The first Methodist in the town is deemed to have been Martha Thompson, rescued by John Wesley from a lunatic asylum in London, where she had been sent after her conversion. (Her story was dramatized in the musical 'Ride, Ride'.) On her return home she joined a society in a nearby village and was instrumental in forming the first Preston society in 1774. The society grew under the preaching of M. Crane, Michael Emmett and William Bramwell. John Wesley paid his first visit in 1780 and in 1790 preached in the first chapel, erected in Back Lane in 1787. Preston became a separate circuit in 1799. A secession in 1802 resulted in the loss of one third of the members and the formation of a MNC society. But by 1817 there were 300 members and a larger chapel was opened in Lune Street.
The 'Seven Men of Preston', led by Joseph Livesey, promoting total abstinence and the signing of the pledge, found encouragement among local non-WMs. Meetings were held on their premises and the first children's Temperance Society was formed at Lawson Street PM chapel. At Lune Street a Missionary Society and Samaritans' Society were well-known for fund-raising and promoting practical social awareness; e.g. giving much help at the time of the 'cotton famine' during the American Civil War. Work continues from that centre among the homeless and destitute. A WM Day School opened at Moor Park in 1864; in the 1930s it had nearly 500 pupils. At the time of Methodist Union in 1932 there were two WM, two PM and two UMC circuits. The Methodist Conference met in Preston in 1952, 1963 and 1976.
John Wesley's Journal:
May 1781: 'I went on to Preston, where the old prejudice seems to be quite forgotten. The little society has fitted up a large and convenient house, where I preached to a candid audience. Everone seemed to be considerably affected: I hope in some the impression will continue.'
April 1784: 'I went to Preston, and preached to a serious congregation.'
William Ault to Zechariah Taft, Preston, 16 November 1810:
'With respect to the [Preston] Circuit, we find it in a very low state indeed, but our congregations are much increased. We have peace & of late Prosperity, many clear conversions we have had lately, many are coming in on every side..'
Original at Duke University