Rochdale, Lancs

Rochdale played a signiicant role in the early development of the Co-operative Movement with the the formation of the 'Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers' in 1844.

Methodism there dates from 1747 and became established quickly, despite the hostility recorded by John Wesley on his first visit in October 1749. A chapel was built in Toad Lane in 1770 and the size of its 5 a.m. congregation greatly impressed Wesley in 1787. The first resident minister was appointed in 1791; Union Street chapel was opened in 1793, complete with burial ground and manse, and in 1795 Rochdale became head of a circuit. Its 380 town members were 2.6% of the population. Its Sunday School, opened in 1782, was one of the earliest.

Baillie Street WMA   Click to enlarge
Baillie Street WMA   Click to enlarge
In the 1830s, along with Liverpool and Manchester, Rochdale was a storm-centre of the anti-Conference agitation which led to the formation of the WMA in 1834. WMA's principal chapel, Baillie Street, was opened in 1837. At the time of the Religious Census in 1851 WMA attendances exceeded WM ones. The WMA Annual Assembly and UMFC Conference met 11 times in the town before 1907, and the UM Conference met there in 1916 and 1927.

Prominent local Methodists included Sir James Duckworth and the asbestos manufacturer Robert Turner. Thomas Champness brought his infant Joyful News Mission there in 1886 and in 1889 bought Castleton Hall to train lay evangelists; in 1903 the institution moved to Calver and became Cliff College.

Meanwhile the Central Mission, based at the Dene Street WM chapel, was established in 1905, with preaching in the newly opened Empire Hall theatre. In 1909 the Union Street chapel was adapted to become part of the Mission, with a new crush hall, tip-up seats etc. The need for a new Central Hall was recognised in 1918 and Champness Hall opened in 1925. It was modernized in the 1960s to provide for community service, youth work and lay training.


John Wesley's Journal:

October 1749: 'I rode, at the desire of John Bennet, to Rochdale in Lancashire. As soon as ever we entered the town, we found the streets lined on both sides with multitudes of people, shouting, cursing, blaspheming, and gnashing upon us with their teeth. Perceiving it would not be practicable to preach abroad, I went into a large room, open to the street, and called aloud, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." The word of God prevailed over the fierceness of man. None opposed or interrupted; and there was a very remarkable change in the behaviour of the people as we afterwards went through the town.'

March 1770: 'I preached in the new preaching-house at Rochdale.'

April 1776: 'I went on to Rochdale, and preached in the evening to a numerous and deeply serious congregation.'

Aprilk 1779: 'Now was the day of visitation for this town. The people were all on fire. Never was such a flame kindled here before, kindled chiefly by the prayer-meetings scattered through the town.'

  • Conference Handbook, 1952
  • George Sails, At the Centre: the story of Methodism's Central Missions(1970), pp.87-8
  • David A. Gowland, Methodist Secesions: the origins of Free Methodism in three Lancashire towns - Manchester, Rochdale, Liverpool (Manchester, 1979)
  • Methodist Recorder, 1 February 2013