Northern Counties ( Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland)

These four northern counties contained some of Methodism's strongest concentrations, largely owing (in socio-economic terms) to the region's industrial and commercial activity. Newcastle upon Tyne, a historic town increasingly surrounded by collieries and a flourishing trade centre, became the Wesleys' northern base as early as 1742. John Wesley visited Tyneside 50 times in almost as many years, often staying for extended periods (especially in the early years) and using Newcastle as a base from which to make great forays into the surrounding region. The Orphan House (1743), Methodism's first building in the north, provided him and his preachers with living quarters.

The coal-mining areas of south-east Northumberland, north-east Durham and West Cumbria commanded most of Wesley's attention. Large areas of central and northern Northumberland and the agricultural area of south eastern Durham were ignored completely. He made a series of brief but important forays into the northern dales to evangelize lead-mining communities, and also worked the coastal ports and the towns which lay along his routes; e.g Berwick, Alnwick, Hexham, Durham, Darlington and Yarm. Cumbria was visited either via Weardale, Nenthead and Alston to Whitehaven, or along the Tyne valley to Carlisle. Methodism was slow to establish itself in Cumbria, until many former members of Inghamite societies, founded some 20 years earlier, transferred their loyalties in the 1760s.

By 1791 the distribution of Methodist chapels in the north reflected the geographical strategy outlined above. But new industrial developments, population growth and rapid urbanization in the nineteenth century stimulated a massive growth and expansion of its presence in the region. This was due partly to vigorous new WM initiatives, but also to the appearance of all the non-Wesleyan branches, some in a relatively modest way (MNC, BC, IM), but others (PM, WMA, WR, UMFC) in very considerable numbers. An abortive venture by the BC preacher Mary Ann Werrey in 1823 was followed up by a Northumbrian Mission, which was soon handed over to the Primitive Methodists. PM made the biggest overall impact, filling the gaps in the rural areas and being especially active in pit villages, and towns such as Whitehaven and Sunderland, the latter (according to the 1851 Religious Census) having more PM worshippers than WM by the mid-nineteenth century.

The massive impact of Methodism on religious life in the north is demonstrated by the Census figures for County Durham, where its attendances equalled those of the Church of England and Dissent put together. According to the Census figures, Methodism in the four northern counties had 767 places of worship (WM 441, PM 214, WMA, 52; MNC 32, WR 28). Total attendances on March 31st were 138,339 or 14.3% of the population (morning, 37,648; afternoon, 32,382; evening, 68,309). In 1989 the figures for the equivalent geographical area were: 568 places of worship; total attendances throughout the day, 44,200 or 1.6% of the population.

  • Hugh Kelly, An Impartial History of Independent Methodism in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland from its commencement in the year 1819 up to 1824 (Newcastle, 1824)
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, 'The Northern Bible Christians', in WHS Proceedings, 31 pp.39-43
  • Robert Moore, Pitmen, Preachers and Politics (Cambridge, 1974)
  • John Burgess, A History of Cumbrian Methodism (Kendall, 1980)
  • Geoffrey E. Milburn, 'Piety, Profit and Paternalism: Methodists in Business in the North-East of England', in WHS Proceedings, 44 pp.45-92
  • G.E. Milburn, The Travelling Preacher: John Wesley in the North East 1742-1790 (1987)
  • Robert M. Colls, The Pitmen of the Northern Coalfield: Work, culture and protest, 1790-1850 (Manchester, 1987)
  • Colin C. Short, 'Bible Christians in Durham: the establishment of the Bible Christian Mission in County Durham, 1874-1878', in Durham County Local History Society Bulletin, 47 (December 1991) pp.83-100
  • C.C. Short, Durham Colliers and West Country Methodists: the story of the Bible Christian Mission in County Durham (Kiddrminster, 1995)
  • Steve Bruce, 'Methodism and Mining in County Durham, 1881-1981', in Northern History, 48:2, September 2011, pp.337-55