Scarborough, a medieval port that later became a spa and holiday resort, saw the first of many visits by John Wesley in 1759. Thomas Brown, a Sunderland local preacher, came to Scarborough in 1756 and finding Methodism was unknown there started holding prayer meetings and occasional preaching in a room in Whitehead's Yard. George Cusson (or Cousins), founder of the Naval and Military Bible Society and later a member at Hinde Street, London, joined the society in 1760 and played a leading role in its early development. Wesley preached in the shell of the first chapel in 1772. Centenary Chapel, Queen Street was opened in September 1840, damaged by fire c.1914 and then destroyed by a German shell in World War I. It was replaced on the same site by a Central Hall in 1922. W.E. Sangster was its minister from 1932 to 1936.
By the late 1850s the Queen Street church was already becoming overcrowded as the town continued to expand. A site for a second chapel was provided by Henry Fowler, a local Wesleyan ship-owner, and Westborough chapel was opened in April 1862 in the expanding area west of the town. The local architect, Baldwin Steward, also designed Jubilee PM chapel. A Sunday School building was added in 1896. Major restoration and modernisation took place in the 1990s, including the insertion of an extra floor and improved access.
In 1972 Miss Ida C. Slarke, a Liberal Councillor, became the first Lady Mayor of the town and her civic service was held at Westborough Chapel, the first occasion of this taking place other than in a parish church.
Another WM chapel was opened in 1847 in George Street, serving a largely working-class area.
Primitive Methodism had two Scarborough circuits, with Jubilee and St. Sepulchre Street chapels as their circuit churches. The first PM society was formed in 1821 following William Clowes' preaching there. A chapel was built the same year. Expansion came with the opening of Jubilee chapel (1861) and St Sepulchre Street chapel (1866), and there was a revival in 1878 under the ministry of Parkinson Milson. After Methodist Union the two curcuits became one. Jubilee closed in 1966. Scarborough seems to have replaced York as one of the PM Conference towns; it hosted the Conferences of 1877, 1887, 1905 and 1925. The Methodist Conference met there for the first time in 1998.
The UMFC Castle Road church closed c.1932 and was for a time in secular use, but then became the Christian Fellowship Church.
A group calling themselves Independent Primitive Methodists, led by Matthew Baxter, seceded in 1831, but had joined the WMA by 1836.
John Wesley's Journal:
10 July 1759: I began to preach near the main street at seven. The congregation was large, and some of them wild enough; but in a short time all were quiet and still, nor did I hear one unkind word when I had done.'
25 June 1761: 'I had designed to preach abroads in the evening; but the thunder, lightning and rain prevented. However, I stood on a balcony, and several hundreds of people stood below; and, notwithstanding the heavy rain, would not stir till I concluded.'
18 April 1764: 'When I came to Scarborough, though the wind was very high, and very sharp, the multitude of people constrained me to preach abroad; and all, but a few noisy children, behaved remarkably well.' 19 April: 'The room was filled at five, and the congregation this evening was larger than the last. How is the face of things changed here within a year or two! The society increased fourfold: most of them alive to God, and many filled with love; and all of them enjoy great quietness, instead of noise and tumult, since God put it into the heart of an honest Magistrate to still the madness of the people.'
21 June 1772: 'I preached … in the evening at Scarborough, in the shell of the new house.'
4 July 1774: 'At six I preached in the new house at Scarborough. It is plain, and yet is one of the neatest and most elegant preaching-houses in England. Now let the people walk worthy of their calling, and there will be a good work in this place.'
24 June 1776: 'I think the preaching-house here is the most elegant of any square room which we have in England; and we had as elegant a congregation. But they were as attentive as if they had been Kingswood colliers.'
20 June 1784: 'The new vicar showed plainly why he refused those who desired the liberty for me to preach in his church. A keener sermon I never heard. So all I have done to persuade the people to attend the church is overturned at once! And all who preach thus will drive the Methodists from the church, in spite of all I can do.'
16 June 1788: 'From the plain people at Whitby I went on to the elegant congregation at Scarborough. I was surprised at their flocking together in such numbers - many more than the house could contain; and I strongly enforced, "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." ' 17 June: 'I urged on a very genteel congregation, "One thing is needful"; and surely the power of the Lord was present to heal them, in a manner I have not often found; and again in the evening, while I enforced, "He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him." '
22 June 1790: 'The congregation in the evening was unusually small, being not yet recovered from the blessed fruits of the election.'