This medieval market town flourished in the nineteenth century as an international centre for the worsted trade, with such manufacturers as the Anglican Listers, Wesleyan Holdens, Baptist Illingworths and Congregationalist Titus Salt. It also attracting merchants from abroad such as the family of the composer Frederick Delius. Charles Antoine Federer (1837-1908), WM layman brought up in Switzerland as a Roman Catholic, eventually settled in Bradford. The area of former warehouses behind the former Eastbrook Hall is still known as Little Germany. Since 1919 Bradford has been an Anglican diocese, the ancient parish church being raised to cathedral status; and for both WMs and PMs it was a Conference town.
Charles Wesley visited the town in 1742, followed by John Wesley in May 1744, when he preached at Little Horton Hall and Sticker Lane. Pioneer preachers included John Nelson, John Bennet, William Grimshaw, William Darney and Thomas Mitchell. Although Nelson was imprisoned at Ivegate in 1744, the Methodists remained relatively unmolested by the mob and John Wesley had a good relationship with the evangelical incumbent, John Crosse, vicar from 1784 to 1816, who in his early years had been a member of the West Street society in London.
In 1756 'the Cockpit', previously used by the Baptists, was rented as a meeting place’ the society moving to the Octagon on Horton Road in 1766. This was in turn replaced by Kirkgate chapel in 1811 (closed 1930). The gothic Eastbrook chapel, by the architect Joseph Botham, opened in 1825 (replaced by Eastbrook Central Hall, 1903). Another surviving early chapel, at Eccleshill, opened in 1775, mainly through the efforts of Thomas and ???; its successor, 1854-55, designed by James Simpson, became Ukranian Orthodox on closure. At Manningham, the gothic St. John’s (1879) by C.O. Ellison of Liverpool, with chancel, regular liturgical services and surpliced choir of men and boys, was built with financial support from Isaac Holden. Bradford became the head of a circuit in 1769, probably formed from the Birstall Circuit, and at that time included Halifax.
Two separate PM advances met at Bradford. The work at Leeds and at Dudley Hill and Great Horton, south of Bradford, originated from the Hull Circuit. But the first Primitive Methodist to preach in Bradford itself was John Coulson (1777-1862; e.m. 1821), as part of the PM advance northwards from Sheffield to Wakefield, Huddersfield and Halifax. Bradford then came under the Leeds Circuit, but became a separate circuit in 1823. Ebenezer, Dudley Hill (1823) continues in use. The first PM chapel in Bradford itself was opened in Kent Street, Manchester Road in 1824, burned down in 1861 and replaced by Providence, which in turn was replaced by the Central Hall (1892-1893), one of the few in Primitive Methodism and predating the WM Mission by almost a decade. Among those who later joined the PMs in Bradford was Isaac Jefferson, of Quaker descent, a ‘physical force’ Chartist, known as ‘Wat Tyler’, who was imprisoned for his part in the 1848 Chartist agitation.
The origins and development of the Independent Methodist presence remain in part problematic. The Philadelphia Gospel Pilgrim chapel existed by 1833 and there is a Leeds and Bradford Gospel Pilgrims preaching plan for 1834, which indicates links with the IM annual Conference at Bolton of that year. By 1837 Philadelphia had passed to another group, but there was still a chapel at Little Horton. John Parkinson (1794-1860), originally a Skipton WM local preacher, may have been the founder; he later returned to the PMs with whom he had earlier been a preacher. Earlier, in 1833, Hugh Bourne noted a disturbance in the Bradford PM circuit, possibly caused by Robert Winfield and linked with the Birstall PM Revivalist Circuit and later with the Gospel Pilgrims. By 1849 IM work in Bradford seems to have ceased, but the ‘Jumping Ranters’, meeting in Wibsey and Dudley Hill, may possibly also have had IM links.
The MNC started in Bradford in 1836 in the house of William Ackroyd in Manchester Road. It led to the building of Ebenezer, Great Horton Lane, in 1839. Bradford became the head of a circuit the following year. Ebenezer was replaced by Manville (1879, by Hill and Swann; now part of Bradford College), but this probably proved too large for the congregation and was replaced by the smaller Shearbridge Road (now a mosque) in 1907.
The Bradford WMA Circuit was formed in 1836 with a chapel in Bridge Street (later a cinema and now demolished). The Eccleshill WMA chapel (1837, but now demolished) originated from the Yewdalls joining the Wesleyan Protestant Methodists.
There were considerable secessions from the Bradford Wesleyans to the Wesleyan Reformers; some later joined the UMFC, but many remained within the *Wesleyan Reform Union. The WRU was formed at Bethesda WR, Peckover Street, in 1860. Their tenure was short-lived and closure came c.1880, when it passed into Salvation Army hands, and later to the ILP. The WR society at Salem, Sticker Lane (no longer in Methodist use) later joined the MNC. One leading Wesleyan Reformer was James Drummond (1819-1891), worsted spinner and Liberal, with a mill in Lumb Lane.
The BC society originated in 1872 with migrant textile workers from Wellington, Som. It was established by Samuel Ley *Thorne and was the only BC mission in the north of England to have much success among the indigenous local population. It had a gothic chapel in Toller Lane (1886, by John *Wills; closed 1951 and now demolished), but was always a struggling cause.
The Bradford WM Mission was formed in 1901. As Eastbrook Chapel was becoming dangerous, it was replaced in 1904 by Eastbrook Hall (by W.J. *Morley & Son), now closed.. Under the Rev. H.M. Neild, 1903-1911, there were large congregations and the cause was numerically and financially strong, with the Brotherhood and social outreach. This continued until the late 1960s. Other older WM centres that came into the Mission were Bethesda, Southend Hall (which became an early centre for the Elim Four Square Gospel Church in the 1930s), and Prospect, Manchester Road, with a central Hall by W.J. Morley added in 1913 (now a Sikh Gurdwara). The spirit of the central mission is continued by Touchstone.
Bradford is probably unique in having had all the main branches of Methodism represented there at different times. Six WM, five PM and four Methodist Conferences have met there between 1853 and 1978.
Charles Wesley's Journal:
October 1744: 'The whole congregation was in a flame. Surely God hath a great work to do among this people.'
October 1756: 'Many dissenters were present. Some of them, I believe, were reached, for I spoke in irresistible love, and warned them to flee from the wrath to come… [Next day] 'The preaching-house was filled with those that came from far. Our Lord did not send them empty away… Near two hours more we rejoiced at a primitive Love-feast.'
John Wesley's Journal:
April 1745: 'I preached at [Little] Horton and Bradford. Here I could not but observe how God has made void all their labour who "make void the law through faith." Out of their large societies in these towns, how small a remnant is left! In Horton, scarce ten persons out of four-score; in Bradford, not one soul.'
April 1747: 'I preached … at Bradford, and regulated the societies.'
August 1748: 'I preached … in the evening at Bradford; where none behaved indecently but the curate of the parish.'
April 1755: 'I preached … at Bradford, which is now as quiet as Birstall. Such a change has God wrought in the hearts of the people since John Nelson was in the dungeon here. '
May 1757: 'At five the house contained the congregation, but at eight they covered the plain adjoining to it… it was a solemn and comfortable season. As soon as the service of the church was ended I began at the end of the house again, and exhorted a willing multitude to "follow after charity." A shower of rain and hail fell as I drew to a conclusion, but it did not disturb the congregation.'
July 1759: 'I talked with most of those whom Edward Hales had torn from their brethren. Just as he was coming to widen the breach it pleased God to take him to Himself. The wanderers were now willing to return, and I received them again, I trust for ever.'
July 1761: 'I rode over to Bradford in the afternoon, where I found an Anabaptist teacher had perplexed and unsettled the minds of several; but they are now less ignorant of Satan's devices.'
June 1764: 'This was a place of contention for many years; but since the contentious have quitted us, all is peace.
[July 1, Sunday] 'I preached at seven to more numerous congregation than I believe ever assembled there before; and all were serious as death.'
July 1766: 'At Bradford there was so huge a multitude, and the rain so damped my voice, that many in the skirts of the congregation could not hear distinctly. They have just built a preaching-house, fifty-four feet square, the largest octagon we have in England…'
August 1769: 'In the evening I preached at Bradford to an extremely crowded audience. The heat was hardly supportable.'
April 1774: 'This evening and the next I preached to the lively congregation at Bradford, and was much comforted; so were many; indeed all that earnestly desired to recover the whole image of God.'
August 1775: 'I preached at Bradford, where the people are all alive. Many here have experienced the great salvation, and their zeal has been a general blessing. Indeed, this I always observe - wherever a work of sanctification breaks out the whole work of God prospers.'
June 1777: 'I preached at Bradford, where a blessed work has increased ever since William Brammah was here. "Hath not God chosen the foolish things of the workd to confound the wise?"
April 1786: 'In the evening I preached to a huge multitude at Bradford. Surely the people of this town are highly favoured, having both a vicar [John Crosse] and a curate that preach the truth.'
May 1788: 'I feared the jars which had been here would have lessened the congregation, but it was as large as ever I remember it on a week-day, and as deeply attentive as ever. A large number attended again at five in the morning.'