Methodism is said to have begun through the preaching of a merchant hosier, John Howe, who had met the Wesleys during business visits to London. Preaching was at first in the market place and in private homes. To accommodate more hearers, Matthew Bagshaw of Crossland Place made a hole in his living room ceiling; men sat upstairs and women downstairs, with the preacher standing on a chair on the table. The first purpose-built chapel was the octagonal Tabernacle in Boot Lane, opened in 1864.
John Wesley made the first of 28 visits in June 1741 on the invitation of Lady Huntingdon. In March 1766 he preached in the 'new house', an octagon between Milton Street and Mount East Street, known as the Tabernacle and later sold to the General Baptists. In April 1783, accompanied by Thomas Coke, he opened the new chapel in Hockley, which was taken over by the MNC when the majority of members sided with Alexander Kilham in 1797. Another MNC chapel, Parliament Street, opened in 1817 (rebuilt 1875).William Booth began his active work with the New Connexion in Nottingham in 1854. Meanwhile the remaining Wesleyans built a new chapel in Halifax Place, which was opened by Coke on 2 December 1798 and survived until 1930.
PM arrived when Sarah Kirkland was invited to preach in a disused factory in Broad Marsh on Christmas Day, 1815 to a congregation of 1,000. Their first chapel was opened in 1823 in Canaan Street. 1 A small group of Protestant Methodists was formed in 1827. In March 1833 the Arminian Methodist connexion was formed at Salem Chapel, Barker Gate. There were Original Methodists in Radford for a few years around 1849; and the 'Wesleyan Congregational Free Church' existed for two years from 1855, under the patronage of Richard Mercer. WR and WMA leaders conferred in Nottingham on 27 February 1855, with the result that the UMFC was formed in 1857.
In 1902 a group of WM businessmen bought the impressive Albert Hall and it became the headquarters of the new Central Mission under the leadership of J. Ernest Rattenbury. It was destroyed by fire in April 1906 and rebuilt and reopened in 1909, with a new organ donated by Jesse Boot. An Institute building, designed for social and cultural activities, was added in 1911. There was a major modernization of the premises in 1931 and the Albert Hall remained a centre for preaching and mission until 1985, when the congregation moved to the Parliament Street church. A second centre, the Bridgeway Hall, originated as Arkwright Street WM church (1864), with a large day school. In 1926, on the initiative of the Home Mission Department, the premises were redeveloped and it was officially designated a Mission. In the 1960s they were rebuilt, to provide a new church, coffee bar and youth centre.
John Wesley's Journal:
June 1741: In the afternoon we went on to Nottingham, where Mr. Howe received us gladly. At eight the society met as usual. I could not but observe (1) That the room was not half full which used, till very lately, to be crowded within and without. (2) That not one person who came in used any prayer at all; but everyone immediately sat down , and began talking to his neighbour or looking to see who was there. (3) That when I began to pray there appeared a general surprise, none once offering to kneel down, and those who stood choosing the most easy, indolent posture which they conveniently could…
'I expounded (but with a heavy heart), "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved'; and the next morning described (if haply some of the secure ones might awake from the sleep of death) the fruits of true faith - "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
[Two days later] 'I rode to Nottingham again, and at eight preached at the market-place to an immense multitude of people, on "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." I saw only one or two who behaved lightly, whom I immediately spoke to; and they stood reproved. Yet, soon after, a man behind me began aloud to contradict and blaspheme; but upon my turning to him, he stepped behind a pillar, and in a few minutes disappeared.'
December 1743: 'In the morning, Sunday, I preached in the house at five; and about eight, at the High Cross, on "Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" I went thither again from St. Mary's in the afternoon, and proclaimed to an immense multitude, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever." I saw not one scoffer or one trifler;but all to a man appeared serious and attentive.'
March 1746: 'I had long doubted what it was which hindered the work of God here; but upon inquiry, the case was plain. So many of the society were either triflers or disorderly walkers that the blessing of God could not rest upon them; so I made short work, cutting off all such at a stroke, and leaving only that little handful who (as far as could be judged) were really in earnest to save their souls.'
June 1753: 'At Nottingham, also, God is greatly reviving His work, and pouring water upon the dry ground.'
July 1757: 'I preached at Nottingham. We want nothing here but a larger house.'
March 1766: 'In the evening I preached at Nottingham in the new house, thoroughly filled with serious hearers. Indeed there is never any diisturbance here…
[Next day, Sunday] 'I had thought of preaching in the market-place; but the snow which fell in the night made it impracticable. In the morning the house contained the congregation; but in the evening many were constrained to go away. There seems to be now (what never was before) a general call to the town.'
March 1774: '[The congregation at Stapleford] was nothing to that at Nottingham Cross in the evening, the largest I have seen for many years, except at Gwennap.'
June 1777: 'I preached at Nottingham, to a serious, loving congregation. There is something in the people of this town which I cannot but much approve of; although most of our society are of the lower class, chiefly employed in the stocking manufacture, yet there is generally an uncommon gentleness and sweetness in their temper, and something of elegance in their behaviour, which, added to solid, vital religion, make them an ornament to their profession.'
July 1782: 'I found a serious as well as a numerous congregation at Nottingham.'
July 1786: 'I preached to a numerous and well-behaved congregation. I love this people; there is something wonderfully pleasing, both in their spirit and their behaviour.
[Next day] 'The congregation at five was very large, and convince me of the earnestness of the people. They are greatly increased in wealth and grace, and continue increasing daily…
[Next day] 'In the evening many felt
The o'erwhelming power of saving grace;
and many more on Sunday the 9th, when we had the largest number of communicants that ever were seen at this chapel, or perhaps at any church in Nottingham. I took a solemn leave of this affectionate congregation at five in the morning, … not expecting to meet another such (unless at Birmingham) till I came to London.'
November 1787: 'The preaching-house (one of the most elegant in England) was pretty well filled in the evening.
[Next day, Sunday] 'At ten we had a lovely congregation, and a very numerous one in the afternoon. But I believe the house would hardly contain one half of those that came to it. I preached a charity sermon for the Informary, which was the design of my coming. This is not a County Infirmary, but is open to all England, yea, to all the world; and everything about it is so neat, so convenient, and so well ordered that I have seen none like it in the three kingdoms.'
July 1788 [Sunday] 'I began the service at ten; but I knew not how I should get to the end, being almost exhausted when I had finished my sermon; when Mr. Dodwell came, who, though very weak through the ague, assisted me in administering rhe Lord's Supper to a very large number of communicants. After preaching in the evening, I made a collectuion for Kingswood School. To-day I had just as much work as I could do.'
George Marsden to Jabez Bunting, Nottingham, Dec. 3rd 1839:
'This part of the kingdom is almost new to me, and it is pleasing to see the hold which Methodism has upon the population, both in the town and in the surrounding country. The villages within six miles of the town are many of them manufacturing places, and some of them very large, and the chapels a good size, and in most of them Methodism seems to be the prevailing religion.'