New King Street chapel   Click to enlarge
A city to which the rich and idle flocked in the eighteenth century, Bath was the social centre of England, renowned for 'Humbug, Follee and Vanitee'. John Wesley first preached there, from the steps between Broad Street and Walcot street, on 10 April 1739 and roundly condemned the frivolity around him. In June 1739 he clashed with the self-styled 'King of Bath', Richard ('Beau') Nash, at the Ham, and in all preached 150 times in the city. The first purpose-built preaching house was in the tawdry Avon Street area. Gradual progress culminated in the opening of New King Street chapel by Wesley in 1779. It possessed the first organ in any of his chapels. But the same year saw the dispute over Wesley's appointment of the Rev. Edward Smyth as the evening preacher at the chapel, an issue that for a time split the society. A larger chapel (by James Wilson) erected on the site in 1847 was destroyed in the 1942 blitz.

Lady Huntingdon chapel   Click to enlarge
Lady Huntingdon first visited Bath in 1739 and subsequently built one of her 'safe' chapels (opened 1765) adjacent to her house on the Paragon (now housing the 'Building of Bath Museum'). Here Wesley preached to socially privileged congregations until the dispute over Calvinism in the 1770s.The splendid classical Walcot Chapel in London Road (by William Jenkins) was opened in 1816 and has been refurbished to meet modern needs.MHA provides sheltered accommodation for the elderly at Walcot Court, built on its burial ground, and at Stratton House in Park Lane for those needing closer care.

PM activity began in 1828, bought a house at 4, Westgate Buildings in 1845 which was rebuilt in 1866. A gloomy building, it survived the bombing in World War II, but closed in 1964. After occupying several other places, the UMFC acquired what they renamed Hope Chapel in Lower Borough Walls in 1866 and moved to a new church at Beechen Cliff in 1913. Kingswood School has been on Lansdown since its move from Bristol in 1851.


John Wesley's Journal:

April 1739: 'I was desired to go to Bath; where I offered to about a thousand souls the free grace of God to "heal their backsliding"; and in the morning to (I believe) more than two thousand.'

8 May 1739: 'I went to Bath, but was not suffered to be in the meadow where I was before, which occasioned the offer of a much more convenient place, where I preached Christ to about a thousand souls.'

22 May 1739: 'I preached to about a thousand at Bath. There were several fine gay things among them, to whom especially I called, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead; and Christ shall give thee light."

June 1739: There waa great expectation at Bath of what a noted man was to do to me there; and I was much intreated not to preach, because no one knew what might happen. By this report I also gained a much larger audience, among whom were many of the rich and great. I told them plainly the Scripture had concluded them all under sin - high and low, rich and poor, one with another. Many of them seemed to be a little surprised, and were sinking apace into seriousness, when their champion [Beau Nash] appeared…'

July 1739: I … preached to a larger audience than ever before. I was wondering the "god of this world" was so still, when, at my return from the place of preaching, poor Richard Merchant told me he could not let me preach any more in his ground. I asked him why. He said people hurt his trees and stole things out of his ground. "And besides," added he, "I have already, by letting thee be there, merited the displeasure of my neighbours." O fear of man! Who is above thee, but they who indeed "worship God in spirit and truth"? '

December 1741: 'I have often reasoned with myself concerning this place, "Hath God left Himself without witness?" … Some of the most serious persons I have known at Bath are either solitary Christians, scarce known to each other, unless by name; or prudent Christians, so careful not to give offence as if that were the unpardonable sin; and as zealous to "keep their religion to themselves" as they should be to "let it shine before men".'

February 1742: 'Observing many noisy persons at the end of the room, I went and stood in the midst of them; but the greater part slipped away to the end from which I came, and then took heart, and cried aloud again. I paused to give them their full scope, and then began a particular application to them. They were very quiet in a short time, and, I trust, will not forget it so soon as some of them may desire.'

January 1743: 'Some of the rich and great were present… One of them, my Lord ---, stayed very patiently till I came to the middle of the fourth head [that 'a natural man has no more faith than a devil, if so much']. Then starting up, he said, " 'Tis hot! 'tis very hot" and got downstairs as fast as he could. Several of the gentry desired to stay at the meeting of the society, to whom I explained the nature of inward religion, words flowing upon me faster than I could speak.'

January 1744: 'Many of the audience appeared to be deeply convinced; and one, though a gentlewoman, could not conceal the emotion of her mind, but broke out in strong cries and tears. Perhaps even here the "bread" we have "cast upon the waters shall be found after many days." '

October 1755: 'Even here a few are joined together, and hope they shall be scattered no more.'

September 1758: 'The room would ill contain the congregation, so I encouraged them in their design of taking a piece of ground, and building without delay.'

September 1765: 'I had only the poor to hear, there being service at the same time in Lady H's chapel. So I was just in my element. I have scarce ever found such liberty at Bath before.'

August 1766: 'Many were not a little surprised in the evening at seeing me in the Countess of Huntingdon's chapel. The congregation was not only large, but serious, and I fully delivered my own soul. So I am in no concern whether I preach there again or no. I have no choice concerning it.'

October 1766: 'In the evening I preached again at My Lady's chapel to another numerous congregation. Who knows but a few among this gay multitude may "work out their salvation with fear and trembling"? '

March 1767: '…My brother read prayers and I preached at Lady H's chapel. I know not when I have seen a more serious or more deeply attentive congregation. Is it possible? Can the gospel have place where Satan's throne is?'

September 1772: 'Our room, though considerably enlarged, will not yet contain the congregation, which is still continually increasing.'

December 1777: ' … at one [I] laid the foundation [stone] of the new chapel at Bath. The wind was piercing cold; yet scarce any of the congregation went away before the end of the sermon.'

March 1779: 'I opened the new chapel at Bath. It is about half as large as that at London, and built nearly upon the same model… We concluded the service with the Lord's Supper.'

[In 1779 the Bath society was split by the dispute over Wesley's decision to allow the pulpit to the Rev. Edward Smyth on Sunday evenings.]

July 1780: 'The people at Bath wew still upon my mind, so … I went over again and God was with us of a truth whenever we assembled together. Surely God is healing the breaches of this poor, shattered people.'

October 1783: 'I preached at Bath, to such a congregation as I have not seen there foir long season.'

September 1784: 'I read prayers, preached, and administered the sacrament to a large congregation; but it was larger in the afternoon and largest of all in the evening.'

March 1785: 'This society … is much improved since I was here last. Many stumbling blocks are removed out of the way, and brotherly love is increased.'

September 1786: 'In the evening I preached at Bath to a more numerous congregation than I expected; and more serious, for I did not find there were any careless or inattentive hearers.'

March 1787: 'So crowded a house I had niot seen here for many years. I fuly delivered my own soul by strongly enforcing those awfulk words, "Many are called, but few are chosen." I believe the word sunk deep into many hearts. The next evening we had another large congregation equally serious.'

September 1787: 'Considering the uncertain notice which had been given, we had a larger congregation than was expected; and many found it a comfortable season, particularly those that were in heaviness… [Next day, Sunday] 'I read prayers at ten and preached with a peculiar blessing, and administered the Lord's Supper to an unusual number of deeply serious communicants. At half past two I began again. The chapel was more than filled. Many could not get in, and it was the same case at six in the evening. At both times I preached considerably longer than I usually do. Surely the time is come when God will cause his power to be known here also.'

February 1788: 'Here I found a pleasant prospect. The congregations are larger than ever. The society is, at length, at unity in itself; and, consequently, increases both in grace and number.'

September 1788: 'I found the society at Bath in a more flourishing state than it had been for many years, and the congregation in the evening was unusually large, and, as usual, seriously attentive. [Sunday] 'We had twice as many communicants as I ever remember here.'

September 1789: 'At Bath the scene is changed again. Here we have the rich and honourable in abundance, and yet abundance of them came even on a stormy night, and seemed as attentive as colliers.'

March 1790: 'All were serious as death. Indeed, the work of God seems to flourish here, deepening as well as widening.'

September 1790: 'At ten we had a numerous congregation, and more communicants than ever I saw here before… Surely God is returning to this society! They are now in earnest to make their calling and election sure.'

  • John Rigg, An Interesting Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Wesleyan Society in Bath (Bath, 1848)
  • E. Ralph Bates, 'Eightenth-Century Chalices in Bath Methodism', in WHS Proceedings, 43 pp.29-30
  • E. Ralph Bates, 'Wesley's Property Deed for Bath', in WHS Proceedings, 44 pp.25-35
  • Bruce Crofts (ed.) At Satan's Throne: the Story of Methodism in Bath(Bristol, 1990)