The first society was formed in 1744 by a 'poor woman' who made her living mending stockings. John Wesley did not visit it until 1761, when he preached in a cottage at 1 Fish Street belonging to a tinner called Perks and next morning to a larger congregation in the inn yard. His frequent visits from then on were because of John Fletcher's ministry at Madeley. He also preached in the private chapel at Berwick. The society at Shearman's Hall (from 1761) owed much to John Appleton, a currier converted among the Methodists at Bristol, who preached four times a week and built the first chapel in Hill's Lane (1781). He was followed by Thomas Brocas, a gardener turned Staffordshire pottery seller who moved to Shrewsbury from Market Drayton and became a very acceptable local preacher. John Wesley described him as the 'father of Methodism in Shrewsbury'. The Shrewsbury Circuit was formed (from Wolverhampton) in 1792. Membership grew from 302 in 1793 to 850 in 1802. Brocas encouraged the building of a chapel at St John's Hill in 1805 (rebuilt 1879). After a period of decline, WM experienced a revival in 1860.
PM arrived in 1822 via the Oakengates Branch of the Tunstall Circuit, with Sarah Spittle and James Bonsor (who was imprisoned for a day after preaching on the Mardol). Shrewsbury became the head of a separate circuit in 1824; they built a chapel at Castle Court (1826), missioned Bishops Castle and, further afield, Brinkworth (Wilts) and Belfast, the last causing major financial problems. On the last of several visits, in May 1844, Hugh Bourne preached to about 2,000 at a camp meeting and then held a prayer meeting in the Town Hall. Preachers sent out from the circuit included Elizabeth Johnson, Richard Davies (Book Steward 1859-65) and Philip Pugh. In 1926 the PM chapel was used for prayer meetings by striking railwaymen.
The defection of a son of Thomas Brocas led in 1834 to the opening of the first MNC chapel, an Italianate building on Town Walls, now part of the Girls High School. The UMFC built a chapel in Albert Street in 1857.
See also Loxdale family.
John Wesley's Journal:
March 1761: 'Being pressed to visit Shrewsbury … I rode over … upon a miserable beast… I found the door of the place where I was to preach surrounded by a numerous mob. But they seemed met only to stare. Yet part of them came in; almost all that did (a large number) behaved quietly and seriously.'
March 1762: 'A large company quickly gathered together. Many of them were wild enough, but the far greater part were calm and attentive, and came again at five in the morning.'
July 1764: 'I preached at Shrewsbury to a large congregation, among whom were several men of fortune. I trust, though hitherto we seem to have been ploughing on the sand, there will at last be some fruit.'
March 1769: 'I … preached to a large and quiet congregation. As we returned the rabble were noisy enough; but they used only their tongues, so all was well.'
March 1771: 'The mob were quieter than usual.'
July 1771: 'I went to Shrewsbury, where Mr. Fletcher met me.'
August 1772: 'I preached at Salop, and spake strong words, to the amazement of many notional believers.'
March 1781: 'I went a little out of my way in order to open the new preaching-house at Shrewsbury. I did not so much wonder at the largeness as at the seriousness of the congregation. So still and deeply attentive a congregation I did not expect to see here. How apt are we to forget that important truth that "all things are possible with God"!'
April 1781: 'Seeing the earnestness of the people, I agreed to stay another day.'
May 1781: 'There has been no tumult since the new house was built.'
March 1788: 'The room was so crowded in the evening as I never saw it before; perhaps the more by reason of the two wretches who were executed in the afternoon. It was given me to speak strong words, such as made the stouthearted tremble. Surely there is now … a day of salvation to this town also.'
March 1789: 'Several of the gentry and several clergymen were there; and, I belive, not in vain. I … was persuded to stay another day, there being now a fairer prospect in Salop than had been before.'
March 1790: 'I preached to a crowded audience … But I was much ashamed for them. The moment I had done speaking, I suppose fifty of them were talking all at once; and no wonder they had neither sense nor good manners - for they were gentlefolks!'