Methodist Unitarian Movement

Methodist Unitarianism began in Rochdale in 1806, following the expulsion of Joseph Cooke from the WM ministry for heresy. (Its members were sometimes called 'Cookites'.) Cooke was joined early on by three Rochdale local preachers: John Ashworth, a self-educated woollen weaver, James Taylor, fuller and cloth-dresser and James Wilkinson, shoemaker. Their first chapels were 'Providence' at Rochdale (1806) and 'Bethlehem Chapel' at Newchurch-in-Rossendale (1809) and they had a number of other preaching places on either side of the Lancashire/Yorkshire border, including Oldham, Bury and Todmorden. The first annual meeting of their Association was held in Rochdale in 1818. They adopted a Methodist style of organization, including circuit preaching plans. With a largely artisan membership, they were actively involved in the Reform and Co-operative movements, in Chartism and in Sunday School work, especially at Todmorden, where the Superintendent was the radical John Fielden. Contact with the preacher Richard Wright and other local Unitarians, together with their study of the Bible, led them to reject Trinitarian orthodoxy and after the 1850s, as their leading figures died, their congregations became independent and Unitarian.

  • John Ashworth, An Account of the Unitarian Doctrine in the societies at Rochdale, Newchurch in Rossendale and other places formerly in connexion with the late Joeph Cooke in ten letters to a friend (1819)
  • George Smith, A History of Wesleyan Methodism (1858-61) 2 pp.431-4
  • H. McLachlan, The Methodist Unitarian Movement (Manchester, 1919)
  • WHS Proceedings12 pp.178-80
  • John T. Wilkinson, 'The Rise of Other Methodist Traditions', in History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 2 (1978), pp.326-29