West Midland Counties (Glos, Herefords, Shropshire, Staffs, Warwicks, Worcs.)

These counties to the east of the Welsh border were still predominantly rural, especially in the south, with the largest and most rapidly growing population in Staffs to the north-east. The *Black Country, especially around Wednesbury, was the scene of some of the earliest Methodist activity and anti-Methodist violence. Later in the eighteenth century, Birmingham, the Black Country and the Potteries were affected by industrialization. (John Wesley visited Matthew Boulton's Soho factory and saw the world's first cast-iron bridge being erected over the Severn Gorge.) The extensive Staffordshire Circuit was in existence from 1749 and was gradually sub-divided until by 1851 the Birmingham and Shrewsbury WM District consisted of 22 circuits with 614 chapels.

PM was the only other branch of Methodism with a significant presence, predominantly in the rural areas. Its stronghold was in Herefordshire and Shropshire, where WM was most thinly scattered. (It was theShrewsbury PM Circuit which established the Brinkworth Mission from which much of PM in southern England stemmed.) It was weakest in Warwickshire. Even in Staffordshire, close to its origins, it had fewer chapels with only half the WM sittings at the time of the 1851Religious Census, though it recorded two thirds of the WM attendances. Originally part of the Tunstall PM District, a separate West Midlands District, with 26 circuits, was not formed until 1873.

In 1851 theReligious Census recorded 1,112 Methodist places of worship in this Division (including WM: 614; PM:446). By 1989 there were only 745 churches, half of them in the industrialized West Midlands and Staffs, the main centres of population. Total attendances reported in 1851 were 261,670 (12.3% of the population), with the PM figures rivalling the WM only in the afternoon. The evening services (usually the best attended, especially in WM) drew 116,110 worshippers (5.4% of the population). In 1989 adult worshippers totalled 48,600 (1.05%) and membership stood at 50,300 (1.1% of the population).

  • A.C. Pratt, Black Country Methodism (1891)
  • W.C. Sheldon, Early Methodism in Birmingham (Birmingham, 1903)
  • A Brief Sketch of the Rise of Methodism in the County and City of Hereford (Hereford, 1929)
  • Geoffrey Robson, Dark Satanic Mills? Religion and irreligion in Birmingham and the Black Country (Carlisle, 2002)
  • Pauline M. Ashbridge, Village Chapels: some aspects of rural Methodism in the East Cotswolds and South Midlands, 1800-2000 (Hook Norton, 2004)