Named from the Anglo-Saxon for a stronghold, in 1440 Bury received a royal charter for a market to be held. Its Church of St. Mary the Virgin dates from AD 971. The town began to develop early in the 18th century, when textile mills were built by industrialists such as Robert Peel (father of the future Prime Minister) and John Kay, whose ‘flying shuttle’ revolutionised the textile industry.
John Wesley visited Bury nine times between 1774 and 1790. Methodists from Bolton held the first Methodist meetings in the suburban village of Pits o’th Moor. James Hall, a woollen weaver of Boaredge, who preached there on Christmas Day 1772, was probably Bury’s first Local Preacher. (In 1776 he became an itinerant preacher.) The first preaching house, described as ‘barnlike and not very comfortable’, was built around 1760. In 1786 Wesley, as one of the trustees, gave permission for it to be sold. But proposals to replace it met with such hostility that no one could be found to supply the building materials. So the men of the Society dug the clay, moulded it into bricks and fired them themselves; then in their spare time they toiled to build the ‘new chapel’, some of them through the night. Neighbouring circuits gave financial support and, with a grant of £200 from the Conference itself and collections at the opening, when Wesley was the preacher, the debt was almost cleared.
The Society at Pits o’th Moor eventually closed to become the new Wesleyan society in the centre of town, but with increasing population in the Pits o’th Moor area a school-chapel was built in 1848 and replaced in 1858 by larger premises in Pine Street which continued in use until the chapel closed in 1964.
A society was formed in Clerke Street in the town centre around 1800, and in 1804, when it was deemed desirable to built a new and larger chapel, James Wrigley purchased a site in Union Street. By his personal gift and by his collecting, £2,000 was raised for the new chapel which opened in 1815. The Clerke Street premises continued to be used as a Sunday School and from 1851 as a Wesleyan day school. Other chapels were opened in the Bury area at Tottington (1820), Ramsbottom (c.1825) and Summerseat (c. 1826).
Bury was in the Bolton Circuit until a separate Bury Circuit was formed in 1804.
The Methodist New Connexion opened a chapel in Bolton Street in 1813 and in 1875 moved to a new chapel in Heywood Street. This closed in 1968, when the congregation joined the Bury Central Methodist Church in Union Street. The Wesleyan Methodist Association set up a Society and a Sunday School c. 1836, attracting several members from among the Union Street Wesleyans. Brunswick WMA chapel was opened on Good Friday, 24 March 1837. It was rebuilt in 1862 and reopened in December 1864. Although remaining loyal to the Wesleyans, John Robinson Kay was sympathetic to the WMA principles.
The Primitive Methodists had a Society of six members in 1821 and opened a preaching room in Clerke Street on 24 June 1824. Their Bury Circuit was established in 1836. They had a Society in Walmersley Road (opposite St. Mark’s Square). When the Swedenborgian (New Jerusalem) congregation left its Walmersley Road premises the Primitive Methodists acquired them, using them as a Sunday School and later for services. Their impressively large Walmersley Road chapel was opened c. 1890. At the time of the Methodist Union in 1932 the three non-Wesleyan denominations remained separate until they became part of the Bury Circuit in the 1950s. As individual churches closed from then on, their membership was transferred to the newly named ‘Central Church’, with some choosing to go elsewhere.
John Wesley's Journal:
July 1787: 'I was invited to breakfast at Bury by Mr. Peel, a calico-printer, who, a few years ago, began with five hundred pounds, and is now supposed to have gained fifty thousand pounds. Oh what a miracle if he lose not his soul!'
April 1788: 'We hobbled on [with lame carriage horses] to Bury, through roads equally deplorable; but we met a lively congregation, which made us forget our labour.'