Originally called the Wesleyan Association,this was one of the smaller branches of Methodism which later became part of the United Methodist Free Churches. It resulted from the Warrenite controversy of 1834-35 over the establishment of a 'theological institution'. In 1833 the WM Conference appointed a committee, of which Jabez Bunting was a member, to make proposals for the education of candidates for the ministry. This committee not only formulated a scheme, but nominated Bunting as 'President of the Theological Institution'. Bunting already held several offices and had twice been President of the Conference and many felt that too much authority was being concentrated in one man's hands. Dr Samuel Warren, Superintendent of the Manchester First Circuit, led the opposition and published his Remarks on the Wesleyan Theological Institution. For this he was suspended from his superintendency.
The 1834 Conference's approval of the scheme aroused opposition in the circuits, especially in the north. Lancashire laymen unsuccessfully sponsored Warren in two Chancery suits and on 7 November 1834 launched the 'Grand Central Association'. Eventually delegates of the dissidents met and called their first Annual Assembly in Manchester in 1836, having been joined the previous year by the Protestant Methodists. The outlines of a constitution were worked out, including the principles of free representation in the Assembly and the independence of the circuits, embodied in the Foundation Deed of 1840. Its chief architect was Robert Eckett. The following year they reported 21,000 members. The 1851 Religious Census showed them as being strongest in areas of Wesleyan strength and absent where it was weak. By the time they joined with the Wesleyan Reformers in 1857 to form the UMFC, the membership had dropped to around 20,000.