A small society was formed by Robert Sutty some years before John Wesley paid the first of his twenty visits, in July 1748. He preached in the open air and in the Guildhall (Town Hall), where the society seems to have met until the Walkergate Chapel was built in 1797 (with alterations in 1825 and in the 1870s). The society struggled to survive in the face of financial difficulties and its distance from other WM centres, until in 1863 membership was down to 34. A Berwick Circuit existed briefly from 1783 to 1789, and then more permanently from 1817.
Following preaching by William Clough in 1829 on the steps of the town hall, PM services were held in a hired room. The following year a chapel, schoolroom and manse were built and the first camp meeting was held at Spittal, which became an annual tradition. A number of village societies were established, notably at Eyemouth. The Berwick PM circuit, formed in 1831, extended from Edinburgh to Alnwick and from Ford to Holy Island and incorporated one or two local BC societies.
The two congregations remained separate until 1920, when the WM and PM societies entered into a voluntary amalgamation. Walkergate Chapel was sold to the PM trustees and continued as the united society's place of worship. The resulting Berwick PM Circuit, including village chapels, anticipated Methodist Union by twelve years. The period after 1932 was one of decline and struggle; but in response to a District challenge in the 1980s to 'grow or close', the arrival of new members to strengthen the leadership led to renewed growth.
John Wesley's Journal:
July 1748: 'I sent to the commander of the garrison to desire the use of a green place near his house, which he readily granted. I preached at seven to (it was judged) two thousand people. I found the generality of them just as I expected: serious and decent, but not easy to be convinced of anything. For who can tell them what they did not know before?... [Next day] 'After preaching we walked round the walls, which they were repairing and rebuilding. I could not but observe today how different the face of things was from what it appeared yesterday, especially after I had preached at noon. Yesterday we were hallooed all along the streets; today none opened his mouth as we went along - the very children were all silent. The grown people pulled off their hats on every side, so that we might even have fancied ourselves at Newcastle. Oh, well it is that honour is balanced with dishonour, and good report with evil report! 'At seven I preached to a far larger congregation than before. And now the word of God was as a fire and a hammer. I began again and again after I thought I had done; and the latter words were still stronger than the former; so that I was not surprised at the number which attended in the morning, when we had another joyful, solemn hour. Here was the loud call to the people of Berwick, if haply they would know the day of their visitation.'
August 1748: 'I preached … in the evening at Berwick. More of the gentry were there than evcer before; and I think but three went away. [Next day] 'The congregation was nearly doubled, and the word seemed to sink into their hearts. It was with great difficulty that I afterwards met the society; so many crowded after me (though without the least incivility), and knew not how to go away.'
September 1849: 'I preached at eight, and at four in the afternoon, and in the hours between spoke with members of the society. I met them all at seven, and a glorious meeting it was. I forgot all my pain while we were praising God together; but after they were gone, I yielded to my friends and determined to give myself a day's rest. So I spent Monday the 11th in writing; only I could not refrain from meeting the society in the evening.'
May 1752: 'After preaching [I] desired all who had been of the society to meet me. I spoke to seventeen, who were thoroughly willing to unite again; and (what was remarkable) all of them still retained a sense of the pardoning love of God, although they were convinced they had suffered great loss by a famine of the word. [Next day] 'At five the soldiers made a considerable part of the congregation. At noon they came again in troops.'
April 1753: 'I preached on the bowling-green at six. The wind was extremely sharp, and we has several showers while I was speaking; but I believe scarce five persons went away.'
June 1759: 'The rain began when we took horse [from Dunbar], and attended us all the way to Berwick. When I was tolerably dry I sent to the mayor, who readily granted the use of the town hall. Here I preached about seven to a drowsy congregation…'
May 1766: 'Between six and seven I preached in the town hall at Berwick. I had an uncommon liberty in speaking, and a solemn awe sat on the faces of all the hearers. Is God again visiting this poor, barren place?
May 1768: 'I came to poor dead Berwick. However, I found a few living souls even here. At seven I preached in the town-hall to an exceeding serious, though not numerous, congregation.'
May 1779: 'In the evening I preached in the town-hall at Berwick. Many officers as well as soldiers were there, and the whole congregation seemed much affected. Shall we see fruit at Berwick also?'
May 1780: 'Such a congregation I have not seen there for many years. Perhaps the seed which has so long seemed to be sown in vain may at length produce a good harvest.'
May 1788: 'The town being all in a hurry, on occasion of the fair, so that I could not conveniently preach in the market-house, I was glad that Mr. Atcheson, the Presbyterian minister, offered me the use of his chapel. It was a large, commodious place. Several of his hearers attended; to whom I spoke exceeding plain in the evening on 1 Cor. xiii.3, and in the morning on Isa. lix.1-3.'
Entry written by: CC
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