Loughborough is close to the homes of the Countess of Huntingdon, Donington Park and Ashby de la Zouch, so it was natural for John Wesley to visit. He appears to have shared meals in the town in 1741 and 1745, but does not record preaching there until 1770, when he did so in the market place, three or four years after visits by some of theitinerants.
Loughborough became head of a Circuit in 1803. The first chapel, in Rectory Place was acquired in 1772. Wesley preached there that year. It was replaced in 1828 with one on Leicester Road, with 920 sittings. This figure was reduced to 700 in later reports. “Depression of trade and the amount of the circuit debt” led to the Circuit declining a third minister from 1830 onwards. The morning and evening congregations recorded in the 1851 Religious Census were 236 and 230. A mission room was opened in 1849, and a second chapel, Ashby Road, seating 350, opened by W.L Watkinson in 1899.
The Fly Sheet controversy led to over 100 members leaving the Wesleyan cause in Loughborough. The master of the day school was also dismissed. They built a new chapel in Woodgate, and chose to join the Methodist New Connexion. In 1910 they merged with an UMFC cause established by 1867.
A local dispute in 1895 over the conduct of mission work in the town led to the establishment of an Independent Gospel Mission. The following year this joined the Independent Methodist Connexion, although geographically it was always an outlier.
Loughborough was the third Primitive Methodist Circuit to be formed, in 1818, after a short period in the Nottingham Circuit. The hosiery trade was strong in the East Midlands, and as well as Loughborough itself there were chapels in most of the surrounding villages by as early as 1822. The 1820 plan records 60 places. Despite this, the first Primitive chapel, in Dead Lane, had to be abandoned in 1837 after 19 years, and another place rented. John Skevington was associated with this first chapel. Swan Street was built in 1849. In 1851 it was reported that this chapel had 300 sittings, and a morning congregation of 250. The chapel was rebuilt in 1886.
A second chapel was opened in 1889 on Duke Street, moving in 1892 to Nottingham Road, and in 1947 this was thought to seat 350. A mission in the suburbs, Knightthorpe, opened in 1915. By 2015 the Knightthorpe Chapel was the only ex-PM chapel surviving in the town.
The Circuit provided Primitive Methodism with the Garner Brothers.
Following Methodist Union a new chapel was built in 1935 in the suburb of Shelthorpe.
In 1965 a new church, Trinity, was opened, eventually replacing all the existing chapels with the exception of Knightthorpe and Shelthorpe. From 1970 under the leadership of the Rev. Denis Gardiner and Rev. Kenneth Cracknell there was a coming together with the nearby Anglican and URC congregations, which led to the Ecumenical Parish of Loughborough being established in 1972. The member churches did together what did not need to be done separately, and this included setting up a Pastoral Centre, programmes of study, drama presentations and joint confirmations. The chapel at Shelthorpe was used as a lay training centre. This pioneering venture came to a formal end following changes in the Anglican clergy, and a fire at Shelthorpe which led to the closure of that cause. In spirit, however, it continues in the form of the Loughborough Churches Partnership, which covers a wider range of churches.
John Wesley's Journal:
July 1770: 'At nine I preached in the market-place at Loughborough, to almost as large a congregation as at Nottingham, and equally attentive.'
July 1770: 'I preached … in the evening to a lovely congregation in the new house at Loughborough. Here is a fine prospect: the last society in the circuit is likely to be one of the first. They increase continually, and are athirst to be, not almost, but altogether, Christians.'
July 1779: 'About nine I preached in the market-place at Loughborough.'