John Wesley passed through the town several times on his way between Oxford, and Bristol, but records preaching there on only three occasions and in one case described it as an ‘uncomfortable place’. A plaque marks the site of the Weavers’ Hall in Thomas Street, where he preached in 1787.
Between 1743 and 1749 Charles Wesley preached in the town a number of times, usually on his way to or from Garth, and on the last occasion 'met the society to our mutual comfort'. Otherwise, the first reference to a Wesleyan society is in 1791, with a dozen members plus four ‘excluded’ and one ‘backslider’. By 1807 this had risen to 25 and the first chapel, in Gloucester Street, was built in 1808. It was in the Stroud Circuit and reached its centenary in 1908.
The Primitive Methodists, after meeting initially in private houses, opened their first chapel in Lewis Lane in 1851 under the dynamic leadership of the Rev. Joseph Knipe. With the development of the Ashcroft estate, this was replaced by more extensive premises in Ashcroft Road in 1896. Following Methodist Union, the Wesleyans moved from their Gloucester Street premises in 1934, which were used for youth activities until sold in 1937 and are still in secular use.
The two branches of local Methodism had always enjoyed a good relationship and the work continued at Ashcroft Road, with major redevelopment of the premises in the 1980s and 1990s. Ashcroft Road became a united Methodist/URC congregation in 1998.
John Wesley’s Journal:
May 1743: ‘I rode to Cirencester, and preached on a green place, at a little distance from the town on “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” ‘
March 1750: ‘I preached at Cirencester in the evening to a large but not serious congregation. [Next day] I left this uncomfortable place, and in the evening came to Bristol.’
March 1787: ‘Between eleven and twelve I reached Cirencester; and, no larger place being procured, I preached at one in our own room to as many as could hear, either in or near it. And the labour was not lost; they all drunk in the word, as the thirsty earth the showers.’