The New Connexion was inaugurated on 9 August 1797 at Ebenezer Chapel, Leeds, byAlexander Kilham, William Thom, two other former WM itinerants and thirteen laymen. This followed Kilham's expulsion in 1796 and the refusal of the WM conference in 1797 to allow lay representation. The 5,000 or so WM members (c. 5%) who joined the new body were those who felt that the Plan of Pacification and the further slight concessions of 1797 did not go far enough. A minority held radical political views and the denomination was sometimes referred to as 'Tom Paine Methodists'. They came chiefly from the industrializing towns of the North and formed about 66 societies, all north of a line from Stoke to Nottingham and grouped into seven circuits. Of the WM chapels that came into MNC hands the most important were Hockley Chapel, Nottingham and Bank Chapel, Huddersfield.
The MNC Conference of 1798 adopted the constitution drafted by Kilham and Thom, in which Preachers and people had separate 'rights'. Each circuit elected one preacher and one layman to Conference, in contrast to the all-ministerial WM Conference. The President was always a minister, but his function was confined to the period when the Conference was in session. Between Conferences power lay with the small Annual Committee, whose secretary was often a layman. The Connexion was given a legal basis by the Deed Poll of 1846 (the MNC equivalent of the Deed of Declaration), which appointed twelve preachers and twelve laymen as Guardian Representatives.
Kilham's early death in 1798 left Thom as the leading figure. His cultured and orderly approach, in contrast to Kilham's libertarianism, left a permanent mark. The Connexion grew very slowly, taking 25 years to reach 10,000 members. It benefited from troubles within WM in 1834 (notably at Dudley and Stourbridge, where c.1,500 WM discontented members joined the MNC rather than the WMA) and at the height of the reformist movement in 1849-1853. The MNC lost 21% of its own members when Joseph Barker was expelled in 1841, but in 1860 absorbed the Teetotal Methodists. Its distribution was very unevenly spread. At the time of the 1851 Religious Census it was absent from the South Eastern and Eastern Divisions (except for Yarmouth) and had only one society in Cornwall and only Weymouth in the South Western Division. Ministerial status rose in the 1840s and ordination was by imposition of hands at least by 1855. Ranmoor College opened in 1864.
The MNC was the most urban of all Methodist bodies, but was weak in the large cities. Its natural habitat was the medium-sized northern manufacturing town. From 1798 there was an Irish mission, beginning with a secession of WMs in the Lisburn area. (See next entry.) Later there was missionary work in Canada and Australia, and in 1859 a China mission was launched. Membership at home reached 40,000 by the time of the 1907 Union with BC and the UMFC to form the UM Church.
'The Methodist New Connexion came into being for the establishment of the following principles:
1. The right of the people to hold their public religious worship at such hours as were most convenient, without being restricted to the mere intervals of the hours appointed for service at the Established Church.
2. The right of the people to receive th ordinnces of Baptism and the Lord's Supperr from the hands of their own ministers and in their own places of worship.
3. The right of the people to a representation in the District Meetings and in the Annual Conference, and thereby to participate in the government of the community and in the appropration of its funds.
4. The right of the church to have a voice, through its local business meetings, in thr reception and expulsion of members, and the choice of local officers and in the calling out of candidates for the ministry.
(From the Nottingham Jubilee Volume, 1876)