John Wesley first visited Chesterfield in July 1776 at the invitation of someone he had met on his way south from Sheffield, but who dd not turn up to hear him preach in the Market Place. This was the first of four visits to the town. Meanwhile, in 1781 a Sheffield local preacher, Benjamin Wilkinson, attempted to preach both in the Market Place and on Spital Green, but met with a hostile crowd. At the end of the 1780s one of the Sheffield preachers, Andrew Inglis, tried to preach in the Market Place, but was arrested and taken before the mayor, who suggested he should find a room to preach in. The Independents let him do so in their ‘Blue Meeting House’. A society was formed and met at first in a room in Moore’s Yard, off Packers Row. A chapel was built in Saltergate on the site of the present church and registered in 1795 (enlarged in 1822).
Chesterfield was in the Sheffield Circuit until it became a separate circuit in 1806, with Bakewell and Bradwell Circuits being formed from it in 1808 and 1812. Circuit membership grew steadily, reaching 1,210 in 1848. The Saltergate chapel was replaced in 1870 by one seating 700. Sir Francis Lycett had laid the foundation stone, and the President of the Wesleyan Conference, John Farrar, preached at the opening service. There was no organ until 1876. Another block, including classrooms and a large schoolroom, was added in 1888. Among later ventures, a Youth Club was formed in 1939, and a Drama Group in 1947. In 1964 a Christian Stewardship campaign reached its climax on Whit Sunday. The 1980s were a period of major redevelopment, which involved extensive changes to the sanctuary plus a new wing providing vestries and a caretaker’s flat. The opening and rededication of the new premises took place on 4 May 1985. This was followed by a new hall, opened in September 1987, intended to serve the church’s outreach into the community and including a Day Centre for the active elderly.
As a result of the work of a lay evangelist, Isaac Marson, in the Hollis Lane area, a second church, Wesley Hall, was opened in 1898. But its success in the early decades of the new century was followed by decline as the area developed from a residential into an industrial one and the church closed in 1971.
Primitive Methodism was introduced into the area by the Rev. Jeremiah Gilbert, who was arrested, imprisoned and fined for preaching in Bolsover market place in May 1819. His work succeeded to the extent that a Chesterfield PM Circuit was formed in 1822, with the earliest services held in Chesterfield in a house in Frogatt’s Lane. A small chapel was built in Brampton in 1827, replaced by a larger church in Wyatt’s Yard, Beetwell Street in 1848, then in 1881 by Holywell Cross church on the site of the former School of Industry. One of its members, Dr. George Booth JP, for many years the superintendant of its Sunday School, was the editor of the PM Hymnal. The sale of Holywell Cross to the YMCA contributed to the cost of the major Saltergate redevelopment in the 1980s.
John Wesley’s Journal:
July 1776: ‘Having been desired by one of Chesterfield to give then a sermon in the way [from Sheffield], I called there; but he did not come to own me. So after resting awhile at another house, I stood at a small distance from the main street and proclaimed salvation by faith to a serious congregation.’
June 1777: ‘I preached in the market-place at Chesterfield, on “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Although the congregation was numerous, yet I did not observe any either trifling or inattentive hearers’