Methodism may have begun in this seafaring village as early as 1747, but John Wesley's first visit was not until May 1753, seven years before he went to Whitby. He preached twice near the quay and found them 'all attention', perhaps because of his hostility to the prevalent smuggling. On his ten later visits he sometimes preached in the Square. Once, told that the mob would pull down the house where he was staying, he went up the hill to sleep at Normanby. A preaching house was built by 1764 and in 1779 Wesley opened a new chapel (enlarged 1841). Another chapel at Fylingthorpe, one mile away (1818, replaced by a larger one in 1891), was built on land given by Francis Newton, brother of Dr Robert Newton.
By 1825 there was also a PM chapel at the Bay, though that did not last. In the 1851 Religious Census the total WM attendances at the two services was 480, plus 90 in the afternoon at Fylingthorpe. A WM day school (by 1861; closed 1923) proved popular. But the opening of a Congregational chapel (1840) and the movement of the parish church closer to the village in 1870 provided more competition. Population in the village declined, though Fylingthorpe expanded as a retreat for the wealthy. Faced by the threat of cliff erosion, Methodism bought the Manor House overlooking the village and in 1937 transformed it into a new church with seating for 200 and ample parking. Part is now let as flats. The older chapel in Bay Town was restored and is used as a crafts centre and concert hall.
John Wesley's Journal:
May 1753: 'I stood on a little rising, near the quay, in a warm, still evening, and exhorted a multitude of people from all parts to "seek the Lord while He may be found." They were all attention, and most of them met me again at half an hour after four in the morning. I could gladly have spent some days here…'
July 1757: 'I found my way to Robin Hood's Bay, and preached on the quay to the greatest part of the town. All (except one or two who were very wise in their own eyes) seemed to receive the truth in love.'
July 1759: '… I was quite exhausted. However, I went to the quay, where a large congregation was waiting; and all behaved well, but an honest tar, who was much disturbed by my saying, "No man is delivered from the fear of death but he that fears God." '
June 1781: '… I preached at six in the Lower Street, near the quay. In the midst of the sermon a large cat, frightened out of a chamber, leaped down upon a woman's head, and ran over the heads or shoulders of many more; but none of them moved or cried out, any more than if it had been a butterfly.'
April 1764: ' I then rode to Robin Hood's Bay, and about two preached in the little square. A poor madman, literally such, came up to me just as I began and sat down quietly till I had done.'
June 1772: 'About noon, I preached in the little square at Robin Hood's Bay, to most of the inhabitants of the town.'
June 1779: 'I preached in the new preaching-house at Robin Hood's Bay…'
June 1784: 'About one I preached to another congregation of plain people at Robin Hood's Bay. Here was the first society in all these parts, several years before there was any in Whitby. But their continued jars with each other prevented their increase either in grace or number. At present they seem to be all at peace; so I hope we shall now have joy over them.'