Methodist preachers, including Whitefield, were active in Basingstoke as early as 1738/9. John Wesley preached several times in the town, beginning in 1739, but his comments on those who came to hear were not very flattering. A place of worship was registered on behalf of 'Protestants of the Church of England' (quite probably Wesleyans) in September 1759, and Wesley preached three times in the town that year. In 1781 a store-house in Church Street was licensed for worship by Jasper Winscom, but proved unsatisfactory and was replaced in 1784 by a building on Oat (now Wote) Street. Early Wesleyan efforts to plant permanently seem to have met with little success. Basingstoke appeared in the Andover Circuit in 1825, but disappeared in 1827.
The 1872 Wesleyan Magazine carries this report: ‘So far as I can learn, it is more than half a century since Methodism was first introduced into Basingstoke.’ This implies that any society raised in the age of Wesley had died out before the 1820s, and a new start was made. The report continues: ‘After a while a more public place was engaged for our work; but from this time the cause began to decline, owing to the difficulty of supplying the pulpit regularly. The assembled congregation would frequently be without a preacher, and then - as a not unnatural result - the preachers would sometimes go, and find almost no congregation.’
Thus the cause had died out again by about 1830 and the 1851 Religious Census records no Wesleyan meeting. The Methodist Recorder stated in 1904: ‘Basingstoke was Methodistically the child of Andover. Two or three starts were made, it appears, but finally the “New Mission at Basingstoke” was firmly established’ in 1872. Basingstoke town was now rapidly increasing in importance and was made head of a circuit that year. The first WM place of worship was a room above an old granary rented in Potters Lane and reached by a ladder. Eventually a site in Church Street was acquired, and a purpose-built chapel erected on it in 1874-5.'
By then the Primitive Methodists were already active in the town. At first they used a courtyard in Bunnian Place, whilst hearers stood in the road. One of their first preachers, William Merritt, was arrested and confined to the gaol for preaching in the open air.; but a few hours later friends connected with the Independent Church secured his release. Later they met in a timber yard. When George Price came to the Mitcheldever Circuit in 1845 they still had no place of worship, and the congregations were small. When their first chapel was opened in 1847, the Independent minister, the Rev A. Johnson, was one of the preachers. A Basingstoke Branch of the Micheldever Circuit was formed the followinng year.
A local historian, Arthur Attwood , wrote in about 1980: ‘Before the Primitive Methodists had their own chapel, they worshipped in a barn on the opposite side of the road. This was near where the Pear Tree Inn was built just over a hundred years ago... on the site of a house where a brewer by the name of Hinde lived. Behind the house was one of Basingstoke's small breweries belonging to Messrs Barrett and Hinde.’
‘Behind’ might well mean in a snicket called Church Lane where there was a brewery associated with the inn. Sadly Attwood supplied no contemporary evidence for this location for the PMs, but as a long-term amateur local historian, born in the town in 1916, he may well have had access to local knowledge and tradition which has not survived to the present day. But it is also possible that he was reporting a muddled piece of folk memory in which the early days of Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists in the town are confused.
The 1847 chapel was on Sarum Hill. It was altered in the 1860s and sold c.1901, when it was replaced by a larger chapel, on a different site on Sarum Hill, now demolished.
The 1874-5 WM chapel, also on Sarum Hill, was eventually demolished and moved brick by brick to Cliddesden. Its replacement on the same site, opened by Mark Guy Pearse in 1875 was demolished in the course of the new town development in the 1960s. The two societies were merged and housed in a new church, ‘Trinity’, which is now head of the circuit.
13 February 1738/9: 'On Sunday last the Reverend Charles Kinchin M.A. … held a public meeting consisting chiefly of Dissenters of both sexes, who were very numerous at the Crown Inn … where he prayed much extempore and expounded or preached after the manner of the Methodists, taking a whole chapter for his text; the noted Mr. Whitefield … having done thec same at the King's Head on the Thursday, and at the Crown on the Friday and Saturday next preceding.'
The Rev. T. Warton, vicar of Basingstoke from1723 to 1744, 13 February 1738/9
John Wesley's Journal:
January 1759: ‘In the afternoon we rode to Basingstoke, where the people put me in mind of the wild beasts at Ephesus. Yet they were unusually attentive in the evening, although many of them could not hear.’
September 1759: ‘I preached ... in the evening at Basingstoke, to a people slow of heart and dull of understanding.’
October 1759: ‘I was extremely tired when I came in, but much less so after preaching.’
October 1763: ‘Even here there is at length some prospect of doing good. A large number of people attended, to whom God enabled me to speak strong words; and they seemed to sink into the hearts of the hearers.’