In the eighteenth century, under the patronage of the Prince Regent, the fishing village and seaside resort of Brighthelmstone grew and developed. It became a stronghold of evangelicalism and Dissent, but John Wesley left it to the Calvinists. George *Whitefield preached there and Lady *Huntingdon built a chapel in North Street, opened in 1761 and enlarged in 1767.

Arminian Methodism was, and still remains, thinly spread in Sussex. When it was formed in 1807, the Lewes and Brighton WM Circuit extended as far as Littlehampton and Arundel in the west and Tunbridge Wells to the north-east.

The first WM society was formed in 1804 after a carpenter, Edward Beves and his employee William Mitchell, dissatisfied with the North Street chapel's Calvinism, had joined a prayer meeting started by militiamen stationed in the town during the Napoleonic period. The first room used by this society was a 'long room or loft in a yard in Middle St which had been used as a Dancing Room and though by no means all that could be desired was the best that offered and was therefore secured. It was situate up a passage in the rear of 31 Middle St & had to be reached by a flight of wooden steps. Pigs goats & fowls were kept by the occupant of the yard.

The first WM chapel, Dorset Gardens, was opened by Joseph Benson in 1808 and was known locally as 'the Arminian Chapel'. Although it was in a poor part of Brighton, Dorset Gardens itself was quite a wealthy enclave. Originally approached from St. James' Street, the chapel was extended several times and given a semi-classical façade, reflecting the gradual rise of its congregation in social status. At first it had what must have been one of the finerst church orchestras in WM, including members of the private band of George IV and William IV. But by the 1840s Queen Victoria no longer stayed at the Royal Pavilion and in 1855 the Dorset Gardens orchestra was replaced by an organ. Under the vigorous ministry of Thomas E. Westerdale the chapel itself was rebuilt in 1884/85, with the encouragement and support of Sir William McArthur. Despite being dogged by continuing debt, major extensions were completed in 1929. This second chapel closed in 2000 to make way for its successor, opened in 2003.

Norfolk Road chapel (1869; closed 1964) gave WM a foothold west of Old Steine. Following a request from Frank Ballard (1891-1896), who disliked the circuit system, from 1892 to 1921 it formed a separate circuit, along with the Dome Mission, launched in 1907 under the leadership of E. Aldom French (1904-1910).

As the town spread northwards along the valleys through the South Downs, the Preston Park Chapel was opened in 1876, first as an 'iron chapel', then with a brick building (1884; demolished after bomb damage, 1943).

A small BC society was formed in 1823 by members from Kent. The next year a BC evangelist Henry Freeman and two women preachers, Ann Mason and Sarah Willis, began open-air preaching and Andrew Cory was stationed in the town. A separate circuit was formed in 1827, but the cause struggled, in premises taken over from other denominations until the energetic ministry of Jehu Martin (1870-1878) when Bristol Road chapel was built in 1873 (closed 1989). With the arrival of Samuel Brown Lane in 1893 and his nineteen year ministry in the town, the Bible Christians followed the development of the town northwards by opening Stanford Avenue in 1898. By 1907, witrh three chapels and ministers and 425 mombers, Brighton and Hove must have been among the strongest BC area outside the West Country.

A PM Brighton Mission was launched in 1836 by William Harland of the Portsmouth Mission. The first preacher was stationed in the town in 1842. A converted building in George Street was replaced by the purpose-built Sussex Street chapel in 1856. John Parrott in 1862-1864 gave the Mission new impetus, despite harassment by the police during open-air preaching. But numbers remained small until William Dinnick's 25-year ministry in the circuit (1876-1901). (All four of his brothers were also stationed in Brighton Circuit at one time or another.) London Road chapel (1876), in Viaduct Road, was replaced on a new site in 1895 and finally closed in 2006. High Street chapel opened in 1886 (closed 1907) and Queens Park in 1891 (closed 1988).

At the time of the Census of Religious Worship in March 1851, the three Methodist bodies returned these figures for sittings and attendances:

 Wesleyan Methodist, Dorset Gardens:
   Sittings: 300 free, 350 others
     Morning, 309, plus 120 scholars 
     Afternoon, 35 
     Evening,  295                                
 Primitive Methodist, George Street:
   Sittings: 50 free, 100 others
     Morning,  70,  plus 55 scholars
     Afternoon, 60 scholars
     Evening,   150  plus 15 scholars
 Bible Christian, Cavendish  Street:
   Sittings: 40 free, 82 others
     Morning, 42, plus 38 scholars                 
     Afternoon, 50, plus 37 scholars           
     Evening,  62

Although WM suffered a 16% loss of membership in 1851, no UMFC society was formed at that time. In 1860 a dissident WM society applied to join the UMFC. A chapel was built in Ann Street, near the railway station, in 1867, most of its trustees being railway employees. But the chapel and its remaining members passed to WM in 1885 and the chapel itself was demolished in 1904.

Methodist Union was achieved swiftly and relatively easily. By 1934 there were two circuits: Brighton (Dome Mission, which included Dorset Gardens), and the Brighton and Hove Circuit. Only with the demise of the Dome evening service did the two merge in 1997 to form one circuit coterminous with the city of Brighton and Hove.

  • The Churches of Brighton (London, c.1883) II pp.64-86
  • L.H. Court, These Hundred Years: the Story of the United Methodist Church in Brighton and Hove (Brighton, 1923)
  • E.W. Griffin, A Pilgrim People: the story of Methodism in Brighton, Hove and district 1807-1957 (1957)
  • R.C. Swift, Methodism in Sussex and its influence in the life of the community 1756-1900 (privately published, 1984)
  • Michael R Hickman, 'The Role of Soldiers in the origins of Wesleyan Methodism in Brighton…' in Susssex Archaeological Collections, 143 (2005) pp.257-66
  • M.R. Hickman, A Story to Tell: 200 years of Methodism in Brighton and Hove (2007)
  • Michael Hickman, A Church with a Mission - the history of Dorset Gardens Methodist Church, Brighton (2008)