Rotherham

Barley Hall farmhouse at Thorpe Hesley, north-west of Rotherham, was an early centre of Methodism in the area, despite fierce hostility from the local mob. John Wesley preached there in June 1742, on the first of a number occasions, and his brother Charles and George Whitefield also did so. In the 1750s William Green moved from the village into Rotherham, where he opened a school. His home became the first meeting place of the Rotherham Methodist society and was in use until its octagon chapel in Bunting Croft was built in 1761. At the time of Green’s death in 1777 Wesley wrote in the warmest possible terms of his stalwart faith and his crucial role in the establishment of the Methodist society in the town.

Following a period of growth, the Rotherham Circuit was formed from Sheffield in 1793 and two years later a vigorous revival swept the area, initiated by William Stephens following his visit to Kirkstall Forge. By 1797 circuit membership had risen to 820, but the next year saw the figure drop to 540 through the impact of Kilham’s New Connexion.

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Nevertheless, by 1806-7 local Wesleyanism had recovered sufficiently for them to replace the Octagon by a new and larger chapel, built of local sandstone and known as ‘The Tabernacle’, together with preachers’ houses, on an enlargement of the Bunting Croft site. This was extended in the middle of the century, only to be destroyed by fire in 1901 and replaced by the present Talbot Lane church, opened two years later. By 2016 this was threatened with closure by the high cost of necessary repairs to the roof.

Among the Wesleyan causes later established in the town, Masborough Chapel was opened in 1847 in College Road, enlarged in 1858 with galleries and rebuilt in 1876 as Masborough Trinity Chapel. A lecture hall and classrooms were added in 1896. The church suffered some damage in World War II, but survived to celebrate its centenary in 1947.

The rise of the steel industry saw the rapid enlargement of the market town, with the estaablishment of several new Wesleyan causes later in the 19th century.

Quotations

John Wesley’s Journal:

June 1753: ‘It being still sultry hot, I preached under a shady tree at Barley Hall, and in an open place at Rotherham in the evening.’

June 1755: ‘I preached ... at Rotherham in the evening. Here likewise was such a number of people assembled as was never before seen in that town. Is not this one clear proof of the hand of God that, although the novelty of this preachng is over, yet the people flock to hear it in every place far more than when it was a new thing?’

July 1757: ‘From [Clayworth] we rode to Rotherham. When I came in I had no strength and no voice left. However, in an hour I was able to preach to the largest congregation that I suppose was ever seen there.’

August 1759: ‘I went on to Rotherham, and talked with five men and six women ... who believe they are saved from sin. And this fact I believe, that they “rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.” I believe they feel nothing but love now; what they will do, I leave to God.’

July 1761: ‘I preached at Rotherham in the shell of the new house, which is an octagon. Pity our houses, where the ground will admit of it, should be built in any other form. The congregation was larger than ever; the society well united, and much alive to God.’

March 1764: ‘I preached in the new house at Rotherham on the sure foundation, “Ye are saved through faith.” It was a season of strong consolation to many.’

July 1774: ‘I preached ... in the evening at Rotherham, to a people who both understand and love the gospel.’

June 1777: ‘I went on to Rotherham, and was glad to find that the society is not discouraged by the death of that good man, William Green, who had been as a father to them from the beginning. He never started either at labour or suffering but went on calm and steady, trusting God with himself and his eight children, even while all the waves and storms went over him. He died, as he lived, in the full assurance of faith, praising God with his latest breath.’

July 1784: ‘It was sultry hot (as it has been one or twice before) while we went to Rotherham, where I preached abroad to a larger congregation, both of rich and poor, than even at Epworth; and earnestly enforced on those who are called believers, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

[Next morning] ‘I joined again the select society, which was fallen to pieces; and prayed them to be wiser for the time to come.’

July 1788: ‘We were much distressed at Rotherham for want of room, the rain driving us into the house. However, we stowed in it as many as we possibly could; and God bore witness to His word.’

Sources
  • Samuel J. Russell, Historical Notes on Wesleyan Methodism in the Rotherham Circuit (1916)
  • Nora amd Frank Pike, Milestones in the history of Masborough Trinity Methodist Church, Rotherham: Centenary Handbook (1947)