John Cennick and Howell Harris visited the town in June 1741, but met with a hostile reception said to have been encouraged by the Lord of the Manor, Pleydell Goddard. Methodism was eventually established there in 1814 by the Bristolian George Pocock and the Tent Methodists. He preached in the Market Square and was entertained by one of his hearers, William Noad, parish clerk and well known businessman, who had registered his kitchen for worship in November 1813. A small chapel, holding 120, was begun in 1814 at the back of the Square and registered in July 1816. In 1824 it was rescued from debt by the generosity of Thomas Bush of Lambourne.
In 1837 the Great Western Railway chose Swindon as its base. The population exploded and the prosperity of the Methodist cause rendered the chapel too small. It was replaced by the 'Octagon Chapel' on the same site in 1862 and then by Bath Road church in 1880, opened by W. Morley Punshon. Work in the New Town began in 1842-43 during the ministry of Zephaniah Job (d. 1856; e.m. 1836), pioneered by John McGregor of Dundee and William Ridley.
The first chapel in New Town was built in 1848, replaced in 1858 and again in 1869 by a large building in Faringdon Road. This had been erected in 1843 as a hostel for GWR workers, was converted in 1869 and became Wesley Chapel. On its closure in 1959 it became the Railway Museum. Other chapels proliferated in the town. The Central Hall, Clarence Street, opened in 1907, grew out of a WM mission in Princes Street. It was not added to the official list of Central Missions until 1965, remaining part of the circuit even then. A new hall was added in 1957 and it became part of the ecumenical Central Church in the 1970s.
The Swindon Circuit was formed from Hungerford in 1814. Between 1892 and 1911 there were two WM circuits, based on the Bath Road and Wesley churches.
Primitive Methodism was introduced in the late 1820s by preachers from the Brinkworth Circuit. Following a visit by Hugh Bourne in 1840, a chapel was opened in Regent Street in 1849 (closed 1956). PM was particularly active in the last 20 years of the nineteenth century, when five new chapels were built. The Swindon PM Circuit, formed in 1877, divided into Prospect and Regent Street Circuits in 1890. After Methodist Union, the three circuits (Bath Road, Prospect Place and Regent Street) eventually became a single circuit in 1959. In 1969 the Circuit church in Bath Road (1880) joined with Christ Church (Anglican) and Immanuel (Congregational, now URC) Church to form the Old Town Ecumenical Parish. Although there have been recent closures, mainly in the inner areas, the ecumenical movement continues to grow throughout the borough.
'We found a large company assembled in the Grove with whom I sung and prayed, but was hindered from preaching by a great mob who made a noise and played in the midst of the people, and then with guns fired over our heads holding the muzzles so near our faces that we were both black as Tinkers with the powder. We were not afraid, but opened our breasts and said we were ready to lay down our lives for our doctrine and had nothing against it if their guns were levelled at our hearts. They then got the dust out of the highway and covered us all over and then played an engine on us which they filled out of the stinking ditches till we were just like men in the pillory. But as they played upon Br Harris I spoke to the congregation and when they turned their engine on me he preached.'
John Cennick's Journal, edited by J. Cooper, quoted in Peter Gentry and Paul Taylor, Bold as a Lion: John Cennick, Moravian Evangelist (2007), pp.43-4
Entry written by: BJC
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