Stevenage lies about 27 miles north of London on the main road through Peterborough to the north-east of England and ultimately to Edinburgh. In the 18th century this was a major coaching route and John Wesley passed through it many times, rarely stopping for more than one night or merely a meal. The exception was on 29 October 1790 when he preached at the home of Mrs Parker from Romans chapter 3, verse 22. He made no mention in his diary of the size or quality of the congregation.

The Society had been formed and nurtured by one of his Assistants, Thomas Vasey in 1781. It appears to have met at the home of Thomas Allom on the west side of the High Street. By 1782 there were twenty-six members. Numbers fluctuated but by 1799 they had built and registered a chapel. This remained in use until 1876.

At the time of the 1851 Census the Wesleyan Methodists claimed an attendance of 50 both afternoon and evening, with between 60 and 70 children; while the Primitive Methodists claimed an attendance of 21 in the morning, 60 in the afternoon and 70 in the evening. The Primitive Methodists were active in the town for about 50 years but never built their own chapel; meeting in rented rooms. In 1875, while there were only 39 members, there were 130 ‘hearers’ and a larger chapel was required. This was built on the east side of the High Street at its southern end and is still in use. At the time of Methodist union Stevenage was in the Hitchin circuit, in the London North district.

In 1946 Stevenage was designated to be the site of a New Town and a Development Corporation was set up. The Methodist Church responded by forming the Stevenage and Knebworth Mission and appointing Rev Donald McNeill under the supervision of the Home Mission Department. The first neighbourhood to be developed was Broadwater in which the Methodist Church of St Paul’s was established. Worship began in a garage, then in an ex-army hut, until a church hall was built in 1955. The intended church was not built and in 1968 the hall was adapted to create a ‘permanent’ sanctuary. This remained in use until 1985, when it was demolished and the congregation worshipped in a sheltered housing complex until a new church was built in 1987. This closed in 2022.

The second area of the New Town to be developed was Chells, on the eastern side. St John’s Church began as a ‘house church’ in the manse in 1961 and after only a few months needed larger accommodation. The congregation moved into its own building in 1964 but only 10 years later began working ecumenically with the Anglican church of St Hugh as The Church in Chells and has become a fully united congregation in the St Hugh’s building. The St John’s building was sold to Hertfordshire County Council in 1985 as a day centre.

The third area of the New Town to be developed was Pin Green, on the northern side. From the start in 1967 this was planned as an ecumenical venture between Anglicans and a Free Church partner. Initially this was expected to be Baptist led but from 1969 there was Methodist involvement and from 1970 Roman Catholic involvement. Thus by the time All Saints Church opened in 1974 it was unique in that it was shared by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Methodists. It was also unique at that time in that it was the first to be built as part of a Local Authority community centre. The worship area is an unusual arrow head shape. For many years Sunday worship was conducted separately for the three congregations but weekday worship, including a con-celebrated Eucharist, prayer, Bible study, missionary fund raising and social events took place jointly with all three denominations. Since 2008 the Anglican and Methodists have worshipped as a single congregation. Unfortunately Roman Catholic Masses ceased in 2013.

Meanwhile developments in what became termed the ‘Old Town’ resulted in the building at High Street being completely remodelled, the worship area turned through 180 degrees and new halls added between 1958 and 1964. In 1960 Stevenage became a circuit with Welwyn Garden City in the London North West district. From 1971 the four congregations in Stevenage, two of which were LEPs, became a separate circuit. In 1993 this merged with the Hitchin and Letchworth circuit to form the North Herts circuit, which since 2006 has been in the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire district.

  • Curran, David J., 204 Years Strong (1986), privately printed for local circulation. * Spencer, Leslie F., Wesleyan Methodism in Stevenage (1927)
  • Unpublished notes by Revd Donald McNeil.
  • 'A brief account of the Methodist Church in Stevenage' (unpublished), by Harold Roberts (1976).

Entry written by: CJ
Category: Place
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