John Wesley's early visits were at the invitation of John Cennick, but on later occasions he found the local population unresponsive. The society had ceased to exist by 1804 and a new start had to be made in 1811 when Reading was made one of the early Home Mission stations. The ministry of John Waterhouse in 1816-19 gave new impetus to the cause and the first purpose-built chapel was opened in Church Street in 1817; but the debt on the property was not finally cleared until 1867. It was then replaced by 'Wesley' (1873), a much larger gothic chapel in Queen's Road. Later chapels included Oxford Road (1893) and Whitley Hall (1906).
The PM Shefford Circuit missioned Reading in 1835 and a circuit was formed in 1837. Their London Street chapel, built as a Mechanics' Institute in 1843, was taken over in 1866, and they opened chapels in Cumberland Road (1871) and West Reading (1906). Wartime conditions hastened the union of the Queen's Road and London Street congregations in 1940.
John Wesley's Journal:
8 March1739: 'In the evening [I] came to Reading, where I found a young man John Cennick who had in some measure "known the power of the world to come". I spent the evening with him and a few of his serios friends and it pleased God much to strengthen and comfort them.'
1 November 1739: 'I set out [from Bristol] and the next evening came to Reading where a little company of us met in the evening; at which the zealous mob was so enraged that they were ready to tear the house down. Therefore I hope God has a work to do in this place. In Thy time let it be fulfilled!'
3 March 1740: '… I had left 2 or 3 full of peace and love. But I now found some from London had been here, grievously troubling these souls also; labouring to persuade them (1) that they had no faith at all, because they sometimes felt doubt or fear, and (2) that they ought to be still; not to search the Scriptures, "Because," said they, "you cannot do any of these things without trusting in them." After confirming their souls we left Reading…'
November 1747: 'Mr. J. Richards had just sent his brother ["S. Richards, an eminent draper and alderman of the borough"] that he had hired a mob to pull down his preaching house that night. In the evening Mr. Richards overtook a large company of bargemen walking towards it… They [threw away their clubs and] walked quietly with him to the house where he set them in a pew. In the conclusion of my sermon one of them who used to be their captain…rose up and looking round the congregation, said, "The gentleman says nothing but what is good, I say, and there is not a man here that should dare to say otherwise." '
20 June 1748: 'I preached at Reading to a serious, well-behaved congregation.'
10 March 1777: 'How many years were we beating the air at this town! Stretching out our hands to a people as stubborn as oxen! But it is not so at present. That generation is passed away and their children are of a more excellent spirit.'
Salisbury Diocese Visitation Returns, 1783:
St. Giles parish: 'The Disenters are principally Quakers… There is also a meeting-house, in which the Revd. Mr. John Wesley's Society assemble together, and their Peacher's name is Mark Scot, but they are a very orderly people, generally attend their own Parish Churches, & take care that their own private meetings shall not interfere with the Public Service of the Church.'
St. Mary's parish: 'A Methodist meeting-house. 16 families reported belonging to it. These families consist chiefly of Trades Peope, or People retired from Trade. Preacher: Edward Parsons. The Number of Anabaptists and Methodists has increased of late years… The latter Sect, I apprehend, gains ground. They both probably in some degree owe ther Success to the love of Novelty and the itching Ear, with which the common People are as much infected nw as formerly.'