As in other cathedral cities, Methodism found itself squeezed between the Church and Dissent. The first society was not formed until 1763 and remained small, meeting at first in a summer house. Its members worshipped at St. Maurice's, High Street, where the rector, the Rev. Richard Wavell, was friendly to Methodism. Its leader was a local tradesman, Jasper Winscom, a difficult character.
John Wesley paid the first of 18 visits in October 1766. The society suffered at the hands of the mob, but was supported by Methodist soldiers quartered in the city and encouraged by a visit from Captain Thomas Webb and R.C. Brackenbury in 1783. The first preaching house on Silver Hill was opened by Wesley in November 1785, but they returned to their former premises in 1796, following a dispute with Winscom, and moved to a new chapel at the junction of Parchment Street and St George's Street in 1816 (succeeded by the St. Peter Street church in 1865). Winchester was briefly the head of a separate circuit 1816-1818, but then reverted to Southampton Circuit until 1862.
Local support for the WMA led to division in 1835, with a number of members and some of the more able local preachers setting up a separate society in Hyde Close and building a chapel in Upper Brook Street (c.1839). From there they moved to the east side of Parchment Street in 1874. The village chapels north and west of the city were all taken over by the WMA.
The Religious Census of 1851 recorded seating for 250 at Parchment Street WM, with attendances of 104 plus 33 scholars in the morning and 134 in the evening, The WMA chapel in Upper Brook Street had seating for 130, with attendances of 50 in the morning and 65 in the evening.
PM reached the city from its southern base in Micheldever. An attempt in 1837 to mission the town met with violent opposition and was abandoned despite support from the authorities. A firmer start was made in 1852, when PM preachers held meetings in the Corn Exchange. A former Independent chapel in Parchment Street was taken in 1853. It was rebuilt in 1903 and amalgamated with St Peter Street in 1973 which, since 1974 has been part of a united Methodist/URC congregation.
John Wesley's Journal:
November 1785: 'Having promised our friends at Winchester to come and open their preaching-house when it was ready, I … preached there in the evening to a numerous congregation. But I have not seen a people less affected; they seemed to be mere stocks and stones…'
September 1790: 'About noon I preached at Winton. The congregation was larger than usual, and, what was stranger still, seemed not a little affected! How long have we cast our bread upon the waters here! And shall we find it again after many days?'
'On Thursday evening the Rev. Mr. John Wesley preached before a numerous congregation, that attended the opening of a very neat chapel, lately erected in this city for the use of his Society. His discourse was from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chap. 1 ver. 23 &24. The simple yet persuasive style of his arguments excited great attention, and appeared strongly to impress the minds of most present with the sublimity and excellence of the true Christian religion.'
Hampshire Chronicle, 14 November 1785