Wakefield, Yorks

Wakefield was a medieval market town and nineteenth century county town in the former West Riding. Served by the navigable Calder and a railway network, it became an industrial centre, with coal-mining, engineering and textiles. The hymn-writer William Walsham How was the first bishop of the new diocese created in 1888.

The first of John Wesley's many visits, on 25 November 1744, was at the invitation of Arthur Bate, who the previous February had accompanied Charles Wesley from Adwalton to Armley. Francis Scott, a joiner and cabinet maker, was a local preacher who travelled widely. He fitted up a building in his yard, complete with gallery and pulpit, as a preaching place. But on his second visit, in August 1748, John Wesley had to preach in the High Street because strong opposition from both the vicar and the mob caused the landlord to forbid him from using the yard, for fear of damage to the property. In April 1774 Wesley opened a chapel in Thornhill Street, closed in 1801 and sold to the Quakers, who rebuilt it c.1962. It was superseded by West Parade (later extended, but now demolished) was, unusual for Methodism, part of a developmnt of terrace houses in a square and had one of the earliest organs in WM. Later chapels included Westgate End (1827), no longer in Methodist use. Wakefield was in the Leeds Circuit until 1787, when it became a separate circuit with 22 preaching places, including Barnsley and Pontefract.

There is some evidence of WMA presence in the town. The WM circuit suffered severely with the WR agitation resulting in the formation of a circuit in 1855, which became UMFC. Among those expelled from WM was George William Harrison, a coal merchant and Wakefield's first mayor in 1848. Market Street UMFC chapel opened in 1858 (closed in 1935, becoming the Post Office) and Brunswick in 1875 (also closed). Work that began at Thornes Wharf on a leaking old boat called 'Bethel' led to the opening of Bethel, initially as a Sunday School, in 1856. The MNC only became established in the town with the opening of Grove Road chapel (by William Hill) in 1866 (now apartments).

PM entered the town from the East Midlands, initially via Sheffield; then it was missioned by Barnsley in 1821 and became a circuit in 1822. A chapel was built in Quebec Street in 1823, but difficulties led to its being replaced by Ebenezer, Market Street, in 1838 (now used as a theatre). The earlier chapel was used by Baptists, teetotalers, Jews and others until it fell into disuse and was demolished. Wakefield was ultimately divided into three circuits. Doncaster Road, in Wakefield III Circuit, is thought to have been an early centre for the Independent Labour Party. There is also evidence of Independent Methodist activity in the area in the 1830s.

Between the World Wars the Wesleyans opened Wesley Hall (1928) with its outside pulpit. PM built Dewsbury Road in 1929. Both mainly served the Lupset council estate. Their amalgamation with Westgate End led to the building of West Wakefield on the Wesley Hall site in 2003. The closure of Brunswick UMFC and Eastmoor WM (1870) led to the building of Trinity, Norton Road, in 1984.


John Wesley's Journal:

August 1748: 'At the earnest desire of the little society, I went to Wakefield. I knew the madness of the people there; but I knew also they were in God's hand. At eight I would have preached in Francis Scott's yard; but the landlord would not suffer it, saying the mob would do more hurt to his houses than ever we should do him good; so I went, perforce, into the main street, and proclaimed pardon for sinners. None interrupted, or made the least disturbance, from the beginning to the end.'

May 1751: 'I rode to Wakefield; but we had no place except the street which could contain the congregation, and the noise and tumult there were so great that I knew not whether I could preach at all. But I spake a few words, and the waves were still. Many appeared deeply attentive. I believe God has taken hold of some of their hearts, and that they will not easily break loose from Him.'

April 1752: [Sunday] 'I came to Wakefield as the bells were ringing in, and went directly to Mr. W[ilson] in the vestry. The behaviour of the congregation surprised me. I saw none light, none careless or unaffected, while I enforced "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Hath not God the hearts of all men in His hand? Who would have expected to see me preaching in Wakefield Church to so attentive a congregation a few years ago, when all the people were as roaring lions, and the honest man did not dare to let me preach in his yard lest the mob should pull down his houses?'

May 1757: 'I preached about one at Wakefield, in a small meadow near the town. When I began the sun shone exceeding hot, but in a few minutes it was covered with clouds. The congregation was more quiet and serious than ever I saw there before. Almost as soon as I had done speaking the sun broke out again.'

July 1764: 'About one I preached in a meadow at Wakefield… We had not only a larger but a far more attentive congregation than ever was seen here before. One, indeed, a kind of gentleman, was walking away with great unconcern, when I spoke aloud, "Does Gallio care for none of these things? But where will you go, with the wrath of God on your head, and the curse of God on your back?" He stopped short, stood still, and went no farther till the sermon was ended.'

April 1774: 'I … opened the new house at Wakefield. What a change is here since our friend was afraid to let me preach in his house, lest the mob should pull it down! So I preached in the main street; and then was sown the first seed which has since borne so plenteous a harvest.'

April 1780: In the evening I preached to a very genteel congregation at Wakefield.'

May 1782: 'I preached at Wakefield in the evening. Such attention sat on every face that it seemed as if every one in the congregation was on the brink of believing.'

July 1784: 'I recommended to the congregation here (and afterwards many other places) the example of the people in Holland (at least, wherever I have been) who never talk in a place of public worship, either before or after the service. They took my advice. None curtsied or bowed or spoke to any one, but went out in as decent a manner, and in as deep silence, as any I saw at Rotterdam or Utrecht.'

May 1788: 'I believe the congregation at Wakefield in the evening was larger even than [the one at Huddersfield]; and the verdure of the trees, the smoothness of the meadow, the calmness of the evening, and the stillness of the whole congregation made it a delightful sight.' John Gaulter to Jabez Bunting, 1805:

'Wakefield is in a condition much to be deplored. One preacher near death, another mad, the congregation gone, the society diminished!! Oh how art thou fallen! That was the most agreeable situation and society when I was there [1800-1802] that I ever had or shall have to deal with.'

  • WM Conference Handbook, 1914
  • Ebenezer Methodist Church, Market Street, Wakefield, 1838-1938: centenary souvenir handbook (1938)
  • Wakefield Circuit accounts, in WHS Proceedings, 23 (1939-40) pp.59-64, 77-80, 108-11
  • J. Matthews, Amos: Rev. Amos R. Matthews, Victorian Methodist Traveller (Haley Swan, 1992)

Entry written by: DCD
Category: Place
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