876 the first Central Mission in Methodism was established by Charles Garrett at the old Pitt Street chapel, but a purpose-built Central Hall (by J.J. Bradshaw) had to wait until 1905, when the Charles Garrett Memorial Hall was opened in Renshaw Street. This was renovated in 1959 and further modernized in the 1970s.

A WM minority seceded to the MNC in 1797, but remained small in numbers relative to the WM society. Despite this the MNC Conference met there in 1824, 1836, 1848 and 1861. St. Domingo's MNC Church (opened 1871; merged 1972 with Oakfield Methodist Church) gave rise to Everton Football Club in 1878 and, indirectly, to Liverpool Football Club in 1892.

PM evangelists from Cheshire missioned the town in 1821, opening a chapel in Maguire Street, but they too were unable to emulate WM success. In the 1890s Liverpool was widely regarded as PM's 'problem city', but expansion followed in Edwardian times. The PM Conference met there in 1888 and 1923.

Anti-Conference sentiment grew in WM in the 1830s, finding expression in the local publication of a Circular to Wesleyan Methodists (1830-33). A damaging secession occurred in 1834 at the time of the agitation that led to the formation of the WMA, although Free Methodism in Liverpool was never as strong as in Rochdale or Manchester. IM established a cause in 1826 and the IM Conference met there seven times up to 1932.

Liverpool, with its large Irish population, had for long been riven by sectarian divisions. However, a striking change came with the appointment of Derek Worlock as Catholic Archbishop and David Sheppard as Anglican bishop in the mid-1970s. This resulted in a strong personal partnership. The Merseyside Churches Ecumenical Council was formed, with John A. Newton as Free Church Moderator from 1987 to 1995. Methodists took a full part in these unexpected ecumenical developments, including projects such as the Churches Action for Racial Equality (CARE). When all the Churches engaged in a joint 'Share Jesus Mission', it was led by the Methodist evangelist, Rob Frost, and his teams.


John Wesley's Journal:

April 1755: '… one of the neatest, best-built towns I have seen in England… The people in general are The most mild and courteous I ever saw in a seaport town… The preaching-house is a little larger than that at Newcastle. It was thoroughy filled at seven in the evening, and the hearts of the whole congregation seemed to be moved beore the Lord, and before the presence of his power.

'Every morning, as well as evening, abundance of people gladly attended the preaching. Many of them, I learned, were dear lovers of controversy; but I had better work. I pressed upon them all "repentence toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…" '

[Sunday] 'I explained, after the evening preaching, the rules of the society, and strongly exhorted the members to adorn their profession by all holiness of conversation.'

April 1757: 'I rode to Liverpool, where I found about half of those I left in the society. James S[cholefie]ld had swept away the rest, in order to which he had told lies innumerable. But none who make lies their refuge will prosper. A little while and his building will moulder away.'

March1758: 'I never saw the house so crowded as it was on Easter Day, especially with rich and genteel people, whom I did not at all spare. They are now warned to flee from the wrath to come. God grant they may remember the warning!'

April 1761: 'The election seemed to have driven the common sort of people out of their senses.But on Sunday they were tolerably recovered, and the town looked like itself…{Next day] I left them…, a little increased in number, but very considerably in strength, being now entirely united in judgement as well as in affection.'

August 1762: 'I rode to Liverpool, where also was such a work of God as had never been known there before. We had a surprising congregation in the evening, and, as it seemed, all athirst for God. This, I found, had begun here likewise in the latter end of March, and from that time it had continually increased till a little before I came. Nine were justified in one hour. The next morning I spoke severally with those who believed they were sanctified. They were fifty-one in all - twenty-one men, twenty-one widows or married women, and nine young women or children.'

July 1764: '… the house was full enough. Many of the rich and fashionable werew there, and behaved with decency. Indeed, I have aways observed more courtesy and humanity at Liverpool than at most sea-ports in England.'

April 1765: 'I was surprised at the evening congregations, particularly on Sunday. The [Pitt Street] house, even with the addition of three new galleries, would not near contain the congregation: and I never before observed the word to take such effect upon them.'

April 1766: 'I … thoroughly regulated the society, which had great need of it.'

April 1768: 'In the evening we had a huge congregation at Liverpool; but some pretty, gay, fluttering things did not behave with so much good manners as the mob at Wigan… I found the society both more numerous and more lively than ever it was before.'

April 1775: 'The congregations here, both morning and evening, were so large and so deeply attentive, that I could not be sorry for the contrary winds which detained us…'

April 1777: '… many large ships are now laid up in the docks, which had been employed for many years in buying or stealing poor Africans, and selling them in America for slaves. The men-butchers have now nothing to do at this laudable occupation. Since the American war broke out, there is no demand for human cattle. So the men of Africa, as well as Europe, may enjoy their native liberty.'

April 1778: 'I was much refreshed by two plain, useful sermons at St. Thomas's church, as well as by the serious and decent behaviour of the whole congregation. In the evening I exhorted all of our society who had been bred up in the Church to continue therein.'

May 1783: 'Here the scandal of the cross seems to be ceased, and we are grown honourable men.'

April 1784: 'Here I found a people much alive to God, one cause of which was that they have preachings several mornings in a week, and prayer-meetings on the rest, all of which they are careful to attend.'

April 1788: 'The house was extremely crowded, and I found great liberty of spirit; but still more the next evening, while I was opening and applying the parable of the Sower. How much seed has been sown in this town! And blessed be God, all is not lost. Some has brought forth thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold.'

April 1790: '… the great congregation was at Liverpool. If those without were added to those within, I believe it would have exceeded even that at Manchester; and surely the power of God was present with them also.'

  • F.M. Parkinson in WHS Proceedings, 1 pp.104-108; 2 pp.65-8
  • A.G. Bate in WHS Proceedings, 14 pp.172-76
  • Ian Sellers, 'The Wesleyan Methodist Association in Liverpool', in WHS Proceedings, 35 pp.142-48
  • MNC chapel: WHS Proceedings, 36 pp.10-11
  • George Sails, At the Centre: the story of Methodism's Central Missions (1970), pp.74-6
  • Ian Sellers, The Methodist Chapels and Preachng Places of Liverpool 1750-1971 (Warrington, 1971); revised edition by Donald A. Bullen (Liverpool, 2008)
  • C. Gwyther, Exploits of a Hundred Years (Liverpool, 1975)
  • D.A. Gowland, Methodist Secessions: the Origins of Free Methodism in Three Lancashire Towns - Manchester, Rochdale and Liverpool (Manchester, 1979)
  • David Sheppard and Derek Worlock, Better Together (1988)
  • Peter Lupson, Thank God for Football (2006) pp.55-72
  • Methodist Recorder, 18 March 2010