Whitby, Yorks.

By 1750 Methodists were meeting in Cappleman's Yard of Church Street. The arrival of a stonemason William Ripley, who was also a local preacher, brought growth. John Wesley made his first visit in 1761, preaching on the Abbey Plain and in 1762 anoctagonal preaching house was built by Ripley on Henrietta Street, with a larger 7-storey building called Ebenezer added alongside it in 1769. Between 1761 and 1769 the 40 members had become 220, described by John Wesley as the 'most affectionate in England'. He continued to visit every other year, preaching in the octagon, in Baxtergate and in the market place. In 1783 Whitby became a separate circuit. Ripley died in 1786. His daughter Dorothy Ripley, who became a Quaker, was also a preacher who frequently crossed the Atlantic to campaign against slavery.

In 1787 the octagon chapel collapsed into the sea and a new chapel (later known as 'Wesley') on Church Street was opened by Wesley himself in 1788 (closed 1938 because of subsidence). In 1814 Brunswick Chapel was built on the west side of the river. Seating 900, it came to house the larger society.In 1823 a WM day school was built alongside, where the Sunday Schools also flourished. In 1890-91 an enlarged Brunswick, to accommodate summer visitors, was built on the site, together with the adjoining Brunswick Room, with its Dantzig oak panelling and Powell mosaics, financed by a local benefactor and solicitor R.E. Pannett (1834-1920) who was determined that the children should have the best.

William Clowes preached at the Town Hall in 1821 so effectively that the PM work 'broke forth like a torrent on the hillside', especially among the fishing community. Chapels were built on Church Street (1841; replaced 1911, closed 1968) and on the Fishburn Park estate (1867). The WM and PM circuits merged in 1944. Brunswick was sold in 1997 and the Whitby Methodists now meet in shared premises (as perhaps at the beginning).

A branch of the NCH was located at Larpool Hall from 1919 to 1966 and in 1955 Moorlands, a Methodist Guild Holiday hotel, opened on the West Cliff.


John Wesley's Journal:

June 1761: 'In the evening I preached on the top of the hill, to which you ascend by a hundred, ninety and one steps. The congregation was exceeding large, and ninety-nine in a hundred were attentive. [Next day] 'I walked round the old Abbey, which both with regard to size (being, I judge, a hundred yards long), and the workmanship of it, is one of the finest, if not the finest, ruin in the kingdom.'

April 1764: [Good Friday] 'At six I preached in the new house at Whitby, ill containing the congregation. Here God does still make bare His arm, and sinners are continually converted to Him.'

[Easter Day} ' I preached in the room at five and at eight. There were such a number of communicants at church as, it was supposed, had not been there these fifty years. In the evening I preached under rhe cliff, for the sake of those who were not able to get up the hill. The skirts of the congregation could not hear, though my voice was clear and loud. But the bulk of them seemed both to hear and understand. How ripe for the gospel is this place!

[Next morning] 'After preaching at five, I met the select society, who seem all to have tasted of the same blessing.'

July 1766: 'I preached at seven in the room; at one in the main street on the other side of the water. A vast multitude quickly ran together, and were deeply attentive. At five I preached in the new market-place to a still larger congregation. A great number of them attended at five in the morning, and we had a solemn parting.'

June 1770: 'Having preached thrice a day for five days, I was willing to preach in the house; but notice had been given of my preaching in the market-place; so I began at six, to a large congregation, most of them deeply attentive.

[Next day] I found our preacher, James Brownfield, had just set up for himself. The reasons he gave for leaving the Methodists were (1) that they went to church; (2) that they held Perfection. I earnestly desired our society to leave him to God, and say nothing about him, good or bad…

[Sunday:] I met the select society, consisting of sixty-five members. I believe all of these were saved from sin; most of them are still in glorious liberty. Many of them spake with admirable simplicity; and their words were like fire. Immediately the flames kindled, and spread from heart to heart. At eight I preached; at nine met the children, most of whom had known the love of God; and several of them were able to rejoice in God their Saviour Almost as soon as I began to speak, God spoke to their hearts, and they were ill able to contain themselves.

'We had a poor sermon at church…

'Between one and two I met the bands, being near two-thirds of the society. Their openness was quite surprising, as well as the spirit with which they spoke…

'At five I preached in the market-place again, to a far larger congregation than before. Our lovefeast took up the next two hours, at which many were filled with solemn joy. Afterwards I met a few of the children again, all of whom had tasted that the Lord is gracious.'

June 1772: 'Here I fouind a lively society indeed. The chief reason of their liveliness was this: those who were renewed in love (about forty in number), continuing fervent in spirit, and zealous for God, quickened the rest, and were a blessing to all around them.

[Nerxt day] 'It being a fair, mild evening, I preached on the smooth, green top of the hill, a little above the church. As soon as I began to preach some poor men began ringing the bells; but it was lost labour, for all the people could hear, to the very skirts of the congregation.'

July 1774: 'We had a solemn hour at five [a.m.] with the society only; and another at eight, while I enforced those words on a numerous congregation, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" … At five I preached in the market-place on "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels," &c., "and have not charity, I am nothing." I spoke exceeding plain, and the people were attentive; yet few of them, I doubt, understood what was spoken. The society, however, are well established, and adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.'

June 1779: 'I went on to our loving, earnest brethren at Whitby… [Next day] 'I preached at eight in the room, and at five in the market-place to a huge congregation. They were deeply attentive, but no more affected than the stones they stood upon.'

June 1784: 'The morning congregation filled the house. Indeed the society here may be a pattern to all in England. They despise all ornaments but good works, together with a meek and quiet spirit. I did not see a ruffle, no, nor a fashionable cap, among them; though many of them are in easy circumstances. I preached at the market-place in the evening, where were at least thrice as many as the house could contain. [Next day] 'I met such a select society as I have not seen since I left London. They were about forty, of whom I did not find one who had not a clear witness of being saved from inbred sin. Several of them had lost it for a season, but could never rest till they had recovered it. And every one of them seemed now to walk in the full light of God's countenance.'

June 1786: '… it has pleased God fully to make up the removal of William Ripley, who was for many years a burning and a shining light. In the evening the house was well filled with people, and with the power of God; and, after preaching four times, I was no more tired than when I rose in the morning.'

June 1788: 'In the evening I preached at Whitby, in the new house, thoroughly filled above and below; though it contains twice as many as the old one; and although the unfinished galleries, having as yet no fronts, were frightful to look upon. It is the most curious house we have in England. You go up to it by about forty steps; and have then before you a lofty front, I judge, near fifty feet high, and fifty-four feet broad. So much gainers have we been by the loss of the former house. Besides that it stood at one end of the town, and in the very sink of it, where people of any fashion were ashamed to be seen.

[Next day] 'At five in the morning we had a large congregation; but it was more than doubled in the evening; and at both times I could not but observe the uncommon earnestness of the people.

[Sunday] 'The house was well filled at seven. For the sake of the counry people, who flocked from all sides, I preached again at half an hour past one on "The end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." After preaching at five, on the education of children, I made a collection for Kingswood School; the rather that I might have an opportunity of refuting that poor, threadbare slander of my "getting so much money". We concluded our service with a comfortable lovefeast.'

June 1790: 'It is very providential that part of the adjoining mountain fell down and demolished our old preaching-house with many houses besides; by which means we have one of the most beautiful chapels in Great Britain, finely situated on the steep side of the mountain. At six it was pretty well filled with such a congregation of plain, earnest people as is not often seen. I conversed with many of them the next day, who were much alive to God.

[Sunday] 'The house contained us at seven tolerably well. The church likewise was well filled. But in the evening we were much straitened for room; but as many as could hear stood on the pavement without. In all England I have not seen a more affectionate people than those at Whitby.'

  • E.W. Dickinson, John Wesley's Visits to Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay (Whitby, 1925)
  • Wesley F. Swift, 'Wesley Chapel, Whitby', in WHS Proceedings, 21 pp.168-73
  • Samuel Davis, Whitby's Brunswick Room (Whitby, 1962)
  • John Marsland, Whitby Methodist Circuit Bicentenary 1783-1983 (Lincoln, 1983)
  • Noreen Vickers, Brunswick Methodist Church, Whitby, Centenary Year 1991/2 (Burton-on-Trent, 1992)
  • Christopher Metcalfe, 'The Long Courtship: Methodist Union in the Whitby Area', in WHS Proceedings, 57:4 (February 2010) pp. 133-43