Dover in the 18th century was divided for the most part between the main town below the Castle and along the river to the sea and an area to the west known as the 'Pier District' where many small terraced houses had been built (demolished in the mid-20th century). On the first of over 20 visits John Wesley preached in the Pier District in 1756, and again in 1759, where Methodists were meeting in various houses, including one in Queen Street. In 1760 his brother Charles was the first to do so in Dover town, opposite the Maison Dieu.
A chapel, converted from two houses in Limekiln Street, was opened in 1765 and a new chapel in Queen Elizabeth Square, seating 300, on 5 April 1790 – probably the 'new chapel' to which Wesley refers in the previous December. At this time most of the chapels in Kent were part of the London Circuit and Dover did not become the head of a separate circuit until 1799.
Just over thirty years later, the Queen Elizabeth Square chapel had become too small and was replaced by a new one in Snargate Street, opened on 2 October by Robert Newton. It had seating for 656, of which 130 were free, 72 for Sunday School children, and the rest to let, bringing in a yearly income of £403.6s.6d. There was a small graveyard behind the chapel, with a record of eight burials between 1834 and1849. Queen Elizabeth Square was sold by auction for £317 and was used by the Roman Catholics for a short time before becoming the Pier District's Working Men's Club.
A second Wesleyan chapel was built in central Dover town in 1808, on a road known as Shooters Hill, but later as London Road. It was later used by the Sunday School and became known as the Buckland Methodist Hall. In September 1839 the Circuit Quarterly Meeting agreed to the building of a chapel opposite the Hall, to be known as 'Centenary Chapel'. It was opened on 19 December 1839 with seating for 472, including 149 free. In 1880 both Snargate Street and Buckland Centenary chapels were re-pewed at a cost of £1,809 and Buckland Chapel's accommodation rose to 622 with 150 free sittings. Dover was the first circuit to which Hugh Price Hughes was appointed as a probationer in 1869.
In 1910 the Wesleyans felt that a 'Forward Movement' was needed in Dover and Wesley Methodist Chapel was built in a prime location near the town centre and opened on 10 November. Sadly, seven years later, during World War I, a large bomb hit the chapel and the manse next door. But repairs were made and the chapel reopened.
The earliest known Primitive Methodist building was built by a Mr. Igguilden in 1823 for dissenters from the Queen Elizabeth Square Wesleyans. It was in Middle Row, off Blenheim Square, near the harbour and was known as St. John Mariners' Church, being used by seafaring families. It seated 600, but had been known to hold 1,000! It is unclear when this chapel was vacated, but in 1848 the Rev. John Crow from Ramsgate preached in the open air in the Pier District and the following year services commenced in a carpenter's workshop in Limekiln Street.
The Primitive Methodists in Dover town met in various places, including a cottage in Paul's Place, a loft in Round Tower Lane and a cow shed in Brook Street, before building their first chapel, Jubilee Church, in Peter Street in 1860. Extended in 1928, it closed in 1935 and its sale contributed to the London Road (Primitive Methodist) Church, which had been opened on New Year's Day 1902 at the junction of London Road and Beaconsfield Road. (This later became Dover Central Church.) Meanwhile another PM church had been opened in 1880 in Belgrave Road, of which little is known except that it closed and was sold in 1964.
Dover was at first in the Canterbury WM Circuit, but became the head of a circuit in 1799.
Following Methodist Union in 1932, the two Dover circuits (WM and PM) did not become one until 1938. Buckland Centenary church then closed and amalgamated with the former PM London Road church nearby, though its sale was delayed by World War II until 1947. Its premises were meanwhile used by the amalgamated congregations until bomb damage to the London Road church had been repaired.
Wesley Church experienced a second bombing in 1941, but was repaired and did not close until 1 November 1981, when its remaining members joined other Methodist congregations in Dover and River. On 28 August 1961 Snargate Street church closed after 127 years, its members joining Belgrave Road, Wesley or London Road churches.
John Wesley's Journal:
January 1756: 'I preached about noon at Dover to a very serious but small congregation. We afterwards walked up to the Castle, on the top of a mountain…'
September 1759: I preached at Dover, in the new room, which I just finished. Here also the hearers increase, some of whom are convinced, and others comforted daily.'
December 1760: 'Who would have expected to find here some of the best singers in England? I found likewise – what was better still – a serious ,earnest people … so that I did not regret the having been wet to the skin in my way to them.'
December 1765: I … found a little company more united together than they have been for many years. Whilst several of them continued to rob the King, we seemed to be ploughing upon the sand; but since they have cut off the right hand, the word of God sinks deep into their hearts.'
November 1767: The house would by no means contain the congregation. Most of the officers of the garrison were there. I have not found so much life here for some years.'
November 1768: '[A violent storm] did not hinder the people. Many were obliged to go away after the house was filled.'
December 1771: 'The house was quickly filled with serious, well-behaved people. Here I found Lady Huntington's preachers had gleaned up most of those whom we had discarded. They call them 'My Lady's society', and have my free leave to do them all the good they can.'
December 1772: 'The raw, pert young men that lately came hither (vulgarly, though very improperly called students), though they have left no stone unturned, have not been able to turn away one single member from our society… A large and much affected congregation.'
November 1785: 'I found at Dover … a considerable increase of the work f God.'
November 1788: 'The work of God is very lively,, and continually increasing.'
December 1789: 'The new house, large as it is, was far too small, so that many could not get in.'
Episcopal Visitation Returns, 1758:
'Within these three or four years half a dozen Methodists of the lowest of the People have appeared, without any Teacher, unless an Itinerant, yt now & then comes among them. Supplied with books of Devotion by Mr, Wesley, who sends them from London, as I have heard; but they are likelier to drop than increase.'